Thank you very much, Rick. It makes me feel awful old, though, when I listen to all that I really have been doing this for 34 years. As I sat last night and listened to Mark Schubert talk about his journey and his evolution – a lot of mine paralleled his. We both started in Ohio, I just started about a year or two before he got started, but we have journeyed together in many ways. He has obviously been unbelievably successful, so when I stand at this podium thinking it was Mark standing up here last night, I am kind of a little bit awed, then to speak to all of the coaches out in front of me who have all been highly successful – whether it be an age group or high school or college or in USAS. I realize that you have all accomplished quite a bit and I guess I am pretty lucky for what I have accomplished. I couldn’t have done it without a tremendously supportive family unit at home. I couldn’t have done it without a tremendous coaching staff that have worked with me over all the years. They have provided me the opportunity and the freedom to be able to be this involved in US Swimming at times, and be involved in our sport beyond just trying to coach the athletes. So, when you say that I have accomplished it, you have to remember that all the assistant coaches and all the people at home who were picking up the slack when I have been gone, or involved in other projects. It just couldn’t be done without them. That includes the parent’s organizations, and my athletes as well, and they all have contributed immensely to this.
As I stand here, I look at the people who have spoken before me and, as much as I have a lot of firsts – I have spoken at ASCA a number of times – but I have never been what I call one of the featured speakers. I don’t actually see myself in that role. I see myself as one who is very involved in the politics, and I coach a club program in Kansas. But I listen to Bob [Bowman] and Murray [Stephens] and Michael Phelps this morning, followed up with Goldsmith, who has done an unbelievable job for Australian swimming, and then Jonty Skinner, who is now really setting some direction for us to be coaching in the 21st Century. Then he let Rick Curl introduce me. I am going to have something to say to you – I am pretty humbled.
When Pat Hogan and John Leonard approached me about this at the Spring Nationals and asked me if I would speak, they didn’t tell me that I would be doing it to the whole house; and, as you probably notice, I don’t have fancy slide shows and a lot of handouts and other things. Normally when I do speak here I do quite a bit in that area – I don’t do slide shows and stuff – I am not technologically sound – I am still working on turning on my computer. My staff and my business manager are excited that I can now handle email. As I remind them frequently, I do what I do best, and I am really good at orchestrating and guiding people, coaching and I try to put all my time and energy into that. I find that the computer screen sometimes consumes too much of people’s time. That is not what I am best at, so I very willingly have stayed away from it so that I don’t get myself caught in getting away from what I do best. We do have a laptop that does travel with me now so that they can better take care of me and keep on track of things, but I have found that I might want to get rid of that leash here pretty soon. Also, in organizing for this talk I felt that I was afraid that if I put it all in a handout then everybody would see it as a cookie cutter. What happens in coaching, I think, frequently is we see somebody do something right and then we try to copy it.
I think the success that I have reached in the pool – I will not tell you that I consider myself extremely innovative – I am not. I am pretty square. I am a great copy cat. What I call my program is a mutt. It is a complexion of everything that I have been able to learn. But then I try to take it and adapt it to my circumstance and what I am gifted at. I think, if I am gifted at anything, it is being able to do that and I consider myself to be a problem solver. I think I am gifted at that. I think you all have to decide what your talents are and what you can do and what you do best and insure that you protect that. Don’t let the things that you don’t do well take away from the things that you do well. Mark talked about that last night. You surround yourself with people that will magnify what you do. I firmly believe in that philosophy and that is what I have done, and that all plays into my subject today.
I would like you to think about what I have to share, and I think the notes that should be written down are the notes that relate to your circumstance and who you are, who you are coaching, and how it might apply versus trying to copy what I do and I think. I have made the mistake and that is one of the reasons that I chose not to do it.
My talk is a little different than I normally do. I usually put it all down in a book, pass it out, and then give the talk. Hopefully you will bear with me and I will be successful in doing this. I can’t tell you that you are going to have a piece of paper that is going to have the information on it. This is how I am going to be able to share my thoughts and I want you to hear it through your ears and let your eyes take it in.
The topic was “Warm-up, cool down and race preparation.” What Pat and John really spoke to me about was that they feel that I do some things significantly different in the way I approach my championship meets, how I approach coaching at swim meets, and what I have done with my athletes there. Pat and I have discussed it personally a lot of times and I think that is what stimulated it, because I do have some philosophies and I do have some things that I think are different. They might be different than what a lot of other people do and we all use these different words – quality, taper, rest.
I loved it when Mark said last night there is no such thing as missing a taper. I do tell my athletes, “If you miss a taper that means you didn’t come to practice.” My athletes are constantly telling me, and I think Catherine Fox said it really well in ’96, when she said, “Do we ever rest or taper?” She had now been on a number of national teams, but as she prepared for the Olympic trials she said, “Oh – I see the difference now.” Really, there wasn’t any difference. I think the biggest difference was that I found that she understood now what we were doing. and I am going to speak to how we got to that point. It really wasn’t different, but when you understand it, your ownership goes up big time.
There are some things that I need to cover with you so that you can get to the point of what the talk is, because the talk is going to be at the end, but I can’t do that without telling you how I got here. It is important that you understand this because you then have to apply it to how you do things, because if you don’t do it my way then you need to take the principles that I am going to give you and apply it to your way. I am certainly not going to tell you that this is the only way to do it, but I am going to tell you that I think there are some things we need to consider, and I think I have been pretty successful at it.
I don’t feel real successful right now, as I sat here and looked at Bob today and I got even a little more scared about getting up here this afternoon, and you say, ‘How can you be scared with everything you have done and accomplished?’ It still scares me, you know. I am best on a pool deck chewing out an athlete. That is what I do the best – that is my number one thing I do pretty well. People have told me that I am pretty intense. They don’t really know I am telling them jokes – they are misleading. They don’t know what is going on and really sometimes the joke was that performance, but the athlete figures it out after a while. You have got to understand some of these things that I am going to try to give to you, so you can get to that point.
In my program, we look at a swim year and at a four-year plan. I really believe everything you do needs to be educationally sound and that is a measure that I put against everything do – Is it educationally sound? Not just scientifically correct, or what they say in some book. I believe that there is a reason why we structured our educational systems in the way that people have. Developing lesson plans and the way we look through a school year, and the way some schools have 8 grades. The big debate about whether you should have junior highs, middle schools, should high schools be four years. Should they be three years? How many years are in medical school, how many years are in law school? What does it really take? So when I say educationally sound, look at the world around us. They have a plan and they know what they are leading up to and there is logic to it.
I think medical school is a good example of competitive swimming. If you study it closely enough, you will find that swimmers who go into medical school are probably the athletes who are the most successful of any other athletes that enter into it. I think we develop the characteristics that help them to be successful in that environment. Analyze it, and I challenge you to think about it, because I find a lot of parallels. So, I think about that and we are on a four-year plan.
I actually look at it as a five-year plan because your four years plan and your one-year plan are one and the same. I am spending a lot of time during the last year of my plan preparing for the next four years and trying to figure out what has been working. Have we accomplished what we started? Are we going where we needed to be? What do I need to be planning for the next period? I don’t change my fourth year, but I am preparing my next four-year plan. I think that is a lot about what happens in school, as they go through the educational system. I see each year as leading to the next year. I see each phase within a year.
Many people talk seasons – I don’t talk seasons. I talk phases. For those that think of three seasons, there are three seasons in a year. I see three phases. You know – we talk that there are four seasons in relationship to weather, if you live in Kansas at least. Some other parts of the country, they just talk about that they had fall and not much changed, but I see all these parallels.
I broke my season into phases because I believe you need to focus on where that child is going to be. I am an age group coach and when they come into my group most of the kids, 90% of them, are freshmen in high school. Yes, I have some 8th graders, a rare time a 7th grader gets into the group that I coach, but basically I am a high school teacher and that is what I see myself as. When I have a child from grade school, that is the first thing that I explain to them – that they are in a different environment and I try to be cautious not to have them grow up to fast. I want them to be 8th graders or 7th graders and that only happens under very, very exceptional circumstances. I do a lot to make sure that I don’t make them become high school students too soon.
I call phase 1 my training phase – the foundation of the swim year. When you look at that phase, you have to do all the things you are going to do in phase 3. I want to let you know that. You might spend about 10% of your time during that phase doing some of the things that you are going to spend 90% of your time doing in phase 3. I believe that we are creatures of habit and I think we are neurological morons and we need to do what we are going to do and you can’t go away from it. You can’t say, ‘Well I am going to have a sprint time of year and this kind of year.’ You have to swim fast all the time but I do think you have to spend time teaching stroke and creating energy system foundations just for the majority of the time.
So, inside of every week we are doing things that we will do during what – favorite word is and I am using words that everybody here talks about – the taper phase. I will explain the word taper later on and how I see it. It is really our heavy endurance phase to me, but it is really base training. If you deal with energy systems and how you understand it, we are really dealing on the lower end of the pyramid. We spend a lot of time on strokes. We do not spend a lot of time talking about racing. We spend a lot of time about talking about how to race. There is a significant difference. It starts off with stroke and then goes to what kind of in shape do you need to be to do what you want to do in July and August and what is that going to involve. In this phase we do race, obviously. It is not a high priority to me, and my athletes say that.
I come back and I tell them after every meet how many best times we. I give a report on exactly how many best times we had in every meet, by person. My athletes tell me, ‘You said it wasn’t important.’ I said, ‘Wait a minute. You are a competitive athlete – you want to play the game. What do you plan on doing at the end of the swim year? Do you plan on losing at the end of the swim year? Not doing best times? We are creatures of habit. If you are going to get on that block, you better be focusing on doing a best time and being the best you can be. Now you might not do it, but that is going to be for reasons that are outside your control, not for reasons inside your control.’ I want a true evaluation. I want to see where we are. Where are those strokes and turns and energy systems and race attitude? I don’t want to practice losing. Again, we are creatures of habit and if you practice it frequently enough, it will become part of your routine as something you find an ability to accept. I don’t want to cultivate that.
During the later part of the phase, which ends in December for us – the last two or three weeks – I do talk about the meets. I will tell you that. We do not, in your terms, rest, taper, or shave in phase one. A lot of teams get ready for December meets – we do get ready. My athletes say, ‘We get ready differently.’ and I say ‘Well, we are focused on July and August. They are focused on doing something in December.’ ‘How do you expect me to beat them?’ I said, ‘I want to really whop on their tail by the end of the year, so we should be beating them now while they are tapered and shaved. Who is going to be more confident at the end?’ They are not going to be able to catch us, so we are very much into it. We do take a few lickings because of it, but I don’t accept those lickings. I try to figure out why we did what we did and what we could have done better. That starts around thanksgiving, when we kind of elevate our focus to that and we will talk about the meets coming up.
We will talk about what needs to be done. It doesn’t change my workout plan and, you better understand, that you have got to be cautious to that. In my opinion, you have got to be careful not to compromise your plan just because you want to be able to win at that moment. There is a huge tendency for that. My athletes will tell you – I fight that tendency pretty well. I do believe in a pyramid theory about almost everything you do. I believe that the faster we are in December, the further up that mountain we are to peak perform. You’ve got the pyramid for training and you’ve got the pyramid for performance. The higher we are on that mountain before we face Christmas, the greater the odds that we can reach that peak. Now, the problem here is I really want them to understand that peak is where they want to be in July and August. They need to have it clearly defined. That way your practice in phase two will be a lot more meaningful, because they know what they need to do.
Phase two of the year is what I call the training and racing phase. The reason I say that is because now I am very focused on racing in practice, training in practice, and I am a lot more attuned to what is happening at the meets. During this phase, I will react to some things that happen at meets. In phase one, I do everything I cannot to react to what I see. I have to believe in my plan. I wait until the phase is over because repetition is the best educator and you have got to stick with it long enough to make adaptation take place. In phase two, I start reacting some. It is actually the shortest number of weeks of my three phases. It takes place from right after Christmas until whatever their championship might be in the March – April period, and that is going to vary. We do shave in that period. We do have big team meets – everybody gets into the sectionals these days. We have always had somewhat of a sectional competition in Kansas, Region 8. Sections replaced the meet we already had in place that was a stepping stone for us.
My athletes do not shave until they are going to their highest level of competition. I believe you should make the big dance without shaving. That means that you are really ready to be in that big dance. So if it is getting to sections – you’ve got to get there without resting and shaving. That means that yes, when I look at getting ready for a sectional meet – and I hope they are going to make national cutoffs – what I really am hoping is that they are going to reach their peak potential for phase two. If they happen to stumble and not be great at nationals the next week, I am not worried about it.
You heard Bob Bowman talk about that they focused on Ft. Lauderdale versus the Pan-Pacific game. I think they pretty much knew that Michael was going to go to Pan-Pacific, but for the reasons that they chose, they made Ft. Lauderdale their main focus and did everything that they could to be successful. That is what I heard them talking about. I think that is critical that you decide where you are trying to get to.
I am going to talk about multi-meet competitions because I think you can do this. I think Michael was exceptionally successful because, when you look at the conditions of Ft. Lauderdale – I am not talking about shallow pool – the heat, the humidity, the travel time – a lot of things. I think our entire Pan-Pacific team did awesome. I think you can do this and you have to have this built into your plan. You have got to know, and Bob did know, that it was going to be a week later he was going to have to do the other meet. What he tried not to let it do was take his sight off where he was. That is what I heard him trying to say. Now I am going to explain why that happened. Why I think it happened successfully. It fits in with some of the things that I believe you have to do.
You should know that I don’t believe that we rest too much. I know you guys use it, and I am going to define rest here a little later, so please understand what I am saying. In phase two we might rest three to seven days – that is the most. We will be in what I call a taper quality phase for about twenty-one days but we are still working pretty hard. About fourteen days out, we reduce – if they are in the strength training programs that we do, we cut that back. We do not cut back the 45 minutes of deck work that we do, we do about 300 stomachs every day, and we do anywhere from 150-200 pushups before we get into the pool every day. They are still doing 150 pushups the day they leave for nationals. I actually encourage my kids at nationals to make a decision whether they should stay with that program, and I let that become a personal choice. Again, it goes to the philosophy that we are creatures of habit. The body is accustomed to doing it – the body reacts to that and if it has been part of your routine – stay with your routines. I am going to speak more to some of those things.
We shave at our appropriate meets. I would like to win the championships just like anybody else, but I want my athletes to reach their peak potential. It is in the best interest of everybody. It is educationally sound. They weren’t meant to finish school in second grade. When you are a second grade teacher you’ve got to realize that they are going to be eighth graders some day. I need, as a club coach, to realize that if I do my job well they are going to be swimming when they are 21 or 22 years of age, potentially swimming on an international level. Somewhere along that journey, I want them ready when they get there. I don’t want to be short sighted. My job is to take care of my part of path. I am pretty strict on that, and that means some of my better athletes – as they say it, ‘you are sending me to this big meet; everybody else is shaved and rested. You are telling me it is important for us to win it. Everybody on the team is looking at me and asking me to get the job done,’ and I say, ‘so what? You have been training hard. We are tough. We are ready.’
You have got to have the character of a champion to be a champion. If you are trying to make it easy to be good, that is not how you develop the character of a champion. You have got to have the confidence that you will overcome whatever the elements are that are in front of you – that your eye on the prize is first and foremost. Now, how do you teach them that confidence if you do not give them that opportunity to develop it within themselves? That means that there are some lumps. Lumps on the scoreboard… Lumps on not winning some races… But we don’t accept it – we deal with it. We went there to win.
Phase three is what I call my championship training and racing phase. There is no break after phase one. Christmas day is their break – the 24th and 25th of December we take off. In order to do that – right before we break, we do go 100 x 100 for their final workout. We call it the “Hall of Fame.” If you can make 100 of them on 1:05 and keep them below a minute you get to be in the Hall of Fame. Catherine Fox is the only female that is in the Hall of Fame. She made the Olympic team in the 100 free – and she did that right before trials in ’96 in December, with the March trials. She was nice to bring her sister, her brother, her mother, and father because she decided to make it this year and not miss it again. She had a cheering crowd there for workout and she did it. I think that had a lot to do with the character of why she succeeded. I think you do some of these things whether it is scientifically logical or not. I cannot tell you that I dreamt this up myself – in fact I am looking at the guy who gave me the idea – Bill Rosen, Mike Brunner and I just took it and adapted it to my circumstance. I don’t use it the same way he did, but the principles of why he did it, I do. And I just tried to figure out how it could fit into my program and my environment and what we can do.
I do have 1:10, 1:15 lanes – this is short course yards – and a 1:20 group and we have the kids have to pick it. I do not assign it. The night before, they declare what they are going to do. I make them live with it for 24 hours with their decision. It is like going to a swim meet. It is like going from prelims to finals. You’ve got to know it. I think you have to have emotional endurance over and above physical endurance. I don’t think you even get to access physical endurance if you don’t have emotional endurance. You can’t cope with that kind of stress. These are all factors that lead into how I run my championship phase and so I think that is a real important thing and you need to look at that. You don’t need to do 100 x 100 – you have got to do something that fits you – fits your personality.
We call the second group ‘Future Hall of Famers.’ We have a wannabe group. You know I have different name for everyone and the group that we call the mixer group; they go 100 x 100 but they only have to go ten at their base interval and five they get to piddle around. It is pretty easy, and that is my group that is not going anywhere. Not too many people sign up for that group much anymore, but we do have it. I offer it every year and we give them a certificate if they make it.
I can’t tell you that, because she made it in ’96, is why she made the Olympic team. I can tell you that I think it gave her a lot of confidence in herself that she could do a lot of things. She wasn’t picked to be on that Olympic team – she made the relay, as an alternate, in March and had the honor of being selected to swim in the relay at night after swimming the prelims. I think a lot of that is the result of the journey we took. She kept getting better and she just kept looking for that next opportunity to move forward. Then she had the opportunity to swim on the medley relay in the prelims because of how well she was swimming. Now, the poor child– no one thought would be on the Olympic team – she has the privilege of saying, ‘I won two gold medals and I helped this country be #1.’ That is something that we preach within our program – that we are all part of helping United States Swimming – the United States of American to be the #1 swimming nation. They hear that from the day in the novice group all the way up through it – that we are the beginning point and we are the foundation of that success and we try to have that grow.
After phase two I give the kids a week out of the water. I think this is important to mention, because I think a lot of people do a lot of things differently. We do go back to three days a week on week one, five days a week on week two, and we are six days a week on week three. We are into our doubles and back into full weights and full training on week 4 from their final meet. How do I handle the spring nationals in April? You get your week off and the other group is already on week four. You are in week four. That is the privilege of being a Senior National swimmer and because you are not going to change the date for the August nationals. We need to jump on the car that is already moving. So, the more elite you are in my program, the less time you get off or to do some of these other things and I feel that also helps them.
We will rest 10-14 days if you guys want to call it that in phase 3. You can see it almost doubled, so there is a difference. We will be in our quality and taper phase for closer to 28 days in that period. Again – I cannot emphasize this enough – don’t sell your swimmers short. I do not believe that you can miss taper. If you are focusing on a prize, keep your focus on that and keep your focus on your team goals. If they can always line up and race, that is great, but the thing that we have been able to do in the Blazer program is not sell somebody’s potential short for the benefit of the team.
I also feel, at the same time, that if they are really going to be successful at the highest level, when you are standing on the peak of that mountain – and if you listen to Michael Phelps a little bit and you really see what he has done – there is a lot of heat up there. He is now the target. As Bob talked about how he handled him between prelims and finals about how to swim that race in the 200-meter fly – think about what he was saying there and how Bob handled it. You don’t just arrive and be able to cope with that. There is an evolution to that day and there is an evolution to how Bob handled it. It was consistent with other things he was sharing with us and how he approached things and it was time for Michael to solve it. That is what I heard him saying. He wanted Michael to get involved.
I am trying to clue into some things that I have analyzed and then I’ll turn around and try to teach it. I am going to try and give you some of the principles of my quality, taper, and rest phase. I hate the word rest. We don’t do it in practice, so please understand that. We do not rest during practice, so if rest is in my phase I don’t see any reason to come to the pool. Most of my kids drive 30-40 minutes to get to practice to start off with. That is an hour driving time, plus practice time, and I am supposed to be resting? I would rather have them at home resting. So if I am going to rest we don’t train. If we are coming there to get better, that is why we come to practice. If I don’t feel that I want to get better today, during this phase (that 21-28 day period I am talking about) I won’t have them at practice. I will call it off. I think you have to factor in recovery time, but I also believe in the word quality. How can you totally recover if you’ve got them doing something?
I don’t want to take three or four days to recover. They are not going to get three or four days at a swim meet to recover from prelims to finals and in most situations we can’t bag prelims to get into finals, especially in the United States of America. It is pretty competitive. There are a few exceptions, but it is a battle, so you need to develop that character. They are going to have to do this time and time again. It is a hell of a thing to be trying to teach somebody who you have neurologically taught one way all through his upcoming career and then all of a sudden now he is good enough to swim at the International/national level. Now we are going to try to teach him to swim a different routine because he has been able to go to prelims and bag it all through his age group career or her age group career and all of a sudden now he has got to swim fast to get back for a second swim? They are not accustomed to getting up in the morning.
It was very astute how Bob said he got Michael on the routine of going to bed at 10. I am big on that kind of stuff. I am going to go over some of that. I want to bring out some things I heard that I think you are seeing being used. The body is a creature of habit. If they are good prelim swimmers, I would rather have – as I tell my athletes – if it means that we swim slow in finals, that means we don’t have enough character, we are not in good enough shape and we don’t have mental endurance. We can go home and fix that. If you are not in finals, there ain’t no second chance guys. You get to sit and talk about it, and that is not real productive. They don’t pass out medals for what we could have done. They pass out medals for what you did. I try to remind them of that all the time.
The word quality – I always measure it. The word taper, I always measure it. The word rest – so rest has got to be pure. It has got to be quality rest…Quality taper. Taper to me is I cut down the amount that we are doing. The first thing I look at is total time spent training. I don’t look at total volume per minute because I want quality work so, if I want to cut back, I cut back the time I am spending. There is my reduction in my 7-day cycle. There is my reduction in my day if I feel it needs to be. So, you really need to look at these words with depth is what I am trying to tell you. Do not just let them blow by you. I can’t reiterate that enough and I am probably going to say it ten more times today.
Mark said it – ‘You don’t miss taper.’ I don’t even want to discuss that. You didn’t swim fast. You didn’t do what you wanted to do. I mean – how many times have we read the story of Jeff Farrell? Or heard it? There is no way that guy felt good after an appendectomy. There are these people who have all kinds of injuries in all kinds of sports and somehow they keep winning games. Look around you. We are not living in a vacuum. It is happening every day in the sports world, so how can you miss taper? How could it be that simple that you can get it down to a precise moment and precise day? ‘We missed it by a day or two…’ ‘Give us another week and we will be ready…’ Tell that to the football teams that in about ten weeks when they are 4 and 8 or whatever it will be – you know what I mean? They missed it allright. They missed game one, but when you get into the playoffs in basketball or baseball or hockey or soccer or the US Open – there were some tennis players that didn’t get to play Round 2. They missed their taper. Yeah, they were focused on this event that is going to end 14 days or whatever number of crazy days it is later and now they have had all these rainouts – these guys have got to be ready to play at any time of day – any time of night. They can do this and our swimmers are going to miss taper by a day? The other athletes do it all the time. The golfers – rainouts, lightening – stop and resume the round the next day. Baseball players go sit in the dugout and then still have to come out and win the game. Yes, there are things you need to do. Don’t tell me athletes can’t do this.
We don’t expect enough at times and I think somebody else said in the talk, we take too much blame on ourselves. The only blame I take on myself is that I didn’t prepare them to handle this – it is their job to handle it. I haven’t swum a race – I don’t even want to tell you when the last time I swam a race – and I don’t plan on swimming any. I remind them of that – this is theirs. They need to have ownership. I do believe that you should have one major focus per year and I will pitch that. I think you can have secondary focuses, but I think it should be educationally sound and I think a bunch of short-sighted focuses don’t work. There is not enough time for adaptation. There is not enough time for success and failure to happen and learn. You are spending too much time focusing on the near term prize versus learning from what you are doing, so you are not growing.
Can you do this in the later part of your career? Yes. I think with the advent of what I call professional swimming. Keep in mind I am talking about being a club coach and coaching 18 and under athletes primarily. Do I think it applies at college? Yup. Do I think it applies a little differently to these post-graduates? Definitely. The principles are the same, but I think the game can be different, but then let’s also look at where they are at. They are not going to school all day any more. They are not dealing with a lot of the stresses of growing up. They have grown up. They are young adults. They are adults. Some of them have children. They have wives. They are not the same 16 year olds that I am dealing with who are worried about what they are going to do on Friday night and how bad it is that they don’t get to go to the football game and it is emotionally distressing. ‘Coach, we have a football game tonight. Can we get out of practice early?’ It is a whole different ballgame up there but I think you can take these principles and apply it, but keep in mind what I am talking about is where I see it. I am preparing them for that stage.
No rest or taper in December. I really think this is detrimental and I am going to pitch that unless you are planning on going from January through July and August and that would be okay – skip the March peak – you are just changing your year. I am trying to show you an adaptation. There are ways you can take what I have and you can do it. What I am trying to say is you have got to have no more than two a year – one has got to be bigger than the other – you’ve got to give yourself a chance to get there. I remind my college kids when they come home that they are beginning their swim year because the majority of my college swimmers are not NCAA top 8 finishers. They are not International level performers. Their major focus is a conference championship and for many of them it might be a dream to get to there. I believe their job, when they come home to me is to get the foundation of their year put together. Their year is beginning and we talk about that, but I’ve got the rest of my team in the last phase of their year. It takes a little bit of adaptation. I tell them, ‘you just all became senior national swimmers and international swimmers. You don’t get to rest and taper until July is over.’ There is a big meet in July. I said, ‘How good do you want to be in February and March?’ I believe in this so much that I would compromise my meet in July for them to reach their peak potential.
Women or girls, in my situation, cannot and should not have multiple shaves or peaks. I think that it doesn’t work real well for them and that is a real opinion here. I have even considered once a year, which I actually have done with some of my females, where I don’t have them shave for a meet, but I might let them shave after – if they really feel they have to shave. Because they have been going for so many months – I will let them shave after the meet. I don’t want them swimming during that time – shave for the break – and they will train faster during phase 3. That is good. That is where we are going. I have done that because they feel they have to. They say, ‘They can’t wear slacks all the time.’ I get all these stories and I say, ‘I did teach that you can bleach it and, are you not proud that you are a swimmer? You are trying to be the best that you can be and you can’t explain that to people?’ You deal with all these things. I think you have to deal with it, but I do think it makes a difference. I think it is really critical and if nothing else, it shows commitment. It means ownership. It means character – they have the heart of what they want. When I see my girls that they’ve snuck to shave to go to the prom or whatever – one big strike – this person really doesn’t want to win too badly. When the going gets tough I know where they will be. Perseverance is part of high-level success. I see myself as a coach who is developing swimmers and this is another (turn tape over) …… not a single event.
Swimmers swim – they are not a backstroker or a breaststroker or a butterflyer. They may happen to get really good at something that maybe they are a little gifted at. I need them to get to be a better swimmer. That is really important, and I got to understand that by studying. When I first started coaching in the 60s, I started really looking at the unbelievable swimmers of the sixties and the seventies. I was a young coach and trying to do everything that I could to learn and see what was making up these people. The thing I found that was most common was their versatility and their ability that they loved to race. They could win at anything and they could do it across the board. They sometimes only swam two or three events because that was all they were allowed to swim in the high school meet or the college meet. They get remembered, maybe for their world record they set in backstroke, but they were swimming the 1650 in the NCAA Championship to help the team win and winning it. You don’t just get ready for the 1650 the week of the NCAA Championship. There is something going on here, so I want my swimmers to be swimmers.
I also feel that helps develop the character of a champion and that will bring strength to their specialty event. The body is a creature of habit and so is the subconscious mind. I believe that the mind runs the body. The body doesn’t run the mind – we won’t get into that in real depth because I think you guys can all see that. We know when somebody gets brain dead – we can do whatever we want to that body – it doesn’t feel pain, even though it is still going. The mind is the issue here. So, you have to understand the subconscious mind. This means they must do what they normally do – a creature of habit. Do core warm-ups. Now I am getting into the more detail – do core warm-downs – be consistent because the body is accustomed to those things. Do what they do. You spend a long time all through the year building new energy system capacity – protect the foundation.
I feel people do get out of shape at championship meets. When you analyze how many yards that they might swim during warm-up and warm-down and getting ready – prelims and finals, including a number of races. Looking at the number of yards that they were going for 5-6 days before the meet, you wonder why they can’t handle a three-day swim meet – especially if it turns into 8 days like Olympic trials or the Olympic games. You swim an event on Day 1 and 8 days later, they are out of shape. You didn’t miss taper – they couldn’t recover. Part of being in shape is the ability to recover from an all out effort. When their aerobic fitness level drops, they can’t recover. They can’t even handle the appropriate work or exercise that is supposed to help with recovery. It wears them out. How many times have they been on the massage table and you say, ‘Well, that is supposed to be relaxing?’ There are different massages for getting ready for a race and different massages for after a race and believe it or not – it is a workout on the body. Are we in good enough shape to handle that? Are we still in shape? Are you doing the things to protect it?
Women and men are emotionally different. I have three daughters. I have four brothers. So, it is a different world in my house than what I was raised in. I coach both of them and I look at both of them the same, but I want to officially tell you – they are different for lots of reasons and I am happy they are different. I like the differences. Coaching, sometimes I don’t, but I think you need to understand that factor and you need to really look at that because solving problems identically isn’t going to do it, even though there are a lot of things I do identically. There are some things you can’t. They are emotionally different, so that has to be a factor here. Mark talked to you about it last night. He said, ‘in the winter, we have men’s and women’s meetings, and in the summer, we are all on the same goal, same page. We have more just all meetings.’ I think there are reasons to have separate meetings at separate times. You need to approach different issues in different ways. That has to be part of what you are doing with them in championship phase.
I can’t tell you what the complexion of your team is. Don’t be afraid to get them focused on the same goal, but you might have to come from a different angle – especially in dealing with them. I don’t think this becomes as big an issue though until later in their careers – at the early stages we need to keep it as simple as possible and prepare them as much the same as possible. The characteristics of a champion are the same, so I don’t want you to think that we are doing that in my age group program, because we are not. We are bringing them along the same way. We do realize that little boys certainly play significantly different than little girls and we have different supervision issues, but we try to coach them as close as we can to the same. The girls really don’t need any major changes until their early 20’s or late teens whereas, with the males, I start seeing some changes that you need to start addressing really – maybe sometimes it varies between 16 and 18 years of age. What I find, in my opinion, is that males can get ready for a race mentally – they can sit there and talk to themselves and virtually not get in and warm-up and still be ready to go. I find women need to be doing something physically while they are doing something mentally in order to get their body and their mind to move together. That is just an observation, and there is always going to be that exception. I am talking in majorities, so sometimes I have that exceptional male who I will break away from some of the things that I do because they can get ready different ways. I pretty much try to keep my women pretty much tied into our routine and, I feel, that most boys in high school it is in their best interest as well.
You’ve got to train, you’ve got to teach, and you have got to develop the character of a champion. I think that is really critical. You need to identify what are going to be the characteristics versus the splits and the stroke technique – what are the characteristics of that person reaching their peak potential? I have all my swimmers, just so you know, when we go to meets that are prelims and finals – we all go back to finals together as a team. Everybody gets in the water because I tell everybody, ‘How do you know how to be a finalist if you don’t go back and prepare to be a finalist?’ They don’t come back and sit in the bleachers until we are done with warming up. The kids that don’t make finals, I actually send them – if there is a warm-up pool – to a warm-up pool and give them a small set. I tell them that is their swim meet, ‘ Congratulations!’ They will say, ‘Well coach – we have to race tomorrow.’ I say, ‘I know. These guys are racing tonight. I wish you were racing with them, so now we are going to go over here and race a little bit so that you are getting better. So that when it’s your turn over here, you are ready to go.’ I think this is important. How do you teach them to be a finalist if they haven’t been practicing it and rehearsing it? I think a lot of times we lose sight of that 40th place. We have got to be concerned about 40th place – how do they go from 40th to 1st? And it does happen – they can. I want them to have all the skills when they get there, so we do that.
What do I do to get more specific? Evaluate your meets and please understand when I talk about these things – look at your meet schedule. Just determine where your primaries are and work backwards. Decide what you think your biggest meets are going to be, where they are going to be, the location, the facilities, the circumstances and factor that into your year’s plan. I am going to try to give you some ideas of things you are going to look for. It is real important that you understand where you are going to be at the end of this one because then I have a whole year to get ready for it and it won’t be a shock. I think we don’t do that enough. We constantly try to get them ready for the next thing we see versus where we want to be – we are short sighted. If they are not going to have a warm-up pool, I want my kids to know that. Then we need to talk about the importance of the ability to recover. We have to teach them how to recover after a race and get ready for the next race without a pool available to them. I will do some things to accomplish that and I will be doing some things within my practice routine that stimulates this. I am just using that as a quick example.
In my mind, you can only have your top two or three meets. Look at the number of days of each meet. Look at the order of events, the sequence, and the number of races that the athlete will swim. Think prelims and finals and relays – please count them all. What will the travel be like? I got an email from Chuck Wolges when he was over at Pan-Pacific – fortunately I am part of a group that gets email on some things – and he was just kind of giving us an update on what was happening in Japan. This is how he started out in his second paragraph – ‘The team traveled to Yokohama with no problem and everyone was billeted at the Yokohama Prince Hotel – three squares a day are being provided buffet style in a banquet hall at the hotel for all the athletes.’ Now stop and think about that – the favorite way Americans love to eat. We are the fast food kings of the world. We like to eat what we want to eat, and now there is the most important meet of their year and they are in a banquet hall and are going to be there for a lot of days. Now, we have a choice. We could worry about eating Japanese food, I think it was the best thing, but was your athlete ready for that? A lot of togetherness and also a lot of routine? Are they ready for that? The food is excellent – mostly western style and the hotel accommodations are great. If there is any frustration with the setup, it is the one hour bus ride to the pool.’
Did you think about that when you were working with your athlete all year? I sat in Ft. Lauderdale and we argue about parking and walking and all the other problems in Ft. Lauderdale. I promise you, my athletes that I thought were going to make Nationals, we talked about it last September and October what it was going to be like there and what the conditions would be like – from the heat, the humidity, the depth of the pools, what was there, the size of the lanes and how I was going to handle things. They had a good idea what our conditions would be like. It wasn’t something I am going to drop on them the day of or the day before. I think that, again, what throws them off is the unexpected. Try to eliminate it. You are going to have enough things that are unexpected, but get rid of the ones that are easy. They don’t need to be.
Are they going to have to walk a lot? I had Catherine Fox walking up and down stairs because she was going to have to do a lot of that in Atlanta. I told her she had so many stairs she had to do every day while we were tapering and resting, because she is going to be doing it every day in Atlanta. The warm-up pool was not on the same level and that was just to get to the warm-up pool and back to the main pool. I think you have to look at those things.
To finish up, the four trips a day means a lot of bus time, but everyone seems to have accepted the reality, and by the time I left, the countdown had begun – I do appreciate Coach Jochums – he did a wonderful job and he said, ‘Only 14 more bus trips.’ He had a countdown – turn it into something fun. We are going to be at the top of that mountain soon. Turn it into something good. Get them looking at it. Get them excited about getting to that peak. There are just some things like that that are really unbelievable and you have to be ready for them. It is best if we can prepare them beforehand. What will be your pool situation? You heard about Ft. Lauderdale – it ‘s a little bit late to be telling about it when you get on the plane. One thing we could count on was – the only thing we didn’t get that my athletes were waiting for was the rain. They kept saying, ‘Well Pete, when is that rain coming, and when are we going to have to delay a meet?’ I said, ‘we didn’t have to worry, we were not in finals, and I said it was going to be at finals time. I wish you guys would be swimming in finals, then we could be part of the problem, but it didn’t happen We were prepared to discuss what happens if you parade out and they have done all the announcements and, all of a sudden, they tell you to clear the deck and you are sent back to a ready room.’
You emotionally have brought yourself to this point – is that called missing taper? Or is it because we weren’t prepared to how would you cope with that circumstance? Realize the yards and meters that your athlete will do every day. It’s big time guys. I don’t think people can figure that out and I think we don’t understand. We either detrain at the swim meet or we get so tired from warming-up and warming-down that we are fatigued by the end of the swim meet from what we were doing to get ready to race fast.
When I design a warm-up, and we do what I call structure warm-up which try to teach it so my kids can eventually do their own, we involve all four strokes – sometimes only three – and we call them core warm-ups. We do a first set every day at practice with the Blazers. It changes every day, but I incorporate all the things that I use every day in my first set in my warm-ups. Ultimately at the end, in the quality taper phase, our core warm-ups are basically meet warm-ups, if that is what you want to call them. I use ‘W’ on my workout pads, and the athletes say, ‘Well what is our warm-up today?’ I say,’ That is what happened at 4 o’clock when you arrived and you were given 5 minutes to get changed and stretched out a little bit before we started training. Then we go through 45 minutes of deck program. When we get in the pool, we are in workout. The W stands for workout not warm-up. Now, at meets, I like to think, it is getting ready to race. The W does change, but I try to retain all of the things their body is accustomed to. I believe, even if you are never going to swim breaststroke in the meet, you have kinesthetic awareness to water. Moving enhances everybody’s sensitivity, so moving through the strokes also challenges the energy system by changing. So, in turn, you can go fewer yards, but you challenge them a little bit more and it gets their heart working better with less work. It also doesn’t let them get over focused on what is at hand and I think you’ve got to try to handle that.
I include kicking. I include some SP3 work. I include things that I call energy system work. Energy system is either threshold work, getting them at least to threshold type intensity. We are not up there training it, but I want to be at that level and then we let them come back down. We do pace work that will sometimes, depending on the day, be also their energy system work. It’s inside their first set. It is inside what we call the core warm-up.
In phase one, our core warm-up set is around 3-3500 before we swim in the meet. Phase two is between 3-2500. It stays that way in phase three until the quality taper phase and then we are down to 2-2500 generally. Then they still might do a little bit more after that and that is morning and night. Again, when you look at how many yards they are going to swim in a meet, I feel it is kind of important to have them ready when you get there. I think that also helps our ability to go from meet to meet.
Warm-down should be the same thing, but I base warm-downs on numbers of minutes. The athlete will get in there and say, ‘Well coach I swam 500.’ I say, ‘Well, what did you do?’ Now, hopefully, I have taught them what the proper warm-down is. They should once again go back to the same things they used in the first set and use less of it. They need to be in there, in my mind, for 10-20 minutes just to recover. You are going to accumulate quite a few yards if you are doing that. Some of that might mean that they stand and talk to somebody, because it shouldn’t be structured and stressed. I get a lot more intense; believe it, on my short race swimmers because they have been in a much higher lactate level for a sustained period of time. I feel that they need to get at it and stay at it, quickly. They might go less total minutes, but they need to not be disrupted. Believe it or not, for my distance people, I am a lot more concerned if they are in there a long enough time. Still doing the same type of things. I think that they need to be in there a longer time, so different goals.
How do I coach at a swim meet? I do things a little different and I am a control freak – I found out that that is one of my weaknesses – not one of my strengths. That was not developing self-reliant athletes. As I told you earlier in this talk, I am not going to swim any races. I am not going to get any medals. In essence, it is their success…it is their rewards…it is their accomplishments, but it is also their responsibility. I have to cope with that and realize that might be a weakness. I need to set up a program to handle that so that they are ready to take charge and have ownership.
How do I coach that at a meet? If I have done a good job, my role should be to be the eyes and the ears for the athletes and to be their mentor. That is what I think about myself. I remind myself – am I being good eyes and ears? – am I being a good mentor? – am I a good observer? I think we coaches can get so wrapped up in the races, we don’t see really what is going on in front of us. I really believe that my yelling and screaming during the races and all that junk really didn’t get them to win. And, if they are, their mind is not where it needs to be because they need to have all their energy centered on what the can do, instead of looking for me to be their motivation, or for me to be their clue.
If you can teach it, you can coach it, you can do it. That is a motto in the Blazer program. What does that mean? For my athletes, I want them to be as good a swim coach as I am. That is my goal when they leave me. I believe if you can’t teach it, you are no way going to coach yourself. You are the only person in that lane and in your head during the race. Who is the one talking? It is you, talking to yourself. Hopefully, you are going to be giving it the right information and, hopefully, you are going to have your mind on where you are going. Once you can teach it, you can coach it, you can do it. Now, I have to accomplish that.
Large championship meets, if I have 20 or more and have upwards to 50 (we will take more than 50 people to our sectional meet), I have to coach that meet a little differently. If I have 20-50 athletes, I am usually pretty much on deck level or I position myself in a way to handle things. I need to logistically be where I can handle a lot of athletes quickly. I want to let you know that I have a plan before I go to a meet – I have gone over it with my staff. I have gone over it with my swimmers, exactly how I am going to handle the swim meet. They are not surprised. If I have less than 20 swimmers, I try to find the best viewing spot in the facility because I am supposed to be a good observer. I am supposed to be the good ears and eyes and I need to be able to see the race. From their race, to how they handled all the people, I want to see what they are doing behind the block. I want to take in as much information as I can if I am going to be able to coach them after this and give them some information that will assist them either in finals or in the next meet. If I am all wrapped up down on that deck going up and down yelling and screaming, I am generally not taking in good information, at least for myself. I realize that most of my athletes, if they do make it to the national team, and we coach with the attitude that they all are going to get there, they will not have me there. I am going to read about it on the internet, nowadays. Before, I waited patiently for phone calls. They need to be ready to coach themselves and they need to be ready to help the national team coaches work with them to reach their peak potential. They are going to be the greatest information base to that coach who is going to work with them, who is their new eyes and ears, and their new mentor. I want to be prepared, so they are ready to do that, because they are that confident in what they are doing. They are ready to work with any mentor. What they just need is those eyes and ears to help them. Again, this is developing the characteristics of a champion and it doesn’t hurt any of them whether they ever get to the national team level, or not. The other thing I learned is that at international meets the decks are pretty sterile. FINA doesn’t really see it the way we do in United States Swimming, where officials at the age group meets or even our senior meets or even at nationals – get back behind the track, get behind the rope – we are two, three feet away. The athletes and the coaches are up in the stands and sometimes 50 meters away from the action, because we are not a priority in FINA seating, and it is a battle there politically. You’ve got to give those tickets to all the hierarchy. It is kind of shocking, all of a sudden, when an athlete walks out and all they see is white. They have a hell of a time to figure that out because if they want all this eye contact with me and all this other hoopla, once they get to the biggest meet of their life. It is not the same, so I am trying to create it, because they are creatures of habit that they are focused and they are on their task. Also, I feel I can get a great deal of information. I watch the races up in the stands, mostly for technical reasons, though, and also for emotional reasons for the athletes. Me for technical, emotional for them.
I want them to have all their energy centered on them. I want them to believe that much in themselves, not believe in me. I am not scared of that. I do go over what we are going to do at each meet with the athletes. I give them the warm-ups, I send them in. I tell them what we want them to do and I give them a chance to succeed or fail. It is no different than when the guy says, ‘Take your marks.’ It’s in their hands, so my swimmers have had it in their hands a lot longer, before they got there.
Catherine Fox and Janie Wagstaf are both American record holders in backstroke. Janie Wagstaf – I want to let you know – preparing her for the Olympic trials or for a major international meet, is definitely different than Catherine Fox. The way I coached Janie Wagstaf and Catherine were very similar. Catherine was in the early stages of underwater swimming, in the early stages of using underwater swimming for freestyle and really was probably the first female to really attempt going. We still, at that time, didn’t have the 15 meter rule – we were able to go as far as we want and we our goal was to go 15 meters at the Olympic trials. Then we figured out that she was even faster the farther we went. We finally figured it was 21 meters was at her peak and in the Olympic games she went 21 meters under water. That requires a little more activity out of me. She trained in a shallow pool and we didn’t get a chance to practice underwater swimming. We trained for it. We developed the skills, but we didn’t have deep water, and so we would talk about it when we went to swim meets all year. Every time we got to a pool with deep water– we spent a lot of time working starts and really practicing and figuring out exactly what this is. Then, when the 15-meter rule came in, that even gets bigger and the suits that you have all – that changes the number of kicks. So, it does take some more coaching at the meets in those circumstances and deciding exactly where it is, because it is a science. It is not simple, but really the science is in her. She taught me more. – It was for me to time it, measure it and give her feedback. Then we knew whether it was 12 kicks, 15 kicks on starts and turns etc. That takes a little bit more supervision.
Janie Wagstaf is a bull in a china cabinet and was going 2:09 in the 200 back unshaved which not too many Americans have done. With Janie, we didn’t spend a lot of time working starts and turns. When she set her American record in the 100 back, there was 1/10th of a second difference between her first and second 50. For her, it’s – ‘Just swim.’ She doesn’t have a lot of speed. We trained her as a distance freestyler. Catherine set the American record in short course yards 100 backstroke – two significantly different swimmers, coached by the same coach, using the same principles. So you have to adapt some of it.
Max Jaben, who is one of my top swimmers right now or is my top swimmer right now – and it really hurt me last summer, not this past Ft. Lauderdale – had had a pretty good spring nationals and broke in, getting into the top 16, top 8. We had big hopes at Clovis and he had trained pretty well all summer and he was 15 years old, and we had big hopes. He got to swim the 800 at night. He was in the last heat, because everybody swam the 800 at night in that event. I took Max to the pool, told him what he needed to do. I went and stood off by myself like I normally do. He wasn’t doing what he was supposed to do. I kept my mouth shut and I watched him have a horrible race. He had a great time talking to all the guys. He enjoyed himself, because all of these good swimmers know the young kid and were showing him the attention and being nice to him. He wasn’t on task. He couldn’t handle it. I guarantee he has heard about that a lot and, as much as I wanted him to succeed, I have to give them the room to succeed. I could have prevented that, but I felt that he was taught what he was supposed to do. I can’t get up there when he says take your marks, anyway.
He just never got ready. He paraded down that pool and he was having a great time. He did not have a great time in the 800. It hurt. But again, I think he has a better idea of what needs to be done. I don’t tell my swimmers what their 25 and 50 times are. I see all the coaches on the side of the pool who have got all this going on. When you see me, over there, usually I am checking a start breakout time or I am analyzing effectiveness. If I do time a 25, which I will do for stroke reasons, I am watching their tempo. I am looking at the count of the strokes and I am seeing whether we were effective. These kids become to worried about if they are 1/10th slower, they think it is the end of the world. It’s for me to know whether that 1/10th was significant or not.
Over and above, I am not going to be with them at the biggest meets of their life. With every coach, you hear the term fast watches – slow watches. Well I have a fast watch because I don’t say, ‘Take your marks. Go.’ I ask my kids, when they get on the block for 25s , ‘I want you to think ‘beep.’ I am not real good at beeping, so I want you to say to yourself – take your marks – beep.’ So, they are talking to themselves. They are the starter. I am starting off of them, so by virtue I am starting off with them. I call it a fast watch because in a race I’ve got to start off the light. So, by telling them my time, it is not going to relate to the race. It’s for me to know the differences.
Likewise, if they go to a meet and they are on a national team and a coach starts telling them 25s and it is significantly different, either faster or slower, they are going to get bad information. I generally tell them, when they are going to a big meet – I try to talk to the coaches that are going to work them, let them know what we are looking for and I try to encourage them not to give them that information – as long as it is in this range, we will be okay. I let them know how we start them so there is some consistency and they don’t get neurotic.
When you start dealing with pacework, we do most of that from a push because that is what pace is. We will do some dive 50s, especially with my distance people to make sure that they have an idea what we want to do. I can’t say that we have mastered it but we have an idea why we are doing it and, again, I really don’t tell them their time. I tell them that it is okay. I am watching all the other variables. When they are doing pace work, like for 100s, if it is short course, I am watching the 25 splits. I don’t watch the first one. I mean – I start the watch and I split it, because that is an important variable. What they are doing on the next couple of 25s is the critical part and that is what I am talking to them about – whether they are on pace. When we do pace 100s we go the same way. It is really what they do in the second 50 that is really the critical part and I really watch that. Other than that, when they go in I tell them let me know when you need help. This is what I want you to do.
Some kids, really need start work. I emphasize, ‘you are a person that really needs to work with your starts because of what you are doing.’ – and that really goes with underwater swimmers. I really think you need to spend time with them and make sure you’ve got it right, because the pools are different, the blocks are sloped different, height from the water to the top of the block is different. All of these are factors in setting up a good underwater start, if you are using it. As with underwater turns, the depth is an issue and what you are dealing with in walls is an issue. So, you need to do some work with them to make sure you’ve got it right and championships. For the females, it is a big issue with suits and I will make my ones that do it, Catherine for example, would always get in championship suit before we did any of her dive work. We are trying to eek every inch of that 15 meters so she better know it, because she is going to be doing it with adrenalin plus kick. We were settling on what the kicks were going to be, that day, even though we knew the range. But sometimes, she is really up and we could make it in less kicks. I need to know that. Some days she has got to work real hard to swim fast and it is not quite there.
It is a little bit like what you heard about Michael Phelps 200 fly race. It just wasn’t there in that semis – it doesn’t mean that you are not going to swim fast though. It just means that you are going to have to use some other things. You are going to have to adapt some of those circumstances and when you’ve got rules that you’ve got to abide by, you’ve got to be cautious to them. So be aware of the height of a block, the angle, the depth of the pool, championship suits.
What kind of data do I analyze? Splits, yes, and stroke rates, big time. I think that is probably as important as anything, because that will help you when you are in practice. If you are doing pace work, you are doing different work than you might think. Relative to getting ready, I will check their stroke rates in practice and I will find out whether we are really training the stroke rate that we are going to race with. There is a difference between (short course, right now) going 53 strokes a minute and you are going 13 strokes a length and 52 strokes a minute and you are going 11 strokes cycle to length. One is good. One ain’t good. Stroke rate was the same. So, you need to know this information so that you can measure your effectiveness. Fortunately, with the watches that we have and all the different things we’ve got coming that makes it even a little simpler for me. United States Swimming is doing a fantastic job for us at nationals by doing research as far as they can; down through most of them, and by the filming what they are doing, they are giving us a lot of this information. The biggest thing that you can do is you can compare your athletes, and I have taught my athletes to understand that. We do measure 15 meter breakout times. I do measure the kicks under water, and the number of kicks. I can’t count their kicks. I am busy watching the race and watching all the other things, but I ask them to let me know. I want to know what they know. Breakouts are important, so please keep that in mind, and your starts and how far they were, what the breakout time was. You need to work with those things. Those are the kinds of things I do work on at the end. I am an information giver to help them. Some of the kids don’t like a lot of that. If it is somebody who really needs it, I tell them that they have to do it, because it is such a critical part of their race.
How do I handle my athletes? Be careful. I am going to give you some advice; at least from my vantage point, and keep in mind I am a control freak. The last week before the big meets, I try to really back off. I tend to find that I will over-coach, and too much information creates clutter. If you have done your job and you have done it well, trust it. So, how do I go about it? I ask a lot of questions versus me giving a lot of information – I pose a lot of questions to them and I don’t say, ‘How do you feel?’ because I don’t think that feel has a lot to do with swimming fast. If you are basing it on feel – not every day are you going to feel good. I always look at that guy, now that we are in Vegas, in that boxing ring and he is in round 9. I just can’t imagine his body feels too good, but he still has got to come out and throw the punch. Especially if he is losing, the only way he is going to come out of here winning is to knock the guy out. I think of those guys playing football every 7 days and they pack them in ice. I just don’t think they feel real good. And, they are still expected to play well, so I don’t think feeling has a lot to do with this. I do think that we let feelings become, but I coach that it is not relevant.
The number of strokes is relevant. Pace is relevant. Attitude is relevant. I pose a lot of questions – before a race or after a race. This becomes a little more difficult when I have 50 kids at a sectional meet. The first thing I ask them to do is, I ask them to look at their numbers. That’s what I say to them and if I have the chance I say, ‘Tell me something.’ Then I give them my information. That would be my ideal. Sometimes, because I have so many kids in a meet and in my part of the country we can be dominating quite a bit of the finals, I can’t follow that procedure because I’ve got another four kids on the block coming up in the next heat. So, there again, you have to be able to use your assistant coaches big time. I use my other coaches to pose some of those questions, gather some of that information so that I can be watching the next crew. The kids will stand behind me and I will tell them to come back when I got a break or I will make a couple of comments. They’ve got to be able to coach themselves.
Be careful to what outside factors become issues – outdoor pool versus indoor pool, heat, sun, rain, wind, pool temperatures. Don’t let these be factors. Everybody in the meet is going to swim in the same place. The way they aren’t factors is by informing them, so that when they get there, they aren’t shocked. Know the conditions. I have my kids check the size of the lanes, flag heights – even though we have rules to this, it is an issue. These are age groupers. Do they understand that there is a difference between meters and yards? Do they understand we have high school rules and USS rules and a lot of the facilities are set up under high school rules? You have to bring this information to them and make them become conscious where they walk up to that backstroke flag, if they are a backstroker. They look at it and they know where it is in relationship to their height and in relationship to the water, because it might be different than what they practice with every day. I really go over this with them. Ceilings – low/high? Markings on the bottom of the pool could be signals to them. Awareness – bulkheads – what is a bulkhead? How deep is the bulkhead? What is your turn like on that bulkhead? I talk to them. I try to do as much homework on a facility as possible. My kids hear about it for the week going into it, so when they get there, they immediately are taking it in. Commute time? I do go over those things with them and what our circumstances are going to be. What our logistics are going to be? What the warm-up pool situation is going to be? I try to assess the competition. I don’t want shocks, if I can eliminate them. I hope all the athletes keep the focus and realize they can do only the things they can control. Don’t let the things they can’t control become a factor.