Twelve “C’s” For Team Building by Mike Curley (2006)


Published


I was born in Camp LeJeune, North Carolina and that is a Marine Corps base. My father was a marine. My mom was a teacher on the base so that kind of gives you an indication of the way I am. My dad got out of the marines shortly after I was born and we moved to Louisville, Kentucky. When I was in Louisville, Kentucky, of course, I took to the sport of swimming and basically was raised my whole life in Louisville, Kentucky.

I went to Catholic schools. Played sports all the way through my freshman year in high school, where most coaches are trying to make you or influence you to make decisions about what you want to do. At 5’ 4”, about 104 pounds you can either wrestle or you can swim. I didn’t really feel like wearing tights or anything like that so I went the swimming route. I was playing sports all the way through about my freshman year in high school, much to the chagrin of a couple of my coaches, Bill Peak and Denny Pursley. If you know anything about those two guys, they were not very happy about one of their guys not being totally committed to swimming until he was 14 or 15 years old.

Anyways, I attribute playing all those sports and being involved in basketball and football and baseball and probably until I was 14 or 15 years old to the way I coach as well. I want my kids to be aware of the body. I try to teach kinesthetic awareness all the time so we do a lot of fun things. At least what I consider fun, because I am still a kid at heart. We play ultimate Frisbee at least once a week. We play whiffle ball. We go for runs. We play touch football and all kinds of stuff like that, trying to teach the kids to be better athletes. I think in order to reach your potential as an athlete you need to be there as a swimmer. You need to be a good athlete, so we are always working on that stuff.

After I finished my high school days in Louisville, Kentucky, I moved on to the University of Iowa and a little funny story about Iowa. Being recruited by a couple of schools throughout the country, my mom put her foot down. She said, son, you are not going to go West of the Mississippi. I said, “all right Mom, no big deal”. Well, little did we know, I mean, we are not too much hillbillies in Louisville, Kentucky, but Iowa is West of the Mississippi. So I don’t think they knew until they dropped me off in August of 1982, that Iowa was even on the other side of the Mississippi.

While I was at Iowa, I enjoyed my college days, probably more than most. I was there for six years. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I was there doing my undergraduate for six years, but I stayed on. I was afraid to go out to the real world and got my Master’s Degree as well from the University of Iowa. While I was studying to get my Master’s Degree, I happened to meet my soul mate who is here this afternoon or this morning and so that was one of the greatest things about staying on for four years. I have been married for 17 years, just this past August and that is one of the things that has really influenced me about coming up with things about team building. If anybody knows about staying married, you have to be a team builder in that process as well.

After my days at Iowa I moved on and took a high school job in a little town called Clinton, Iowa and I coached the boy’s team and taught health. I enjoyed that greatly. My coach at the University of Iowa when I was there was Bill Wadley and Bill has been pretty instrumental in putting this thing together. Bill came calling and asked me to be the Assistant Coach at Ohio State. I moved on to Ohio State and moved to Columbus. My wife went and got her graduate degree and when we were at Ohio State we were pretty successful and I enjoyed that immensely.

In 1993 my wife and I had our first child and it was a boy. We have three of them, as the gentleman that introduced me mentioned, but in 1993 I decided Bill is working me too hard. You know, working 90-95 hours a week in my mind. I thought, you know what? I have to find a job where I am in charge and so I applied for a job in Orlando, Florida. Sunny Orlando and was offered the job in 1993. I ended up taking the job and I have been down there, this is the start of my 14th year. So, over my 14 years of working down at Lake Highland and working with Coach Wadley for 4 years at Ohio State and being married for 17 years. I came up with an idea to give a presentation that it is called the “Twelve C’s of Team Building”, what we, as coaches, can do to help. I am excited to talk about it today. Hopefully this goes really super and you guys learn something. I know I did by putting it together.

The first aspect of one of the C’s is called CHARTER, aka goals. Without goals, without a plan you have nothing. I consider goals, especially when working with high school kids, probably the priority one. You need to sit down with your kids, talk with your kids and define and communicate the goals of the team. They certainly need to be involved. Other aspects of charter are has the team taken on its own mission, vision and strategies to accomplish these goals? Basically, within your charter you need to develop paths to get there. How are we going to get to our goals? Has it set timelines, measuring sticks or stepping stones?

In today’s society in today’s country, everything is about comparing. I am not a real big believer in comparing and looking at others and saying how did we do? I will tell you that in today’s society, you have to do that. So you have to go to dual meets and see how you stack up against other teams and other things like that.

On Wednesday, before I flew down here Thursday morning, we swam Clay Parnell’s Lake Brantley high school team. They are a fantastic team. They compete for the State Championship almost every year and we flat out got our tails whipped. They have a couple of girls that are very, very talented, but your kids need to know where they stand. After you have set up these goals you need to have measuring sticks and stepping stones to see if you are going in the direction of accomplishing your goals. Does the coaching staff and the captain support what the team has set out to accomplish. Are you guys on the same page? That is a big deal. Are we on the same page?

In Florida they have changed our swimming a little bit. You have to go to the Districts and compete. You have to go to Regions and compete and then if you are still fortunate enough to still be swimming, because you could be knocked out if the kids don’t qualify, you move on to the State meet. In the process of setting up your goals you have to think about are we pointing toward the District meet or are we trying to win that as a team. Does our school want us to win that championship? Yes? That is a fantastic question and one of the (listen to cd)

Setting up clear expectations is one of my C’s, but as coaches we have to demand from ourselves, to always manage our expectations because I always ask that of our kids. How many people have had a child walk up to them and say, “I want to make the US Open” and she goes 5:20 in the 500 free? That just happened to me two weeks ago. A girl just took off swimming for about 18 months and played lacrosse. She was a very good swimmer in 8th grade. She came back to me and she said, coach – you know, I am really into this. She started training with me this summer and at the end of the summer she said, “Coach, I want to make the US Open.” It was tough. I had to look her in the eye and say “maybe as a junior.” I think you can only get in trouble by not being absolutely honest with your kids.

Yes? Oh, my high school team? I have six non-club swimmers. Yes? I think you have to set up those stepping stones. I don’t want this girl not to try to achieve to make the US Open, we just have to push back a little bit. If I do my job and she does her job and her expectations are here and as long as her commitment is here and not down here, why can’t she make that cut?

Yes? I don’t know how long your high school season is, but ours starts in August. 14 weeks. That is very close to ours. The FHSA, the Florida governing body, considers it to be 13 weeks, but it is really about 9 or 10. Our school did not start until the 3rd week of August, but they told us we could practice August 1. I was still competing. I don’t know about you guys, but I was still competing long course on August 1st and I feel like I had to give the kids some time off.

Yes, I would love to make some changes in Florida Swimming, but you know, I would have to get Larry Shofe and a bunch of other people on the same bandwagon to do, you know, to try and make those changes, but yes, our season is so short after we have that initial goal meeting. One with the team and one with some individuals that really have some lofty goals. I probably don’t meet with them again until after the State meet. Unless it is just putting my arm around them and saying, “hey, are we getting closer to going 1:51 in the 200 freestyle?” You know, you missed that morning workout or whatever it might be. In order to be 1:51 we have got to be hitting nine workouts a week, but to answer your question – nothing formal. It just moves too fast.

COMMUNICATION: If charter and setting goals is priority #1, communication to me would be problem area #1. Through many of the failures that I have experienced in my coaching career, you learn a heck of a lot from them. If you are not communicating, you are going to get in trouble. If you don’t have an open door policy within reason, if you don’t accept or return emails or accept or return phone calls. I am not talking about a parent walking out on the deck and trying to talk to you during practice. That is a no-no. You have to set up those boundaries. But if you are not communicating via email, in today’s society, if you are not communicating you know with a website or something like that, I think you are opening up a door to get in trouble, so that is communication.

Questions that we can ask ourselves. Does the staff provide important information regularly and efficiently? Do you talk to the kids every day? Or do they just walk out on the deck and you say all right, we are going to start with eight 100’s freestyle. The first four are freestyle on 1:30. The last four are IM or whatever it might be. Ready. Go. Hey, I can get in that rut sometimes, but do you talk to the kids? Hey, how was school today? That is pretty darn important. Talking to them regularly and efficiently. We always take about 5 minutes before we dive in and at least 5 – 10 minutes at the end of practice to just go over things and if you keep beating it into them and talking to them, there is no excuse for them to miss anything.

Are team members clear about the priority of their responsibilities? Have you told them what you expect? Have you communicated with them? I like to tell the kids kind of what we are doing for the whole week. You know, we are going to bust tail aerobically on Monday and Tuesday. I plan on us sprinting great on Wednesday because I gave you Wednesday morning off and then maybe we will recover a little bit and just go aerobic and kicking on Thursday morning and then they kind of have a plan in their mind of what we are doing and what our path to get there is.

Is there an established method for all the members to receive honest performance feedback? High school swim meets, how many people are high school coaches? All right. I don’t know about you, but we try to run our meets as fast as possible. I want the kids in and out of there in and hour and 15 minutes because we are spending three hours or four hours if we are lucky, at a club meet. I want our high school meets to move like that so the goal of everyone of my high school meets is for nobody to miss an event. That is the first thing, especially for the novice kids.

It is very tough to give performance feedback immediately afterwards. They get out of the water and first they have to swim in about 20 more minutes. Put your arm around them and say “Hey, that was a great job. Go loosen down and see me in a moment.” You have got to make time during the week to sit those kids down and probably talk about splits. Everybody wants their splits, right? After a relay, what did I go? It has become kind of a running joke and though I don’t have a child on my team that can break 22 seconds in the 50 free, I am like you went 19.6. Go loosen down. Let’s go. Oh man. Or 21.5 whatever and they are like ohhh and they take off. I don’t have a kid that is even over 5’ 7” either, boy-wise.

Do all the team members communicate clearly and honestly with each other? This is a big thing. We will talk about it a little bit later, but holding each other accountable and when they do talk to each other are they nice? Are they civil? I mean there always seems to be you know, little barbs and things like that that are going out during workout like “hey don’t save up on this one” and stuff. I try to really manipulate and control our environment in terms of trying to keep everything really, really positive. So communication, that to me is laying the law down.

CLEAR EXPECTATIONS: Last year at a high school meet, somebody brought this up. You have to have clearly defined expectations. The biggest problem I have with some of my kids and a lot of our parents and things like that is if your expectation is here, I want to make US Open, but my commitment level is here. That is tough. Defining clear expectations. As a coach, have you clearly communicated your expectations for the team’s performance and expected outcomes? Once again, I did talk a little bit earlier about managing our expectations. If you are going to ask your kids to manage their expectations, we as coaches have to manage our expectations as well.

Sure, I would love to take 8 kids to West Lafayette the first weekend in December. I only have two kids that are qualified. I have to manage my expectations. Are we ready to go there? Are we ready to take kids? You know, I would love to take 18 kids to the state high school meet, but at the rate it is going, I am not sure that we have that much talent. Is the coaching staff demonstrating consistency or constancy of purpose in the support of the team? That is pretty self-explanatory as well. Does the work of the team in and out of the pool receive sufficient time, discussion, attention and interest directed this way by the coach?

I am not sure who I learned this from. I have actually been very fortunate in the last couple of years to become a pretty good friend of Coach Dick Shoulberg at Germantown Academy and I think this is where I got this, from him. We try to make it very, very important to publicize what kids are doing out of the pool. Take time to say hey, these are the guys on the honor roll. These are the guys that did a triathlon. That is why they were not here on last Saturday. Though I would love for them to be at practice and they actually won the triathlon in Clermont or where ever it might be.

We have a section on our website called The Highlander Roar and what we try to do and believe me, as soon as we started this we got 10 emails from parents. They love to see their kids up on the website, right? Little Johnny was at that triathlon too and he got first. I will bet you we put that thing up in the middle of the summer and we were getting ten emails a week about hey, my kid made the all-star team in baseball or whatever it may be. Then you put their names up there and they just absolutely love it. I am talking club, but we do this for our high school team as well.

That is Coach Kempl. I think Eddie Reese was talking about taking a hacksaw and cutting somebody’s ankles because he didn’t have any flexibility, but Coach Kemp swam on those relays. He is my assistant. He was on those relays with Peirsol, Hansen and Crocker and I teased him that I could even swim freestyle on those relays and they would have won. He was 42.3 in the 100 free, 1:33 in the 200 free. He was not lousy, but he is 6’ 8” and the kids just like him a lot. Context. Purpose. Does each individual understand where his or her performance fits in the total context of the team’s goals, principles and values?

I do not know how I can stress enough to the kids that you do not win the Region meet, the District meet, even the State meet with your number 1 and 2 guys or girls. You win the meet with your #7, 8, 9, 10 and 11. So, everybody has to understand where they fit in. I just preached this to a couple of kids the other day because it just looked like in their eyes, like well I was only getting 5th in that 200 IM, so I really didn’t bust tail on that last 25 because you know, it is not that important. But heck, you lose dual meets by a couple of points and 6th, 7th and 8th; well just 6th and 7th score points.

Do the athletes understand the working as a team concept and how doing so will aid them in reaching their goals, not only in swimming, but also in life. Working as a team. Working within your family. Do the team members understand why they are a participant on the team? I think Coach Wadley from Ohio State said this at the Florida Coach’s Conference a little bit ago and I don’t want to screw the quote up, but it was basically Are you on this team to do something or for something to do? Can all team members define their individual importance to the accomplishment of all team goals?

COMMITMENT: Somebody give me their definition of commitment. What is commitment to you guys? Anyone? Derick? Wake up buddy. I love it. Following through on something you said you were going to do. That is great. Are all the team members committed to accomplishing the team mission and expected outcomes? Are we committed to do it as a team? Do all the members perceive the roles as valuable to the team and to their own performances? Are all members excited and challenged by the team’s opportunity? Do all the team members want to participate on the team? Once again, we go back to that quote, “Are you on the team, you know, as something to do? Is it social? Some people are and that is okay. Or are you there to do something? Do all the team members feel the team mission is important? They have to be involved in it, okay, to view it as important. I can be a control freak and I can control things and try to control my environment and control the kids, but the kids have to be on the same page with me.

Do all members anticipate recognition for their contributions? You bet they do. We started something about six years ago that I think is one of the best and smartest things I have ever done. I might have even thought of this one instead of borrowing it from somebody else. We have an outstanding performance of the meet swim. We have named it all different kinds of things and we only do it for our high school team, so kids cannot wait to get on the high school team.

At the conclusion of every single high school dual meet, we pull everybody in and have a little cheer. Hey Trinity, nice meet or whatever it might be and then we all jump in and do a team warm-down. But before they dive in I tell them, I say, “Hey guys, while you are swimming, think about nominations for the “swim of the meet”, alright? They do their 16 x 50’s on 50 seconds or whatever the warm down might be. They all stay in the water and it is kind of impressive. Especially if you are at an away dual meet and you are in somebody else’s pool and you keep them all in the water and you say, “Okay, nominations.” People raise their hand.

I would nominate Harrison Curley for his performance in the 100 back. He went his lifetime best time. He went 57.5 in the 100 back or whatever it might be. I would like to nominate Loren Lundberg for going 51.7 at the end of the relay and anchoring the relay. Then we take votes and you can only vote once and everybody raises their hand and we say, “ Alright, Loren Lundberg was the performance of the meet.” Then I give them a swim cap and they can wear that the whole next week. It is just terrific.

Do all members expect their skills to grow and develop as part of the team? You bet. That is our facility right there. We are blessed with the finest facilities in Florida. We have a 50-meter pool here. It is set up yards as you can tell. This is our pool house and then we have a little three lane teaching pool as well and the only reason we got that pool is because the school, it is right over here, wanted the space where our other pool was. We had a 6 lane 25 yard pool. They wanted that space to put a huge administration building.

They came to me, after me bugging them for many years about building a 50 meter pool and said, “ hey. You raise half of the money. You go out there and get a bunch of money and then, not only will we replace your pool, but we will make it a 50 meter pool. So we are pretty blessed. We are a pretty unique situation.

Competence: Does the team feel that it has the appropriate people participating? That is kind of an interesting question. At our school, I will tell you that there are some athletes at the school. I think our school has about 1900 kids and that is pre-K through 12th grade. About 700 of the children are 9th grade and above and I think the participation in athletics at our school is about 75%. Somebody told me that 7 out of 10 kids are involved in a sport. Those kids out there would probably do great in swimming, but they are just afraid to come in and work that hard or they are afraid or whatever it might be.

Does the team feel that its members have the knowledge, skill and capability to succeed? Are you doing your job? Are we doing our jobs? Down in Florida, and I called back yesterday, our kids are still getting stormed out. Storm comes in and rolls in at about 2:30 – 3 o’clock every day. The storms come in and hopefully they move really, really fast. They are coming from Tampa and they keep going out to Daytona. Any of the time that we get stormed out because of lightning and things like that, I love to sit down with the team and try to teach them. I show them videos and things like that.

If not, does the team have access to help that it needs? I am not afraid to ask somebody to come in and help the kids. I know enough people and hopefully I am nice enough to them that they come in and help like Coach Wadley and Shoulberg and people like that. Does the team feel it has the support needed to accomplish its mission? Are the parents supportive? Are their friends supportive? On Friday night when they go to the movie and the movie is over at 10:30 are their friends saying, “hey, its okay to go immediately home after the movie or come on let’s keep going out and let’s go get an ice cream. Let’s go to I don’t know, wherever it might be. I am not sure what kids do. I only have a 13 year old. That is my oldest. We will find out shortly. But, you know, are people supportive? Are their friends? Are their parents? Is the school supportive? Does the school care what your swim team is doing? I hope so.

Control: I have gotten a lot better about relinquishing control. I am trying to get the kids a heck of a lot more involved and letting the captains kind of direct the team. I can be an absolute control freak, as my wife can tell you and I am a serious planner.

Is each individual’s accountability understood by all of the members of the team? That is a big word to me – accountability. Does everyone understand everyone else’s goals? Is that a question? I am sorry. Yes. Jane has goals. Do they understand Jane’s goals? I think you said it very, very well. I think that the kids support each other. I think that it is very important that Jane knows that or Tammy or whoever that might be is trying to accomplish goals. Grab onto my cape and go with me. Everybody on their swim team has kids that are really, really talented and have great goals and then some that are just there for something to do. Does everybody understand why they might be there? Can they be civil to each other and work amongst each other? Does that make sense?

Do you put up everybody’s individual goals? Absolutely not. I do ask the kids to write them down because I think that leads kids to commitment. Writing it down makes them commit. We only publicize team goals, but we do not publicize individual goals. It is their choice whether or not they publicize those. Yes? I was going to say the same thing. What can we do to help that? I think the biggest thing is talking to the swimmer and getting him to feel comfortable with the goals that he can reach for and share that with him and help bring him out and understand that they have a supporting team behind them. No matter what their goals are, the team will help support them in that effort.

I will give a little short anecdote. We had some problems going on within our team in the locker room. Just cheeky little stuff that goes on in a locker room. People trying to give somebody a swirley or somebody going through somebody else’s backpack. Just stupid stuff, but people can get hurt. I sat all the kids down after I heard about all of this and of course my children were involved. I started talking to the kids about being a leader and standing up for people and told them that there is nothing more noble, there is nothing more valiant than standing up for someone and saying “hey guys, that is not the appropriate thing to do.”

I told them a little story about some of the kids that we used to have on the team. It is always how great we used to be, right? Everybody talks about how we used to be so good. Well, about five or six years ago I had some terrific male leaders. I will never forget. I have never had this happen, even when I was at the University of Iowa. I never did it and I was fortunate enough to be elected captain as well, but I will never forget. This one guy standing up at our rival across the way in Orlando, at Trinity Prep and saying these guys will never beat us again. We had just lost the meet. It was in 1999 and we had swum them six or seven years in a row and he was like a sophomore I think, Casey Kuzac. He went to Yale. He stood up and he said, “We will never lose to this team again”. Six years in a row we did that.

Now, I am not sure if he was the most instrumental part of that or maybe we had just reached that point where we were able to beat them, but that was a big deal. Holding the team accountable and somebody standing up and saying, you know what? If you have a leader like that you have something special.

Anyways, does the team have enough freedom and empowerment to feel a sense of ownership that is necessary to accomplish its goals? In other words, am I allowing them to be them? When I first came to the team, I was 29 years old and started the team. When I first got there in ’93 there were three boys on the team and six girls, no club team. The school told me that I could start a club team in that six lane pool and we did. But at that point I manipulated everything. I was, this is my team. Well it is not really our team. It is their team.

Our limitations were pool practice time, weeks in the season, known and stated at the beginning of the season, and how many people are limited on how much space you got? I sympathize with you and like I said, I am in a unique situation where it is my pool and I have to administer the pool. I am the aquatics director, but some people are saying you got five days a week for an hour and a half because you are sharing the public pool with ten other teams. How many people have to share the pool? You know, that is a big darn deal, so if the parents know and the kids know and you know and your expectations are all on the same page.

I would make sure that you state those at the beginning of the year. Have the members define the team’s authority, captains, and leaders. Those people to make recommendations to implement team goals. We started practice on August 9 of this year and the oldest kid, we do have one senior girl on the team and then our next oldest person is a junior boy and the most talented, we are at a prep school so we can have 6th, 7th and 8th graders swim on our high school team. The most talent and the most numbers on our team are in 7th, 8th and 9th grade. We have some really good young kids. We will be really good in two years, but I have waited all the way until this month or this Tuesday, after Labor Day to vote for captains because I don’t think the kids even knew each other. They were not in the same practice groups.

We waited a good three, three and a half weeks before we sat down. I had kids fill out pieces of paper that said who was the best trainer on the team, who held people most accountable, who in your opinion has the best relationship with the coach? Just all kinds of things like that and then about two or three days later we voted for captains and it worked out really, really well. It worked out really well.

Is there a defined review process so that a team is consistently headed in the right direction and purpose? I think that is our job, to sit down and say, are we headed in the right direction? Yes? Do you actually go by their vote? Absolutely. I have been asked, that is an interesting point that you bring up. I was just asked that by our volleyball coach at Lake Highland, who has won the last two state championships and she says, “don’t you manipulate the vote?” Don’t you make sure at the end that Johnny is the captain? And I say, “I have never done that.” I guess my dad would want to beat me if I did something like that because it is dishonest. That is just the way that I was raised. I let the kids decide and hopefully they do not make the wrong decision, but I think it is their choice. Those are the people they are going to look to. I have never done that.

As a matter of fact, I have been accused of that back in ’99 and 2000 because certain people did not get elected and I always keep the votes too, you know? And if a parent comes in the room and says, my daughter did not get elected captain. There you go, if you really want to see them. If you want to break your heart, here are the votes. So I have always kept them.

What do I personally expect of my captains? I want them to be my right hand person. When somebody gets elected captain I always pull them all in, the three or four that are elected captain, and I say, “you have been bestowed, a weight has been put on your shoulders.” I am assuming that you can handle this so I pull them in and I say, “I need you to come to me. I need you to communicate with me about how the kids are doing. I need you to be leaders and instill pride in the team from basically in the pool, out of the pool, on the pool deck, and in the locker room.” I want them to be my right hand. I want them to me another assistant coach and I want them to do it as civilly as possible. There are people who can lead, but they are jerks and people can lead and be nice and I always try to get them to do it that way.

Do you open up with your captains? I do. I will tell you about our votes. 26 kids voted for our boy’s team captains and we had four, excuse me, three 8th grade kids get 7 or more votes, 8th grade kids. Now I know they are good. They are not that good. They do not have junior nationals. They are not absolutely, they are not going to score at the state high school meet in Florida, but three 8th grade kids got a lot of votes. Now, I don’t know if I was just lucky, if the kids really looked, but the two upperclassman, the one junior and the one sophomore got elected captains for the boys. So yes, they can vote for them and boy, that would have been something to have you know, my 13 year old son leading the team. That would have been tough. It would have been tougher on him. No, maybe me. I am not sure.

Collaboration: do all members understand the stages of group process and development? Those are pretty big words for young kids, 6th grade kids to 8th grade kids. I have two 6th grade kids on our varsity team, two 6th grade kids. One of them is 10. He is a 10 year old kid on my high school team. He is so smart that like in 2nd or 3rd grade they moved him up a grade and now he is able to be on our team. It is such a big deal at our school to be on the high school team and I am not sure why because the expectations are not put on the kids and about how many workouts and things like that.

I demand that the kids are a lot greater than the age group program and things, but everybody cannot wait to be part of a team. High school swimming is so terrific. It is second only to college swimming, in my opinion, and everybody wants to be part of a high school team. Those 6th graders, they are wonderful to have there, they really are. Our team members working together effectively. How many people do dry land with their high school kids? I think it is a wonderful time for team building. We do a lot of, politically incorrect statement, Indian running or whatever. The person in the back runs to the front and once a week, normally on Fridays, we say okay we are doing our mile Indian run for time.

August 12th was our first one or something like that and basically every member of the high school team, boys and girls, all line up. Our 6th grader is a fantastic runner he runs like a 21 minute 3K, but basically they all line up and then they take off and they go front to back all the way around for a mile on our track and I time them and the first time that we did it we were like 11.5 minutes. Just last Friday we were 8:13, with the same kids and it doesn’t count until the last guy finishes. So, it is pretty neat to see them collaborate together like that.

Can the team approach problems, goal setting and measurement of success together? Do team members cooperate to accomplish the team goals? Do they sit down? Do they talk with each other? Are they totally dominated by 4 athletes? Are they dominated by the coach, the head coach, about what the goals are? I think if everybody is involved, if everybody has input, you can come up with the best team goals. Has the team established expectations or rules of conduct in areas such as conflict resolution, accountability, and decision making and meeting with the coaches? If there are problems, how do we deal with it?

Our 14 year old boys are taking the 10 year old kids that are on the club team and putting their heads in the toilet. How do we resolve that? I’ll tell you what; ten years ago I would have lost it. I would have lost it. I would have called their parents. I would have driven to their house, unbelievable. Now I am 42 and I have mellowed out a little bit so I was able to sit on it and stew on it and talk with my wife about it and then come in on Saturday and I think I did one of my best teaching jobs ever on that Saturday talking to the kids. I am always looking for teachable moments where you can kind of teach the kids. To stand up on soap box and kind of preach to them and teach them something. I am a teacher foremost. I have two jobs at Lake Highland. I am a teacher fulltime and I coach the club team and the high school team as well, so I have two jobs, but I really consider myself a teacher first. I actually teach from 8:10 in the morning until 2:10 every day. Physical education, not that that is belittling. It’s just that is what I do.

Is the team using an appropriate plan to accomplish its goals? That is us as coaches. I think my computer; this 1999 computer has about had it. This is one of the young ladies that swam on our team. That is a sign in the Notre Dame locker room, but she was a captain and a swimmer at Notre Dame in the last couple of years.

Creative innovation: I am a big believer in the journey. I have little quotes that I speak to the kids about. Results might bring status, all right? But the journey builds character. I think it is the process of how we get to the end, not necessarily the end that is the most important thing. Is the team consistently looking for ways to improve? I spent the entire month of June, the entire month of June, and granted I didn’t have all my high school kids there and this is kind of a high school talk, but when I was teaching, I took the entire month and worked on even splitting and back halving races. Even if you were a 50 freestyler. We did 400 meter swims until they absolutely hated 400 meter swims to teach kids how to back half races. I thought at the time we needed to do that and in the end it paid off.

Does the team and do coaches welcome creative thinking and new ideas? A kid came up to me at the end of summer and said, Coach, can we have music? Just this past summer. Can we have music on the deck? When I used to be a really fun coach every now and then I would bring out a boom box and we would put it on the deck. Coach Ben used to be on my staff, my club team. He used to have tons of fun with his kids. They would bring out the boom box and all the kids would laugh and have fun. Well, this young lady came up to me that used to be in Coach Ben’s group about four or five years ago and said “hey, can we have music on the deck?

We have this really nice amplification system you can buy for $500. You put an I-Pod in it and put the speakers up and we just play it during workout. One day it might be music that I like to listen to and another day it might be music that they want to listen to. Some days we would put on classical music and everything else, but it is a way to also bridge that communication gap. So I think that is a creative and new idea to make practices more enjoyable.

Do the coaches reward athletes who take reasonable risks to make improvements or do they reward the athletes who fit in and maintain the status quo? I think kids have to take ownership in their swimming. If you do not own your swimming you are not going to be as great as you could be. If you were swimming for Coach Curley. If somebody is in the water trying to, and we know that people do this, trying to always please, I don’t think they can be as great as they can be. If they take ownership in their swimming. If they are willing to take reasonable risk in their swimming, I think they are going to explode and get outside the box so to speak.

Kids that one day just decide you know what? I am going to blow out this 200, no pacing; I’m just blowing out this 200 free and trying to hang on. I think Simon Burnett maybe did that. Does the coaching staff provide the training, knowledge, education, access to books and films necessary to stimulate training and meet performance? Do you browse the Internet? Do you read books? Do you or do you just coach for three months and stop doing it? I am a freak you know about finding things that I think are cool and then posting them up and asking kids what they think about it. In my opinion, I think that the state of Florida is blessed that we have, not that I am a big gator fan or anything, but I think that we are blessed that Urban Meyer came down to Florida. One of the greatest quotes that I have heard in ten years was, and I am going to butcher this one as well. We have it posted on our board.

Consequences: do team members feel responsible and accountable for team achievements? Are rewards and recognitions applied when individuals are successful? How about the entire team? Giving out performance of the meet awards? Is reasonable risk respected and encouraged within the team? New race strategies, relay pickups and things of that nature. Is the squad designing reward systems that recognize both team and individual performances? About four or five years ago we had a young lady that was not only on the swim team, but she was on the cheerleading team and they came up with an award that they wanted me to think about and put into the team system called a spirit stick. Anybody ever heard of a spirit stick?

What is that? “Bring it,” I think it probably came just after that movie. This young lady went out and bought a stick, like a dowel, and painted it. She brought it in and whoever was the best spirit leader, leading in cheers, leading the team, we were to award the stick. Well initially I was like, I didn’t think of it, it is not a good idea. But it was a terrific idea and we still have the spirit stick. We changed it to something a little bit more masculine last year and we call it the hammer. Basically we give it out, but this spirit stick, this spirit stick was really inspirational and kids were trying to earn this award you know?

Each time you won it, you took it home and put something on it and brought it back. You know, they painted something on it, wrote something on it nice. One of the boys when he won it at the end of the year took duct tape and put it all over so it came back just gray. The girls didn’t like that very much. I think they won at the end of the year and it had beads and kinds of cool stuff on it. , We changed that a year ago and we got a big mallet and the kids were able to take the mallet home and decorate the mallet and bring it back.

Do team members spend their constructive time resolving problems rather than finger-pointing? I guess when Coach Curley gets real upset and he starts yelling at the kids that there aren’t any leaders in the team; I don’t think it is going in the right direction. Does everybody start pointing fingers? When you do this somebody smarter than I said, when you point your finger, three of them are pointing back at you. So I ask the kids to look inward. Can all athletes see the impact of their increased team success? When the team is winning, nothing hurts. When you are winning dual meets and you are winning district titles and region titles and going to the state meet six years a row and getting second to the school up in Jacksonville, it doesn’t hurt too bad. But when you start losing, then everything hurts a little bit more.

Coordination: our football coach at Lake Highland used to play for the Buffalo Bills and he is 6’ 8” and 360 pounds, so it is a little vice versa when he is looking at our little kids to play football, but I thought that was kind of clever. Do all individuals understand that everyone must work with common goals in order to work most effectively and efficiently? Are we all on the same page? Are individuals led by a central leadership group, captain, and seniors, best trainers that assist the team to attain what they need for success?

Our school started just last year what they call a Captain’s Council. It is led by a couple of coaches from the school and each coach nominates two people from their team; football, soccer, tiddlywinks, whatever sport you have at your campus and they are taught how to be leaders. It has been absolutely wonderful at our school. It has only been in place for about 15 months, but I can already see the difference in it amongst the school. Are the staff and athletes working in harmony? You know, at times we are always on the same page. Kids come in and they are tired and I guess Eddie Reese was talking about this the other day. Kris Kubik, his coach, is like his eyes outside the pool and it is always wonderful to have a great right hand man. Great leaders on your team and things like that that can be your eyes when you are not always there. They can come and speak to you when there are little problems out there that the head coach needs to handle versus the assistant coach being able to handle.

Our last C is called consistency and I kind of put up this little statement here “As coaches we must ask ourselves are we consistently working on communicating our clear expectations? Are we consistent with coming up with creative innovations to insure the context and control? Do we consistently collaborate with the staff to evaluate the team’s competence? And finally, as the coach, are there consistent consequences set in place for the occasional times the team’s coordination and commitment to charter strays”. Consistency within the program is absolutely vital, absolutely vital. That is all I have right now.

I want to open it up for anybody for questions and I would love to communicate with you guys so that I can learn as well. Yes? Having swum in college and being blessed with working with Coach Bill Wadley at Ohio State, swimming in college and participating in athletics in college is just kind of what I consider the epitome of why kids swim. I think it is just absolutely terrific. That team. It is just team all the time and unfortunately, high school swimming is only three months out of the year in the state of Florida. It might be longer in other places, but the comparisons are a lot similar in terms of the kid’s who just love to swim great during high school season. It just seems that when the high school season ends, I don’t know about anybody else, everybody just kind of goes ahhhhh. Okay, club starts. It is just a lot different.

Working at Ohio State with Bill Wadley there just always seemed to be a jump in people’s steps. A sense of reason for being on the pool deck and I sense that for three months with my kids. Then I have to try and really instill that every single practice after November trying to get the kids just as excited outside the high school practice for the club season. I think you guys got it great. I really do. I think that that is just kind of special. It is unique. Swimming as a team makes it a team sport you know, in college and in high school. I think it is terrific.

That is our website. Yes, it is www.highlanderaquatics.org. Just one word. Let me talk just a little bit about our website. Our website is totally coaching driven. We went out and took courses on how to put this thing together and we are pretty proud of it. It is kind of antiquated and we don’t have the snappiest graphics and things like that, but I would love for you to visit and if you want to, you can email me with some suggestions. I love to hear from people about what they think about our website. We have things on there like when I was not the senior coach. I took a break from being the senior coach in 2001, all the way until this past January. I used to each week sit down and try to write a thought for the week. That is on our website and you can read those and kind of see where I am coming from and using those things as a teaching moment. My email, if anybody cares to email me after they check out our website, is mcurley@lhps.org and that is Lake Highland Prep School. Org. Yes sir? Talk about the club and high school program. But in some areas there is not a big high school. Absolutely. I try to instill all of these things into our club team as well. (Is that because of the length of the season?) There is something about competing as a team. There is something about, at the end, them saying Trinity has 190 points and Lake Highland has 195. There is just something about that. There is something about the Wolf Pack from NC State having 100 points and Chapel Hill having 95. Whatever it might be. There is just something about doing it as a team. I think it is why a lot of our kids are kind of drawn towards water polo too, so that they can compete as a team and things like that.

Q. We have that situation even at club level. We do have team competitions, but it is still more successful at a high school level in and around us. I was wondering if you had any comment and if you felt that was because of the duration of the season or are you able to really put the team on a three month season. Therefore, making that more successful than on a club level trying to take it six months at a time, if you have championships spring and summer? That is a great question.

In 2000 we had 7 young people on our team, that were on our high school team, and that made Olympic trials. At that point, when you have kids on your team that are that talented, I don’t think you can chop up a season three months, six months whatever that might be. You have to start thinking way ahead about how great, not that they were ever going to make the team, but I couldn’t rest them three separate times throughout the year. So to answer your question, I do have three separate seasons. I have a fall season. I have a spring season and a summer season. We try to point towards a couple of meets in March. A couple of meets in August. A couple of meets in November and December area. We really, it is important to our school; I have been told it doesn’t matter if you know lose every dual meet this year.

It is funny. I get a lot of phone calls this year about everybody wanting to swim us, because we were so young. Teams I couldn’t schedule for 13 years are like okay, we will swim you now. So we might lose every single dual meet. This year we really could, but I think we will be competitive at the end because we do have some horses that can swim at the Districts and Regional meet. But yeah, right after the high school season, I train them for one more week and then we rest them a couple of days and try to go a meet in Gainesville and swim great at that meet and try to take 2-5 kids up to West Lafayette if I can too, to the US Open. So to answer your questions, we are still a 3-4 month seasons. I think it is mentally more intense, but I do not train the kids any different, not a lick of difference.

Q. But even that contest of trying to, I mean you stated that during the high school season, three months of it do you envision being able to carry that over a full year? Well, it is funny when you pay for something and you don’t pay for something. In the high school season I can put a demand on them because the school says I can. You are going to be at x number of practices. In order to get a Varsity letter you are going to be at X number of practices. For a club I have a tough time doing that, even if they are paying $120 a month, $60 a month.

If I tell all the seniors they have to be at 9 workouts a week and they get loaded up on homework and they only show up seven, all I can do is say, I am disappointed in you. You know, that means a lot. It is funny because during high school season I say you have got to be at 7, 8 or 9 workouts a week, they are there every time. Hardly anybody ever misses. During club it just, for some reason, boy if I was that smart or anybody had any ideas I would love to hear them about how to keep instilling that in there.

Jay Fitzgerald down at Pine Crest, he and I have gotten together over the last couple of years and had club dual meets so that kind of helps a little bit. Just do it in that type of format. Yes mam? Yes. I guess that I am somewhat flattered that this many people came. I really didn’t know how many people would come. I would be more than happy; if you would give me your email I will send it to you. I only made 50 copies. We were told we had to make our own copies and I just didn’t know how many to make, so I made 50. So if you see me afterwards I would be happy to send it to you.

Yes mam? Well, it is really in the middle of our club season as well. I think you are only as good as the season before. If you, that is the way it was in Kentucky when I grew up too. What are your rules in your state about whether or not they swim with their club coach or their high school coach? None. In Florida, there are no rules. It is the weirdest thing in the world. You can’t play with your baseball coach all year round. You can’t work out with your football coach year around. But man, they let you swim with your swim coach the whole year. I have no idea why.

Well we do end up training our kids the entire year. To answer your question, if it was in the middle, I would still consider it the middle of club season. I absolutely love the high school season. It is so much fun and I enjoy it. That feeling that you get right before that 200 medley relay starts at the state meet is the exact feeling I had before I started this speech. But anyway, that feeling you get, I just don’t get that at club meets you know? So we are in the middle of our season and I do expect all those kids that do swim year round to swim at the winter classic or the US Open immediately following. So I consider it all sort of melted together.

You lose your club kids? Really? Well, it is interesting. On my club team I probably coach ten other kids that go to other high schools. It would be very interesting to ask them and their high school coaches. Their high school coaches allow them to swim with me. They attend other public schools or private schools within the city, but they swim with me year round. Even during the high school season, they swim with me. Then I lose them once a week to go and do a dual meet or something like that. I guess I would have to ask them what kind to kind of know what they think about it. I have never heard that or somebody hasn’t come up and said; they feel like they are losing the kids during high school.

For high school or for club? Well, I have that problem too, trying to get them. I don’t think there is a more important, and people that tell me that they think academics are more important than being on the swim team, I kind of correct them there. I think it all has to be the same. I think you have to be able to do everything. Everything is important. I don’t know the answer to that question or how to keep them. There is a thought about too much racing.

Yes mam. I have two comments about that: I think it comes back to civility. If you were civil and you were nice to people and everybody knows that you are in it for the kids. Then it is a lot easier to work together. That being said, fourteen years ago when I thought I knew it all, I was convinced at 29 that I knew everything. Everybody should train with me because I know everything. Well, I am a lot farther behind that at this point, but I try to talk to all the coaches. I learned this from Larry Shofe when he was at Bolles. Then he talked about it again this past summer at the Florida swimming clinic.

Call them up, be nice, take them out to lunch, at least I have, and say “hey, do you mind if I train your kid.” We are all doing it for the same reason. That is only if their high school team does not have a club team with it. Or they are just doing it part-time and it is really the Social Studies teacher that is just kind of doing them because they are the mentors of the group. That is the way it is with those teams. It is not like it is pool time requirements. They might only have a pool for an hour a day or an hour and a half. I sat down with them and I said, “Hey, you know we are all in this together. I want your child to win the state title in the 200 IM. Do you mind if I train your kid all the way? Any dual meet that you have that is important I will be more than happy to let her go.” I have a couple of kids on my team that are like that. Does that answer your question?

If they don’t go to my school. Yes. I do have some top-level kids that are on my school as well and I just kind of melded them all together. We do have varsity team practice where there are requirements and everybody is on them. But basically I have kids from Boone, and Bishop Moore and Trinity and Dr. Phillips and Lake Highland Prep all training together, with the common goal of trying to be the best that they can be in November. Then hopefully the first week of December or whatever it might be.

Handout from Mike Curley

The 16 Indisputable
Laws of Teamwork
Thoughts and Questions for Developing a Quality Staff

The Law of Significance
People try to achieve great things by themselves mainly because of the size of their ego, their level of insecurity, or simple naiveté and temperament. One is too small a number to achieve greatness.

The Law of the Big Picture
The goal is more important than the role. Members of the staff must be willing to set aside their roles and personal agendas to support the team vision. By seeing the big picture, effectively communicating the vision to the team, providing the needed resources, and hiring the right coaches, leaders can create a more unified team.

The Law of the Niche
All coaches have a place where they add the most value. Essentially, when the right coach is in the right place, everyone benefits. To be able to put people in their proper places and fully utilize their talents and maximize potential, you need to know your staff and the team situation. Evaluate each person’s skills, discipline, strengths, emotions, and potential.

The Law of the Catalyst
Winning teams have coaches who make things happen. These are the catalysts, or the get-it-done-and-then-some people who are naturally intuitive, communicative, passionate, talented, creative people who take the initiative, are responsible, generous, and influential.

The Law of the Compass
A team that embraces a vision becomes focused, energized, and confident. It knows where it’s headed and why it’s going there. A team should examine its Moral, Intuitive, Historical, Directional, Strategic, and Visionary Compasses. Does the staff perform with integrity? Do staff members stay? Does the staff make positive use of anything contributed by previous coaches in the organization? Does the strategy serve the vision? Is there a long-range vision to keep the staff from being frustrated by short-range disappointment?

The Law of The Bad Apple
Rotten attitudes ruin a staff. The first place to start is with yourself. Do you think the team wouldn’t be able to get along without you? Do you secretly believe that recent team successes are attributable to your personal efforts, not the work of the whole team? Do you keep score when it comes to the praise and perks handed out to other team members? Do you have a hard time admitting you made a mistake? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you need to keep your attitude in check.

The Law of Countability
Coaches must be able to count on each other when it counts. Once again start with oneself. Is your integrity unquestionable? Do you perform your work with excellence? Are you dedicated to the team’s success? Can people depend on you? Do your actions bring the staff together or rip it apart?

The Law of the Price Tag
The staff and thus the team fails to reach its potential when the coaches fail to pay the price. Sacrifice, time commitment, personal development, and unselfishness are part of the price we pay for team success.

The Law of the Scoreboard
The staff can make adjustments when it knows where it stands. The scoreboard is essential to evaluating performance at any given time, and is vital to decision-making.

The Law of the Bench
Great staffs have great depth. Any staff that wants to excel must have good substitutes as well as starters. The key to making the most of the law of the bench is to continually improve the team with constant mentoring and evaluation.

The Law of Mount Everest
As the challenge escalates, the need for teamwork elevates. Focus on the team and the dream should take care of itself. The type of challenge determines the type of team you require: A new challenge requires a creative team. An ever-changing challenge requires a fast, flexible team. An Everest-sized challenge requires an experienced team. See who needs direction, support, mentoring or more responsibility. Add members, change leaders to suit the challenge of the moment, and remove ineffective members.

The Law of Identity
Shared values define the staff. The philosophy you choose will attract the type of members you need. The over-all philosophy gives a unique identity to the staff, potential recruits, clients, and the public. The philosophy must be constantly stated and restated, practiced, and institutionalized.

The Law of Communication
Interaction fuels action. Effective teams have staffs whom are constantly talking, and listening to each other. From leader to assistants, assistants to leader, and among all members of the staff, there should be consistency, clarity and courtesy. People should be able to disagree openly but with respect. Between the staff responsiveness and openness is key.

The Law of the Edge
The difference between two equally talented staffs is leadership. A good leader can bring a team to success, provided values, work ethic and vision are in place. The Myth of the Head Table is the belief that one person is always in charge in every situation. Understand that in particular situations, maybe another person would be best suited for leading the staff. The Myth of the Round Table is the belief that everyone is equal, which is not true. The person with greater skill, experience, and productivity in a given area is more important to the team in that area. Compensate where it is due.

The Law of High Morale
When you’re winning, nothing hurts. When a team has high morale, it can deal with whatever circumstances are thrown at it. Constant evaluation, communication and support amongst the staff helps confidence.

The Law of Dividends
Investing in the team compounds over time. Make the decision to build a team, and decide who among the team are worth developing. Gather the best team possible, pay the price to develop the team, do things together, delegate responsibility and authority, and give credit for success.

Sponsorship & Partnerships

Official Sponsors and Partners of the American Swimming Coaches Association

Join Our Mailing List

Subscribe and get the latest Swimming Coach news