Where the USA Stands in World Swimming by Dennis Pursley (1999)


Published


I think the title of my talk was supposed to be U.S.A.: Where Do We Stand in World Swimming?” and the simple easy answer is just look at the world rankings. Maybe if you want to take a look at the results of the recently completed Pan Pacific championships, then you can see where we stand in world swimming. We’re still number 1, but we are hanging on by the skin of our teeth, and I am very sorry that I was not able to complete in time for this presentation some research that we’re doing, some trends that we’re taking a look at, mapping and charting the performance of the field as measured by the 8th place swimmer in the U.S.A. in each event, men and women, over the years, starting, I believe we started with 1952 up to last year. It’s almost completed. When it is, we’ll have that information available for distribution and publication. But what we’re seeing is that looking at the field in

U.S.A. swimming, on the men’s side, and again, beginning in the early 50’s up through 1998, we noticed significant progress up until about 1984, and of course, for different events there’s different plateau points. But it was about 1984 we began to see a plateau in men’s swimming in the U.S.A. represented by the field through their current year. Women’s swimming, the plateau started a little bit earlier. It was about 1981 that we began to see this plateau in swimming in the United States. And, if you factor in the real changes, the no-touch backstroke turns, the underwater swimming, things that have attributed to faster performances, when you factor that in, then it becomes even more noticeable, more dramatic.

 

Of course, there are individual exceptions. There’s an exception in the breaststroke as well, and I think as we all realize that there have been some significant advances in the biomechanics, the stroke technique in the breaststroke that has contributed to improved performances worldwide, including in our country up through the present decade. But the bottom line is we have seen a plateau that for quite a few years now we have been trying to find a way to get off that plateau and get up to the next level. And I think a question that is more significant, more important than where are we right now in world swimming… to me, the more important question is where are we headed? And I’ve decided for this presentation to take an approach that probably most of you weren’t expecting.

 

I would imagine that most of you were expecting me to make comparisons of where we are compared to our major competitors, and we have many of our Australian friends in the room right here, but that’s not the angle I’m going to take for this next few minutes. I’m looking at where we’ve gone over the last couple of decades, trends in U.S.A. swimming, and I sat down to do this and I came up with between 30 and 40 of them at my first shot at it. If I sat down and did it today, I would probably come up with a few different ones, as everyone in this room would. This is not meant to be inclusive. What I hope will be accomplished over the next hour is just to stimulate some thought, to start thinking about what direction are we headed. We’re going to have different opinions about some of these trends as to whether they are ultimately going to positively impact performance or negatively impact performance. But we at least need to be aware of what direction we’re going, and if we like it, great, let’s make the most of it. If we’re uncomfortable with it, then we need to make some adjustments and some modifications.

 

Just to break it down into some smaller groups, these 30 or 40, I don’t know what the total number is here, I kind of divided it into subheadings and one we’ll see up here, and don’t worry about writing that down, as there will be handouts at the back of the room for anybody that’s interested at the end of this. It’ll have everything you see on the Power Point plus more. But some of the trends that we’re looking at, I think that there is a general consensus that most of us feel are positive trends. There are a number of trends that some of us are going to feel are positive, some maybe not, maybe feel like they’re negative. There are a lot of them that in my opinion are maybe indifferent in themselves, and it depends on how we manage them or mismanage them as to whether they are going to have a positive or a negative or whether they have had a positive or negative impact on performance. And I think that that’s the key, especially for the indifferent ones, to make sure that as our environment changes that we’re managing that environment to help contribute to better performance and get off the plateau that we’re on right now.

 

Now, some of these positive trends I have labeled as positive trends. Remember, I’m speaking of them relative to swimming in the U.S.A. in the 70s. Why did I pick the 70s? That’s kind of the glory years, when we were the most dominant, and where we started to see that curve plateau on the performance charts. And I’m looking at our swimming in the country today as compared to U.S.A. in the 70s. Not compared to our top competitors today. These statements might not be valid if we’re comparing to our top competitors today. Not compared to where many of us would like to see us in these areas. They might not be valid; you may not think they’re positive. But compared to the 70s, our swimmers today are bigger, stronger, and more athletic than what we saw on our national teams in the 70s. Our coaches today unquestionably are better educated and more aware of the science of swimming. We have more and better facilities. The fourth one, nobody’s ever going to be satisfied with it, no matter how far we go down this road, I can guarantee you that, but the fact of the matter is we are supporting our athletes financially much more significantly than we were a couple of decades ago when actually we had no financial support. Sport science involvement has become more predominant and swimming is being more effectively marketed and promoted that in the past. I think there is pretty much a consensus that these are all good things. These are positive things. So, if we’re doing a number of things better than we were before we started to see that performance plateau, why aren’t we swimming faster? To me, common sense says that if we’re doing some things better but we’re not seeing an impact on performance, then maybe there’s some other things that we’ve lost, maybe some things that we’re not doing as well. And the rest of these trends I’ve kind of broken down into three groups of subheadings of technical trends, sociological trends, and philosophical trends. Don’t pay any attention to the subheading name. As I started to put these in place, I quickly recognized that most of these trends could go in any of those headings because there are elements of all three in there. It’s just a way to break them down into smaller groups. Well, if we want to go to the next one and look at what I’ve labeled here as some technical trends. Now, the first one, we’ve seen a shift in coaching philosophy from an aerobic base training philosophy to more of a race-specific training philosophy. And I know that that’s oversimplification because any good program is going to have elements of both in it. I’m talking about where the priority, where the emphasis is right now.

 

You could come to this clinic in the 70s and you could go to any presentation by an accomplished respected age-group coach, and you’d hear the same message from all of them. They’d all say I trained my swimmers as if they were distance swimmers and 400 IMers. Because it was universally accepted, that that type of training would better position them to accomplish their… be the best that they can be and accomplish their ultimate potential later on in their career. Now, I’m asked all the time, well explain to me if I’m a 50 man or a 100 swimmer, what is the benefit of swimming the miles and the aerobic work and putting all that time in the training and in that type of training. I don’t know if there’s physiologists in the room that can answer that question a lot better than I can. I don’t know if there’s a direct carryover. But what I do know that it does is it dramatically enhances the ability to do the race-specific anaerobic work, either later on in the season or later on in the career or whatever the case may be. And we have absolutely gotten away from that. There is some European research that has tracked swimmers that came up through a race-specific anaerobic oriented program in their development years and those that have come up through the more traditional aerobic base foundation type of training. And what they found was that it’s a different age for each individual, but for most of them somewhere in their high school years, up to that point they’ll see progress at a comparable rate. But then what they saw was the ones that were trained with the aerobic base foundation concept continued to progress until much later in their careers, whereas the ones that were training in a more race-specific focus,anaerobic focus, up to that point, began to plateau.

 

There was a sports science summit that was conducted in Colorado Springs last year, and I’m not going to read it    to you but I would recommend… this is what it looks like, and it’s available, but we had quite a number of scientists and coaches that gathered in Colorado Spring to talk about these issues and on page 5, very succinctly and to the point discusses what we’re talking about right now: the importance that aerobic-based training for the younger swimmers. We’ve gotten away from that. We’ve seen a change from an emphasis on distance to sprint emphasis. Most of the people in this room remember that it’s the animal lane. That was a badge of honor. That was your badge of courage, to be in the animal lane. They were kind of put up on a pedestal, the people that swam in those distance training lanes. That’s kind of disappeared; it seems to me, today. And if we have anybody training, being that type of training, that’s one or two swimmers that usually feel disconnected and not a part of the team. Training competition has switched to training diversity. This is one of many things that I think are good things in themselves, good things up to a point, but they can maybe sometimes be taken to a detrimental extreme. And there’s a lot of people in the room here I think that maybe remember twenty years ago in the 70s, it was not uncommon for coaches to be on the phone or for the grapevine to be working and people finding out what other people are doing and because the training methodology and philosophy was more compatible and what one person was doing was similar to what someone else, they could take that, put it in their program, and they come back the next week and say, well so and so did this last week. So, this week, we’re going to do the same thing, except we’re going to go a little faster or a little further, whatever the case may be. And there was that competition in training sense domestically that I think was very healthy. We’ve gotten so far to the extreme, I think, in diversity, where we look at that now and I see a lot of coaches saying, wow, that’s impressive, but it doesn’t fit in my program. So we’re going to do something different. And diversity is usually a product of creativity and creativity is a good thing. But at some point, we, I think, again, in moving in this positive direction, we’ve maybe left behind and lost some of the competitive element that we saw in the programs twenty years ago.

 

We heard frequently in the 70s “we train harder.” Now we hear “we train smarter.” Not harder. We used to hear “There’s no gain without pain.” Now we hear “don’t overtrain.” When the kids came to the pool every day, and swam the laps for two hours and went home, we used to call that a workout. You don’t hear that word much anymore because the word “work” has taken on a negative connotation. It’s called “practice” today. And I’m not saying that that’s a bad thing, but it’s just another little clue of some of the changes in the mindset that we’ve seen. We had… Doc Counsilman use to tell us, using layman’s terms on a regular basis, that top swimmers had to push themselves into “the agony zone.” Now, we tend to think from that.

 

We had a couple of years ago our top, and admittedly, this is distance swimmers, but I think the mindset that they projected was characteristic all the way down through the events of their day. Most of the top great distance swimmers, as you know, of our past, were from the 70s, early 80s. We brought them all to Colorado Springs a couple of years ago to talk to our national team coaches and tell us what they felt most contributed to their success. And most of these athletes, with every single one of them, the one common theme, there were a lot of differences in their approach and their preparation, but the one common theme that came forward from all of them was that they came to practice every day and went to war. And they just put the nose to the grindstone and just hammered it out, repeat after repeat, set after set, day after day. One of them made the comment that we felt recovery was what happened between workouts. Not during workouts. And the concept of devoting a good portion of our training time to low intensity recovery work is really a fairly new concept. And I’m absolutely convinced that for some swimmers and certain situations, maybe all swimmers in certain situations, that’s a good thing. But have we maybe gotten too far from that, and is there some value somewhere in the training program to going back to the former concept and mind set of just getting in there.

 

And of course, you’ve got to cycle the stresses. You know, you work the arms while you rest the legs, then you come back and work the legs and then you work the anaerobic system and come back and work the aerobic system. But just getting in there and hammering away.

 

Another thing we did that weekend was we saw a video about the Kenyan distance runners. The Kenyan distance runners, as most of you know, have dominated distance running to a greater extent than maybe any country has dominated any sporting event in modern times. And one of them, during the course of the interview, he said, You know, there’s days when you feel like you just can’t get out of bed. But you don’t have the choice. You have to get up and you have to run with those guys. It’s just a whole mindset that I think we’ve kind of gotten away from, and again, as I said, I think that in our sport, in swimming, in our country, it kind of filtered down through all the events. To take it to the limit, psychological mind set is one that I think if it doesn’t have direct physiological benefit and I’m not going to argue with the physiologists as to whether it does or doesn’t, but I’m absolutely certain that it has a significant psychological benefit. We have swimmers who have, let’s just say for the sake of discussion, you don’t need to ever go more than 3,000 in a set in order to develop the aerobic component that you need for a 100 meter race. I have no idea what that number might be. I’m just picking a number out of the air. But if that’s the case, and that’s the furthest that you ever go, then that’s going to be an intimidating challenge every time it’s presented to you. And it’s going to be real hard to really aggressively attack an intimidating challenge. If you’ve gone 10,000 in a set and then you come back and are asked to do 3,000, you’re going to be able to more aggressively take on that challenge and perform a lot better, and I know there’s a psychological benefit and I suspect again the benefit physiologically may not be direct. As I said before, maybe the benefit is that it helps you do the race-specific work more effectively.

 

As I said, we’ve got a number of our Australian friends in the room, and I’d be interested and have been interested over the last fifteen years, I coached over there in the early 80s, and watching the evolution and the message that’s been coming from our friends down under during that period of time. And when I was over there, and this doesn’t apply to everybody that’s in the room but for the most part the message I heard was similar to what we were hearing from our sports scientists who developed their opinions and theories based on classroom study and information. The basic message was that you’re training too hard. You’re defeating the purpose. You don’t need to spend this much time; you don’t need to swim these many miles. But, what I’ve observed is some of those scientists unfortunately unlike many of ours, unfortunately for us, and some of them that are in this room, at that point started to spend long hours on deck with the top teams and top swimmers, and they’ve been on deck with the top teams and the top swimmers for the last fifteen years, and now I’m getting a different message. I’m reading a different message. They’re sounding like coaches, and they’re basically saying the harder you work the faster you’re going to swim.

 

Some of these things, I’m going to run out of time here, but we’ve gotten so complicated, and maybe this is just thinking back on my last few years on deck. I felt like I got so much into all the technical aspects of training that my training plan at the end of my career would take a Ph.D. to figure it out. I had a hard time figuring it out, much less my swimmers or anybody else. If I had to get back on deck now, not if I had to, if I had the opportunity or the privilege to do it, I think one of the things I would try to do is maybe simplify a little bit. Have we gone too far in that complex direction? Uncluttered competition calendar we had twenty years ago. The goal was clear for everybody. There was one big goal at the end of the season at the end of the year, and all the competition prior to that were just leading up to it in a logical sequence. Now we’ve gone from one world championship every four years to one every year. We’ve got the world cup circuit. We’ve got these privately promoted entrepreneurial meets that are very attractive to the athletes. It’s tougher today. That single focus was a huge advantage, I think. And we have to really… this is one of the things that changed that in some ways can be a good change as many of these other things, but one that has to be managed. And we have to work hard to guard against the “we can have it all” attitude. And this, just from my position as national team director. We once had an invincible national team image. We’re still number one, but as far as our competition is concerned, we’re vulnerable. That makes our job tougher. We’ve got to be aware of that.

 

 

There’s a couple of things that kind of came to my mind just this morning, and again if I did this every day I’d come up with a different list of things that I’ve observed, as you would too. But a couple of disturbing trends. We’re not finishing our races in international competition as effectively as maybe we were twenty years ago. Is that because the competition is tougher? Is that because our race strategy has changed and we maybe need to reevaluate that? Or does that have to do with the aerobic-based training concept that I talked about earlier? We’ve got to look at those things.

 

Another interesting observation: it wasn’t unusual as many of you remember in the 70s to see world class swimmers stand up and three or four times in one night, maybe fifteen or twenty minutes apart, lay it on the line, swim lifetime best performances, swim world rank performances. That’s a very, very rare thing today. And I’m not talking, either, about times that are not at all competitive to what we’re seeing today. I’m talking about some good impressive times that would even be competitive today. Again, why is that? Is that a function of training, and that the recovery period that we need seems to be much longer between competitive efforts.

 

Some trends that I’ve labeled as sociological trends. The first one probably needs a little explanation. When I was coaching in the 70s, I sold my program, promoted my program, on the basis of the character-building attributes that were associated with competitive swimming. And specifically, I promoted that the appreciation for discipline, for sacrifice, for long-term commitment, these were things that were in the recruiting flyers that I would distribute. This is what I would talk to the parents about and that’s what the parents wanted for their kids. I had to turn people away every year. And today, I hear coaches tell me, and I have to believe that it’s not an excuse, it’s a reality based on my experience of having five kids of my own involved in all different sports and being to some degree involved with the parent groups in some of those sports.

 

Our environment has changes in our society, in our country. Those things, the sacrifice, the discipline, the long-term commitment, they’re still essential for peak performance and progress in our sport, but they’ve become seemingly unpopular in our society. Coaches tell me today that those things scare people away. We can’t talk about those things, or we won’t have anybody in the water. But I think that this is a battle that we cannot afford to lose. There are some trends; there are some things that we can just chalk up to a changing environment, changes in society. We’ve got to accept it, we’ve got to live with it, we’ve got to manage it, and we’ve got to make the most of it. This is not one of those things. Because if we lose this, then our hopes of seeing any progress in the performance area are just going to go right down the drain. So, we need to find a way, and I don’t know, maybe than rather not talk about it, maybe that needs to be a higher priority, and we need to try real hard again to sell the value of these things to our swimmers and to our parents, rather than eliminate them from our programs altogether and give them what they seem to be wanting, which is just a kind of fun in an empty sense, or something to keep the kids off the streets. There’s more to it than that and we have to show them the value in these attributes. That’s a trend that we can’t raise the white flag on.

 

There’s been a shift from team focus to individual focus, individual rights. And I use the word “rights” very loosely here. I’m not talking about the inalienable rights that are described in the founding documents of our country. I’m talking about more just… it’s gone again, a good thing maybe taken to a negative extreme, where we’re not even willing to sacrifice just personal preferences anymore and not acknowledge that there is a greater good. Used to be the good of humanity or the good of your country that many people would willingly sacrifice their lives for. Or in the case of our sport, it was the good of the team. That was considered to be the greater good that people… it was just a given… would willingly sacrifice their individual rights or preferences in order to contribute to. It’s more difficult now. And again, it’s a sociological change. There’s intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivation.

 

In the 70s, we had nothing else to offer but intrinsic motivation. Personal improvement. Team success. That’s where the focus was. That’s what our sport had to offer. And again, as it now has more things to offer, we’re moving more toward the fame and fortune, not so much in our country.

 

I was just talking outside the room here. It was a real interesting experience in Australia for the Pan Pax and not a big surprise to me having coached over there years ago, but it’s gone way beyond what it was then. You think the Super Bowl is big in our country. It’s nothing compared to the Pan Pax way over there. You go to the gas station, you go to the super market, you go anywhere, and people aren’t talking to you, they’re talking among themselves about the races the night before and about the races that are coming up tonight. It was the big focus of the country for eight days. And that can be a good thing, but it can also be taken to a negative extreme to serve, to distract you from your focus for performance excellence.

 

And we can all think of a couple of people in our country and in other countries that were world beaters in 1996 and could be world beaters again in 2000, but they’ve dropped out of the picture. And why did they drop out of the picture? Because they wanted to capitalize on the other things other than the personal improvement and the team success that the sport now has to offer the athletes. And so the reward became the material reward became a higher priority than the intrinsic rewards that previously our sport had to offer. And the training has suffered and the performance has suffered. It’s another change that has to be managed. We’ve gone from… this is similar in achievement focus, a focus on performance excellence to a reward focus.

 

 

This is another interesting one. We’ve gone from an attitude of appreciation to an attitude of entitlement. And really, this runs across the board. I think all of us… have crept into our attitudes a little bit — coaches, swimmers, administrators, that somebody owes us something. I don’t know who it is, but somebody owes us something. And the problem is that when we had an attitude of appreciation, it’s a lot more to put your heart and soul into something. If you appreciate just the opportunity to be involved with the sport and the opportunities that sport provides. And you’re real happy   to be a part of it. It’s a lot easier to put your heart and soul into it and enthusiasm into it. But if you have an attitude of entitlement, like, I’m not getting what I should be getting… I don’t know who should be giving it to me, but I’m not getting what I want — then it’s going to be a little bit more difficult to be as committed and as enthusiastic about what you’re doing.

 

I think we saw and already mentioned this shift from more of a long-term focus to a short-term focus rather than base what we’re doing with our swimmers on what’s going in the national team sense, get best results in the next Olympiad or in the age group sense, and what’s going to be best for them later on in their careers, it’s the instant gratification direction that our society has gone. What’s going to get best results in the next meet? And again, that’s something that needs to be managed. We’ve seen a shift from a kind of a universal respect for authority to a new attitude of challenge authority. Here again, a good thing may be taken to a negative extreme. It’s good that authority should be held accountable. It’s good that measures should be put in place to prevent the abuse of authority. Those are all good things. But when you go to an extreme, and we see bumper stickers today that say just challenge authority. Just for the sake of it, challenge authority. And when that authority that is accountable and has the measures in place is not respected, is not supported, or worse yet, if it doesn’t exist, then you end up with chaos. You end up with anarchy. You sure don’t see progress in your sport. Or in anything else where that is lacking. And coaches in our environment today have been stripped of much of their authority.

 

We’ve had limited athletic choices for our kids years ago. Today, they’ve got many more choices. It’s more competitive. Another trend that’s disturbing to us in our country today is the shift in the balance, where we used to have pretty much a 50-50 ratio of boys and girls involved in the sport, and our numbers, our total numbers, we’ve maintained those numbers, but we’ve brought in more girls, which is a good thing, but we’ve seen a corresponding loss of boys in the sport, which is not a good thing for those of us who want to see the sport in our country continue to be strong.

 

Another trend that I thought of this morning — it’s not down here — is that we have a lot more postgrads in the sport, especially at the national team level than we did twenty years ago. And most of us thought that that trend would contribute to improvement in performance. We haven’t really seen that yet. Now, that’s not saying that it’s a bad thing. Wouldn’t our performance have dropped off had it not been for the increase in postgrads. Some of these things we can only answer with speculation or opinion. But it is a trend.

 

The last group I have here I have just entitled philosophical trends. The first one, we’ve touched on it in other things as a shift from an emphasis on character development to maybe performance emphasis, and we see this more in other sports that we do in ours. I mean, twenty years ago, you didn’t see some of the sports figures that we see today that were off the field involved in some of the things that they’re involved with and still promoted and worshipped and put on a pedestal the way they are. It doesn’t seem to matter anymore. And I don’t know if you think that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but today the only thing that matters is performance. Well, the problem is that performance is going to be short-lived in those situations. And we tend to more often, I think, turn a blind eye to the things that contribute to a successful performance that may be lacking … if the performance is there at the time. But that sends the wrong message to the ones that are coming up through the ranks.

 

Another difference that I’ve noticed is most of you will remember in the 70s, it was a good thing if you were uncompromising and it was not a good thing if you were a compromiser. That has done a complete 180 now. This is another thing we can never get back to the 70s on, and it’s probably good that you can’t be confrontational in your coaching style the way some of us may have been a number of years ago. You can’t coach with the “my way or the highway” approach. But we have to find a way to be uncompromising because compromise still results in mediocrity. That hasn’t changed. You can’t compromise if you’re going to pursue excellence. If we’re going to get to the next highest level. We have to find a way to be uncompromising in a more palatable way. The velvet glove with the iron fisted approach, whatever that might be. I think today we’re more influenced by what the politically correct thing is or what the popular thing is.

 

Now, I believe that there’s three questions you need to ask in the process of making a decision or dealing with an issue. The first question is what’s the right thing? And if there is a right and wrong, if it’s a right and wrong issue, then you don’t even go to the second question. That ends it. You stop right there. You do the right thing, regardless of the ramifications. Then the second question, I think, if it’s not a right and wrong issue, is what is going to best enable us to accomplish our big picture, long term goals and objectives? Is this going to contribute to that or is this going to detract from that? And if it’s going to do one or the other, then again, you stop right there and you don’t go to the third question. Well, if that’s not an issue, then you can go to the third question and say, well, what’s popular? What does the group want to do that will make them happy today, here and now. But too often, it seems that we have a tendency to skip over the first  two questions and just go straight to that third question.

 

We’ve shifted from coach-directed programs, which is related to what I just talked about, to more parent or athlete-directed programs. And, again, we can’t go back, and shouldn’t go back. That’s a good thing in my book, to the “my way or highway” approach. We do have to have input. We do have to have involvement. But the coach still needs to be the final authority if we’re going to get off the performance plateau and move to the next level. And why? Because the majority is always going to opt to go the easy way if there is a choice. They’re always going to want to go in the direction of mediocrity. And it takes a person with vision and a person who’s willing to set the standard, set the bar high, and motivate the group to make a commitment to rise up to that level. And the leadership has to come from the coach in that respect. We’ve seen a tendency over the last twenty years to kind of lower the bar, and a lot of these things, again, are related, but has the focus in most of our clubs around the country shifted from achievement in the senior nationals to achievement in the junior championships.

 

At one time, you had to be in the top 8 to get a second swim at night. Then it was the top 16. Now it’s the top 24. And I can see some good solid arguments on both sides of the fence. I’m not saying that that’s a bad thing. I don’t know. But it’s something that I think is a trend that I think we need to look at. Time standards in this, I personally feel very strongly about. Time standards that are tied to our domestic strengths and weaknesses only serve to perpetuate those weaknesses. And every time I’ve seen a situation where we’ve raised the bar and kept the time standards constant from event to event relative to the world history of swimming, it has served to strengthen our weaknesses when we’ve done that. And we’ve seen the swimmers respond to the challenge and move up to the next level. It may take some time. We have to be patient. There may be a period of time before the swimmers and coaches figure out how to get to that level. But if we don’t lower the bar, I believe that it’s going to happen. And when we’ve seen examples of that in the past, it has happened.

 

Another observation… we’ve changed from an attitude that in preparation for competition. a Spartan environment is the ideal environment. And we’ve gone a complete 180 on that and have changed to a pampered environment in preparation for competition. And that leads into the next one. I think it’s had an impact and made us less self-reliant, more environment-reliant. Rather than relying on your God-given talents and abilities and the preparation that you’ve done to overcome obstacles, to perform whether it’s because of, or in spite of, the circumstances, we see too often today where we’ve created a situation where our athletes rely on a perfect environment to be able to perform.

 

And the last one I have on this list is a kind of defense I guess of the approach that I’m taking here. We’ve seen a  change in the sense that not too long ago what we’re doing right now, what I’m doing right now, which I like to think of is objective evaluation, constructive criticism, maybe, in some cases, was considered to be a good thing. And we’re living in a society now which in a lot of cases tends to give us the message that it’s not acceptable any more. That everything has to be positive. That it’s O.K., it’s all right, we’re O.K., it’s all right, good job. Well, the problem with that is that it’s not reality. And if we want to get off this performance plateau, we have to be realistic in our evaluation of where we are, of what direction we’re going in. And I don’t consider myself a pessimist. To me, a pessimist is somebody who doesn’t have any hope for the future. But I’m very optimistic that we have what it takes to get off of this performance plateau. But we’ve got to take a good hard look at these things. And, again, some of these things that I see s negative trends some of you in the room might consider to be positive trends and that’s fine. But just be aware… be aware of the trends, be aware of what’s happening, because I think what happens to us a lot is that these things change so slowly and so gradually that we don’t even realize it. And we just sit down and we think about where we are today, and we look at how that compares to where we were twenty years ago, and there is some dramatic differences. But unless you really sit down and think it through, it may not be clear. And I guess that all I’m doing is cautioning and saying don’t unknowingly be led down a path. that you don’t feel is going to contribute to your performance success.

 

I covered a whole lot of things here and actually your handouts were seven-page handouts and I intended to go over seven pages. I just went over one page and I realized this morning that I was biting off a whole lot more than I could chew, but all that information is in there. I would like to bring it to some sort of closure and read here from an article that was in U.S.A. Today a couple of years ago that’s an editorial actually by William Bennett, and it’s called “In Education, Character is as Important as Skills.”

 

… about the Founding Fathers of our country. They knew that teachers in America must educate not only the abilities of children, the sort of thing the much disputed national tests are intended to measure today, but also their character. Samuel Adams describes the mission of educators as nurturing the moral sense of children. Abigail Adams told her son John Quincy that “great learning and superior abilities, should you ever possess them, will be of little value and small estimation unless virtue, honor, truth, and integrity are added to them.” I believe that it’s who you are that determines what you do. And if we pay more attention to the who we are, in ourselves and in our swimmers, I think the performance results will take care of themselves. In my opinion, the surest way of producing performance success is to focus on character development. If your team is disciplined, if it’s unselfish, if it’s committed, if it’s hardworking, it’s going to perform better. Some things haven’t changed, and that’s one of them. And I acknowledge that it’s possible to be relatively successful as an individual of talent, you can be relatively successful, maybe without the integrity and good character. But I ask the question of what value is that? And to me, in the final analysis, integrity and character are not only the most important thing, but they’re the only important thing, and what we do… it’s what we’re all about. It’s what brings value and meaning to the commitment that we make to the sport and that we ask of our swimmers. And I believe that everything else has to be measured in relation to how it impacts that.

 

Well, I got through this a little bit quicker than I planned, but I’m going to finish up with the last slide, from Pope Paul VI. I came across this recently, and regardless of what you think of the Popes or of Christianity, for that matter I invite you to think real carefully about what this says, because I think it really captures the essence of what I’m trying to convey. It says that there is also needed a patient effort to teach people or teach them once more, and that’s our challenge… how to savor in a simple way the many human joys of the creator places in our path. And how foreign is this next statement to our culture right now? That sometimes the sheer joy of work well done, the joy in satisfaction of duty performed, the transparent joy of service and sharing, the demanding joy of sacrifice. Just think about the key words there… Work, Duty, Service, Sacrifice. These are not negatives that we need to shy away from or eliminate and replace with other things. These are positives that we have to embrace and we have to cling to as the heart and soul of our sport in the core of what we’re all about. And if we can successfully do this, then I believe we will get off this performance plateau and move on to the next level.

 

Thank you. (Applause.)

If there are any questions, I got through that a little quicker than I thought, so we’ve got a few more minutes here.

 

(QUESTION). The question is do we have a feel for why we’re losing boys in the sport basically. And Will, can you answer that question with surveys that we’ve done with U.S.A. swimming, or has that maybe shown us that you are aware of any… given us any indication of why that might be happening? Well, you know, I think I can just offer up an opinion, and we all have opinions on this issue, and it’s gradually being perceived by the public I think as more and more of a feminine sport… a sport for women. And I’m just basing this on… I have four boys and one girl. The girl is a committed, enthusiastic, avid swimmer. My four boys swim because their mother makes them. They also play football and basketball, and much prefer to do that and I think it’s just the perception that swimming is more of a feminine sport. Now, why do we have that perception? I can’t answer that question, but it’s one we have to look at and try to find ways to make it more attractive to the boys.

(QUESTION). Coach Daland’s comments were that if you factor in the real changes in underwater kicking and so on, that we may not even be on a plateau. In some performances in some cases we may have seen a regression over the last fifteen years or so.

 

(QUESTION). I think you hit on a great point, and for those who didn’t hear in the back, that we may be rewarding mediocrity. This is one thing I’ve noticed again with my kids in all sports. It’s in all sports. Just to be on the team, they come home with a trophy that’s bigger than they are.  And  I went to the state age-group swimming championships, twelve and unders. They marched out for the finals, they were escorted by people in tuxedos under the spotlight. My son asked me, Dad, why do they do that? And I said I don’t know, but I tell you right now that the Olympic trials is a big step down from here. So I think… we laugh at it, but I think that’s a real good point, and it kind of goes back… I was just reading some research that the big educational effort that our government really put its weight behind back in the 60s, and is just kind of coming to fruition today, really, is an effort to raise the self-esteem of kids in our country, which I think to all of us sounds like a great thing. And the premise was, the assumption was, that if you raise self-esteem, a performance will increase along with it. Well, the research results that have been done over three decades now, that have come in that I’ve seen show that we’ve been very successful in accomplishing the objective of raising the self-esteem of the kids in our country. Compared to other cultures, other nations, our kids across the board have much higher self-esteem. But it’s said in the research that I read they’ve got the highest self-esteem but the lowest performance and achievement level. The performance did not come up as expected. So again, maybe that’s getting back to reality. And there’s a negative way, and a harmful way, I think, to challenge our kids, and I’m not talking about degrading them, belittling them. But I think that they want to know if we were praising everything they do, whether it’s worthy of praise or not, rewarding everything they do, whether it’s worthy ore reward or not, then common sense tells you that the praise and the reward eventually become meaningless. It doesn’t mean anything anymore. I think it’s a great point.

 

(QUESTION). You know, this has happened ever since United States swimming or U.S.A. swimming has existed. It may be to a greater extreme now. You’ve pointed out another interesting trend, and I don’t know what this means, I don’t know if it’s good, I don’t know if it’s bad, but it’s a difference where numbers of swimmers have remained stable over the years in U.S.A. swimming, but the number of clubs has increased dramatically. So we have more, smaller clubs than we did in the past, and I think that your comments are that those clubs may not be focused on performance excellence. I think that what really hurts us is when they’re not honest. If you want to say that we’re not focused on performance excellence, on being the best that you can be, what  we’re offering is just a wholesome recreational alternative for the kids to keep them off the streets and we’re not expecting high levels of commitment and uncompromised commitment. Well, that’s fine, if you’re going to be honest with it. But I think that what really hurts us is when we have programs that pretend to be committed to excellence and then aren’t doing the things that are required to achieve excellence. But, I’m not sure if that’s worse than it was in the past or not. But it is a problem. Coach Steele.

 

(QUESTION). As you said, that issue has been discussed over and over again and we need to keep discussing these things. Until we get to where we want to be and we start seeing progress, we need to continue to evaluate. Peter.

 

(QUESTION). I think it starts up even above the coaches, and the attitude is if everybody can’t have it, then nobody can have it. And I think that’s a good philosophy of mediocrity. O.K., well, you have another one?

 

(QUESTION). I’ll carry that forward. Thank you. And thanks everybody for your time.

 

(Applause).

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