My name is Matt Kredich and it’s a pleasure this morning to introduce to you Coach Kim Brackin who coached Kirsty Coventry to a gold metal in the 200 Backstroke in Rome in 2009. Kim is beginning her fifth year as head coach of the woman’s team at the University of Texas where she trained Kirsty but has also trained many others and she has created quite a program there at Texas. Kim’s coaching career has spanned now nearly 20 years and it’s been marked by success everywhere she’s been. After some stints as assistant coach under some great coaches at Ithaca College and Davidson and then Northwestern, she was hired in 1997 by David Marsh at Auburn, as he said to try to help him get this women’s coaching thing right.
From 1997 to 2005, Kim was quickly and kind of systematically given more and more responsibility and elevated eventually to the position of co-head coach at Auburn and during that time the women’s team won three national championships. Before Kim got there they had never won. David Marsh credits her for being the single greatest reason why those teams won championships and it’s not hard to see why. She mentored some of the world’s best swimmers during that time including Margaret Hoelzer, Kirsty Coventry and Maggie Bowen. She was also working with the men’s team at that time when they won four national championships. So she knows how to win. Ever since she was hired at Texas actually ever since she came on to the college pool deck, she’s been a force in college swimming and she is known by her competitors of which I am one as a fierce competitor, a very gracious competitor and somebody who has become a powerful role model to women in coaching and women in swimming, an example of how to compete with grace and how to compete without making excuses. We are all looking forward to hearing how she has mentored Kirsty to now, excuse me, to two Olympic gold metals in the 200 backstroke, a gold metal in the 200 backstroke, the world championships and numerous other medals on the international stage. Ladies and gentleman, Kim Brackin.
Good morning everybody. Thanks for making the, I know the eight-o’clock talk, the morning after the social can be challenging to make especially in a great city like this. Lots of good places to hang out in the evening and then the Starbucks line was around the corner so we might have people trickling in so I guess, but it’s really, it’s a pleasure to be here. It’s always a privilege to talk to my peers. It’s a privilege to be invited to speak at a clinic convention like this where so many other great coaches are sharing their knowledge and we’ve already had some phenomenal talks so far. I’ve really enjoyed listening to Paul yesterday and to Bret, there was also a pretty neat talk about ballet for swimmers that was pretty cool too. And it’s just interesting to hear the variety of approaches that coaches use and I think my talk is pretty different than everyone’s, that we’ve heard so far and I hope you can get some good information from it.
As you can see from the title: Management in a Pressure Cooker. I did that for two reasons, hopefully it was kind of an interesting title that got people here but it wasn’t in the program so there it is. But also that’s what we did and I am going to talk about, I’ll explain why I picked that title because with Kirsty in this last season of training it was very different. I had the privilege of coaching her, Kirsty for nine years and it was the most different year out of any of those nine in terms of how to prepare her more mentally rather than physically for the world championships. I learned that coaching the whole athlete is extremely important and I always knew that but it really stood out from this past year of training. I’ve learned that it’s important to know where they are in their life and what’s going on outside of the pool and how that can affect what we’re doing everyday in our training and certainly when it comes down to race time. So it’s really a tremendous learning year for me and I think for Kirsty as well. I know that if I do have the opportunity to coach Kirsty again I’ll certainly take some of the things I’m going to talk about in this talk in a much stronger consideration as we’re comparing her.
I don’t know if I’ll coach her again though. She is currently in South Africa, Johannesburg and she just recently signed a contract with Arena and she said she is going to the 2012 games. I suppose that could change but that is, that’s her intent right now, preparing for some short course for some World Cup meets this fall. But she’s just recently gotten back into training and we don’t talk too much about swimming when we talk, more about what’s going on in each other’s lives. But I know that she is excited to get back on the racing scene and I think that the door’s wide open for her. So it’s going to be fun to see what she does over the next two years or so. In getting ready for this talk I knew what I wanted to talk about and I did a lot of research that I’ve never done before for a talk like this. And one of the things that have happened recently in our country is that kind of goes in line with what I am going to talk about is Lebron James, tremendous basketball player made a decision to leave his team, to leave his hometown to go to Miami and many would say he is going to chase a ring. He is going to win a title. He wants to win a championship and we, she can do it there faster, I don’t know then anywhere else.
And what that reminds me of is that for many elite level athletes or sub-bar athletes, the end call often becomes the driving force in the whole process, over the process. What winning that championship, winning a gold metal, being the very best in the world certainly was as you’ll see what drove Kirsty through this year and I don’t think it was the best way for her to train. I don’t think it was the best way for me to coach her. I think it’s… throughout this process of doing this presentation and just reflecting upon the meet I started to question myself and I think it’s an important question for you to think about in the philosophy of your coaching is the process more valuable than what is sometimes an elusive goal. I was talking to Terry McKiver yesterday and she said extremely well that if your goal is to win a gold metal at any meet then there’s only one way that you can leave happy and that’s exactly how I’m setting up, how this season was set up for us. And one last thing before I start, I put this picture of Kirsty up here.
This is from the 2004 games and the reason I put that up there, one I don’t have a lot of picture from ’09 but I don’t think I have any pictures from ’09 but really this was the start. This was the turning point for her. I mean she had a very strong collegiate career along with this but this was the breakout me, 2004 where she won three metals and certainly became a very confident swimmer and made a name for her in the swimming world. I’ll talk a little bit quickly about just Kirsty growing up. She became swimming at the age of six and made her first Zimbabwe national team at the age of nine. Probably a lot of you know Zimbabwe is a very small, poor country in Africa. A lot of political turmoil going on and, you know, she certainly has a very, I don’t know if privileged is the right word but she had a pretty good life growing up. Great family, she had a place to train good coaches but it was very different than most of our swimmers, the opportunities that they have at her age. In the winters she couldn’t train in the pool because they didn’t have enough gas to heat the pool. So she was a multi sport athlete. She ran track and field and played field hockey and I think that was wonderful in terms of her development because she became a better athlete. She wasn’t just a swimmer and she worked with her personal trainer on, you know strength and conditioning.
Before she came to us at Auburn in 2000 and 2001, she trained in a one lane pool with five other kids. So that was, you know, how she was kind of, how she was kind of set up. She did, you know, I say all this but she was pretty successful when she did compete in the 2000 games prior to coming to us at Auburn and semi finaled in the 100 back. So she was pretty successful before we got to get our hands on her. Her collegiate experience, again she came to Auburn University as a 17 year old and it was, you know, night and day. I mean completely different. I don’t think she’d even been to the States before but it was an eye opening experience for her and certainly the catalyst for a tremendous career. She had to learn what it meant to be a team player and that was not in her vocabulary and why should it have been. I mean she didn’t really have a team in Zimbabwe and it was all about her. She was by far the best swimmer there and it was just about Kirsty Coventry.
So one of the things that I think has been the foundation for her success is learning to compete everyday with other people, with her training partners and understanding that it wasn’t just about her in positive ways. I mean, you know, we went through a lot of holicious training work or she went through a lot of holicious training at Auburn with her team mates. But it made it so much easier to endure. I mean the level of her training just stepped up so high. So she found it easier to do that when she had, you know, people like Margaret Hoelzer and Maggie Bowen next to her throwing things out that she never thought was conceivable. So learn to be a team player and I think that’s one of the benefits that the US create a system does for a lot of our Olympians. It becomes a training ground where your goals, your own personal individual goals aren’t the priority. It’s the team goal and within that team setting, generally your individual goals can be met but that’s not where the spotlight is. The spotlight is on what you can do as a team, as a group of people. So it takes a little bit of that individual, the pressure that an individual can feel off, off of them.
She learned to compete everyday in practice, whether it was, you know, with the backstrokers or the IMs or, you know, doing a fly setter, a brusher, she always had great people around her. She learned to win. We talked about winning in workout and she had the, again opportunity to win titles, individual titles and NCAA titles with her team mates. The resources she had in college, tremendous. Yesterday Paul was talking about, you know, one of the reasons he might want to coach in the United States or in Australia is because we do and especially in the collegiate system. We are so fortunate with the resources we have. So things like the strength coach which if you were at Brett’s talk last night he talked about PK a little bit, Brian Kokoska, who is the strength coach at Auburn. Extremely bright, really innovative and did a great job getting Kirsty strong amongst many other athletes. The facilities we had, so I talked about the one lane pool. I mean she walks unto a pool deck, you know, 50 meter pool, 20 some short course lanes at anytime, a short course pool right next door. I mean just again, night and day. The academic structure, she wasn’t just focused on swimming. She was getting an education. She had great support system there. You know, working on mental training, having a nutritionist to work with. So the resources go on and on and I think that was what allowed her to really stretch herself. So she grew in that environment and over her career I think in terms of while she was trying to help Auburn win NCAA championships and help her teammates to be their best, she certainly reaped the benefits and again like I said won some individual titles, won team titles, won three metals at the ’04 games and in 2005 went to world championships and became the athlete of the meet because of the metals that she won there.
This is just a brief progression of her times. I already talked about the 2000 and the 2004 games. That world championship meet was my last meet for a little while with Kirsty and again that’s just, her confidence grew so much after the ’04 games. I said it was kind of the breakout meet for her and she carried that through to that collegiate season and then the world championships in Montreal. I chose to leave Auburn at the end of the summer of 2005 and took a little sabbatical from coaching for a little while, quickly realized that wasn’t a good idea and was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to go to Texas in 2006. During that time frame Kirsty, she was training, she’d finished her college eligibility but was still training at Auburn and during that winter had an injury to her knee and basically took January through May off, didn’t really do anything. And when I took the job at Texas, Kirsty asked if she could come and swim with me and in fact, I was living out in California and we were staying in touch and she said, “When I finish school, I’m coming to swim with you.” I’m like, “Well, where, the bathtub? I don’t have a pool.” So it was really quite fortunate for us that again that I got a good college job and she could come and train with my team there and it was a win-win for me. I mean having somebody of her caliber to come in and train with our team everyday was just a great opportunity for us.
But we went to the Pan Pacs in ’06 and as you can see didn’t have a tremendous performance but we had about, you know, three or four months prior to that meet to prepare and I think what it did for her too was just kind of a wake up call of where she knew she needed to go. ’07 we went to World Championships and that was a kind of an up-and-down meet. The ’05 is when we finally figured out she was also a 400 IMer. So that’s when we added the 400 IM and in ’07 we kind of had some up and downs at that meet in terms of the, you know, the order of events and being able to just swim everything. She, we swam the, the 200 IM was the first event that she swam and she had the double of the 100 back semis and the 200 IM finals that evening. And in my infinite wisdom I told her let’s be a little bit more controlled in that first 50 of the 100 back so, you know, because you have about 20 to 30 minutes before the 200 IM. And she took me a little too literally and went out way too slow in the 100 back and didn’t make it back to finals in the 100. So that was really our first opportunity to overcome some adversity there. I mean as you can imagine she was pretty upset about not making it make.
But I thought did a tremendous job coming back, right back in the 200 IM and winning the silver metal. And then in the 400 IM she was dequeued on a turn call so we missed out on some innated finals but overall I mean she was fairly happy with that meet but what it did is it really made her hungry for OA and what she could do. And she just had a tremendous training year. The 2008 was a great year in terms of, that’s the first time she broke a world record. It was also the first time, you know, the new suits were out. She wore a lazer for that and she was on cloud nine. I mean it was just such a confidence booster going in to the games and you know the results speak for themselves. I thought it was an extremely successful meet. She had every goal timed that we talked about going. Those were exactly the times, I mean not necessarily to the 100s, to the 10s but we want it to be to a 5, we wanted to be 4:29, we wanted to be 2:08 and she did those. But what she thought was if she went those times she would win and so that was the hard challenge for her to get over. And I’ll talk a little bit more about that in detail in a few minutes.
And then her ’09 times and places are there as well. See this is a picture of Kirsty after the games in the village and you can see she is looking quite happy there. But in reality what I found later is wasn’t very happy and I told that I did some different kind of research before preparing for this talk and looked at some critical studies of, some sports psych studies where with the researching how athletes are defining failure and success and I think that is kind of the key component for Kirsty is she felt like in the ’08 games that she had failed. And I knew in the moment when she was, you know, distraught after getting another silver after the 100 backstroke that, you know, there was something going on but I didn’t realize to what extend she really felt like she had failed until after the games and we really, you know, really months after and we talked about it a lot. But she, her motive and this is first quote the ways in which sports participants define personal success and judge their level of confidence coincide with their overall motive for being there.
So was her motive met? No, her motive was to win four gold metals, break world records which she did but somebody went faster and win gold metals. And she didn’t accomplish that. Perceptions of failure or success maybe determined by how well performer’s needs are met more than by either the level of performance alone or the orientation performers take and evaluate in their competence. So were here needs met? Absolutely not and we found that, you know, just because she had success in terms of breaking, meeting her gold times, failure and success are not just polar opposites. So she still felt like she had failed although she had found some success. So we had to work through a lot of this kind of stuff and that was probably the challenging part. That’s where we’re starting to get into that Management in a Pressure Cooker because in our minds she wasn’t too happy. I also think it became harder for her to train. She had a great experience at Texas. Again really good team mates. In 2008 we had a tremendous freshman class come in with some world class athletes. She had Kathleen Hurst to train with who had just come off the Olympic games as well, a butter flyer from the United States. A really good group of girls to train with and she was excited about that but she wasn’t part of that team environment that I talked about. And again she didn’t have the team to carry her and to work towards our goals because it was about her.
So each year we got further and further away from her Auburn experience, I think it became a little bit more pointed on what, everything was about her and she couldn’t just do it for her team mates and that became very challenging for her. We have a new, some new programs popping up in United States. The Post Graduate and Professional Centers, I don’t know what they are called but the Centers of Excellence, it’s what they used to be called. I think those are great opportunities for post graduate athletes. A place to go where you have athletes the same age as you, generally similar level that you can train with because when you’re in that college environment as a post grad you have all these things, you have your former team mates or, you know, a different group of team mates that you are training with and you’re not on the same page. So I think there is a need for environments like that. It’s not the only place. It’s not necessarily the best place for everybody but I think it is a good opportunity for some of our post graduate athletes to have the opportunity to train. But again she was just focusing on what her measurement of success was and I think that started to put a lot of fear and failure in her mind and that was a challenge for us to get through.
And I think, you know, it certainly didn’t affect her training negatively but it was a hurdle that we had to get through in this training year. So after the ’08 games, she went back home. She returned back to Zimbabwe for about a month and that was really good for her. She needed to get home and just be with her family. As you can imagine, you know, she didn’t go home very often. It’s thousands of miles away. They don’t have a lot of money. It’s not a great place to go home and visit. She wants to see her family but it’s, you know, it’s not going home to paradise that’s for sure. So she spent some time there and kind of did some unwinding. But there were mixed emotions about how much time she could take off because she wanted to, her whole driving force was she was being filled by her need to outperform her ’08 experience and she needed to prove herself, to her not me or not any of you guys but just to herself. And that’s what was fueling her. So she came back fairly quickly in my opinion, in mid October she came back to Texas and rejoined us again and had this great training environment.
All those wonderful resources she had in her finger tips and she started to train in the water about three times a week. She went back to her strength and conditioning program. She’s got a great person she works with at Texas, Angel Spuzzoff who’s worked with a number of swimmers and she kind of runs a, kind of a strength endurance program. She did a lot; there are a lot of body weight exercises, a lot of medicine ball work. At Auburn I think she really gained a good foundation of strength and then it was kind of fine tuning that in this last few years. So she came back and jumped into that. In December we bumped up her water workouts to one more week and what this did was it just developed her rubbing base again. I felt like she was training consistently, was more of a maintenance phase. Just get her in a position where in January where we knew that’s where she was really going to start, she’d be in a good position to just get right after it.
So I felt like we’re doing a good thing there. She went home to Zimbabwe again for Christmas and when you go home at Christmas time there’s no, well that’s not true because it’s summer time there so there should be pools open but the country is in such poor economic standing that there are no pools open. I mean she had nowhere to go swim when she was at home, did a little bit of dry land stuff but basically she’s taking three weeks off. So she came back in January and we started to get after some real training. Good, strong aerobic basics, you know, she had, and we pumped up some of the aerobic stuff a little bit. Began increase of threshold and it’s interesting over the past summer I’ve really started to question, you know, my style of training and certainly after listening to Paul’s talk and some things being reinforced so, you know, as I am reading back through this I’m like, “Yeah, I don’t know if I’ll do that increase in threshold anymore.” But that’s what we did at the time. We did some pretty good race pace sets but not a whole lot of volume there and what we did do a lot of is some resistance swimming.
And here are some examples of the resistance swimming stuff we did. I feel like doing the resistance work is allowing her to transfer some of that strength that we do in the weight room to the pool, increasing her distance per stroke, just allowing her to hold more water. So we do a lot of work on poise, kicking with ankle weights, I think it’s a tremendous way to built leg strength, parachute swimming whether it’s swimming fast, swimming slow, technique work, we do a lot of work with parachutes and swimming backstroke with a band which is just a strap around the ankles, no bowies there and you know Chuck Bachelor does a lot of work with the band with Elizabeth Beisel. He credited Coach Shoulberg with that. I don’t know where we got it but I know it’s something that we do as well and it’s tremendous. Working on body position and tempo, it’s just a great tool for backstrokers. An example, the polis that we have, Randy Reese I think developed this system. When he was at Longhorn he set up a whole bunch of pulleys and I am really fortunate that I get to use those pulleys now. It’s a great tool but it’s just a big pulley system that’s set up off the ceiling and you can arch your weight or buckets filled with water. Actually we just hook weights up to them and Kirsty will pull anywhere between on a set like this between 15-20 pounds. Sometimes we really increase the weight, add pedals and fins and make it a little bit more of a power session but then what we are doing here was just some resistance swimming where she had to swim in an all out effort on the weight down. We are doing in our short course pool so its 25 yards swimming with about 15-20 pounds on at race tempo. So in most cases we were doing this for 100 works sometimes 200 but I put her tempos down there, what you needed to hold on both going out and coming back.
On the way back you obviously have a little bit of assistance because the weight is pulling you in but, so we did five 50s with 15-20 pounds. We’d take the weight off and then do it fast 25 and then she get to come back easy. Three rounds of that and everything was on a minute. She eats this kind of stuff up, loves it. Just another example of swimming to kick set or sometimes we did this kick to swim on stretch court. She would go three cycles again at tempo on a stretch court so again its resistance and then stop the arms and just kick. And we did it for time so she would go 20 seconds on, 30 seconds off the next time we’d go four cycle swim, you know, for a little bit longer period of time and we would run through this two or three times to that set. Little bit of easy swimming in between. So that’s our training counter. March started adding a little bit, a little bit more quality. So max we’d go two sets, did a lot of good IM training during this time frame. We’re always doing IM training. She’s IM, there’s this IM base of training but more of our quality sets were done with some IM work and here are a couple more examples of some sets.
This base 50 set is a Richard Quick set and we use it a lot. She really enjoys it. It’s one of those things where it’s a confidence builder for her. She’s done it so many times, can’t really make some good comparisons but we’ll go four 50s on a minute 30 holding her base which at this point for us was holding 31 fives to her feet and then one on one 20, one on one 10 and so forth. You can see the pattern and again her race tempo was always extremely important. She can’t just hit the time. She’s got to be holding the race tempo that we’re looking for which for her 200 was 1.4 and one of the things that Kirsty does really well, she has a really good sense of her race tempo and 1.4 will be her slowest tempo. So we try and build throughout her race down to about 1.3. Because she is good at going faster tempo, we always trained her slowest because that’s what she wants to hold for the majority of her race. This is a kick set we did a few times throughout this past season, 12×100 kicks on 2:30 and what I like about is we’re building, we’re building the speed and concluding with our number four, kicking for the goal hundred time. So she kicked for 58 seconds as fast as she could and, you know, throughout the different times that we did the set, trying to get a little bit further each time down the pool. So measuring the distance that she could cover in 58 seconds and this is a short course IM set we did and we do train, of course during that time of the year we’re training a lot of short course because we are getting ready for our collegiate championships.
But I like training short courses along with long course because again you can keep your tempos up, it’s a little bit easier, getting some good turn work in and I think the ability to hold your technique is a little bit easier as your, you know, between the shorter walls. So this was a good little IM transition set we did and her weakest stroke is brush stroke so, you know, we had decent amount of emphasis on brush stroke again this year just trying to make that less in the, I guess the brush stroke can have on her. And then here is another pace set we did later in the season. We didn’t do this in March but I thought this was a good set to share. I really like to do pace work coming off of a swim so not just pushing and going pace but, so in this set she went two 100s where the first 50 is smooth. She’s kind of building into the wall and then she goes foot to foot a pace 50 at this point we’re plus two a 100 smooth. Two more 50s like that, a pace plus one, a hundred smooth and then ending with a 50 pace. Little bit of recovery we go back and do it again. We’re not building into the set anymore.
She is just hitting pace and it’s a much harder way to achieve pace. It’s a much more realistic in my mind and that’s what I want her to have, that realistic sense where she needs to be. So this is a set she really enjoyed and we probably did this about twice this past summer. In March we went to the Austin Grand Prix, it was real easy, right there in our backyard and we just swimmed the 200 back and just as a gate to see where we were and she pleasantly surprised us all by going to a seven. She’s out in 1:03. I think she was pretty conditioned coming home and certainly set up some good confidence. In April headed to South Africa for their nationals and we really used this as an opportunity to continue training really hard as well. I mean I looked back at the workouts we were doing then and some pretty challenging stuff around that meet and we are real pleased again with where she was in terms of progressing towards our goals and I don’t think I talked to you yet about what our goals were for ’09. But she wanted to be, you know, about 58 low, 204 was the goal, 207 in the IM and 28 in the 400 IM. That’s where we wanted to be and we felt like this was putting us on track.
So right after she went to South Africa to the meet and then right after she came back she went to some clinic and I went to Australia to speak at the ASCTA convention which was phenomenal. So I didn’t see Kirsty for about three weeks and poor Jim, my assistant Jim Henry was at home with the team and dealing with a pretty unhappy Kirsty Coventry. I got back and I just, you know, had these messages from Jim that things were not good. She was engaged to a really nice guy but she figured out she didn’t want to be engaged anymore. This wasn’t the man of her dreams and what was she going to do about it and she really, it was, I mean the most, if distraught is the right word, the most kind of confused and not knowing what to do, I’ve ever seen her and we had a really despondent Kirsty for the month of May. She really struggled with breaking somebody’s heart that she did care about, just knew that wasn’t the man for her for the rest of her life. And if any of you have been in that situation, it’s a hard one to be in. So whether right or wrong I don’t know but we kind of backed off on her in the month of May. So had some few challenging sets but it was just getting Kirsty to the pool at that time to be there and go through the motions was a success, you know, to get her there.
And she tried to do her best and she knew she was around team mates and she couldn’t, you know, it couldn’t be all about her but it was a tough time in May for her and it didn’t end just there. I mean she unfortunately against David’s advice, David always gives us advice, and you don’t live with somebody before you get married. You don’t buy a house with them but, you know, she bought a house. So now she had to live with this guy and figure out what she was, you know how she was going to get out of all these and still, you know, get ready to swim the best she ever had in her life and it was pretty challenging. But in June things started to get a little bit better. She realized she couldn’t be in that mode for too long. We increased a lot of lalatic work here and we did this broken set quite a few times. I really like broken sets. This is a set we did similar to in bringing for ’08 where I had the, the whole goal was to go her gold time.
And so we really enjoyed it in preparing for ’08. So I modified it a little bit for, in 2009 but basically she’s going a 50 back about 10 seconds rest, another 50 back, 10 seconds rest and then a 100 free and the goal was to be 204. In ’08 she like on this set, I mean I don’t remember exactly how it was broken up and all but the first time we did the set she was going like 201, Holy crap. So she was pretty good this year but not quite as good as her performances in practice in ’08. But she loved this kind of work. Sometimes we do it with the suit on, sometimes not with a suit. You can see later in June, it changes up a little bit, 100 strokes, 50 stroke and then 50 free. So it’s becoming a little bit more challenging, obviously decreasing the number of repeats. We hit that kick set again at the end of June and then we head it out to Santa Clara and that was a great need for us. I mean we’re on cloud nine there. It was the first opportunity she had to race Stephanie again and she was really nervous about that but excited about it. She wanted that challenge because again that’s what she was, that was her measurement of success. And Stephanie was not on her game at that meet, you know, she had challenges from different athletes of course but she walked away feeling really as did I about where we were on track for World Championships.
In July as we get closer to the meet we increase our speed work and power so now our pulley sets become more of those the high weight, heavy weight and adding thins and paddles and just doing a little bit shorter, more explosive work. We’re doing more descend in the pace. A lot more active recovery involved. We keep our volume, you know, pretty good with Kirsty, pretty high. Again we have that 400 IM to prepare for as well so we can’t drop things down too much. This is the last time we did, one of our broken sets where it now becomes all backstroke and she gets to do whatever rest she feels necessary before she starts the next one. We did this set at an outdoor pool. We trained inside. We did this at the outdoor city pool. That’s not the best pool to train in. It’s pretty hot, there’s a pretty good current and she still had some pretty good results here definitely within the gold times that we are looking for. But at this time, you know, in July she is also starting to, we have the opportunity to watch the US Trials going on and that’s when one of her, the primary stressors that I think she had to deal with really started to become highlighted and that was the suit issue.
Kirsty is a Speedo athlete. She loved wearing the LZR; it was a good suit for her. But she was starting to see more and more people putting on the Jaked and the Arena, and swimming some phenomenal times. So it started to be highlighted a little bit more for her and she wanted, she kind of wanted to check it out and probably the biggest thing I would change if I could go back was not doing what I am about to tell you I did but I brought home a jacket and an arena for her to put on and try. And she did, she wore, I don’t think it was for this, it might have been for this set, I can’t remember but she wore it and really didn’t like them very much. She felt much more comfortable in her lazer. She liked that suit. But that was the first time we really opened the door to this other option that really wasn’t an option for her and I’ll talk about that more in a minute. Then we went to Opia, Italy. Just beautiful, amazing training set up there. We were there with and this little pre trips were always awesome.
We meet up with Lionel Moreau who was a teammate of hers at Auburn and is her massage therapist and Lionel also is the massage therapist for Ous Mellouli. So Ous and Dave, Cielo and Kirsty and Lionel and I are kind of this little pot and then the British team was there as well training, so it’s just a really fun time and that’s when Kirsty just gets really relaxed. She’s around people she really enjoys and they’re having a good time. It was a phenomenal little trip. The only negative was again the British team was there and they’re trying on all these suits and their talk is about the suits and it just started to eat away a little bit more at her, at her confidence. And I don’t think that. Then we get to Rome and she saw more Speedo athletes, more TYR athletes putting those suits on. Taking off their LZRs and deciding they have to wear one of those suits. And I don’t think that the mistake we made was not, not wearing one of those suits, it was just merely considering it. What we should have done is just made a decision that she could race the very best in the world in the suit that she’d worn for the last two years that she was confident in and just stuck with the fact that she’s a great athlete. But she started to believe that she was going to be at an unfair disadvantage and that just ate away at her mind and it really frustrated her. She didn’t feel like the playing field was fair, whether that’s right or wrong, that’s how she felt.
So the meet starts on July 26 and her first event is the 200 IM. She had a good prelim and semi swim. She recovered really well. She was feeling happy and confident. She feels good about 2:09. Again our goal was to beat 2:07 but she generally swims pretty well in finals and we felt like she swam some good races. The next day she has the 100 back prelims, again a good swim. She is seated third. She feels confident and comfortable in that. I forgot to mention though the 200 IM, I think the biggest thing was she sees Arianna swim, her semi swim and starts to think, “Uh oh, what’s going on here.” So that was, you know, a little bit of a step back but in terms of her own self she felt really good about where she was. Then the 100 back semis, again feels good about it but here we go again with this double where we have about 20 minutes before the 200 IM and she’s, we’ve gotten really good at managing that. I mean she gets right into the warmdown pool; she gets a little bit of fluid in her. It’s not the first time she’s done it. She feels pretty good about that, you know, I think if you just looked at the time fairly happy with the time. She is just a couple tens of her best time and again off of that a pretty tough double. But you look at the place and you look at the winning time and that’s the end of it. I mean she is just angry.
Angry, angry, angry and frustrated so we’re not looking at the good things she’s done. She’s looking at the things that she can’t control and so that was really tough. And then she starts really considering putting on a different suit. She calls, she has an agent but her agent is other people’s agent and she doesn’t have the opportunity to work with her agent very well and which is also frustrating for her. So she calls Speedo directly and asks what will happen and they wouldn’t give her a firm answer, just really vague about what might happen if she changes suits. And that’s frustrating to her and to me and the problem with Kirsty is again she comes from this pretty poor country. Her only source of income is her swimming contract and its pretty much incentive based, performance based versus, you know, a good based salary. So she knows that in order to get her contract renewed and to make money she has to medal. But she now doubts whether she can medal in the suit she’s wearing. So she is in this little cycle of, she doesn’t feel like, you know, she doesn’t know what to do.
She just feels really helpless and it was extremely frustrating for both of us and again I take a lot of responsibility in this lack of experience that I’ve had in dealing with her situation like that and in situation like that in general. So it was a really tough one. So we come back the next day and she swims the 100 back finals and she just, you know, and she feels that she has to make it happen and she tries to make it happen in the very first 25 which is a very typical for Kirsty. And she is probably a one point, not probably, she was a 1.0 tempo. I actually had a video of it and misplaced it. I can’t show it to you but the video is, Lionel our massage therapist who is also our technical support person, he’s videotaping this race and he’s videotaping the wrong person because it doesn’t look like Kirsty. I mean she is in that frame but he is zooming in on whoever is next to her and, you know, immediately we’re like, “What is she doing?” Just completely spinning out, swam a horrible, horrible race strategy hence she goes 59.7 and gets 8th. But she doesn’t think it, all she sees is 8th, she sees 59.7, she sees a new World Record. I mean she is just again devastated and at this point she [indiscernible] [00:48:09] she starts doubting everything about herself, “I’m not strong enough, I’m not good enough,” and we had some pretty heated words and because I knew all that wasn’t true and it was frustrating for me but one of the things in the nine years I’ve had since coaching her is learning that sometimes she just needs time.
So we kind of went our separate ways for a few hours and she could cool off a little bit but I knew that, you know, going to have to get with her and talk with her and we are going to figure something out and we did. We talked about owning that race, taking responsibility for an extremely poor race strategy. It wasn’t because she wasn’t ready. It wasn’t because she wasn’t strong or fit. It was because she swam a horrible, horrible race and own it and do something about it. That’s what I challenged her to do. Luckily we had two days off. I mean if we had to come back and race the next day it would have been horrible. But she had two days off so she got to relax a little bit. We got to take this time to take a breather, decompress and she comes back for the 200 back stroke, you know, which she is, her love event, that’s definitely her best event and the one she enjoys the most and, you know, progresses through it very nicely and then in the finals, again I think over swim a little bit that first 100. She was out in 00 and I didn’t really want her out that fast but she, one of the things that she so special at it she slows down at a slower rate than everybody else in general.
She just holds her speed so well and she, you know, did hold everybody off and when the gold time we’ve been talking about and set the world record and probably in her mind most importantly won the gold metal. One was the best. So now she’s a little bit happier, again a little bit more confident. We come back the next day for the 400 IM. She does her normal just squeaking in, drives me crazy, and makes me so nervous. She loves lane one so there she was in lane one again and she was okay with the time because she knew she had more there. But I think by the time the finals rolled around I think she was a little bit mentally exhausted, fatigued physically from the meet and she just didn’t get home. I mean for us the 400 IM was by far the most disappointing race because we were so far off where we wanted to be. She was pretty close to that in Santa Clara so that was probably the most disappointing swim for us at the meet. So some of the stressors that Kirsty’s had, you know, doing some research here, the term I’ve heard before but I really looked at it a little bit more closely, the term ‘Organizational stress,’ and it’s defined as work related social psychological stress and it’s the interaction between employee and their work environment and she is an employee of swimming, you know, the pool is her work environment and she had, she definitely had some organizational stress that was pretty hard to control.
And in some study that a group Woodman and Hardy did, they found that environmental issues such as finances and sponsorship, personal issues which such as goals and expectations, team issues when we haven’t even talked about that. She didn’t have a team, you know, she doesn’t have that tradition again that Paul talked about, that team maze. She actually did have a few team mates there but they’re such a different level at that. It’s almost a distraction in a way. She doesn’t have a team like a US team or an Australian team, or, you know, where everyone’s kind of at that same level and working towards similar goals. But these things can have a negative effect on your performance and, you know, one of the things that I have already challenged her to do but certainly will as she prepares for 2012 is I think she needs help with a sport psychologist, mental training to use that as a tool. I think that’s an area where she needs to get better, just like she needs to get better still at turns or finishes.
That is something I strongly encourage her to do. So will she? I don’t know. I mean I’ve said it before, I think it’s an area where lot of athletes feel like they don’t need help or it’s a sign of weakness but it is, take it for what it is. Rationalize it, it’s a sign, it’s a weakness for you, get a hold of it. So again she, her expectation of success in ’09 was World Records and gold metals, again. She is expected to have success by her country; she is their star. This is a quote from 2004. Zimbabwe put aside an official hate campaign against the nation’s tiny white community, and hailed its triple-medal-winning Olympic swmmer Kirsty Coventry as a national treasure. And that’s nice, that’s wonderful; but it’s a lot of pressure.
I wasn’t going to talk about this, but after Paul gave some of his statistics, I was like, “I’m going to put this back in.” There was another study done in 2004 where they looked at the top five over performing countries at the Olympic Games and they used this mathematical formula to predict a medal hold and the things they use for that are there is no athletic component involved. They look at per capita income, the population and past performances and Zimbabwe was the number one over performer in the 2004 Games followed by Venezuela, then Japan, Australia and China.
So, you know, the assumption is you look at your talent base and the money it requires and look at who’s outperformed and Zimbabwe gets that. This is their moment to be in the national news and she’s a proud Zimbabwean. I mean she’s had so many opportunities to change her nationality, you know, go represent a different country or citizenship but she has so much pride in her country. She loves where she comes from and, you know, doesn’t mean she loves everything about it but that’s who she is. But that means she has to deal with those kinds of issues that go on there and the stressors. I’m going to read to you, I’ve never seen this until a few months ago and I found it really interesting.
It’s actually a report that was published by a, and it’s a letter that one of the Cabinet, the ministry members wrote to the rest of the Cabinet and this goes a way back but I think it will give you a sense of again what it means to be from a country like Zimbabwe, a young white woman from a country like Zimbabwe and that the political situation that’s going on there. So bear with me as I read this. “Dear Cabinet and Politburo members. The news came to us while we were idling and reminiscing after a heady day of business and pleasure on the magnificent Langkawi Island an overexcited diplomat burst into the room to announce that a young and patriotic Zimbabwean athlete had to fight all odds and snatch gold right in front of Tony Blair’s nose. We were dumbfounded. Our young athletes almost barred from participating at the Manchester Commonwealth games because of the machinist of Blair and company had upset the British Applecart in their own backyard. The first Lady suggested and I concurred that it might be time to break our three year vow never to talk to Blair again on this earth and phoned 10 Downing street if only to add more salt to the British Prime Minister’s fresh moves.
The other suggestion which I think might have emanated from somebody’s name who I can’t pronounce, or some other diplomat in the room was that we should follow this example and phone this young and patriotic athlete first and congratulate him or her on such an outstanding feet. I was about to pick up the phone and dial Manchester when one of my boys said, “But hang on, what is the name of this athlete who has won us this coveted gold metal.” “Kirsty Coventry,” answered the other, his eyes downcast. Kirsty Coventry. Comrades, I must congratulate myself that I did not lose my temper and immediately begin to educate everyone in the room how we should milk Kirsty’s gold medal at Manchester without compromising our stands on racists white farmers and Blair’s puppet in this so called opposition party. I said to them unlike our dear friend, that guy’s name who I can’t pronounce, who sometimes tend to become overexcited over trivial things like sporting achievements, I was not going to react at all to any news of gold, silver or any other medals from our team in Manchester. Comrades, this is not about Kirsty Coventry’s gold medal or a silver medal at the just ended Commonwealth Games.
This is about the principals and ideals that govern us in this glorious party of ours and one of them is that we shall not recognize any sporting achievements or any other medals until we have successfully concluded our land reforms and given the land back to the people. Once our people are feeding on the fat of the land and their children are healthy and strong, we shall produce hundreds of athletes and medal winners that would make the likes of Blair and company turn green with envy. So while we welcome Kirsty’s gold and Conny’s silver, I’m convinced that this is only the beginning of greater things to come. Chairman Mao once said, “Let a thousand flowers bloom.” I’m confident that our land reform exercise will create a nation of thousands of award winning patriotic young people.”
So in a sense, you know, her government hates what she’s doing, but they completely capitalize upon it and she can say nothing about this. She can’t comment about political events in her country for fear of what will happen to her family, you know. Right now her family is in a really good spot because she is Kirsty Coventry. But I think if she did the wrong thing, if she said the wrong words, all that would change and that’s on her shoulders all the time. Plus, you know, the pressure of you need to win, again for us. I mean that’s what people at the ’08 Games, we went to some dinner with the First Lady and a bunch of people in the Cabinet and that was it. I mean that was what they told her. How many are you going to win for us? You’re going to win gold right? I mean it’s not, you know, she puts the pressure on herself, but it’s directed there from her country and I think it’s a lot of weight to bear. So and we’ve already talked about her dealing with the disappointment of the ’08 games, how that affected her. During this time her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and she was living through that battle from thousand of miles away and she can’t call her mom very often. There is very poor phone service. They lose electricity for days on end.
So she can’t have a good connection there. We talked about her breaking off her engagement and the suit controversy. Those were all things that were lumped on her that she didn’t feel like she could control and as an athlete at that level they want to control everything. So it was again, I mean I’ve never had that experience with her. We’ve had bits and pieces of this but that was different. One last study I want to talk about was done in 2002 Hanton & Connaughton, and they looked at the intensity of anxiety, what the anxiety is directed towards and how much self confidence the person has. They actually, the study done was swimmers, a least swimmer’s and sub-lead swimmers were looked at and they found that the swimmers that interpreted their pre-race anxiety as either to depilating or felicitating. We all know that there are certain levels of anxiety the athletics need before they compete. But they were either depilating or felicitating base on the athlete’s perception of control that they had. And they found that the elite level athletes could manage their symptoms best with two specifies strategies. Cognitive realization and relaxation, and sort like Brett yesterday when he said was “I kind of came upon this and thought I didn’t know about all these but that what we did. Luckily we had those two days to do some cognitive rationalization.
Why did you swim poorly in the 100 back show game. It wasn’t because you were ready; it was because of specific things that you did in your race that produced the poor outcome”. So I think, you know, one of the things that sometimes my athletes not just Cursey but other athletes have hard time with, are those honest words, take responsibility I will be happy to take responsibility when it is my faults and I will. But take responsibility of your swims and figure out if you can improve them. What can you do differently, and in her case that was settle down, I mean that first we talked about it all the time is one of the thing she needed to get better at is not over some in the first quarter of any race and she certainly that in the hundred back and then relaxation, we had two days to step back, she went and hang out with her parents and just got away from me, I don’t ever remember if we got in the pool that first, of her first days off. I mean, you know, she did, she went over to the hotel that brought you guys wherein I had that pool, I mean, I didn’t even want her at the competition side. So, she went over there and did some easy swimming and hang out for the rest of the day with her parents and the next day we went back to the main pool and got ready but she just stepped back a little bit and took time to figure out what she could and couldn’t control.
And you know, we talked about she is a great athlete, she is already, she is been there, she has done that, she has that experience and she can’t race with the best, but only as best as she can. You can control how fast Bryce is going to go or Janet or whomever it is, you just can’t control that. So she finally started to get it, kind of on that last, for those couple of days but thank goodness we had those things and what I would tell her now is she has to set new standard or measurements of success. This it’s got to be her repertoire she’s got to figure how she can measure that without it just being that gold medal. And of course that is the goal, I mean, she is good enough but that should be her goal. But it can’t be the only way she measure success. And I wouldn’t, you know, if that’s your athletes are measuring that, you know, my intent in this talk was to get across you that might not be the best way and I have certainly figured that out.
And you know, these is a happy curtsey Coventry coming through right here, this us together on the wall in China and that’s when she performs her best. She just feels good about herself, is around people she cares about, enjoys, so I try not to take her out of that environment too much you know, sometimes I think maybe as not having us stringent team is one of the best things because she doesn’t have to toe the line, she doesn’t have to do with everybody else is doing. People are amazed that she goes to opening ceremonies at the Olympics. She likes, she wants to be part of the experience and not put you know, that kind of, oh my first event is the next day and so, she, we do make some unorthodox decisions I think but because we think that’s the best for her and our downfall I mean it was, I do don’t want to say that 2009 was unsuccessful meet, but certainly it was as successful as we would have liked it to been and I think part of that downfall was her not being in her element and me not being aware enough of that. So as I said maybe I will have the opportunity to do that again with her and I certainly will avert from it but I plan applying that to all my college athletes and the athletes that I have the privilege to coach in the future. But that’s I all I have for you guys. I will be happy to take some questions if you have them.
[audience member]: How much do you think the success she had at the world short course [indiscernible] [01:05:29] her expectations for success?
[KB]: The question was is how much did her success at short course roles have on her expectation of success for [indiscernible], tremendous amount. I mean, again building confidence, building confidence. And we had moments leading up to the ’09 world championships; we were rebuilding confidence, at Santa Clara. So I think had she just stayed in that moment those, that feeling confident we would have been great but she got off track, we got off track. I just can’t blame her, we got distracted by all those peripheral stuff and so I don’t necessarily think it’s her training, her physical preparation is what led to a less successful performance than we wanted, I think it was more, much more mental thing.
[audience member]: Don’t you think in practice you just specifically to help the mental side of it and for sometime set her up to succeed rather than [indiscernible] [01:06:27]
[KB]: Do we do anything in practice to help with the mental, it’s generally not an issue for her in practice. I try not to fudge times very much, like I feel I am always going to get caught. And if I want her to go fast, I sent her to Jim because he’s got really fast watch so she just goes over there. But she, you know, again because she had, kind of, some control that’s properly why in May when she was really struggling mentally we stepped back a little bit and didn’t force her to do things where she might not be successful because she just wasn’t in the frame in mind to have some success. So we actually stepped away a little bit and when she was ready kind of, pressed her again. So you know those, the broken swims we did were not as good as what she done in a week, but I don’t think that was that made her feel like I’m not going to be successful because again we were having fairly successful meets. Every time she swam she was swimming fast and on tracks so, I don’t know if that answered your question but yes. Yeah, right here up front, yeah.
[audience member]: Did you have her focus, would you say that’s best to focus would more on getting her best times or give her goal times versus the wins and the golds?
[KB]: Right, where would I have her focus, absolutely on her time, her goal times how we going to get there. I mean she is really into knowing what’s splits she needs to be, the tempos that she needs to be holding in her fly and her backstroke and her breaststroke, focusing on little, the tight and the turns, all the things that she can control, remembering successful sets that we’ve had, that’s where I want her focus and honestly, I’m just learning that. I mean the success that we had in Auburn, those is wins allow it to be easier to think about the goal is to win because you have done it before so we can do it again. But it’s really; it sets you up for failure I think. So yes it is the end of goal but it can’t be the only goal you know, it’s again it’s like what Teri said, there is only one way you can live happy. And then knowing how to deal with disappointment. So, that first event does go the way you want it, how do you react and that’s really what she has to get better about because you might not get the time either, you know. Yes?
[audience member]: You know we see this [inaudible] [01:09:06] what is she like in practice does she walk out [indiscernible]
[KB]: The question is as, how is she in practice in terms of her emotions. She is pretty even keeled. You know, I’m a real honest and straight forward coach so again I don’t fudge times too much and she gets the real deal. So in practice she might get angry at herself but she pushes through. She tries to find a way to take control and get better. So, I would say you know, she is little moody but it’s no, I don’t know that I ever seen her walk out of practice. If she is struggling on a set you know, I talked about the broken sets that we did and we did a really good broken IM set preparing for OA and there is one time she was just way off, way off the times she needed to hit, and we just stopped it. We just stopped the set because again we just going to be come detrimental to kind of, push through that. So that’s why I, you know, this year was really unique in the way she handled things. And I think, you know, I wasn’t prepare for it, that’s why I say do a little things differently if I have the opportunity again but she doesn’t do things and work out that, can you think of anything, Jim? She’s pretty even keeled at work out, right? [Jim: She doesn’t like to lose.]
Yes, she doesn’t like, I mean that’s one of her greatest traits. She is super competitive. So she doesn’t want to get beat and so she raises her butt off and works out and loves the challenge, loves the challenge. Yes?
[audience member]: Athletes [indiscernible] [01:10:58] that and you have one swimmer who might need more attention and have [inaudible] [01:11:04] whatever it is, how do you feel the coach and gets the rest of your team, the time and attention they need [indiscernible] [01:11:12] all the time.
[KB]: How do you balance the attention needs of all your athletes? In this situation I don’t have to, luckily. But you know, when I think about the college athletes that I deal with I think you know, one of the things that a lot of coaches do, including myself, is prepare the athlete to take care of themselves, you know, so, you want to set them up so that, they’re all going to have needs, they’re all going to need you but let them have some independence and create an environment where they feel confident with that independence. But you just, you manage your time and you give it, you have great assistants around you who can also manage and give them, give the athletes, let the athletes know that they have the authority, they have the ability to manage you as well as I do. So, it’s a great question I mean, it’s one that is challenging and certainly as we are getting more and great athletes that are really high level, at Texas one that we’ll have to deal with but I think taking the time to get to know what your athletes need is important, so you’re not trying to figure it out in the moment, knowing them really well and then always encouraging them to have that independence. Paul talked about their athletes, his athletics, forcing them to have their own warm up, know what they need. I have one, a very high level swimmer who every time she races “What’s my warm up?” and I have challenged her so many times, you know, “Give me your warm up, you make your own” and she won’t do it and I’ve enabled her, I just keep make her warm but I know its just what she needs that. She wants the camaraderie to talk to me and it’s more of a calming effects so that’s why I keep doing it but after listening to his talk I mean, I really feel like I’m going to challenge her, give her a plenty of time, tell her at the beginning of the year, “You are going to do your own warm up, you’re going to know what it takes to get ready because I’m not in your body” and you talk to her more about it in that sense and we can talk as much as we want about everything else but you going to make your own warm up. So, teaching them some independence, I think, is important.