What is the Best Meaning of Excellence for the Individual and Their Country? by Eddie Reese (2001)


I’ve got some bets on who’s not going to be attending that last talk before that free lunch.  You know it doesn’t really matter if it’s a bun and lettuce if its free we are either going to eat it or wear it, and we like that.


I’ve been talking to groups like this for a while and I still cannot eat before I talk, I still get nervous and occasionally I wonder why, why does that happen.  I thought you were supposed to get desensitized to a number of things.  This is just one I don’t get over, because your putting your ideas out there, your putting your theories out there and I don’t really know that I want you to take them and believe them on my word, I just want you to investigate them.  Cause most of us live in a world of theories, we’ve all got theories as far as when you set up your season, you have a theory on your season plan, and the theory is no guarantee and then you have theories on what it takes to swim or to train for different events, it’s not always right, mine are not always right.  So what I’m going to present to you today is a number of theories.  They have nothing to do with the topic I have written down; it’s a great title though.  It took me longer to come up with a topic then the talk or the title, so it will pertain to that, because I’m very concerned about that.


Ultimately I would like us to find a way to get together and I’ve been doing this for a number of years, over 5 and that is supposed, your supposed to chuckle at that it will help me if you laugh a little bit at the right time.  I know that in the past our diversity, the fact that everybody was doing different things was our strength but now swimming has reached a level that we still need the diversity, but we need some solid foundation to go from or to work from or to work towards and you’re the ones that are going to do that, I’m not going to do that, if we got a guy that comes into college that needs an aerobic background, then we have made a mistake, we have missed the optimum moment to get that swimmer to the level that they can be the best that they can be, that’s all we can ask, is to get them to be the best that they can be or try to.  We don’t know where that is, that’s theory; we do know an aerobic background is very, very important, if you wait until college to work towards aerobics, the cardiovascular system, and the circulatory system is less changeable.  If you take a 12 or 13 or 14 year old and you do something in an aerobic fashion with them for 2 years, you can get more changes there than you can with somebody from age 20 to age 30 because the organism, we can be impersonal, is growing at that time and they can make drastic changes and it gives them a future, it gives them their future.


Not everybody’s going to make the Olympic team, but we have a problem with people dropping out in our sport, why do they stop?  They quit when they don’t go faster, it’s real simple, they can put up with it for a year or so to have that bad year when they are young, but they continually don’t go fast, or if they don’t improve, that’s when we lose them, we don’t want to lose them.  I feel like we are training specifically to early.  We find somebody that is 12 that is fast and we think they are a sprinter because they are the fastest kid maybe in the country, so we train them to sprint, and they may be fast because they are big and strong, they’re coordinated or they just may have swam more, they may have been doing doubles for 2 years and it has nothing to do with how fast they really can be at the end.


Back in the junior national days I had an athlete come into school that at the short course nationals had made every freestyle cut for senior nationals, 50 through the mile, so there is nobody that can do that and is a 50 swimmer, but the worst thing that happened to him that summer he went 52.5 in the 100 meter freestyle and he thought he was a 100 man and he wasn’t a 100 man, and it did not matter what I thought or what I tried to get him to do.  He wasn’t a miler either.  Sometimes that’s more from the neck up.


Alright back to the theory thing, we all advance theories and we do it logically as logically as we can the way I feel about that is we are like grandparents who think our grandchildren are the cutest and the smartest, we think the same thing about our theories that they are the best and the most logical.  Now I am a grandparent and my grandchildren are the cutest and the smartest as my theories are the best and you can match me with the intensity that I feel that.  One theory that I’ve formed over the years is about the 400 individual medleys.  If you look at what I call world class times under 420 for 400 meters IM there have been two people in our country that have not come out of the mile to break 420 one was Mike Barrowman, one was Tom Wilkens.  Mike Barrowman holds the world record in the 200 breast.  Tom Wilkens has made the Olympic team in the 200 breast, world championship team in the 200 breast so they are world-class breaststrokers.


Generally, they come more, and more of our 400 IM’ers come from the mile so what does that mean, that doesn’t mean you have to do it that way, you may get the gifted athlete, the person who doesn’t go by the rules who can swim the 200/400 IM and is a pretty good breaststroker and doesn’t go the mile and they may do a good 400 IM but is it the best they can do?


Another theory I’ve got, you wanted to hear these I know.  Is about sprinters and we’ve got two guys out there that can disprove this in a moment, but a long time ago I heard that the exception proves the rule, never understood it but I’ll use it in this case.  Most sprinters were distance swimmers at some time in their lives at least back 8 to 10 years ago and the most common item I threw out there was Tom Jager was a, his first standard was the junior national mile and he ended up swimming 50 meter free for a long time and I know Gary Hall very well and his first standard wasn’t the mile, but I also know in the 9th and 10th grade Gary was going to 10 workouts a week, I don’t know Anthony Urbin’s history but the guys I’ve had some guys that won NCAA’s they have been in programs that they may have been 400 meter swimmers until their senior year in high school.  Now logically that doesn’t work, that goes against specificity and basically that is what I’m doing, going against specificity, I just, if I had a 12 to 16 year old group and I was going to take myself out of the equation, which a number of people ask me how do you get to go on trips how do you make a lot of money, I’ve never been able to answer that.  How do this, how do you do that in swimming?   First thing, I tell them are you got to take yourself out of the equation, you got to always put the swimmer first.  So a 12 to 16 year old group, you want them to be milers and train for the 400 IM, train all strokes, we are not good enough to predict where they’re going to be.


Now maybe if we start taking muscle biopsies, we can tell early if somebody is going to be a sprinter, but then we still only go theories and past experience to decide whether their going to be, will they be a sprinter best, will their best sprinting come after their 2 years of the aerobic or 3 years, or whatever, and when I say aerobic, I don’t mean that’s all you do but you focus on it.  Like Nate Dusing was a one a day swimmer as a 12 year old, he went 5000 at practice but it was distance oriented.  When he was 15, his 1st senior national cut was the mile and the 800 and then he went to junior nationals in the 100/200/400.


Senior year in high school he swam high school records the 100 fly, I think it was first in the nation in the 100 back, we never know where these guys are going to end up.  He ended up making the Olympic team in freestyle, world championships in freestyle, winning the NCAA title and the 200 IM and the 200 back, we don’t know what their going to do.  Their body shape changes a lot of times no matter what you do to it and there are some beneficial body shapes in our sport.  I believe if we leave something out at an early age I don’t believe we get it back, they still can go on and still be very fast swimmers but if we leave it out, I don’t believe you can get it back, that’s a theory, but isn’t that logical?  It’s like it, you’ve seen in movies, a blacksmith pounding a hammer and a horseshoe on an amble with a 1 to 2 pound hammer.  One guy does that all his life with a one-pound hammer, his arm is going to look like X let’s say, the guy does it all his life with a 2-pound hammer, and there physiology potential is similar.  His arm is going to look like X plus, because of the consistency and the greater stress.  That’s all the body reacts to, is however you stimulate it.  I’ve got down here, let’s take Josh Davis for example and I’ve got a line through it, Josh had a great summer, he is probably too much to talk about at this time, to go as fast as he went off of the workouts he did, but people don’t realize he’s got about 8 years of over training in there is no doubt about that, I was a big part of that.


When Josh comes to practice, he starts with the pedal to the metal in warm-up and he does not slow down.  I was lucky enough to train other guys like that, a guy from a long time ago, a guy named Rick Kerry, Rick Kerry refused to lose anything in practice from warm-up on, and I was lucky enough to work with Steve Lundquist for a few months before ‘84, and whatever you’ve heard, I know we used to hear things about Steve in practice, we knew he liked to start late, I know why he liked to start late, cause when he got in he would not lose anything in practice and so when Rick Kerry and Steve were in the same practice for about 2 months it was a battle royal, I mean they would finish a warm up and their last 200 meter IM from a push would be in the 2:16/2:18 range, they were just hammering everything.  Josh does that.  But the point I’d like to make about Josh, are the choices he makes in life, he eats right, he drinks right and he sleeps, it’s all the things we ask the swimmers to do and Josh has got it right.  He just makes better choices outside of the pool then any swimmer I know and he has put in the time and he is 28 years old.  He is one of the few swimmers that has stayed around long enough to get that matured strength that we try to rush upon them by doing Dryland and weights, because swimmers notoriously are late maturers, I mean just hair on their body, I mean Josh has gone, last night he had gone 4 days without shaving and you could barely see it, he is just finally got that mature strength that I try to get in college before age 22.  He has got a phenomenal mind when it comes to racing.


The biggest mistake I make is sometimes I judge a swimmer by exactly where they are, and I don’t look at the past as well as I should and I try to take that into consideration.  Let me, you know how good a left hander is on a chalk board, you’ll notice they never write below their waste, there is a reason for that.  You don’t notice any of that stuff do you?  Notice they have trouble writing on cloth, because they push, you didn’t know that you would get this today, did you? Right-handers pull it so it is easier to write that way.  So that is good that it is more stressful for us.  All right, here is all I want to talk about a lot of our theoretical assumptions come from this is a triangle, I started out in engineering, it just didn’t work.  Mechanical drawing with all the apparatus didn’t help me either.  When a swimmer is a beginner, it doesn’t matter if they are 8 and under or 15 anything you do with them in training works.  Anything you do will make them better down in this area it doesn’t matter.  If you look at the, when I was in graduate school, I went back and researched every article on swimming in the research quarterly which was a big research magazine back then, yes they did have paper back then.  Of course most of the studies were done by dock and it would take a swimming team that only swam and a swimming team that ran or did push ups or sit ups or climbed a rope, a swimming team did exercise.  This group always improved more, for a longer period of time.  So, anything you do down here is going to work.


As the swimmer progresses, this is what they don’t particularly like, as they progress and they get up at the peak, this isn’t the Olympics this is close to what they can do, close to their potential, as they get up to that, there are fewer things that work, and if they have a bad year, and it can be their fault that they had a bad year, like I had a number of guys make the Olympic team and start back training in mid October scared me to death, because I don’t know what training from October 15th till March does, I’ve never done that, we start in September, obviously, the first day the NCAA allows that.  I didn’t have a clue how that was going to work out and we had some dual meets that indicated they were 3 to 4 weeks and they are the best swimmers, obviously, so occasionally they can get away with more, relative to other people, you can never get away with more relative to yourself and that is the point that we have to get through to them when they get to here we need to know what works there.  What they did last year to get them there is not going to work.  You can take that organism of a swimmer and let’s make them an X and give them an 8-value stimulation.  At that level right here where they are, X is there 0 fitness level, that’s where they start each season 0 fitness level and ideally you would like that to go up every year, I don’t know how you would measure it, it’s a theory, but you take this X person and your workouts stimulate them to an 8 well they are going to get better, their going to be X plus 3 and will that workout work, or that program works let’s use it again, now if the athlete does not get bigger and stronger like when they get to college, there is a lot of them that their matured strength that they gain is down compared to where it was 12 to 16 so you haven’t got that going for you.  So if you take this person whose 0 fitness is up and you stimulate them to or give them the same 8 there is a real good chance he will go slower.  If this 8 is the same program that is over here.  So very simply what I’m asking is don’t be satisfied with knowing that the athlete is improving.  Improve the workout, as you go, don’t get caught in that trap.


I’ve got a swimmer right now that is postgraduate and he made some choices this summer that weren’t conducive to going fast and I am very glad that he didn’t go fast, I didn’t want that to work and I didn’t think it would for him.  So he said well part of this we were talking about at the end of summer and he said well let’s go back to worked and I said your different then you were at that time, sure that worked at that time, like we did a set we did a 100 back on a minute, 50 free on a minute, obviously the 100 back was his fastest yards, 50 free was easy, then he went 2 100 backs on a minute, 250 frees on a minute, and then he went to 5 100 backs on a minute and was holding 55’s and he said well I need to get back to where I can do that and I said but then that will probably just mean you are X fast which is what he was when he was doing that stuff I said you got to go beyond that and you need to aim beyond that as an athlete and I can only speak for our country and only for the men because those are the only ones that I know well enough, as they get better, they want to take more time off and do less and very few people can exist like that.  So I’m not real popular with him because I’m into the you’ve got to be faster, there is about 4 ways an athlete can get better, they can get bigger and stronger, that usually occurs probably up through the sophomore year in college they can get better just cause they can get stronger.


Have you ever noticed that in college there are a number of swimmers that after their sophomore year don’t get a whole lot better?  If it’s my school then it’s probably my fault.  Cause you’ve got to work them harder, you’ve got to make them work harder.  There is no easy way.  So that is in a sense what I was talking about earlier is getting you, which I think are the most important part in the equation for international success.  Cause your coaching the 10 and unders, 12 and unders, 12 to 16’s and 16 to 18.  If that swimmer no matter how or what their potential is, if that swimmer is going to be as good as they could be and have a shot at international swimming or state swimming or city swimming, you got to find it, I don’t believe in systems but we have to find a way to do it.


Back in the old days we would come to this meeting, I couldn’t have done that a year ago, I’ve been doing lunges, I like to say I’m out to lunge, the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, but, years ago, we would come to these things and we would sit in the back of the room and we would trade workouts, we wouldn’t trade easy workouts we would trade our best workouts.  So before we get out of here you have my permission and there are some geniuses sitting out there known and unknown, talk to anybody you want to and ask him or her about workout.  Anything I know about the sport is been through watching the swimmers and listening to other coaches and listening to swimmers.  I don’t ever listen to them during the hard training phase.  Because I know what they want then, they want out earlier and less, but I used to go to meetings like this.  Even the NCAA’s, they used to have a banquet on Wednesday night before the meet started on Thursday I’d stand at the door of the banquet and wait until Don Gambril came in and I’d grab him and sit down and I’d fire 100 questions at him and he sat there and answered.  We went hunting together a couple years ago, I fired 100 questions at him and he still knows.  Did you understand about that triangle, the more of a beginner a swimmer is the easier it is to get them to go faster, as they get better the harder it is to get them to keep them improving and so the workouts, oh the 4 ways to get them to go better, get bigger and stronger, work with their technique and given them stroke drills and not correcting the stroke drills is not the way to do it, I run a camp every summer and I’m not advertising, we had more applicants then we could take this past summer, here is what I see year in and year out 12 and unders have got good strokes, some 13 year olds and it goes away, the 14 and overs, their strokes, not all of them, and we get a lot of repeats and they were great technicians at 12 and under and they’re not at 15 something is happening, and don’t blame it on swimming on more yardage, you haven’t got time to work on stroke, you’ve always got time to work on stroke, you don’t have to stop them to work on stroke it’s like my swimmers are always begging to do turns, I said look we are going to do 8 500’s there is a turn on the end of each lap.  So you give them things to do, I tell them when you push off the wall, when I was Auburn University in the old pool we didn’t have lines on the bottom, we would put a hose underneath the flags on the bottom of the pool at each end and they had to push off and their first stroke had to pull their head beyond that hose off the wall, never breathe off the wall, never breathe into the wall, breathe every three that is how practices are run, you just do that in practice all the time, I think there are simple things we have to do or we can do to make swimmers better but it requires effort on our part.    Third thing is we can get them to work harder and I’ve ended up seeing this and it does work and it is hard, I think the harder someone has to go in practice of their own volition in other words they’ve got to provide their own impetus to go that fast all the time, I think that takes a lot out of them.  Fourth one we make workouts harder and there is some good ways to do that whether it’s get them to ride the turn better, we do a warm-up that I really like which means they don’t like it and we’ll do a 400 and I’ll give them 15 seconds rest, it doesn’t matter, long course short course and everybody goes three kicks off of the wall fly kick off every turn, fly kick is the weapon to have I try to treat it like the fifth stroke, it’s the second fastest stroke, but I just treat it like the fifth stroke and try to give it comparable work.  So everybody is fly kicking three times off every wall and then they will go a 100 stroke drill and they’ll go their weak IM stroke except those, there are people in my age group that are never going to do the IM in public they are never going to swim breast stroke in public, I don’t let them do it cause I don’t want to watch it.  I have all my life had trouble throwing up; it bothers me a lot so I don’t need to do that.  So I don’t let them do it, and you’ve got to face that, and I want you to get them right so I don’t have to look at it.  That is the crux of this old dog.  Now those four things sounds simple, but it does take some work.


When I have a smaller team around 20 people and I was the head coach for the first time and I made it a point to say five good things to everyone in practice, even with a small team you can remember that, I mean some days you had to say ah, nice bathing suit, I mean that’s all you can say, got a hair cut, you know that kind of stuff, but you can’t be positive all the time or there is no reason for them to change, but there are ways to handle that.  One summer I took Randy’s team for a week and he had 70 people in practice, I got through about 20 people one time one good thing, I couldn’t remember who I’d said anything to, I just sat down for a half hour and then started doing it group wise, so if you got 50 or 60 people in a workout that’s hard to do, but, one of my theories about why somebody’s good when they come from Oviedo Florida or Michigan City Indiana they get a lot of attention, and I really believe that’s important.  We have a tendency to give attention to the real good swimmers and the real bad ones, but I really believe that attention is really important.



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