Teaching, Implementing, and Sustaining Commitment in High School Swimmers by Mike Curley (2008)


Published


[Editor’s note: The following is a summary of Coach Curley’s presentation, not the actual transcript.]

I have come up with a different approach to try to help kids. I realized that it wasn’t all about winning – it wasn’t about trying to put people at the Junior Olympic Meet, or about making Junior Nationals or Senior Nationals or scoring or making Olympic trials.

My focus has become – how can I inspire young people – including my children – to become everything that God made them and God gave them. I decided to commit to living a life with no regrets. Most of us in coaching are always looking for ways to motivate. – I have read more books and seen more movies and listened to more talks about how to motivate kids. Even though we have been indoctrinated with all those ways to motivate kids – there are still motivational problems.

“Kids have to want to be motivated”. They have to want to be motivated if they really want to be good. Most coaches perceive it is our duty to motivate kids.
I took this to heart and then I decided instead of trying to motivate kids– I decided to change the environment in which my athletes practice. I have read that when managing others – there are only two basic outcomes with regard to acceptable performance: one is compliance – that is doing what is expected and asked and nothing more. The other is commitment: and that is doing what is expected with initiative, a concern for doing things right and constant improvement.

My quest is –Is to teach commitment – instill commitment and maintain commitment on my team”. The basic characteristics of the work environment that I try to put my kids into have to have these things.

Having clear expectations of what is required.

They need to understand how quality works – both in and out of the pool –This contributes to the success of the whole team and themselves. They need to have personal responsibility for one’s performance, a collective involvement in purposeful training to achieve expected results, having a consistent and fair accountability system, helps them do that. These are some of the ideas that helped me come up with why I am trying to instill commitment in these kids.

What is the difference between commitments versus motivation? What creates meaning for athletes? What keeps them coming to the pool and eager to work? What helps them endure impending challenges with perseverance and be optimistic about the future? The responsibility that I have now is to teach commitment – instill commitment and maintain commitment on my team”. The basic characteristics of the work environment that I try to put my kids

1. Highlander core living by vision and values. (Why are we here?)

2. Establish meaningful Relationship

3. Maintain information flow. ( Dialog and feedback

4. Recognizing contributions and progress,

5. Creating an inclusive and caring environment.

One of the most important things that you can do is listen to your kids. maintaining commitment. Making yourself genuinely reliable and accessible to your athletes is very important.

Empathy to me is basically being able to stand in somebody else’s shoes when you are having a conversation and empathize about why they feel the way they do. listen with both ears Be there for them, take 5 minutes after practice to ask: did you like that practice?– What didn’t turn out so well at practice? What did you learn that can help you in the future any thoughts on what you would like to work?

I think it is very important for us to provide: ongoing feedback; progress and direction. You have got to talk to the kids during practice.

Recognize team and individual contributions.

Take the time to recognize the kids and the team contributions and use everybody’s name. Create an atmosphere of love, concern and mutual respect. The practices that reflect the Highlander values are an all encompassing program – a program for all – we are committed to instilling model character behaviors, balance work and family needs – build a sense of community develop future leaders in affirming competitive experiences.

I am teaching the kids that we are here to be competitive.

There are several factors that go into creating successful teams and individuals, but the single most important factor is commitment. We coaches are highly committed and are passionate, it is very, important for us to make sure that we try to instill that in the kids. Ultimately my high school kids want me to make practices fun.

Appreciate your athlete’s roles –, appreciate our kids.

In today’s society I don’t think there is any excuse for us not to be able to stay in communication with their kids – but this texting thing is pretty cool.

Emphasize quality practices: There is a difference between having a practice and having a quality practice. Everything needs to have meaning purposeful quality precise practice and then hold them accountable to it. Be a model of hard work and commitment for them. I pride myself on being the hardest worker on the pool deck.

In order to teach commitment we need to, as coaches, do the following: we need to teach kids that it is their swimming and they need to take ownership of it there is a big difference between being interested and committed. “The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence – regardless of their chosen field or endeavor”.

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[Editor’s note: The following are notes supplied by Coach Curley.]

SLIDE 1
Introduction

Thoughts are borrowed from those a great deal smarter than I…I don’t considered them stolen because ultimately the goal is to pass along the ideas to help
At 44…I’ve been coaching over 50% of my life. And I can honestly say that in the last 5 years of coaching I have done more growing and maturing than I had in the previous 39 years. I don’t mean strictly as a coach but more importantly as a person, as a husband, as a father as a close friend to others.
I have to admit as I entered the working world after college and chose coaching as my profession… it was mostly about winning. About having kids that succeeded in the pool: Be it winning at the state championships, making Jr nationals, scoring at seniors or finaling at the Olympic trials.

But then I grew up…

Then I realized that it wasn’t all about winning, now don’t get me wrong I enjoy winning and probably every person that truly knows me would put me in their top 3 of the most competitive people they know list. But heck we win enough, just check out our website.

No I changed; Coaching and teaching has become about instilling values in my swimmers, my students, my children. My focus has become “how can I inspire young people to become everything God gave them.
A quick story: I went to support and watch My sister Martha participate in what I consider the single most impressive athletic feat I’ve ever seen in person, the Hawaiian Ironman You know the layout 2.4 miles in the water, 112 miles on a bike then to top it off a marathon… 26.2 miles. Well in the course of my sister completing the ironman (for the 2nd time) I spotted a guy run by just after my sister did with about 5 miles left to go , they had been out there already for 10 hours! He looked like he was struggling, well this guy runs by and he’s wearing this shirt and on the back it says…”don’t die wondering, that’s right don’t’ die wondering”
Maybe that was a defining moment for me, At this time I have no plans of attempting an ironman, but upon thinking about that whole weekend: my sister completing her 2nd ironman, lowering her personal best by over an hour, simply being a part of that athletic celebration, I decided not to die wondering… I committed to living life with no regrets.
That is the motivation and inspiration of this talk

I feel sure that I’m speaking for most of you in that once we decided to go into coaching we began immediately searching for ways to motivate.

For the first 18 to 20 years of my coaching career I read my share of ‘how to motivate” books. And you know what I’LL probably continue to read those inspiring books.

Yet though I have indoctrinated myself with numerous “motivational” models designed to help me inspire my athletes… I still found apathy and motivation problems were nonetheless obstacles to team excellence.

• Then I heard one particular football coach speak at my school’s Hall of Fame Dinner… his name was Michael Swider he coaches football at Wheaton College.
• During his very insightful and memorable speech he said several things that really caught my attention. One in particular was that “athletes have to want to be motivated.”
• Now correct me if I’m wrong but don’t Most coaches perceive it as their responsibility to motivate our athletes?
• Yet let’s think about that… the “athletes” have complete discretion over whether they want to be motivated.
• Taking this thought to heart Over the last year or two I have tried a very different approach with my swimmers.
• I’ve in essence stopped attempting to motivate and put my focus on the swimming/work environment and the way I for lack of better words MANAGE my athletes.
• I’ve read that When managing others, there are only two basic outcomes with regard to acceptable performance. One is compliance; that is, doing what is expected and asked and nothing more. The other is commitment; that is, doing what is expected with initiative and a concern for doing things right, with constant improvement.

Two years ago I set out to improve the environment at Lake Highland. I devoted myself to creating an environment that influences the commitment of my athletes. As our executive director stated last night “coaches change lives” AND
I consider this the single most significant coaching responsibility I have.

SLIDE 2


SLIDE 3

SLIDE 4 Commitment: Why is it so important?

 What creates meaning for athletes?
 What keeps them coming to the pool and eager to work?
 What helps them endure pending challenges with perseverance and be optimistic about the future

My goal as a coach of 20 plus years was to sit down and think about…
How this topic arose
20 plus years of coaching
Sole searching
Development as a person,
Husband
Dad
Teacher
Coach
• Inspiring Commitment
• Creating an environment that influences the commitment of our athletes is a significant coaching responsibility.
• Honestly I feel sure that I’m speaking for most of you in that once we decided to go into coaching we began immediately searching for ways to motivate.
• For the first 18 to 20 years of my coaching career I read my share of ‘how to motivate” books. And you know what I’LL probably continue to read those inspiring books.
• Yet though I have indoctrinated myself with numerous “motivational” models designed to help me inspire my athletes… I still found apathy and motivation problems were nonetheless obstacles to team excellence.
• Then I heard one particular football coach speak at my school’s Hall of Fame Dinner… his name was Michael Swider
• During his very insightful and memorable speech he said several things that really caught my attention. One in particular was that “athletes have to want to be motivated.”
• Now correct me if I’m wrong but don’t Most coaches perceive it as their responsibility to motivate our athletes? Yet the “athletes” have complete discretion over whether they want to be motivated.
• Taking this thought to heart Over the last year or two I have tried a very different approach with my swimmers.
• I’ve in essence stopped attempting to motivate and put my focus on the swimming/work environment and the way I for lack of better words MANAGE my athletes.
• I’ve read that When managing others, there are only two basic outcomes with regard to acceptable performance. One is compliance; that is, doing what is expected and asked and nothing more. The other is commitment; that is, doing what is expected with initiative and a concern for doing things right, with constant improvement.

• My coaching and personal goal for the last 2 years has been to manage and coach for commitment.
• Basic characteristics of a work environment which inspires commitment include:
• Having clear expectations of what is required.
• Understanding how quality work both in and out of the pool contributes to the success of the whole team.
• Having personal responsibility for one’s performance.
• Having collective involvement in purposeful training to achieve expected results.
• Having a consistent and fair accountability system.
• Knowing what the “score” is on a routine basis.

So what I did was come up an approach to teaching implementing and maintaining commitment… I call this the Highlander Core; it is comprised of 5 thoughts: below


 SLIDE 5 Highlander’s Core

 APPROACH TO TEACHING, IMPLEMENTING AND MAINTAINING COMMITMENT
 Living by vision and values
 Establish meaningful relationships
 Maintaining information flow
 Recognizing contributions and progress
 Creating an inclusive and caring environment

SLIDE 6 Vision and Values

 The law of the Compass: A team that embraces a vision is focused, energized, and confident. It knows where it’s headed and why it’s going there. A team should examine its Moral, Intuitive, Historical, Directional, Strategic, and Visionary Compasses. Does the team practice with integrity? Do coaches and athletes stay/remain (is there foundation)? Does the team make positive use of anything contributed by previous teams in the organization? Does the strategy serve the vision? Is there a long-range vision to keep the team from being frustrated by short-range failures?
 Simply put… A common Vision Instills commitment

SLIDE 7 VALUES: WHO ARE WE

The Law of Identity
Shared values define the team. The type of values chosen for the team will attract the type of members you want. Values give the team a unique identity to its members, potential recruits, clients, and the public. Values must be constantly stated and restated, practiced, and institutionalized.
Our values at Lake Highland consist of
 Fairness: Treat all athletes with fairness and evenhandedness
 Responsiveness: To be open minded and sensitive
 Striving: To be ever determined and motivated
 Teamwork: Inspire cooperation and solidarity
 Trustworthiness: Be honest, dependable and accountable


SLIDE 8 Core #2

Establish Meaningful Relationships
People matter Get to know your athletes; adopt a tell-me-more attitude
I read an fascinating essay by Brenda Ueland on relationships it was titled , Tell Me More: in it she wrote “When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand. Ideas actually begin to grow within us and come to life.”
 In Adopting a Tell-Me-More Attitude: we learn to be empathetic
 We learn what makes each athlete TICK

Adopting the attitude that you want your swimmers to tell-you-more (“I really want to hear what you have to say.”), and then actually listen to what they say—even if you don’t agree with it or like it—and you will begin to tap into establishing truly meaningful relationships

 Be Verbal/communicative
 Be Empathetic, try to constantly stand in their shoes

By doing this you will Get to know each of your athletes’ individual goals.
The challenge is that each player is motivated by different things. Some athletes are motivated by external trophies and awards, others play for the challenge, others play for their parents’ attention, some might be playing to please you. Whatever the reason, a big key to coaching and commitment depends on your ability to understand what motivates each of your athletes.

In an effort to figure out what motivates each of your athletes, ask them to project ahead to the end of their career and/or time in your program. What would things look like if everything went ideally for them? Their answers to this question will provide you with tremendous insights on what motivates them.

 Involve athletes in decision making

As Stephen Covey, author of the best-selling book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People suggests, involvement is a prerequisite for commitment. What this means is that you must involve your athletes in deciding the goals, rules, and standards of the program. By soliciting and valuing their input, you clearly show your athletes that you are all in this together. You give them co-ownership of the team and they will be much more likely to be committed to the program because it becomes “our” program and not just yours as a coach.
 The lesson is simple but profound.
“The best way to inspire others is by considering their desires, not just your own.”
Dale Carnegie

SLIDE 9 Core # 3 has direct relations with Core #2
Core #3 is Maintaining information flow

In developing meaningful relationships it is Imperative to develop interactions that promote open and free dialog
Interaction fuels action.
In order for this occur Conversations and meetings must be viewed more often than not as conversations among equals: As coaches we must be able to Tell it like it is, yet with the priority being LISTENING
This might be the single most important factor in maintaining COMMITMENT…
Not in teaching commitment but in maintaining commitment
Remembering that every conversation is a dialogue among equals
Making yourself genuinely reliable and accessible to your athletes
A word that I’ve come to live by not only in attempt at being a better coach, but a better husband and father is empathy
Having learned the hard way many times, learning by failure
That to really foster great communication one needs to empathize and realize that A conversation is something between equals.
Kings didn’t have conversations with their subjects. They told them what to do. I encourage you to Remind yourself before each conversation with your athletes that swimming is their thing, not yours. I constantly express to my athletes “Swimming is yours, not mine, not your parents” We are there as supporters… facilitatiors
Our goal really should be to engage our athletes in a conversation among equals,
one of whom (YOU! – ME — US!) is on their side.
I also encourage you to Listen! In many instances you may know exactly what your athlete can do to improve. But by having a conversation, an open candid dialogue where an athlete is given the opportunity for self discovery is priceless.

You might be asking yourself well it sounds good Mike but how do this:

 Use Open-Ended Questions: Some questions lend themselves to one-word responses. “How was school today?” “Fine.” Our intention ought to be to get our swimmers to talk at length, so asking questions that tend to elicit longer, more thoughtful responses should be our objective
 “What was the most enjoyable part of today’s practice/meet?”
 “What worked well?”
 “What didn’t turn out so well?”
 “What did you learn that can help you in the future?”
 “Any thoughts on what you’d like to work on before the next race?”

 Also ask about life-lesson and character issues: “Any thoughts on what you’ve learned in practice this week that might help you with other parts of your life?” or “Any thoughts on what you learned in that race that might help you with other parts of your life?” the goal is to get them to talk about swimming the way he/she sees it, not for us to always tell them what they could have done better.

I also promote the idea of Influencing with integrity. A great book I recently read by Genie Laborde:
 Make sure we make every effort to Show You Are Listening. When having a conversation Close out your outlook or email page, put away what you were doing for a moment, simply show that you are in fact paying attention.
You can do this through use of nonverbal actions such as making eye contact as they talk, nodding your head and making “listening noises” (“uh-huh,” “hmmm,” “interesting,” etc.). Kids know though, don’t fake it. Clear your mind and really Listen

Listening is one of the greatest gifts you can give your athletes !

Referring to Ueland again: she wrote

“Who are the people, for example, to whom you go for advice? Not to the hard, practical ones who can tell you exactly what to do, but to the listeners; that is, the kindest, least censorious, least bossy people that you know. It is because by pouring out your problem to them, you then know what to do about it yourself.”
Self discovery


SLIDE 10 Core #4

Recognize Contributions and Progress
Celebrating Success and Having Fun
Hey we all know this… swimming is hard
 Provide ongoing feedback on progress and direction
Quick meetings/huddles before during and after practices
Before during and after swim meets
 Recognize team and individual contributions
Not just at the end of the year banquet but Via Websites, emails… there is no excuse for not taking advantage of modern technology.
 Employ both Coach and peer recognition programs
Intrinsic and extrinsic rewards
Swim of the meet
Performance of the year

 SLIDE 11 Core #5

Create an Atmosphere of Love, Concern and Mutual Respect
Practices that reflect Highlander Values
 An all-encompassing program
 A program for all
 Committed to instilling model character behaviors
 Developing future leaders
 Affirming competitive experiences

SLIDE 12

While there are several factors that go into creating successful teams and individuals, I firmly believe the single most important factor is commitment. The vast majority of us coaches are highly committed because of our passion for the sport and coaching. We understand the tremendous amount of time it takes to build and maintain a successful program and a great deal of us are willing to dedicate our lives to it. So being the empathetic guy I aspire to be I understand why coaches are often confused and frustrated by lazy, apathetic, and irresponsible athletes. It is hard for anyone to understand why an athlete would intentionally throw away golden opportunities to improve by not consistently giving it their all.
But if there is anything that 22 years of coaching has taught me its that Lots of people have dreams, but amazingly few have the commitment necessary to relentlessly pursue them

Ultimately it might be up to the kids themselves, but I like to think that the Cores I have set up for Highlander swimming will facilitate greatly in the Journey.

Before we open up the floor for any questions I have a few token thoughts about what we can do as coaches to enhance our athletes’ levels of commitment.
Make your practices challenging and fun whenever possible.
 When you think about it, the time a player spends in practices is significantly more than that in games. While most games should be challenging for athletes, practice time can be tougher for many athletes to get and stay sufficiently motivated.
 To combat this fact, it is partly up to you as a coach to make your practices as exciting and challenging as possible. Successful coaches invest the time to plan practices verses just showing up and winging it. Further, with the countless number of drills created, successful coaches use the drills that get their athletes juices flowing. They find challenging ways to engage their athletes mentally through challenging drills. They also seek their athletes input on drills and allow them to occasionally choose the drills they want to use.
 If you are really innovative, you may even want to consider having your athletes plan a practice from time to time. While you might be concerned that it would not be a good practice, oftentimes the practice is of high quality because the athletes are willing to work hard in the drills because they got to choose them.

Appreciate your athletes’ roles, especially your reserves.
 Another way to improve your athletes’ commitment levels is to appreciate the roles they play for the team. It has been said that a person’s greatest need is the need to feel appreciated – this is especially true of athletes. Your players need to feel like what they are doing has important value to the team. While your starters tend to get a lot of praise, it’s your reserves who especially need to be acknowledged for the important little things they do for the team. You are one of the best people to acknowledge them because their important contribuitions will often be overlooked by fans and the media.
 As Rick Pitino notes in his book Success is a Choice, “Recognize the people who get less attention in the group because they’re not in the glamorous positions. Thank them publicly for their unselfishness and do it in front of their peers.”
 I call this the Law of the Bench: Great teams have great depth. Any team that wants to excel must have good substitutes as well as starters. The key to making the most of the law of the bench is to continually improve the team.

Show your athletes you care about them.
 Finally, one of the best ways to earn your players’ commitment is to continually show them that you care about them. When people feel appreciated and cared for, they will extend the same loyalty back to you. They will understand that you value them as people, and not just as an athlete.
 However, if your athletes ever feel like you are using them to advance yourself with more press or a higher paying job somewhere else, they will see through you very quickly and their commitment levels will drop off significantly. Thus, invest the time to develop a relationship with each your athletes. Ask them about things outside of sport like their families, friends, and future goals. When you demonstrate that you are committed to their overall well being, they will be much more willing to commit themselves to you.
 Focus on their strengths, praise them

Emphasize Quality Practices
 Don’t just practice,
 practice with purpose!
Don’t just practice, practice with a purpose! The best people in any endeavor are those who devote the most hours to “purposeful practice”; in other words a specific activity that is explicitly intended to improve performance. This “purposeful practice” should reach for objectives just beyond one’s level of competence. Using Tiger Woods as an example: merely hitting a bucket or two of balls at the driving range is not “purposeful practice”, hitting a seven iron 200+ times with a goal of leaving the ball within 20 feet of the pin 80% of the time, while continually observing results and making appropriate adjustments – that’s “purposeful practice

Be a model of hard work and commitment for them.
 There is an old saying which goes “The speed of the leader determines the speed of the group.” This could not be more true in athletics. Your commitment level as a coach sends an unmistakeable message to your players about the importance of commitment.
 To gain their commitment, you must first prove to them that you are worthy of it. You must consistently show them that you yourself are willing to pay the price of success. This means coming to practice early, conducting an organized, high quality practice, and the willingness to stay afterwards to help people improve their games. As legendary former Iowa Wrestling coach Dan Gable suggests, “You must display a work ethic that’s even greater than the one you are trying to teach the athlete.”

”.

Things to practice to be a better coach/leader…..

Practice appreciation
Practice real compliments
Practice calling people by their name
Practice spreading the glory
Practice raising people up, not cutting them down
Practice remembering that praise is power
Practice putting service first, all else flows from that
Practice remembering that no one is perfect
Practice remembering that everyone has a right to be different
Practice remembering that how you think when you lose determines how long it will be until you win

In order to teach commitment we need to as coaches do the following
Teach kids that it is their swimming, to take ownership, it is their team

“There’s a difference between interest and commitment. When you’re interested in doing something, you do it only when circumstance permit. When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses, only results.”

In my opinion what is commitment so important because: “Commitment in the face of conflict produces character.

The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.”


Individual commitment to a group effort — that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.”
VInce Lombardi

When work, commitment, and pleasure all become one and you reach that deep well where passion lives, nothing is impossible.”

Simple Equation
E = Cl

One’s expectations must equal one’s commitment level
When the expectation side outweighs the commitment side; problems occur.

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