Thoughts on Building a Winning Culture by David Marsh, SwimMAC Carolina (2013)



by Tim Welsh]

Well good morning again.  If you were here for our keynote address on Wednesday night, we all had a puzzle piece on our chair because we are all pieces of the puzzle that make Swimming great in our country and around the world.  Our speaker this morning, David Marsh, is going to talk to us about building a winning culture; because that is what he does: he builds winning cultures wherever he goes.  David is currently the CEO and Director of Swimming at SwimMAC Carolina in North Carolina.  When you look at his title, SwimMAC Carolina, you will notice that it’s a big MAC and that is a tribute to its former existences in Mecklenburg Aquatic Club where it’s continued and built on the culture that was established there in North Carolina.


Prior to coming to SwimMAC, David began life in Miami; he was primarily a backstroker.  He went on to Auburn University where he was the SEC champion and All-American in the backstroke on a team that also produced Rowdy Gaines.  When David started coaching, winning started happening.  He coached at the Dynamo Swim Club in Georgia, he coached at Las Vegas Gold in Nevada.  He went back to his alma mater, Auburn, where he won 7 men’s and 5 women’s NCAA national titles, and was the first coach to win men’s and women’s NCAA championships in the same year—that’s a team culture.


At SwimMAC, where he has been since 2007, David’s job has been to rethink the entire swimming pyramid from entry level to elite.  And on the top of that pyramid he has placed Team Elite, a center for excellence, whose objective is to produce swimmers at the national and international levels who will score points for us.  He has coached over 30 Olympians; he had 5 on the 2012 team.  Their motto with Team Elite is: to produce leaders in life through excellence and Swimming.  That is also team culture.  David is married with three children and one dog, and he is talking about building winning culture.  Coach David Marsh.


[Marsh begins]

(Alright, super, I am on the clip here so I can move around a little bit).  Thank you Tim, and yes my dog’s name is Brewster—he likes to sit on the front of my paddleboard and cruise around the lake.  Brewster and I have good times.


We have been talking for the past little bit, and maybe at the London Olympics it became the most clear but since then it has become even more clear: Swimming is the #1 Olympic sport.  I mean that’s crazy: Swimming is the #1 Olympic sport.  The Olympics is the #1 peace-time event in the world; other than wars, the Olympics is the biggest thing.  Equal to 17 Super Bowls per day for the entirety of the Olympic Games: that’s the kind of impact the Olympics has.  And Team USA is #1 in Swimming at those Olympics.  Sometimes it’s even hard to kind of grasp that.  When I say that at Kiwanis Clubs, they get it right away.  I have a hard time getting that, and I think you guys probably do too because you are in it: you are in the trenches, you are doing the deal.


But it’s an incredibly exciting and challenging time right now in our sport.  I just heard some numbers the other day: there are 2,900 clubs, right now, and 15,000 coaches in the country.  USA Swimming is expecting to grow from 300,000 to 400,000 registered athletes in the next short window of time.  There are 2.3 million summer-league swimmers—and I am sure that’s probably not even a current number; that probably has grown from there, if the one in Charlotte is any example, the summer league teams are just busting.  17 million people swim on a regular basis in the country.  I was talking to the folks from Speedo, because they have taken up Zumba as part of their auxiliary line of what they are doing.  Zumba is the world’s largest activity; and the Swimming… the water version of Zumba has accelerated faster than any other part of that.  So people are going to the water now.


It’s also to me a really exciting time that the opportunities with Open Water.  If you go back into where the vendors are [the Exhibit Hall at the 2013 World Clinic]: it looks likes Triathlon is an emerging sport in the NCAA; the Paralympics is no longer just something that nice people do, it is a genuine Olympic event—it is a genuine Olympic sport—and Swimming is the feature of that as well.  I just heard recently we are adding Mixed Relays to the World Championships: more events are coming.  The 50s of strokes are probably eventually coming.  There is more and more and more Swimming.  And so more and more opportunity and a little bit more responsibility.


There are some needs, I would say of the top of my head here.  You know to me brining… and I appreciated Tim talking about the fullness of my job ,because I actually spend more time thinking about the entry part and the developmental part than I probably do any other part of our entire program.  And my concern is: how we bring kids into the sport.  I talked to Rowdy Gaines a long time ago, and when his daughter went-out for Swimming her first time, went to practice and was told to do: an 800 swim, 400 kick, 400 pull.  She had never done more than two laps in a row straight, so that was the last day she ever swam.  My son went to his first SwimMAC practice, and at that practice the coach gave them 8×200.  I don’t know what the interval was, but it was 8×200: that was the last day my son swam.


In general sports right now—and I think we have probably been somewhat guilty of this in the past, but I think it’s becoming more of an epidemic with all sports in a lot of ways because of the mighty dollar—they are getting the 8 and 9 year-olds in a specialized sport and keeping them in that sport.  And offering All Stars and travel squads and personalized coaching.  And they are keeping them in that one sport; and we all know young kids need to do a lot of sports: they need a lot of activities to properly develop.  That’s going to be a challenge.  PE [Physical Education] is getting eliminated all over the country, especially in middle school.  There is a huge need for aerobic-based, physical activity for the middle school kid.  And really for younger than that and older than that; but middle school, in particular, seems to be where it’s getting nailed the most.


So, again, a lot of opportunity for us.  One of the fastest growing programs at SwimMAC is Middle School Teen Fit.  It’s just a program of one hour and you do land stuff and water stuff.  Badaboom, badaboom, pay some dues, nice experience, you don’t swim at any meets. We actually recently had one of our better kids come out of that Middle School Teen Fit, has moved over to the team now.  So there’s a lot of opportunity like that too.


Information.  It is crazy, right now, how much information there is.  I don’t Facebook, but I do Twitter; and it’s amazing the great information you can get off Twitter.  It’s amazing the number of podcasts out there.  Byron Davis is my most recent podcast I am listening to a lot.  He has an Epic Life podcast that I have come to really enjoy and use to kind of help motivate me at times.


Technology.  Through technology, right now—and if you go back into where the vendors are—there are all kinds of new products and new things making our sport more interesting and making it more I think more… the things we can do are a lot more intentional.  It’s also making our sport more safe.  The environment of the pool, because of things like the evacuator; because of things like the safety elements that are being considered in Swimming, our environments are getting a lot better.  Quality of pools.


When I look at all these challenges and exciting opportunities: what do you do with it?  What we have to do with it, as coaches, is: we are at the center of it, we are the center piece.  We can’t wait on volunteers, we can’t wait on school districts, we can’t wait on… we are at the center of it.  And us creating the type of programming structures and kind of inspirational moments is what we do and what we need to continue to look to do.


So we need to build this kind of culture that brings people to our sport.  And in our sport they experience something that’s life changing and, hopefully, something that turns out to continue our tradition of having the best team in the globe, in the best sport, in the best event on the globe.


Last night I was… (is Wayne Goldsmith here?  Did he straggle in.).  Last night I was out with a couple of Australians, so no wonder they are not in on time.  But Wayne and Ian Pope; and Pope was telling me, he said, “Dave, you’ve got to give… in your talk you can’t give them all that gooply-goop crap.  You’ve got to give them stuff: give them sets, give them things they want.” And then Wayne is on the other side going: “Ah no, it’s much more important to give them intent than content.”  I like the way he put that.  Because it’s really… unfortunately I am going to report to you this is a intent, not necessarily a content, conversation.  And content being this: if I gave you my training plan from last week and last week’s workout; and ten of you went out and gave it to ten different groups, you would have ten different results—you wouldn’t have the same result.  So even though that is maybe what you want, I am going to try to emphasize some things that have to do with the intent of what we are doing here.


I think… let me break it down a little bit closer now.  I think we are at a transition point in our sport where… and this… a lot of why… when I watched my daughter first go out for swimming in Auburn on the club, I kind of watched the way we did things.  I was like: ugh, she is just doing laps.  And so part of the exciting opportunity in coaching club is you get it from lessons and entry levels, all the way through; and you can really impact that process.  I think of it in that kind of way.  You know I had several situations when I was training and coming through, that we were doing the 20,000-a-day and training like crazy and doing that kind of work that at that time we all thought was kind of the best stuff out there.  I think we have come a long way.


And I am a swim dad now, and as a swim dad a really cool thing happened just last week.  My daughter, Maddie, who is 13 years-old; she came into the living room.  She said, “Dad, me and my friend want to join the team.”  They were on Middle School Teen Fit; they want to join the team.  So they joined the White group last week; so I have a 13 year-old who is just joining SwimMAC, well started last week.  And my big question when I got home was: How did you like it?  She said, “It was so much fun, the first practice.”  Ahh, yes, yes.  That was a pretty exciting moment for me.


But my real hope is that through thinking-through these kinds of things that we can make a better me, a better you; and make the culture of Swimming be a better place for young people.  So here we go.


So I have got a little exercise for you first.  I want you to… and this is a writing exercise—if you don’t have a pen, you have to kind of pretend like you are writing.  I want you to write down your favorite coach growing up that had the biggest impact on you.  Write his/her name down, right now.  And if he/she is sitting next to you, give them a big kiss.  Now you have got it written down, right?  Everybody has got it written down okay.  Now I want you to write down three descriptive words about what made them that choice, maybe, over someone else. What are three descriptive words: write those down.  Now I need some participation: who is willing to give their name and the three?  What’s your name?


[Robin Heller]:  Robin Heller.


[Marsh]:  Hi Robin.


[Heller]:  Hi.  [The coach is] Steve Bialorucki.  He was challenging—I started swimming when I was high school and he was my first coach in high school.  He was challenging as hell, he was fun, but he was caring at the same time.


[Marsh]:  Challenging, fun, caring.


Dave, give it up.


[audience member]:  Cal Hubbard.  He was smart, prepared and caring.


[Marsh]:  Smart, prepared and caring.


Coach Schubert, are you willing to share?


[Mark Schubert]:  Sure.  Dick Wells, my high school coach.


[Marsh]: My coach in my freshman year in college, too.


[Schubert]:  Inspirational, tough, hard working.


[Marsh]:  Mine was that guy [slide].  Age Group it was Tim Shead, who I think is here—Tim’s my club coach.  But certainly Richard Quick was my guy.  He was passionate, caring and inspirational.  And I get… whenever I see his picture, I get a little caught up here, so sorry.  (And Dick too right?)  You noticed of the words said there, and I am sure you guys have written down on your paper, you are not writing down the Xs and Os.  You are not saying they wrote great sets; you are not saying they had a great season plan; you are not saying that the travel logistics were perfect.  The impact that you have is in those areas that were just mentioned there.


Bit of a challenge now perhaps—and this might be a little scary to even bring up—but if I were to go to your pool deck next week and I had a little time with your group, and I went around and asked the swimmers in your group to describe you, what words would they use?  I am guessing we have a lot of the same kind of descriptions, but I just want you to contemplate that.


You know the first talks that were yesterday were all about relationships.  Wasn’t it interesting talk to hear Graham [Hill] talk about doing crazy, Hungarian, IM sets; and yet the relationship is what he attributed it to: the relationship with the swimmer and the parent.  When Matt Kredich was talking before—and I know his relationship with his swimmers and family, but—he was talking about relationship with the water and the relationship with the experience of being at the pool and in the environment.  Carol [Capitani] was talking about the relationship with her team and even more importantly with her family.  So it is relationships: that’s what we are about.


And I can tell you that a healthy culture has a chance to be a winning culture, and it is about relationships.  You know at Auburn, trying to think-through the kind of categorizing of culture, we went from being poor to being improving.  And then there was another phase where we went from improving to being good—remember that one Bill?  Then we went from good to best.  And then after the best, we had the challenge of maintaining the best.  With every time, every level of that, the importance of culture was more and more important.  To just go from poor to improving, or even improving to good, really two or three good swimmers could that. Like a good diver, they could take care of that, they could get the points.  Then you are improving in the measurable area that Athletic Directors like to see.  But every time you go up a little further and things… and everything begins to matter in that culture of building a championship program, and especially a sustainable championship program.


I tried to think of how I could categorize culture.  The couple of areas I have is:

  • Sort of structure and alignment. I would say for structure and alignment that… kind of stuff like staff assignments, your schedules—you got to have that.  You have got to have the structure first, the foundation of that.
  • Another thing for the culture for me, the words I put down here was: models, leaders and collaborators—you have to have that. That is where the people come in: that is the upper classmen, that is the captains, that is the coaches, that is the support crew around the staff.  Those are all things that are really important, that they begin to happen.
  • And then the final thing is: you have to know what true north What does true north look like?  And if you kind of look at the meaning of true north, true north is kind of a compass setting.  The reality is a compass does not ever really show the true north.  So true north is that thing that really is the north that the compass does not even show.


So true north is something determined by a team; and in college swimming true north is to me kind of easy, it put the laser on it.  “Beat Bama”; when I first got there, that’s the job: beat Bama.  And that was very simple.  It was not simple, but that was our task; when you are at Auburn that is the thing you got to do.  Then it was “Beat Florida”, because they are the best in the conference.  Then it was win conference, win NCAAs—it is boom, boom, boom.  That was pretty clear.


And there were some things we did to kind of jerk that culture forward—Bill probably remembers better than most, Joe Willard is in here, I think.  But there were times where we had to understand that to change this culture, you had to come to practice on-time.  So what we would do—what myself and Jim Sheridan would do—is at six o’clock, when practice started, we would put chains around the doors.  We did not have to chain the door, we could have just locked them.  But we wanted to just show the chains, because it was saying: you are too late, you cannot come to practice today.  Now Fire Marshals probably would not allow that nowadays, but back then you get away with that.  One time we went down and swam LSU, and we had about 12 people on the team because the rest of the team did not get to the bus on time.  And unfortunately—I still apologize to Ricky Meador for this to this day—the meet happened to be on TV and it was like… they were making a big deal of it.  Well they won by a lot, shall we say; and we set a little precedent to kind of help fast-forward the culture.


But let’s move-on to club here; where I love now, where I am now.  The culture aspects of structure and alignment, well it gets a lot more complicated at club, it gets a lot more interesting, because you have a lot more people involved.  You have the structure aspect of a board of directors—at least I do.  When I first went to Charlotte, we had 22 board members.  And we have been able to whittle it down, much thanks to a lot of efforts by a lot of people; we are down to 9 now, 2 of which are staff members.  So it is a much more manageable board.  We have even moved to this form of governance that after B.D. [Brandon Drawz] and I have worked through this for a year we will let you guys know by maybe reporting on it at an ASCA convention later on—assuming it continues to go well.


But it is a different form of governance that I am not sure anybody has done it; has anybody heard of Carver’s form of governance?  The biggest thing it does is that it holds the board members accountable, they can take no action by themselves.  If they are not speaking a unified group, they are just a parent in a club—that is one of the big reminders.  And then you also work to satisfy the moral owners as a priority.  The moral owners are those people who it does not depend on if their kids swam fast last week at the meet or not, they still are supportive of your team and of you.  That is moral owners versus customers and members.


And then there is the structure part, that’s been interesting too:  which is trying to get an organizational flow chart to work.  This is like five different ones.  So just… you don’t need to write them down; they are just different ways we have tried to structure our team.  And I think the bottom left one is the most current, at least of organizational structures, that we have right now.


And then I think you have to have a… I think it is a big-picture/philosophical kind of structure, when it comes to the program.  I really like The Talent Code; I really like Daniel Coyle’s work.  That is really what we are trying to do at MAC: really bringing people in, get them excited, get an old guy like me overseeing the program.  The big challenge is getting the youngsters to buy-into deep practice.  And bada bing bada boom: we have talent.  And shame on us when we think talent is the other way around, that it is the beginning of that scale; because that is not the case.  I can tell you from coaching Auburn for a lot of years and MAC for a lot of years that a lot of my best swimmers ever, if talent had to be on this side instead of the other side, they never would have been given a chance.  So deep practice makes a huge difference.


(I am going to use my glasses, because I’m having a hard time seeing my own notes.  Excuse me.)


Models, leaders, collaborators: those were the Senior swimmers, the coaches, the volunteers, and, yes, of course, the parents.  By the way, one of the absolute best coaches on my staff was a parent who was a really good volunteer, turned into a coach, three years later—Allison you know him, Larry Lee—fantastic coach.  Probably one of the best coaches on my entire staff, partly because he has got such passion for it.  So it is not… parents absolutely can be a big huge part of the models, leaders and collaborators.


And then a unified understanding what true north is.  In our club true north has to do with our ends; and in the Carver model you work toward ends.  I am going to read our ends too.  These are the four things, and the only four things, I am held accountable to.  And I can give my interpretation of what those ends are; as long as it is a reasonable interpretation, I can make it my interpretation and the board has to accept it.  And here are the four, and I think you will be able to read a lot into a lot of them.

  1. Number one end is: support children and families entering the sport with an opportunity for lifelong enrichment.
  2. Second, support athletes in benefiting from collegiate academic opportunities.
  3. Third, inspire athletes to train for elite levels.
  4. Four, support SwimMAC as a model of excellence embraced by the global Swimming community.

And all four of those we are building out intentional programming.  This is actually taken off a job description; every job description has the ends on it because their job is to help me deliver these ends.  There is a lot of other stuff we do other than just these four things, but this is what we measure right here is these ends.


And this helps us to create that culture at SwimMAC and keep our kind of eye on what true north is.  The example would be the college situation.  It took me a few years, but after being at MAC for long enough I kind of realized kind of my main job is to get them to a good college.  A kind of a college where their experience can take them to the next level, whether it be academically, athletically or a combination of both.  That is a huge part of a club coach’s job, because we have such a phenomenal system of colleges throughout the country, and we are trying to help a young person accelerate to that next level.  I had six guys go off this Fall to different colleges; all of them are going, I think, to the perfect college situation for them at least swimming-wise.  All of them…  it is five different schools, from Auburn to Harvard to Missouri to Denver.  So they are all going to almost a perfect situation for them in the swimming context.


This is… one of the things about this [slide]… this is our 15+16 boys when they broke the National Age Group Record, and who is around them is as many coaches that were at the deck that day that had ever coached them.  The group would be twice that big, if they were [all] there that day.  But that is what success looks like: it looks like a whole bunch of coaches not just the head coach—like I am taking credit for in the bottom there.  These four guys here broke all the 17-18 National Age Group relay records; and they were all… three of the four were home grown, the other one came over when he was 15 from another local club.  That is the kind of stuff that we really are all about at our program.  So we embraced the NCAA; we embraced the pro part. But you will notice I have not even talked about the pro stuff yet; and I am probably not going to get to it, honestly.  That is just what I get to do.  My main job is this other stuff right here: in creating the culture that supports that professional piece.


So true north is the mission.  The vision and the commitment to the ends is to be a comprehensive, world-class organization.  And then our saying is: Empowering young people to be champions in life through excellence in Swimming.  That has been there a lot longer than probably several of the coaches that have been at MAC.


Now what about you and your situation?  I am sure there are times when in our sport where you feel like it’s like: doggone it, I do a lot of stuff and don’t get paid enough, don’t get recognized enough, don’t get seen enough.  Believe me, I think we can feel your pain.  But here is a good example here (if this will play).  If you read through this.  Some of you have probably seen this on the internet, but this is a master violinist who played the night before for a $100 a seat.  He went into the subway in Washington… and you can read the stats there.  [Marsh is referencing Joshua Bell’s 2007 playing in the Washington D.C. metro, profiled in the article “Pearls Before Breakfast”, published by the Washington Post, April 8, 2007.]


I will go into this real quick; this is what you do above and beyond.  So 94% of the coaches do additional… this is not just Swimming, this is all sports; 94% of coaches do additional things beyond coaching on the pool deck.  And I would propose to you guys for the “you” part of this, this is going to get more.  The right side of the graph that goes into the white is the more years, the more you do other stuff.  We know that, we older coaches know that we spend more time doing other stuff than being on deck—hopefully by choice, not by a default.  But you can see here is just some of the stats on that, and the way that ends up looking as it goes through.  The example I have is two big ones.  Technology.  So if you are competent in technology, in communicating in a kind of a cutting-edge, technological way—if you can put together quick videos, if you can…— your chance of being more successful as a coach is much greater.  If you are a dryland specialist coach as well, if you study proper dryland movements, if you get certified, if you develop as that, you are more valuable.  I look for that on resumes, that is a distinct value when I am doing my hiring.  So those are the kind of things I am looking for in even young coaches coming in.


I spend a lot of time at the mentoring piece.  It seems like that, at my age and stage, that has become probably 10-15% of my time is spent talking about other clubs and other situations with other people, which I love doing.  It is part, again, of our global ends to be a model of excellence embraced by the global Swimming community.  SwimMAC is not meant to keep it in a little… you know right here; we want to share what we are doing and what we have.  So I would say, as you work on yourself, you are able to add more value to your culture.  And, as you work on yourself, you are able to be more successful at home, at your job and to the overall sport.  So the question for you guys is: what is your true north?


When it comes to mentors—I love this part.  One of the things I… when you look at this [slide], these are all coaches that are either swam at Auburn or have been a coach with me at Auburn.  And there are a whole lot more, by the way; there are a few out here—I am sorry.  This is not by any means of a full list, but it is basically the pictures we could pull down the last three days.  But these are… every one of these guys has a story of what they did during the Auburn days.  I forgot Brian Barnes was in town recruiting last week, and we talked about John Scott, the legend of John Scott at Auburn.  I had not thought about John Scott in a long time.  Here is a guy that had none of that talent on the other end, he was a 1:51 kid that I told when he is a junior not fast enough yet to swim at Auburn.  He got fast enough by the time he finished to go 1:51; he ended up 2nd place at NCAAs in a 200 Butterfly by his senior year, after getting left-off the NCAA team for two years in a row because we had 22 people qualified, we couldn’t take him.  The senior year, his first time at NCAAs, he was 2nd place in the 200 Butterfly.  That was Brian Barnes: he coached him most of the time and kind of kept him alive during those four years.  Every one of these guys and girls has a different story, mostly as to how they impacted young people’s lives.  You talk about why MAC and why Auburn had a winning culture: it is this.  It is a whole lot of this.  It is a lot of the relationships that they made along the way.


All right.  I am going to go through… we have been working all this year with Jeremy Boone.  He is a performance specialist that has worked with our whole staff; he has a program called Coach Your Best, Parent Your Best, Swim Your Best, but he is a friend.  In fact, he and I went out to Penske Racing and he consults with them.  He had me speak to the pit crew last week.  Interesting, the pit crew, they are a little bit like swimmers: they do intense activity for, hopefully, 13 or 14 seconds and then they have about 40 minutes off.  And their biggest question to me—and they asked me in several different ways—was: what do you do during the time in-between?  That seems to be the hardest thing they have to do: what do you.


And it is really interesting because they do not do anything productive, and then they go right from nothing to full-speed.  I am like: you guys need to get warmed-up and get ready before you put tires on the thing—those tires were heavy.  I tried to do the little jack thing, where you jump up and push the thing down.  I am 230 pounds; I could not make that car move.  Then the guy that takes the bolts off the car, he is probably 150 pounds; he jumps-up, boom, pops it down, the car pops up—it is all technique, it was pretty interesting.


But Jeremy Boone has kind of emphasized to us four keys to a winning culture, and I am going to run through those with you.   (How are we doing on time?  Very good.)  Four keys to winning culture.  It is language that shapes your culture, okay.


It was interesting to hear as I… as a swim dad, I carpool some kids around.  I was talking to one of my daughter’s friends, who is a pretty good swimmer in the Senior 2 group, and I was asking, you know just kind of inquiring, you know that’s when I do a little quiet work to find out what they think of our whole culture and our coaches and things like that.  And I was asking about the set they were doing, and she says, “Well, I didn’t know what the set was.”  And I said: What do you mean you didn’t know what the set was?  “I didn’t know what the set was; I just started looking at what other people were doing and I started doing what they did.”  I said: Well, I thought you are always in that lane; do you ever know what a set is?  She says, “No, I don’t ever know what the set is; I always just kind of figure it out as we are going along, because I can’t hear the coach.”


Yeah, I guess if you are going to have… do proper instruction, you probably need to hear it first.  So volume.  And you know a lot of you guys work at those crowded pool decks with noises going on/off everywhere.  And it is maybe a reminder to you to try and make sure they hear or at least move the kids around in lanes so some people that do not hear you yet, it is not the same person every day.


But it is your body tone, is first, right.  You guys know the order of priority when you are communicating: body tone is number one.  Your body tone says more than anything else.  The tone you use, the intonations you use, that is number two—that is the next most important thing.  And then the words you speak are only 8% of your communication.  So really the words you speak are not that big of a deal; but how you say them and how you move around—and do this and make sure you do all these kind of things—that is a lot more important.  So be alive.  And I do not know if you guys ever learned from a monotone coach or you got a monotone teacher: ugh! horrible.  [Speaking in a monotone voice:]  The next set is going to be 12×200 on 2:20, descend one to four.  I mean really? Go sell vacuum cleaners.


The point here is, the way to word it is: it is not what I want from you, it is what I want for you.  When you are speaking the language to a young person, you want to help them, it is not “from you”, because it is not about you: it is for them.


Use words that help paint the picture of what the big goal is.  So express yourself in ways, and use those words, that talk about those kinds of things.  I know one of the things we had at Auburn that we just did—and I did not know all of this, I did not do any study on this kind of stuff, but we just did it—we were not allowed to talk about “NCAA cuts”.  You were not allowed to talk about cuts, because cuts were irrelevant.  I did not care if you made cuts.  It was about scoring points: what did it take to make the top-8 last year.  That was what I wanted to know—I do not care what the cut was.  If you get there… to some degree I would rather you not make it if you cannot go there and score because then you are just part of the people sitting on the bench and that is not going to help the team as much.  So we just did not let them talk about cuts a whole lot.


Just this year, I was at some meet, it was the Senior Age Group Championships, 14&Under championships, and we were hosting it—so it was our fault.  But there were no Junior National cuts in the program; there are no Senior National cuts in the program.  What language are we speaking to those kids at that meet?  You know we had like, I do not even know if it was Sectional times or AAA—I do not even know what the things were—but there are 14 year-olds, they should be looking at Senior Nationals and Junior Nationals, and Olympic Trials eventually.  At least know what it is, and have the announcer know what it is.


So less “I” and “my”.  So: my group, I think, my opinion.  How about more “we”?  Join-in with them in the collaborative effort to be successful.  Okay, second one: values drive the culture.  In values we are talking about first core values; core values as a coach and a person.  First you then the hundred people you are working with, because all of them have different core values.  Scary part here: Jeremy did a survey of 2,000 of the different athletes he has worked with over time, and 86% of the young people he talked to had never considered or written down specifically core values.  That is one of the things we did this last year; very helpful and a great exercise just to do.  And then the next part of the exercise is that they have to discuss those core values with their parents and their coach, which happens even less than just having core values.


Oh yeah on language—I am going back to this one.  Language sarcasm: sarcasm sucks by the way.  It does not work very well: with little kids, they do not get it; with older kids, it takes energy out of the room. So even if you are really witty and sarcastic and all that, it does not work very well.  And I am dealing with pro guys where I have to work on getting rid of the sarcasm, which is really hard to do because what post-grad is not very sarcastic?   Just be aware of sarcasm.  You can use it you know in some kind of ways, but do not make that your only way to communicate: I believe it will hold you back.


Okay back to values drive culture.  The core values you have do become your habit; and the key is to seek clarity of what those core values are, so you know what you are dealing with.  After we went through this exercise, we did it at home.  And at home my family kind of agreed on the core values of: honor God, respect and love the family, the golden rule, and try hard.  At SwimMAC we try to explain, whenever we can, that it is about career development not about seasonal development, and certainly not about meet-to-meet crap.  You guys know what I am talking about?  Like there are just so many folks that in our sport they think it is meet-to-meet, like “I didn’t do my best time”.  Well part of that is because if they are 13 and under, they are concrete thinkers: they do not really think in terms of delayed gratification.  Their brain works in: I do this, I get that.  It is like me: I wake up I get coffee—that is my version.  But really the thing we try to do is, and we try to explain in our core beliefs is, we are developing for a career.


Here is an example.  We are working with some… trying to do more dryland, and a really good dryland right.  So we have hired and worked with a couple of companies around town.  There is one company, it became clear that, after the season, that they have a very different core value than we have in terms of the way they are going about developing young people.  We explained to them our whole plan and all that kind of stuff, and yet time and time again our kids would go-in and they would say: well do you want the kind of slow track or a fast track to improvement?  And the fast track, of course, is you know doing more weights and more things to make little kids strong artificially.  You would assume that an organization that spends a couple of million dollars on opening a facility would have a plan that would involve bringing young kids on along.  But they just had a different core value than we did, so we are working with somebody else now and they do not have our business anymore.


But the point is: in not only in the people you are dealing with but even in the associations you have, you want to know what their core values are as organizations.  And then as your groups, the more you can know the core values of the individuals and your groups, the better you will coach them.  Seeking clarity that way, having those conversations, kind of one-offs, can go a long way with allowing you to coach them better.


Beliefs establish culture.  Okay?  Beliefs are: what do you really, really think.  That is “beliefs”.  And keep in mind that beliefs create an identity, and you cannot out-perform your own self-identity—it is one of the tenants that we try to go by, or understand anyway.  To understand more we need to ask questions.  And a lot of times, it is a bunch of individual identities that make-up the team identity, and they do not always have to be in sync.  I mean if you think about the run the Chicago Bulls made [in the 1990s], they had [Scottie] Pippen, [Michael] Jordan and [Dennis] Rodman.  You probably could not have had three different kind of people, but yet they were dominant with the way they went about their business.


I think if I attribute one category of culture excellence to the London team, it was in this category: the beliefs.  Every one of those USA swimmers believed in, almost like a Pygmalion-type effect, that they were better when they put on the USA uniform.  There was constant synergy of people helping people get ready to get out to the blocks.  You know, whether it would be [Elizabeth] Beisel bantering with Allison [Schmitt] before she went out; or like in Nick Thoman’s case it was Matt Grevers pulling him up and saying, let’s go get 1-2, right now, and they went out and got 1-2.  So it was that belief that because they are putting on that USA, that they believed that they should be competing for medals.


(Well that was the language thing—sorry.)  And this is us doing Open Water practice last week, next to it.  We were going around and around and around in there.  But this is just some of the words that would come together when you are talking about that kind of thing.


Now, when it comes to beliefs, it includes the little guys.  And what do they believe?  What is going on when they walk into a pool?  I kind of ran this through the grid of my little one when she was little.  And she recalled back to her first meet at Latin, and Latin is a 50m pool but a small roof; it is not a very big pool.  But she said that: “It was so big.  I had this stuff on my hand, but they didn’t make rows of kids, so I didn’t know when I was supposed to get-up and swim.  I was confused the whole time.”


Just like this…  (Is the sound going to work? Okay thanks)


Once upon a time there was this little girl named Sophie, who just wanted to have fun.


So she tried tennis.  But the court was way too big.


And the racquet was way too heavy.


And the balls bounced way too high.


So she quit.  And took up soccer. 


The end.




So Tennis, which is in dire straits right now—the men’s tennis last week at the US Open had no Americans make it to the round of 32—they have had to go back and look at the basics.  This is part of it: they bring in their former stars and making them relevant.  And this is the other big part of it: you know guys know what that is right?  That is a mushy tennis ball; that is what little kids hit.  They made the court smaller and they hit that little tennis ball around.  But they have taken the court and made it smaller.  And I think we can do that too.  How do we make pools a little bit warmer for those kids?  How do we make the experience be a little less intimidating in that first experience when they come in?  Those are the kind of things that I am thinking through: I am trying to build-out what the future looks.  How do we transitions from the lessons to the team in a really healthy and positive way.


So beliefs establish culture, and the key there is: ask questions.  Ask questions instead of telling things.  So after a race, ask: now what were you thinking when you went from 28.2 to 25.60 on the second 50 of the 200 freestyle there?  What were you thinking?  And listen to them for a little bit.  Do not say, you idiot, that was stupid, what are you doing?  So ask questions in a lot of your athletes and I think you will get a lot more of that kind of understanding of their beliefs that are behind their actions.  (We are still good on time.)


And then the last one here is: assumptions influence your culture.  What do your swimmers assume about you?  Do they assume that it depends on the mood that they are in?  Do they assume that you are going to run-over practice?  Do they assume that you are…. The most awesome thing I ever have seen when I was recruiting was watching Dick Shoulberg give kids a 10,000 IM and they are great with it because he has a relationship with these guys.  There is no adrift assumptions when you are being coached by Dick.  You are going to do this kind of stuff and you have been brought-along in a way that this is going to be a healthy and positive experience.  I do not know how he does it because I cannot do that.  But it is amazing to me.


And then the other thing is: you have got to care about the person a lot more than the result.  And they need to sense that, they need to assume that is the case.  If they are in that situation, they will be more willing to take risk, they will be more willing to extend themselves, to be willing to have a more honest dialogue with you.  If they think that as a coach you are more concerned about the result—and that is going to depend on what you have to say to them or your reaction to them or your mood about them or your care about them—that is a really bad place to put them.  So you need to make sure you have that foundation of caring about the person.


The example you set trumps the instructions you give.  That is a truism.


Okay so those are the four that I had there.



I have been asked to remind you guys the board meeting is at 10:15.  It is not the board, excuse me: it is the open meeting that Dana and everybody else is invited to.  It is at 10:15.  But I want to say something about when I was at the ASCA board meeting this past week.  Because we ended the meeting with going around the room, and everybody, including all the Fellows, saying something like we used to do at Steering and saying something that we felt like it could make Swimming better.  And the beauty of ASCA, and the beauty of what we do here, is we can act on it: we do not have to go to Convention to vote on it.  So three of the initiatives there John said done, we are doing it.  And it was just really cool to see.


My heart, my heart went to Safe Sport.  And given that the stat is 1 in 5 is abused youngsters are abused.  The fact that out of 15,000 people, any stat you ran would say there are probably some people with some issues.  I would say it is our responsibility to look around; and when we see stuff going on, do not be quiet anymore.  Because it is going to kill our sport.  You know that California just passed that, or opened up that door of legislation, to go back to the long term and look at the entirety of a life for these kinds of situation.  That is going to be financially dangerous to us.  But the heck with the financial; I am talking about young people here.  And if you are one of those people that has found yourself in a gray or dark area, get the hell out of our sport.  Go sell vacuum cleaners, please.


But the good news is most of the things were positive stuff.  And one of the coolest was I thought Matt Kredich had challenged us to do a lot more with the Paralympics intentionally.  I am guilty too: I have not done anything.  And here I am, you know, Jimmy’s [Flower’s] best friend; and Dave Dennison, you know coached Dave Dennison; and loved those Paralympians up there in Colorado Springs.  But we have them in our cities, we have people who have those kind of special needs.  And I think next year you are going to see some integration of the Paralympics here.


It is an amazing time in Swimming; Swimming is in the limelight.  I just resigned with SwimMAC for six years, and I am so… I am more excited about these six years than the previous six years because I know we got a lot more stuff to do.  We have kind of gotten to where we want to be; but there are not really structures causing the things we want to do, there is just really good coaches.  There are not the structures around, and support systems around, the coaches and that is the next window of challenge for us at SwimMAC.  I am also getting a chance to kind of expand out and kind of go back into camps with this thing called Dean of Performance which you see up there in the corner.  Which sounds pretty… yeah, I did not like that was up there by the way.  But anyway we are opening that up, and then I am getting help with a lot of different initiatives that I am very excited about as well.


But the CEO/Director of Coaching piece of MAC is what I am mostly excited about.  The chance to coach these guys: this is a bonus.  And the fun thing about coaching these guys is there is… remember the group of coaches that were around each one of these guys?  Around every one of these guys, there are 10-20 coaches that had an impact on getting them to this level.  And whether you are Lou, or another one that has had an impact on these guys, I hope you are… first of all I hope that you are recognized.  Secondly, I hope that you take it personal that you had a lot to do with why we are where we are.


I am going to give you two challenges: one challenge before you leave, but two parts to it.  That is: I think the most powerful thing for you to grow yourself in the shortest duration of time is through mentorship.  I am going to challenge you to find two mentors, and two different kind of mentors.  One mentor that is a successful business or professional person that is not outside the Swimming world.  They love it by the way, they love to be asked questions; they love for you to go in and give them a nice long lunch with you.  The second one is find a coach, even if it has to kind of be through cyber-world or understanding history if they are not in the United States.  But find that mentor coach that can be like your Richard Quick was to me.  I just wanted to be like Richard Quick; not the coach, I wanted to be like Richard Quick the person—I wanted to be him.  That is why I am wearing a tie right now: he always wore a tie when he spoke at ASCA, you know up on the stage.  So find that mentor, let them affect you.  And I believe your pathway to building the culture in yourself, and in your team, and in our sport, is going to be even better.  So thank you very much


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