Where Swimming Should Be Going by Mark Schubert (1998)


Introduction: I’ve seen him work in the various committee functions, I know how effective he is in those committees. I use to wonder observing him, how he was so effective. But, I soon came to realize he was so effective because he did his homework better than anyone in that room. He knows more about the subject, than anyone in the room. And, he has percolated and coalesced his thoughts into a communicable message that’s understandable in our sound bite era. His preparation on the deck, and preparation off the deck in my mind has separated Mark Schubert from the rest of us. I am very excited to introduce and to hear Coach Schubert talk about our future direction.


Schubert: It’s going to be a challenge to live up to the introduction. Thank you George. First of all, I want to thank you for being here this morning. I always feel that it’s a challenge to speak on Saturday morning on the third day of the clinic. Usually the people that are here, are the hard core men and women who have survived the social life of Friday night. I appreciate you’re being here.


This is a challenging talk for me. John Leonard of course, is good at issuing challenges. This year’s theme for the clinic is leadership, John challenged to speak on where the sport of swimming should be going.


I think it’s always easy to talk about your program, what you do, how you do it; at least it’s easy for me. But, it’s more difficult to talk about where a sport should be going in the future. I’ve looked back on where our sport has been successful over the past several decades that I’ve been involved: both, as a swimmer and as a coach. Seems to me that in the ‘60’s and the ‘70’s our top performances on the women’s side came from predominately high school swimmers. On the men’s side, predominately collegiate swimmers. In the ‘80’s and ‘90’s because of the proliferation of women’s college scholarships, our top performances came from women collegiate swimmers. The men began to be dominated by post grads. I think that as we approach 2000 it’s obvious that post grads will have the more.. the more dominate impact on the sport. But, I truly believe that for the United States to be as successful as we are capable of being. That we need to see high school swimmers, collegiate swimmers, and post grads challenging each other for dominance in this country. Which will allow us to fulfill our potential and challenge the world for dominance.


I have identified four topics that I’d like to touch on. One is conflicts of season. One is professionalism. One is international swimming. The fourth is the challenge of a clean sport.



As I look back at the different areas that I’ve been involved with in swimming. I started off as a Country Club Coach, went into age group coaching, then high school coaching, then Club Coaching, then collegiate coaching. It was interesting last evening, sitting in the steering committee meeting, listening to a young man that I truly respect. One of our great international swimmers, and an Olympic champion who’s recently become involved with coaching. He made the statement, you know we have real problem. I’m coaching these Club kids, and during the high school season all they want to do is go out and swim high school meets. Sometime four of the five week days, they’re off swimming meets. And, they never come to practice. When do they train? I was thinking to myself, the more times change, the more they stay the same.


The challenges are very similar to what they were in the 1960’s in many respects. Although there are conflicts, from Country Club to age group swimming; from high school to Club swimming; from college swimming to Club swimming. And now with professional swimming, that we need to look at all of these areas as strengths. I think that one thing that Country Clubs, high schools, and colleges offer our sport, is the excitement of team swimming. The motivation of swimming for somebody else besides yourself. The peer recognition that’s involved within your school. That’s something that’s very difficult for USA swimming, or Club swimming to provide. It’s impossible for USA swimming to control all these other elements. It would not be realistic goal. There is only way that all of these elements can work together. And, that’s through the coaching community. And, that’s through leadership of coaching.


We need to develop a logical, seasonal, progressional plan that attempts to take as much conflict out of the program for the athlete. I truly believe that the problem of these conflicts lies within the coaching community. I think that Club coaches criticize the high school coach because they take swimmers away to meets and misses training. But then turns right around and denies the opportunities for Club swimmers to compete in high school meets is as much the problem as the high school coach.


Somehow, we all have to see the big picture. And, that’s the development of the athlete. Somehow we have to offer athletes opportunities to get good team environment, to get good peer recognition, yet to get the training that they need to become as good as they’re capable of being. Same goes for the college coach. I always chuckle when I hear Club coaches, and having been a Club coach and made some of these same criticisms, and now being on the other side of the fence. It’s an interesting perspective. But, you have Club coaches that criticize college coaches. Because they send their swimmers home in such miserable shape in the spring time. Because the season stops in March. Yet, they’ll turn right around and criticize the college coach that runs a serious year round program to try to motivate the  athlete for the big picture.   If the athlete decided that’s a better environment for them to stay and train in. On the other hand, I think the college coach that fails to recognize that giving an athlete the opportunity to return in the summer when he or she wants to do so, is also denying them opportunity. And, perhaps a better environment to train in. We need to make decisions that are predicated on what’s best for the athlete.


I’m going to move on to professionalism. And, this is certainly becoming a challenging topic. I had an interesting experience this year going to the World Championships in Perth. Riding on a bus, going to the hotel, seeing billboard after billboard with swimmers, instead of Michael Jordan. Sitting in the hotel room, watching advertising with swimmers, instead of Michael Jordan. Experiencing a competition in a country where swimmers were national heroes. There are some people that feel that the goal of accomplishing that in the United States is unrealistic, because it’s professional sports.  I don’t think that it’s unrealistic.


I do think that professionalism can be the next great leap forward toward popularity in our sport. Which will help and filter down to all levels. Professionalism allows athletes to continue in the sport at an older age; continue to train, continue to challenge themselves, and to reach their true potential. I always thought when watching high school kids break world records that I wonder how much faster they can go if they continue to train to older ages, as the track athletes did. I think we can see that through professionalism.


I also think professionalism allows corporate sponsorship and television to develop heroes in our sport, which is extremely important. We’re seeing that some of these heroes and or role models in our sports, are extremely positive. Some are not so positive. This perhaps reflects life itself, and we all need to make our decisions as to which role models we want to follow.


The negatives need to be considered. And, I think the drive to earn prize money at competitions in the middle of the season, can negatively affect training and the ultimate success of the athlete. I think that it can force the athlete to lose focus. I think however, there’s one beauty about the sport of swimming. It seems that these negatives can easily be counter balanced by the fear of the possible success of the young and up and coming swimmer.


Our sport always has new people striving to reach the top. And, I do think that those new young and up comers will keep the professionals honest. And, I do think that good coaches and good athletes will make good decisions in regards to training and keeping the big picture in mind. Mistakes will be made,  but great swimmers and great coaches learn from a mistake and don’t do it again.


I think that an athlete and a coach must keep the big picture in mind. And, when I say the big picture, I’m talking about life after swimming. I do think that professionalism is good for a short period of time in our sport. I do think that we need to encourage an athlete to get a degree. We need to encourage them to get job experience. We need to encourage them to develop a plan for a life after swimming.


It was interesting after having the satisfaction of seeing one of my athletes sign a big contract with a swim suit manufacture this past year. Sit down with him, being concerned about what he was going to do with the money. He said first thing I’m going to do is I’m going to repay my family, a lot of the money that they’ve spent to help me to be successful. And, the second thing I’m going to do is invest the money. Pretty, pretty satisfying to hear somebody be so squared away about their life and the big picture.


Agents can be a positive. However, they need to be brought into the big picture. They need to work closely with the coach and the athlete for the ultimate success of the athlete, not the short term success. I see that most successful agents being the ones that go out and get corporate sponsorships for their athletes to allow them to train for the big picture. To avoid distractions and to stay focused. If an athlete is too involved with appearances or swimming for prize money in the middle of the season, and making decisions that will alter their training, I think the big picture will be hurt. I think the athlete’s success in the professional arena will be compromised.


The agent must sign on to the concept of being the best at the most important competition. And doing everything possible to arrange the athlete’s schedule to help that to happen. Our Federation must also have the big picture in mind. I think that it will be easy for USA swimming to get involved with television, with events, and with providing prize money in the middle of the season, as oppose to the end of the season. I don’t think that there’s anyway that we will be able to avoid competitions throughout the season to provide prize money. But, I think the Federation should do everything that they can to keep the concept that prize money should be only for the most meaningful competition. For the competitions that it is most important the United States succeed at. Our resources at the Federation should go towards that.


International swimming, where are we going. Obviously change is the nature of man. And how we adapt will determine how successful we will be in the future. What concepts we retain. What concepts we throw out. What concepts we change.


I think right now, we have a number of challenges in international swimming, one of them appears to be the emergence of short events. I’ve always asked myself what are we scared of, with short events. I think I’ve always been proud to be involved with the sport that is work ethic based. I’ve always felt that we can be very successful at the fifty’s. Training for the hundred’s and two hundred’s. We don’t need to compromise. I’ve seen the addition of short events erode much of what’s been important to our sport on the collegiate level, although the relays are exciting.


We’ve certainly seen compromising being made by our top swimmers at the NCAA championship. Where we have the need to swim two hundred relays before individual events. I think also, there are people that are making choices to train primarily for fifty’s, as oppose to hundred’s, two hundred’s, and longer distance events. It certainly eroded distance swimming in the United States over the last several years.


I have always felt that there is a place for both. I have never really been opposed to the fifty’s. But, I was shocked recently, when I attended a World Swimming Coaches Association Board of Directors meeting. Where European coaches have discussed the importance of bringing the fifty’s into the program, because of the fact that they feel that it fits better into their life style. Coaches are mostly part time. They don’t want to work more than two hours a day at coaching. They feel that including the fifty’s will make the sport more technique based. That’s not a bad thing. But, they hope that the inclusion of these events will help eliminate distance events.  That’s a scary prospect.


The Australian’s in fact believe that some countries are actually promoting the fifty’s in hopes that eventually they’ll be added to the Olympics, and the distance events will be eliminated. Without a doubt we know, that the track record of the International Olympic Committee is if you add events, that you delete other events, or you delete individuals. We’ve seen it happen in the past.  So, I do think we need to guard against that.


I don’t think we’re going to eliminate the fifty’s emergence as international event. It’s going to happen. But, we need to guard against it eliminating the motivation to train hard in our sport, to develop the characteristics of swimmers that we hold dear, the work ethic, the goal orientation.


The other problem that is emerging in international swimming is the problem of multiple meets. There are more and more meets being added to the international calendar. And, obviously you have some people that train by racing, and you have some people that train to race. I think for those that believe that racing is a better form of training, these meets can work very well for them. For those that train to race we need to be selective.


The fear of adding competitions and having that take away from training, will be unfounded if great athletes and great coaches make the right decision and make good choices. I do think that competitions like the World Cup Circuit are good for older athletes, for professionals. I think we have an inadequate program in this country of meaningful competitions particularly during the winter season.


I think the World Cup can provide meaningful competitions and motivation for older athletes. As long as that motivation isn’t strictly prize money, and that training isn’t compromised. I do think that if we fail to embrace the concept of the World Cup, and promote getting good World Cup competitions on our continent, our clubs will be faced with a situation very similar to track and field. Where our best athletes will be training and competing in Europe during the World Cup season. I would like to see them training and racing in our continent as well as Europe. And, not take them off US soil during the winter in its entirety.

The last subject that I want to talk about is the commitment to keep our sport clean. I think that as I look back at my involvement in the Olympic Games, I’ve been fortunate, very fortunate to work with athletes that have been of that caliber.

It’s been a privilege, but I can’t say that my experiences at the Olympic Games have been my best experiences in the sport of swimming.  They haven’t been pure experiences.


There was only one Olympic Games that I have ever left feeling that the true champions had stood atop the Awards podium. And that was in the ’84 Games in Los Angeles.  And, then after  the Olympic trials four years later in 1988, when we had one of our top athletes removed from the team. I realized that my perception of what had happened in ’84 was probably a naïve one.


There is not a worse feeling as a coach then to work with an athlete day in and day out for years, to watch what that athlete does to sacrifice, in the attempt to reach the pentacle to be the best in the world at the right time at the Olympic Games, and be denied that opportunity by someone who’s cheated. I’m fearful of the direction as the country, that we’re going. You have to ask yourself, when a man becomes a hero becomes a national hero pursing a home run record, who uses artificial supplementation. Is this OK because it’s legal? Or is it just wrong. There’s a difference between what’s legal and what’s wrong.


I think it’s important that we put resources into developing the moral conscious of our athletes against drug use. I think we take it for granted, I think we’re naive about it, and I think it’s going to catch up with us. I think we need to put resources and encourage our Federation’s and our National body’s and our International body’s to put resources towards doing everything we can to recruit the best minds in science and motivate them to help us to get the technology ahead of the cheaters. This will include political pressure to make it happen.


Unfortunately what we are seeing today, is the all mighty dollar is raising its head and putting this subject on the back burner. After seeing in my mind, what was one of the most tremendous efforts on the part of a country to keep our sport clean, to bring the subject to a forefront by Australia at the World Championship in Perth. We are now seeing the same country under the pressure of Olympic sponsorship put this subject on the back burner.


Coaches and athletic administrators are having pressure put on them to keep their mouths closed, to have it not be an issue, to not have it be in the headlines, and that creates an atmosphere where the cheaters can thrive. I think all of us need to care about this issue. It’s easy for those of us that are fortunate enough to work with athletes at this level to have this commitment, because we’ve felt the pain of those athletes when you sit there and have to race against people that you know have cheated. And, watch them on the award stand.


To me one of the most honest and one of the few truly honest international competitions that I ever attended, was in 1994 in the World Championships in Rome. There when the cheaters took the award stand, people sat and didn’t clap. It was the most unbelievable thing that I have ever witnessed in international sport. We all need to have that approach towards drug use in sports. We need to reject it, we need to put pressure on those that representing us on the international level to have it be their highest priority.


It was interesting because a gentlemen that represents the United States at the international level was recently asked what America’s agenda is in international sports. What the agenda of a committee that discusses international issues was. His response was, to try to place as many people as possible on high committees within those international body’s. There was no discussion of the agenda of those people on those committees.

We need to become involved and promote the agenda. And, one of the highest things we need to promote is keeping our sport clean.


The last thing that I would like to say is, I think we owe a great deal of gratitude and respect towards the individuals that have worked hard and provided leadership for us. And, I think there are three individuals that I’d particularly like to point out: Peter Daylan and Forbes Carlyle are two great coaches. Two coaches that many of us have read their books, have gone to clinics and listened to, have listened to their tapes, have watched their work outs, and learned a lot from. These coaches have continued to use their prestige, and influence, and passion to add to the sport. And, they’ve done that particularly with the issue of keeping the sport clean.


John Leonard has not been afraid to challenge us. To challenge us as coaches, professionally. To challenge sports governing bodies to stand up for what’s right. He sometimes is abrasive. He sometimes uses tactics that I don’t personally agree with. But he gets the job done. He’s like a bull dog. We need him in our sport. And, where the drug issue is concerned, we owe him a great deal of thanks. And, I hope that he will continue his efforts. <applause>


I also think that John’s efforts and what he’s done in the sport have encouraged coaches like Dennis Persely and Richard Quick to stand up and speak out. And, those coaches have done a marvelous job and provided a lot of leadership.


I have to admit that from basically the 1975 World Championships on I had the philosophy where I told my athletes that it wasn’t the right thing to do to speak out when we didn’t know for sure that these people were cheating. Although in our heart we knew that they were.


I think finally coaches like Richard Quick and Dennis Persely have spoken out. And, we have a lot of allies in other countries, and they have spoken out. We all need to have passion when it comes to this subject. And, speak out against and do everything we can to get our sport as clean as we can make it.


I’d like to give you the opportunity to ask questions.  I’ve tried to give you my opinions. And, I’d be happy to promote any discussion of these topics.  Any questions?



Mark: The question is there’s more high school age swimmers starting to take Creatin. And, I have to admit that after hearing that there were successful world class swimmers in other programs, in other collegiate programs, and international level swimmers in the United States that I encouraged some of my top athletes to do that, as well for a season. And, then after discussing it with Doctors and trainers and finding out there really had not been any definitive research done on the safety of the product. I’ve discontinued that. I personally would be frightened of encouraging a nutritional product that there hasn’t been extensive research done in, for fear of what harm that it might have in the future. That’s few on the supplement and the subject.

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