I have been looking forward to doing this and sharing some ideas that might help you in your programs – especially if you work at a YMCA, which is fairly unique if you have never worked at one.
I swam in a summer league for a coach named Larry Gruber from Northern California. I was this gangly, tall kid who was a much better baseball player than swimmer. Somebody said, “You have got potential. I would like you to come out for my swim team.” I had just gotten beaten in everything that I’d swum in a Fourth of July meet and thought “Here’s some guy who is interested in me” and right then was the first time that I realized the power of a coach, the power of suggestion, and the power of confidence in an athlete.
Larry was an assistant coach at the Aquabears – which is now the Walnut Creek Aquabears. The two teams merged and the head coach was Ron Richardson. I swam for Ron at Aquabears. Back in those days, Concord Swim Club started up and they started water polo. All my friends went to play water polo because it was an easy way out and all of a sudden I was one of the oldest guys on the team. I then decided to make a move and had a choice to swim for Pleasant Hill or Concord – which are two teams that are also now merged. I swam for Dick Jochums for two years at Concord while he was coaching Hayward State University. Then he moved on to Long Beach State and I swam for Larry Gruber again at Pleasant Hill.
I was fortunate enough to receive a swimming scholarship at the University of California at Berkeley. I swam for a gentleman named Pete Cutino. Those of you who knew Pete…he passed away last year. I never realized how much this gentleman meant to me in my life. When Greg Wilson (UC Santa Barbara) called me and told me he’d passed away, I just went out and sat in my car. It was the first time that I had cried in a long time. My wife said “What’s wrong?” I said “This gentleman passed away well before his time. I never thanked him for everything he did for me and for the people that swam with me. Those individuals I still hold in the highest esteem and they were all tough. They were all tough on all of us.
During the years I was at Cal, I coached summer league teams and Nort Thornton came on as the Cal coach. I got asked to help out with his men’s team. The salary was nothing. Greg Kanell, sitting right here, helped also. Those many years at Cal were probably the best thing I had ever done in my life because I picked Nort Thornton’s brain every morning, every day. I soaked everything in and I had an exercise physiologist who I really enjoyed talking to about exercise physiology and swimming and a swim coach who was way ahead of his time…those coaches that I swam for – I feel like I have qualities of all of them. I can be Dick Jochums anytime. I can be Larry Gruber. I can be Nort Thornton. All of us have those kinds of stories. I was very fortunate to have those coaches in my life.
My coaching career started when I was sixteen years old in Northern California. In Northern California there’s a summer league area. I was an assistant coach at a team in Walnut Creek, coached three years at Los Trampas Swim Club in Lafayette, and three years at Orinda Park in Orinda, just outside Berkeley. I had seven years of teaching kids how to swim at the grass-roots level – on my own. I made those mistakes, dealt with parents through those years and was pretty successful because I did whatever it took.
I taught kids how to swim, technique, you name it. Larry Gruber was the head coach at Los Trampas and he asked me if I would like to coach the 13/14’s. They had ten coaches on staff – I swam at Diablo Valley Community College and across the street at a ten-lane pool. Each coach had an age group and I was able to help out and actually coach that team. I had a 1968 Corvette at that time. The money I got paid went for my insurance and gas to drive that car – nothing more. I could drive from Berkeley.
Then when Nort Thornton came and asked me to help him with the swim teams – but I can’t pay you – but if you want to switch I can pay you to coach at Concord. I really look at everything that I have done and I think, most of the time, it goes right back to Nort Thornton. Nort left a community college and took a $10,000 pay cut to go to Cal-Berkeley. Why? Why take that significant of a pay cut? It was the next level. It was the next level and it was a challenge in his coaching career. He embraced that and the gentleman is still there today, doing a great job. A $10,000 pay cut!
When I worked at Concord, we all turned in our hours each month and the money that came in – we divided it. Nort was the lowest paid coach on the swim club. I made more money than Nort Thornton at Concord Swim Club and he was the head coach! So, my roots in coaching were not just about money – it was about coaching and knowledge.
I have coached in Florida longer than I lived in California. At Bolles, the only team we were really ever worried about when it came to age group swimming was Sarasota. When it came to senior swimming – how did the team get the label of being “unsuccessful”? Is it underachieving? I think it was a little bit more underachieving at the senior level at the time, but I had an opportunity to take over the team. I had many people tell me I didn’t want to take that job. It is a dead-end job. It is a YMCA. When I went to the interview I realized that I thought it was a sleeping job. After my interview I talked to Gregg Troy. I had told nobody I was interviewing there. He said “I have talked to some people who coached there before Larry and they think it’s a dead-end job – what do you think?” I told him I think it needs somebody to direct it and take it to the next level and that is what has been lacking lately. He agreed.
The Sarasota Y Sharks – the original “Sharks” in the state of Florida (1961). Past coaches were Tim Hill (coached Kim Linehan as an age-grouper), Tim Blood (coached senior swimmers), Ira Klein (5 years, coached Trip Schwenk), Chuck Werner (won YMCA Nationals in 1991), Mike Simpson (5 years), and Sherwood Watts (my head age group coach, has been there for 23 years). Past swimmers were Kim Linehan and Trip Schwenk. How many teams can say they have had two Olympians?
I will never forget one piece of advice from Nort Thornton. He said “Never work for a parent-run board. Don’t do it.” Well, I hadn’t done it up until the Sarasota Y Sharks, but I found out – I did my research before I went – that I was going to be an employee of the Sarasota Family YMCA, not the parent board. If I was going to be employed by the parent board I would not have gone on the interview. I’d been very fortunate at Bolles, Episcopal High School, and Old Dominion Aquatic Club in that I was in charge of the parent groups and made the decisions.
On my interview I met with parents and coaches. I spent a lot of time with the director of my branch. Plus, I was interviewed by the swimmers and the guy who headed up the search. He was a former Shark parent and former board president. I was honest about my approach and the way I was going to do it. I was quite sure that the way I do things in coaching was totally different than anybody in South Florida. I wanted them to know that. I told my wife that if I hear one thing that’s negative, I’m walking out. I’m going to tell them thank you, but no thank you.
I really never talked about the board, but I had them all sitting in a horseshoe on Saturday night. Each one of them fired a question at me and I looked at them thinking “I am working for the YMCA. I am working for the YMCA. I’m working for the YMCA if I get this job.” I did a pretty good job and one parent that sticks out in my mind asked “What size shoe do you have?” I told him eleven and asked why. He said “I just want to know because when my son comes home and there is a size eleven imprint on his butt, I will know it came from you. You have my permission to do whatever it takes.” I thought, you know, if this is the mentality of some of these people, I am the right guy.
I called John Woods when I was offered the job and I said “Give me one piece of advice on how I am going to survive in this YMCA because Ira Klein tells me that he’s the guy who had been there longest – five years – and he doesn’t think I will last five years.” John said I needed to just make sure the director knows everything I do, every step of the way. I said that is just like working at a private high school. It is like working in a college, you have to make sure the athletic director knows.
I feel that Sherwood Watts is the best age group coach in the U.S. He is the same age I am and was born and raised in Sarasota. He is not going anywhere and after he saw me for a while he goes “Man, you are like no other style that has come through here. I’m glad you’re doing it (coaching senior swimmers) and I’m not.
The positives of the program were:
The history of the program – that was a no-brainer,
the tradition of the coaches,
the location – Sarasota,
the base of 12 & unders,
pool availability, and
the weight room.
In this job I am the Aquatics Director. If you have worked in a YMCA…I thought I worked hard before! I wanted it that way, though, because guess what? I control all the pool time. It took me a year to convince the YMCA to let me shut the 50 meter pool down during swim practice. You have a lane open for that one person who wants that 50 meter lane and you have to crowd 12 kids in your lanes. The retired folks that are here can swim anytime they want, but these high school kids can’t.
The core values of the YMCA: caring, responsibility, honesty, respect – wow, what a position! Being an employee of the YMCA: the benefits, the training, the connection to the community…my first week there I talked to a guy who was 82 years old. He swims a thousand yards three days a week and plays racquetball three days a week.
I accepted the job on January 30 and started on February 16. Swimming did so much for me in my life that I still wanted to keep giving it back to the swimmers. We came up with staff goals – 2004 to 2008 goals. Parent goals were to increase volunteerism and fund raising. Four years before I got there, there were eight or nine coaches doing their own thing and they never talked about what they did. I asked Watts “Do you tell the age group coaches below you what you expect?” He said no and I said “Has anybody above you said they want you to do this, this, or this?” He said no.
The team did no dry-land whatsoever. Morning practices were offered for senior kids, but only one or two would go. We decided to introduce dry-land at all levels, increase the pool time that we have, swim long course a little bit more, and set team/individual goals. I am real big on “team”. If you want kids to swim fast, start with motivating the team – your team.
They had no meetings. There was no communication set-up. I had meetings right away with the whole group. We put our newsletters on a web page and a parent still runs that. We get a lot of information on that web page. I learned how to do a distribution e-mail list – it took me about six or seven months. I had never entered swimmers on Hy-Tek. I always had an assistant coach at Bolles do that because I still did it the old fashioned way, on a spread sheet. Mailings – one of the nice things about working at a YMCA is that I can run off a zillion things and am not charged for it. It goes in an administrative budget – “educational mailings”. Once a week I would send an educational mailing because I was a lot different than anybody that had ever been there. I just changed the philosophy and the mentality of the parents first, not the swimmers.
When I first started coaching this group, I thought I was back in Lafayette, California, coaching the Los Trampas Swim Club. On the interview I was asked the question by a kid “What are you going to do for team bonding?” I told them I was going to work you harder than you have ever been worked and you are going to bond that way because it is going to be “you” against “me” – you guys against me and we are going to go on team trips and take a charter bus and they said they had never done that. I was shocked! A big team like that? I am quite sure that I know what working the hardest of any team in Florida is and we are going to get there pretty quick.
I was the third coach in that season – the third swim coach! They were only used to going about 4,000 yards a day. No dry-land, no weights, no nothing! It was sort of sad. Kids didn’t swim in the summer. You never saw them past the level of “Y” nationals. I took the job and I looked at the schedule and thought “I am never going to have to be out of town – they just swim against the teams in the area.” I decided to make changes. The group I inherited! I had thirty in a group called the “National Group”. I had a girl that couldn’t go under 1:04 in that “National Group”! There were only eleven who were qualified for “Y” nationals. We erased the name of “National Group” because to me a national group of swimmers have the real national qualifying times, whether it’s Junior or Senior. We called it “Senior 1”. We still don’t have a national group.
I had meetings, starting right away. We had a meeting every Saturday after practice to change one bad habit that they had acquired over four years. When I was first on the deck, I would have half the group show up late and half the group have to leave early. Kids would be turning around in the middle of the pool. Kids would stretch at the end of the pool. We worked a lot on and talked about technique. I posted qualifying times. I still don’t know what the YMCA National Qualifying times are. I don’t – I do not know what they are. I posted Olympic Trial and U.S. National cuts.
I introduced dry-land. The girls were belly-aching about doing abs and medicine balls. I ordered tons of medicine balls and you would start to hear comments like “I have lost two inches in my waist”. This is great so we introduced that and we decided to swim right through that first YMCA Nationals (in two weeks) and pointed towards the summer where we were took fourteen swimmers. The boys were 20th and our girls were 23rd in 2004.
I gave them two days off after YMCA Nationals and came back April 11 – a historic day in 2004. I handed them a seven-page handout of what we were going to do from that day on and one of my expectations was 100% attendance. I hear a lot of coaches say they expect 90-95% – I expect 100%. Qualifying times for the summer groups that summer were set up. It used to be that every 13 & over worked out from 7 to 9 a.m. I started at 6 a.m. 6 to 9 a.m. for the Senior 1 group and 8:30 to 11 for the Senior 2 group. Parents complained that I was separating kids from their friends, they aren’t all going to be together. Well, we separated the groups and those couple of parents who were shocked that they had to get up that early in the summer…unfortunately, because of the parents, those kids didn’t follow through with swimming.
We made the decision that we were going to go to YMCA Nationals in the spring and support U.S.A. Swimming in the summertime. Summer vacation policy – boy, they all had plans to go on vacation. I told them to just make sure you are swimming with a club when you go on vacation. This past summer we had 73 swimmers from other teams come and swim with us while they were on vacation. We will let anybody come and swim with us while they are on vacation.
We came up with team goals and our team goal for that first summer was to be in the top three at senior championships. They had never gone to that meet, so they didn’t know what to expect. We probably had a few kids that should have gone to sectionals, but I wanted to develop a team right away. I set parent goals. I wanted us to have the most officials in the state of Florida. We were very lacking and I motivated them in parent meetings that if we are going to expect our kids to strive to be the very best, we need more parents to get involved. We were probably about 9th or 10th. We had one of the bigger clubs in Florida and the team that had the most was Bolles. One year we surpassed the number of officials Bolles had. I wanted parents to feel good about what they are doing. I wanted us to be the best.
We wanted to be the biggest account at Total Team Wares in Orlando. At that time, we were #2. It didn’t take very long to make sure that I had all the business going to Total Team Wares and Speedo. We became #1 in sales for Total Team Wares and Coach Poppell, who was at Bolles at the time, was upset that I had this on the website and that we were going to surpass Bolles in another area. He’d heard through the grapevine that I said my goal was to beat Bolles in three years. I don’t really remember saying that, but maybe I did.
For a month I sent the parent board president e-mails asking questions – pretty tough questions. I wouldn’t get a response. I would leave phone messages and wondered “The president of the board is not conversing with me?” All the decisions that were being made were by parents and when I first went in there and said we are not going to Y Nationals this summer they went oh no, no, no – we are going to Y Nationals. I go no, I really think the direction you want to go is this and they go “No, because we have people that have plane flights to Maryland and they are going to need to go.” I went to the CEO of the YMCA and said this is what I would like to do, what do you think? He e-mailed me back that it made all the sense in the world – we really need to get back to that level. I went to the next board meeting with that e-mail and said “Folks, we are not going to YMCA Nationals, we are doing this from now on.”
The budget was set up by parents with no coach’s input. There had never been consistency in coaching or in the board. Many coaches came and went. After Ira and Chuck, they had a different coach every year. I said it just seems like every coach was doing their own thing so parents were making all the decisions for them because they didn’t have a coaching staff who was interested in running the program.
I couldn’t step foot on the deck at YMCA Nationals until I took a class. My instructor was Jeff Allen. We got right to the point because I’d read the book – Principles of YMCA Swimming and Diving. There was a section in there about how you can’t have a board of directors for a swim team in the YMCA. Voila! I said to Jeff, let’s talk about this one a little bit more and we talked about no board of directors and he said, you already have a board of directors at your branch and there is a Metro board and there is a board of directors – you can’t have a board of directors. These parents had three or four checkbooks – who was watching them? The YMCA had no idea. They kept trying for years to ask the team to put the money in the YMCA and I thought, okay, here I go, I’ve got all the ammunition. Also, when I questioned why there were signs out on the pool deck and who the revenue was going to, nobody knew. I asked one parent and he told me “I really like your style and I am going to tell you this: the president told me to blow smoke in your eyes and make you think that you’re in charge.” I didn’t like hearing that. You can only imagine, from that point on, I started digging to see exactly what was going on. It was a “good old boy” network. They were bringing their own people in and I had no say. The age group parents were furious. I started looking into dissolving the board.
Well, the president and vice-president didn’t like my coaching style, and that I demanded kids go to morning practices. They went to both the CEO and the #2 guy to try to get me fired. There were 42 things that they had listed as to why I shouldn’t be the swim coach there anymore. One of them was grades were falling. We had a 3.87 grade point average. We have held about 3.8 for the last few years with all the kids who go to morning practice and go to all the practices. I will do whatever it takes to get the kids to swim fast. If I have to coach negatively, positively, whatever it takes. These two guys wanted to get me fired and during that time I presented the board with a budget that I thought we needed. They had $7,500 earmarked for parent socials. Parent socials! My first function I went to was the Tennis Shoe Ball. You had to rent a tuxedo and you had tennis shoes on. It was all the parents – the money they raised they were spending on themselves. I presented a more aggressive fund raising plan that was denied. Said it can’t be done. It won’t work here in Sarasota. We can’t ask parent to do that.
I just went out and ordered t-shirts because when I asked, they said its $10 a shirt from a lady in town. I said heck, I can get them for $6. Total Team Wares and I will get what I want. I ordered 300 shirts. Well, I got ripped by the board of directors because I didn’t get approval to order 300 shirts, but they sold just like that! We bought them for six bucks and sold them for $12.50. We made $1,800. They ripped me for ordering t-shirts. I didn’t go through proper channels. You can tell I’m pretty passionate about this subject. I did a number of things that really upset some people, but it was for the kids.
We were warming up to leave for YMCA Nationals. Where are our team caps? I call the lady who was in charge of all the equipment and the shirts that I ordered and I go “I need team caps and I decided that we were not going to have our names on the side like they had them in the past. That the only time they are going to have their name on a cap was when they represented the United States and that we were going to go with just the Sarasota Y Shark caps. I called her up, she comes up and looks, and she goes, we don’t have any. I think it was planned. We went to YMCA Nationals with plain yellow caps my first year – yellow caps. I was furious and I told the kids you will just stand here and keep your mouths shut and we are just happy we are here. So the ball was dropped.
During that time there were a couple of secret board meetings that I was not invited to. I had a couple of people that were more than willing to let the director and I know what they were talking about. I convinced the YMCA and the board had the YMCA director convinced that the swim club cannot run without us. I am one – maybe I am just into control – I want to know everything that is going on in the swim club, from top to bottom. It means I have to work a ton more, but it was important to me and I didn’t want people that didn’t have the best interest in the swim club making decisions.
As parents, sometimes we have a tendency to want to have things done so that it benefits our child. When I worked at Episcopal High School, one of the reasons I left for Bolles was the booster club was run by parents whose kids were not the best athletes in all the sports, but they raised all the money so guess what? All those people who raised all that money and made the decisions were the ones that were getting their kids on the teams and they were not the best athletes. I looked at this board and they were all in different directions, doing things without even getting permission. They had ten different team shirts! It was unbelievable!
I convinced the YMCA director that we needed to dissolve this board and at this infamous meeting that we walked into – I had one age group mother who looked at me and she goes “We know what is going on. Go in there and kick some ass! We are all behind you.” I had another lady, an age group mom that I couldn’t believe this came out of her mouth, said “All the age group parents are behind you. It is the older people…” The president and the vice-president of the board – one of the reasons they wanted to get me fired was because they had the two daughters that really didn’t want to swim. The one daughter I met in the interview goes “You are not going to have required morning practices, are you? Because if you do, I am going to quit.”
Their daughters were not the ones that really wanted to be there. It was like their parents were making them swim and so I think that had a lot to do with it. The vice-president’s daughter didn’t really put an effort in at one swim meet and I told her what I thought of the effort and he didn’t like that. The president’s daughter one time looked at me and it was the most disrespectful someone had ever been to me in my coaching career and I told her “You know, you can keep walking – I don’t care whether your dad is president!” and then her mom came down and put her thumb in my shirt on the pool deck. I couldn’t believe what I had walked into. So, that night, the director and I were asking the president to step down. The board is in there and I am looking at people and they were begging me to give it a second chance and I looked at a lady across from me – her daughter is a senior this year – and I said “You know, their actions represent all of you on this board.” They are trying to get me fired and I had all these people going “they don’t represent us” and I go yeah, they do. Their actions represent all of you and that is not conducive to what we are trying to do in this YMCA.
I took the ball. I let the director talk. Directors of YMCA’s really do not like to ruffle feathers at all. He did the best job he could, but I had to step in and say “I am dissolving this board right now. Starting tomorrow, if any of you want to keep your positions, I am starting the “Sharks Support Team” and I am going to pick a “Shark Support Team” leader and we are going to have committees and we are going to go from there. I and the Shark’s team leader are going to make the decisions – that is what I said, but I meant the coaches are making the decisions. What happened when we put that in place? There were a few people who were upset. They are still upset at me and I have some out there that are still doing crap to try to bring me down. We know who they are…
We then increased volunteerism. I doubled the family assessment fee. We were told it was impossible – that nobody in Sarasota would do it – and it worked! Larger committee groups, the coaches set the budget, there is no party budget for the parents anymore – money stays within the YMCA. I am responsible to the YMCA. There is more accountability. Before, I never saw a budget – for four months I never saw a budget – I never saw an accounting of what went on at a swim meet when I watched all these parents with cash in their hands. I never saw where all that money went.
The most important thing for me to do when I was there was to get kids to swim fast. If I didn’t get kids to swim fast, it wouldn’t matter what I said or did. We had coaching staff goals that we set up that involved YMCA, USA, and Florida Swimming. We wanted to increase the swimmers on the team from 200 to 400 in four years. We wanted to increase the number of JO qualifiers. Wanted to be top 3 in JO’s and at Senior Champs in all years forward. In 2005 it was to be top 10 in YMCA Nationals, top 5 in 2006, top 3 in 2007, and we were planning on winning in 2008. I wanted to increase coaches’ education and we increased coaches’ meetings, which were non-existent.
Gregg Troy gave me the best piece of motivation. In 2005 they came to our meet in May and he talked about Terry Maul, a good friend in Florida. At the time, I am sad to say that the state of Florida – Florida LSC – only had about nine national qualifiers. We used to have thirty at Bolles. He talked about what a great job Terry Maul was doing and I am thinking gosh, we have done a pretty good job here to this point and when I went back and had a coaches’ meeting and I said you know what? I don’t know whether Gregg did that on purpose, but I thought we were doing a better job than anybody in the state. I wanted to create an environment of excellence – what I did right at the beginning – and I caught resistance in all areas.
Everybody wears a yellow cap to swim practice. I walked in and everybody had caps from all over. Everybody wears a Sarasota Y Sharks cap at every practice. If you don’t have a team cap on, you’d better find one. I don’t care whether it is solid yellow or Sarasota Y. We went to one t-shirt – yellow. I got it made through Total Team Wares. It says “PRIDE” on the back. If you have ever been to the Sarasota YMCA, I wear the same yellow shirt – not the “same” yellow shirt, I have lots of them – I wear a yellow shirt every day to swim practice. When I coached at Bolles, I had one of Jerry Haltry’s swimmers come down and I had this orange shirt on all the time and she goes you wear that shirt every day. I said I am proud of this team. I want you guys to look at this shirt every time you are going up and down the pool and she goes “Wow. That is so neat!” Ever since the day I took that job, I wear that yellow shirt to practice every day.
They used to have caps that said “JO Team”. My first swim meet that I went to was the YMCA state meet. I had been there for four days. I saw mothers crying because their kids didn’t make JO’s. I even saw one dad crying because his son didn’t make JO’s and I thought JO’s is one big thing here. I now call JO’s in Florida the JO World Championships because it is such a big deal to the parent. So I am sitting in practice about a month later and I am looking at all these kids that are sporting these JO Team caps and it basically said to everybody else who didn’t have one “You are a failure.” So I asked “do you mind if I eliminate the JO Team cap?” Boy, I caught resistance! I had one who pulled one out this last JO’s and I had to rip an e-mail very politely that “you still haven’t gotten on board with what we are trying to do here.”
We partnered with Speedo, which has been a great partnership. Team bonding, hard work, we had gone on a training trip to Ft. Lauderdale with the older kids. Bus trips, we go on a bus everywhere. The first time I mentioned we were going to go on a bus, they had never done it and they go well who are the chaperones going to be? I go me, the coaches, and my wife. No chaperones? I said no, because the first YMCA Nationals I went to I watched the parent chaperones in action and they really cannot discipline kids like I can. They are afraid of what other parents are going to say to them. Kids were in and out of their rooms all over the place and I said no, I am in charge 24/7. We are going to go by my rules. If they don’t follow them I am going to send them home. These are the rules. I’ve got my wife for the female swimmers and we are moving forward.
Beach swims – we will go and do beach swims. Winning also helps team bonding. Winning as a team really helps. Set the bar high – high expectations. When I first took the job I asked everybody what their best events were. I went down through thirty-one people. 50, 100, 50, 100, 50 – one girl said anything over 100. After I trained them for a couple of weeks I go, I don’t see one sprinter in this group. I do not see one sprinter in this group. Oh no, but my best time and the standard – :26.5, was a good 50 free for a girls – :25.0 for a boy. We had two girls under 5:15. I go girls, 5:15? That is a very good high school time, but you know that is not fast. We need girls going under five minutes. Oh, that is so fast and I said five minutes is not fast. Break it down and that was the first event I ever talked about was the 500 and I said you know girls, I had an opportunity to coach a girl in high school that went 4:37 – second fastest ever in high school history in the United States and I go so faster than 4:37 is fast. Well now Kate Ziegler is a little bit faster, but we have eight girls going under five minutes right now and it is pretty neat. Throw the expectations out there – throw it out there. What is good?
We run Special Olympics. I have had our kids volunteer. YMCA’s are big on volunteerism. We loaded a U-Haul and sent goods to Gulf Coast Swim Team, which is right below us, that got hit by Hurricane Charlie in 2005. We raised money for a little girl at Swim Atlanta who had cancer. They had housed our team at a swim meet. We work Masters swim meets and a triathlon. Our Masters team, when I was first there it was “Swim Florida”. Well, Swim Florida is bitter rivals with Sarasota Y Sharks. I finally got them convinced that we needed to be the Sarasota Y Sharks Masters. We just started a Sarasota Y Sharks Tri-Club. In one year it went from zero to 175 and now everybody wants to have the Sharks name in Sarasota and I almost have to get a license for it.
Create your image. Basically I wanted to create an image. If any of you have lived in the southeast and wherever I have coached, I have tried to set a tone as to what our team was going to be like. I love coaching high school age athletes. I expect them all to be respectful of everybody. Good manners, honest, care for others on their team, treat people like they would like to be treated, take responsibility for everything you do. Well I am basically naming the YMCA Core Values and I have done this all my life. I want them to be tough competitors, but I want them to be nice competitors once they are finished.
Team functions – we have an awards ceremony. We have breakfasts where we will take a group to breakfast and we will pay for it because we took that $7,500 parents’ social money and we pay for breakfasts, lunches as a group, and dinners, scholarship dinners. We didn’t have practice one afternoon and went and saw “Cinderella Man” down the street. Peak swims, training trips, scholarship achievement. We took money and we have a swimmer support account that the higher level you get, the more we pay. My swimmers I took to nationals this last year – both spring and summer – they didn’t pay a dime. If the parent board was still in place they would have paid a ton.
What has made the biggest impact? 2004. When I look at 2004, 2005, 2006 – what has made the biggest impact and the change in the team is my expectations and the expectations of the swimmers. I follow through and I don’t want to bore you with a story, but on October 11, I told all the kids – starting tomorrow, we are going to be at practice 100% of the time. Well, the next morning nine showed up. Coach Brown thought I was getting in my car and going back to Maryland, because my wife and son were still there. I was so furious. That afternoon he is going God, what are you going to do? I knew exactly and I just calmed down. They are all going to be out on the pool deck and I am going to be across the street and I will walk over and they will all be there ready to get in and you say to the nine that were there this morning, you come over here and the rest of you go up and meet Coach Shofe in the bleachers.
They all came over. I sat them down and I became very passionate about why I was there, why I thought they should be there and what I was going to do and if those were the nine I had to go with…I am not having people miss practice ever again and I go “I am changing the mentality of this program because it used to have this.” And then I said go and get changed and they are going what? I said go get changed and come back out here. Then, one at a time, I brought them in my office. Where were you this morning? Are you in or are you out? Friday morning we had 45. We had a Junior 1 and the Senior 1 group. Now I expect 100% attendance. I am willing to run an extra Tuesday or Thursday morning. I will run a Saturday afternoon. I will run a Sunday morning. I will run a Sunday afternoon. I expect all of them at 100%. If you aren’t at 100% through vacation, through January 31, you are not going to YMCA Nationals. I followed through because in 2004 I had one swimmer, and he was a good swimmer, I kept reminding him on my ride to YMCA Nationals I told him that he could be the team leader. He was a senior, but he kept missing practice and just sort of joked around with everybody and I walked out and I told him to come over and I go “You are done.” What? You don’t understand how hard school is and I go you go to a public school in Sarasota, they are not that hard. I coached where academics were pretty hard and nobody missed practice. He goes but you don’t understand and I go I understand. I am going this way and you want to take everybody that way. You are done. I will try to get a Senior 2 or Senior 3 group in as soon as I can. He went out throwing his arms and everything. Best move I ever made. Everybody knew I was serious.
Workout at meets – if you have ever followed where I have been, I am the first one in the water and the last one out, early season. This summer we went 8,000 meters both days before our invitational. I got them there at 6 a.m. When I first did this they were going we are not warming up and I go you are right, we are working out. Workout is valuable time and they were amazed at how fast they swam. Randy Reese used to do that with the University of Florida, but I started doing that long before.
The team goal was to be top 3 at Senior Champs. We won Senior Champs that summer. We won Junior Champs that summer. People said oh, this is nothing compared to what you did at Bolles. I go no, you don’t know how sweet it was to win JO’s because I had seven of those 13/14’s that lit up the pool. We went to a YMCA triangle meet in December of 2004. We got on a plane. These kids when I told them the rules for the plane – dress like you are going to church – they were like what? All I own are sandals! It’s warm in Sarasota – they don’t have a winter. Once we got off there was a flight attendant who said this was the most well behaved group she had ever seen on a plane in thirty years. I could have turned around and gone home, that is what I want to hear.
We went to this meet, not knowing Wilton Y was there, not knowing what to expect at all. They ran a great meet and we found ourselves in third place at the beginning of the last day. The last day I had a bunch of kids in the mile and 200’s of strokes. We warmed up and I looked at them when they got out and I go “today is the day we trained for.” We trained for the mile – speed through endurance and I want you guys to be tough in the 200’s. We can win this meet. We won the meet. We went from third to first. All of a sudden, since that point, that has sort of been our M.O. The longer the meet is, we sort of rise a little bit. It is what we train for.
In 2005, I think the biggest thing that I did – we got on a bus and went three hours to the University of Florida. That party money for the parents paid for that charter bus so it didn’t cost the kids to go. We took a three hour bus ride to watch Florida swim Virginia. These kids had never seen swimming like that. When we came back, the training level went up. We went on that bus and got home at midnight. The next day we got on a bus and went to Fr. Pierce and swam Indian River Community College in a dual meet. We were unbelievable that next day with no sleep.
Back in December of 2004, I offered 36 practices – Christmas Training – for two weeks and I have always expected kids to be at 22 to 24. They had never had that. They would shut the pool to rent it to college teams. There wasn’t any practice in the years past for two weeks. I sat them down and said this is the expectation. I am going to run practice a couple of weekends before on a Saturday afternoon, Sunday morning, and Sunday afternoon and all the way through the month of January and I said, I expect you to make 24 out of 36. It gives you the flexibility where you have a few days off. If you can’t do that, I will run Tuesday/Thursday mornings all the month of January until you are caught up. Right in that same meeting I said, “Now consider this – you guys are going to think I’m nuts – last year Wilton Y won the Y Nationals. If all of you scored 8th place in every event, we could win Y Nationals.” I got laughed at. I said if all of you committed yourselves to this Christmas training and all of you placed 8th in one event…some of you are going to do better than that, plus our relays, we can win Y Nationals. Our guys were 20th and our girls were 23rd the year before. I am not going to say it again because people anywhere else would think I had lost my mind.
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