Why Do We Coach? by Don Swartz, North Bay Aquatics (2014)


[introduction, by Ira Klein]
I guess it is still morning, so I will say good morning to everybody, on this final day of the 2014 ASCA World Clinic. My name is Ira Klein, I am one your board members for ASCA, and I have a great honor this morning. You know, we talk a lot about having mentors; and everyone thinks that a mentor is somebody who sits down with you every day, explains things, kind of shows you, you know, the road to walk. But that is not all of it, because there are a lot of people who can help mentor you whether they know they are doing that or not.

I have the privilege today of introducing a coach who was very instrumental when I first started coaching. I was still swimming, or first starting to swim—because I swam only in college—when Don Swartz was coaching some of our best swimmers in the country. And he was doing it with a very different approach; one of the first people to really be thinking outside the box. Not just on how do we add more yardage.

A lot of you here probably were here last year when Don was inducted into the ASCA Hall of Fame—well deserved. The speech and films shown to us by the DeMont brothers, and their talk about what it meant to swim for Don, I do not know if that is tapped anywhere. But if it is, I recommend getting that, listening to it.

Like I was saying, Don’s very innovative in his coaching, very cerebral in his coaching, the way he views it and thinks about it. That for me, made me focus more on just… not just on let’s go 20x100s on a faster send off, but how do I get more on athletes each day. It was a great disappointment when Don left the profession to do other things, and a great joy when he finally came back to our ranks. I have a little gift here, a little token of appreciation for having our speakers come and offer their insights to help us do our jobs better. So without further ado, I would like to introduce Don Swartz.

[Swartz begins]
Good morning. Occasionally dangerous to ad lib, but I like to live on the danger zone now and then. So, what can I tell you that you do not already know? Now probably, somebody in this room knows about these shoes. But if you are on the deck a lot and your feet hurts you, or you have plantar fasciitis like I do, you might want to check out a pair of shoes called Hoka One. I do not get paid to say that—unfortunately. I have a recurring, now and then, plantar fasciitis on my left heel. I heard about these shoes, I went and bought a pair, and three days later I had no pain in my foot. I thought damn, that’s pretty… that’s the best. So I got another pair, and I rotate them. They are very, very comfortable; they are very light weight. So, if you have foot problems, and you are on the deck a lot, perhaps they could help you.

Piggy-backing off of what Teri [McKeever] said about having fun, one of my current pet-peeves is the parent who comes up, and says, “I just want my daughter to have fun. I just want her to be happy.” I do not know whether this is an indication of anything societally, but it is something that gets me. I want my daughter to be happy, as long as my son’s happy I’m in a good place with the swimming and with whatever is going on. I actually tell our kids this, I say, “My job is actually not to make you happy,” and they all laugh.

In thinking about our swim team, and yours is the same as mine: you have coaching, you have parents, and you have swimmers; we like to look at it as a three-legged stool. So with the idea of having some fun, while we are doing this very serious thing about addressing these questions (and we will come to that in a second), if all three legs of that stool are not the same length or the same strength, the stool becomes non-functioning. So I thought I would go on to the w-w-w [world-wide web], and see if I could find a few humorous comments about the parent leg of that stool.

Do not argue with an idiot: he will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience. We have some parents like that—I like that one. With the kids, you know, we are always talking about the difference between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit, and wisdom is having the good sense not to put it in a fruit salad. And then, for us coaches, Steven Wright—who is a very funny man—said I couldn’t repair your breaks, so I made your horn louder. I thought: that sounds pretty good. And, of course, the quote master of all Yogi Berra: Baseball is 90% mental, and the other half is physical, and You can observe a lot by just watching.

Our profession, as a coach, has changed dramatically over the last decades. I started in 1966, and my fourth job in 1968—right about this time of the year in San Rafael, California with the San Rafael Swim Club—and I was a full-time coach. I do not if this is accurate or not, but I was told that I was one of two in 1968: I got $500 a month and all I did was coach.

When we would go to social functions, people would say, you know, So, what do you do? And I would say, “Well, I’m a Swimming coach.” And then the next question is: But what’s your real job? So, what do you really do.

Today, when I walk into the bank and ask for a home-equity line of credit, or I am in a social situation, and they say, So, what do you do? And I say, “I coach Swimming.” The next question is: Really, where? They do not even think about the profession as being not-worthy of being a profession, and they do not even think about the fact that swimming is like a minor activity. This is due, of course in part, to the efforts on the part of ASCA to raise our profession up, but also the public’s perception of who we are and what we do is greatly changed by the exposure we have on television. So, we are actually in a real profession now; we have known that for decades. But we get a little bit of a pass in the public’s eye these days.

For me, when I started swimming—and I will not tell you the story, many of you have heard it—in 1966, I literally knew nothing about competitive Swimming. I had not swum competitively; I had never coached. I was given an opportunity to earn a little-bit-more money on my pay check by coaching the summer league team at the pool where I taught lessons in the morning and lifeguarded in the afternoon; and I just got started.

So, when I began everything was very simple, because I did not know anything. And then as I gained experience and knowledge, and my curiosity led me to read and go to clinics like this, I became more aware of the intricacies and I got more complex, and my coaching got more complicated. Those are not necessarily the same thing, and they are necessarily good; it is just the road I went: from complete novice to maybe knowing more than I needed to know. I have found in the last three or four years that my coaching is actually better today because I have been able to simplify and narrow my focus a little bit, and ask myself more critical questions.

So following along that line, and in an attempt to share some ideas with you, understanding coaching, to me, is simply breaking it into three specific areas: the why, the what, and the how. I am not going to discuss the how with you this morning. I could tell you how I do it, but that is not really important; you have had lots of answers to how. And I know Dave Marsh; I was talking to him. He is going to talk a lot about the how, and a little bit about the what. But I am more interested in the why and the what.

This is me, this is how you find me—it is my cell phone. I would also say that Ken and I, Ken DeMont, who I work with/for at North Bay Aquatics—we are just over the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco—we had this great idea several years ago that ended-up going down in flames: we would offer online coaching. So we called ourselves Swim Coach Direct, we formed an LLC, and all that stuff.

The idea was: if we are such hot-shot coaches, and the people in the pool in front of us—the kids and the Masters—really like what we do, perhaps there would be an audience out there who might be willing to pay ten bucks a month—or some number—to be coached by us. And we had a little bit of success. But either did not have the skill-set or we were not properly positioned—I do not know what—but we said we surrender.

One of the things that we did do, on Swim Coach Direct, is we wrote a weekly little blog; things that might be of interest to someone who is curious about coaching. It goes anywhere from certain sets to ideas about team building—any of those kinds of things. You can sign-up for that, and it comes to you by email every week. Been doing it for five or six years. There is no advertising on it, it does not cost you anything, you can easily unsubscribe if you do not like it, we will never sell your email; it is just another way to share. That is what is so really-cool about the ASCA experience: it is all about sharing.

As many people are in this room, as in the building, as in the profession, there are different nuances to why we coach. I think it is important to know why we coach, because daily/weekly/annually we are faced with challenges in our program. I just spent the last year-and-a-half in—without dramatizing it—a real tough spot, with respect to one of our parents; the way I was being characterized by her to her family. Long-story short: when I had a really better grip on why I coach, I was able to go like this [sigh] and let-go of that particular situation.

We all face these challenges, whether it would be: not enough money to do what we want, or not enough kids to get where we need to be, or whatever it is. Problems are part of what we do every day. So, as I say here that is what we do every day, we solve problems. We face challenges and try to work with them. And if we have a real clear understanding of why it is we coach, then it is easier to deal with that stuff.

I wrote down a few things that I thought might be reasons that we would coach. Pretty basic, straight-forward.
• A lot of us want to make a difference in people’s lives, so personal satisfaction.
• Money. Now, I know that not all of us get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to do what we do—or tens of thousands even—but we all need some money to get by—it is the currency of the land. So, that is part of the picture.
• Prestige. Some of us have bigger egos than others. And I will tell you: anybody who is successful who says they do not have an ego is not being totally truthful with you. Because we all have egos, and the prestige of coaching helps feed that.
• Fame. Some people like not-only to have their ego fed, but they like the spotlight.
• [Status]. Some people do it just because they like to be called Coach. Like some people like to be called doctors.
• Enjoyment of Swimming. For a lot of you who swam competitively, those were the best years of your life in many respects. So, you want to stay involved with it.
• Some of you just simply love competition, and you live for the race.
• College opportunities for your own children. Make no mistake about it, at most universities—I believe, I do not know because I have never coached in college, but—I believe that if you are on a staff at a university that your youngsters, provided they can meet some basic requirements, get to go to that college for free. That is a very, very big incentive.
• The desire to give back. Some people want to share what Swimming gave to them as a person, and so they do it to give back.
• I put this [competitive nature] down as a little bit different than feeding the competition. Some people—and I have seen some coaches like this—there is a little-bit of a bully in them, and that is why they do it. They like the power that being in-charge gives them. I am not to saying it is good or bad—I am not making a judgment about any of these things—but I have seen that out there.
• Some people do it because they are good at it. If you ask the kids on your team what their favorite subjects in school are, I bet they will tell you the ones that they like the best. You know, they are really-good at History, they really like it. So, some of us do it because we are good at it. It is important to find something that your good at. I tell people that ask me about, you know, kids that are getting ready to come-out of college and find a profession; I say, “Find something that’s enjoyable to you, that gives you self-satisfaction.” There is tons of ways to make the rent; you might as well find something that brings you satisfaction.

The list goes on. Right? In California, we get to work outdoors. It is kind of tough in the Winter when it rains, but it has not rained in two years, so…. We do not have to wear a shirt or a tie. You can be your own boss, in many cases. If you are fortunate-enough to have started and own a swim school or own your team, you have a retirement package. I sure wish I had thought about that when I was 20 and did not wait until I was… you know, I am 68 today. We are all going to be living longer, so we have got to have more resources to get to the end.

So anyway, the list goes on and on.

I would like to ask you to take a moment, if you have a pen and a piece of paper, to begin the process of writing down why you coach. Ken and I coach at a small prep school in Marin [County] called the Branson School, and our athletic director gave us a copy of this book: InsideOut Coaching [by Joe Ehrmann]. (I will put the title up in a second; you do not have to remember that.) In here there is a chapter about: why we coach. And so, I pretty much knew, but when the athletic director said, “So, why don’t you take a pen, and put it on a piece of paper, and see if you can write down why you coach.”

So, let’s take 60 seconds. I coach because…, and see if you can come up with something. I am big on the use of words, and you are too without really maybe even considering it. When you tell a kid to do something, you do not just say: put your hand in the water. You are specific:
You want to put your hand in the water with your finger-tips a little bit lower than your wrist, a little bit lower than your elbow, a little bit lower than your armpit; and you want those fingers, as Eddie Reese says, to go in the water directly in front of your shoulder, pointing in the direction at which you wish to go—not like this and not like this.
So, the more specific you can be about your thoughts and express them with words, the easier it is to understand.

So Joe Ehrmann talks about the difference between transactional coaching and transformational coaching. Transaction coaching is the Xs and the Os. The sets: 10×100 on 1:30. Looking at Jay over here; he likes to do them in groups of three: three of this on a certain interval and then three of this and working that. Those are the things. And I need to have six kids get to Sectionals, and I need three kids to get to Junior Nationals, and We need 75 people in our workout group to make enough money. Those are transactional types of things.

Transformational, a lot of you are transformational coaches. You are interested in what is happening to the person as a whole: what kind of person are you developing, using Swimming as a vehicle for that. Those are not mutually-exclusive: you can do both. But it is important to know which you are doing, when you are doing it.

I also recommend highly this book by Don and Ron Heidary: Developing High-Character Athletes and High-Character Teams. This is available outside there and online [from ASCA]; this book is fabulous. These two books might be of interest to you as you ponder coaching—in case you are curious.

Ehrmann also says: what would happen if we asked our athletes, past and present—but primarily past—what they thought of our coaching experience. Because we might think we are doing x, but we are actually delivering y. It is kind of like an exit interview.

I have a small business that I have and I have employees. When they come to me and say Here’s my two week notice, I go, “Hmm, why are you leaving?” And they say for x, y and z reasons. So, what I have learned, now—because it is much easier to retain an employee than go find a new one—regularly I say “If any of you are not happy with what’s going on, put your hand up, come see me. You need more money? You need more time-off? You need more hours? You need this to improve the work place?” Because if I know that ahead of time, I am doing a better job and I am positioning myself for more success with my company.

So grade us a coach on a scale of 1 to 10:
• How positive was the experience and how negative?
• What did I learn?
• What did I learn that I wish I had not? and
• What did I wish I had learned?

• What were my development needs at that age, and how are they addressed? If at all.
• How did that coach make me feel about myself? I have been in a lot of conversations this week, I have been in a lot of presentations, where people are talking about connecting, personally, with the athlete.
• Did the coach mold or shape my character in a positive or negative way?
• How did the coach treat my teammates? Did everybody get a fair shake or did the coach treat the faster kids as if they were better kids. Be careful about that: better is not faster; some of your best swimmers are not your fastest swimmers.
• Was there a consistent moral or ethical dimension to the coaching? The Heidary’s not only hit this nail right on the head, they talk about the value of that.
• How do I feel about that coach now that I am an adult?

For fun, this is me: I coach because I believe it is every person’s responsibility to enrich their community, and coaching Swimming is my personal vehicle to do that. Secondarily, when I show someone how to do something they have not done before, I have helped that person to be more self-reliant. I believe self-reliance is an integral part of a successful person’s list of skills, and I am interested in people’s success.

Just think about that.

I did not have the ability to write that down when Anthony Thomas, our athletic director, said, “Why do you coach?” It took me about three weeks to actually get rid of some of the fluff, and boil it down to the basics, what worked for me.

As Ira said, back in the 70s, I made some discoveries that greatly influenced the way that I coached, and how effective I was and ultimately how fast people go—or that were on our team swam. There is like the aha moment, you know. Going back to funny quotes, Yogi Berra: It’s like déjà-vu all over.

Goetz Klopfer impacted my coaching in 1970. He was an Olympic and Pan-American race walker. Happened to be working as a T.A., teacher’s assistant, at San Rafael High School where our swim team was. And he would hang-out at the pool after his workout, and, you know, we struck-up a friendship. I was expressing to him my frustration about the lack of progress. And he said, “Well, have you ever… do you know about cycling?” And I said, “What like Cycling, on a bicycle?” No, he said, “No, like cycle training.”

He opened my eyes to what was very prevalent in the world of Track & Field, which was the concept of: easy and hard. Through that I learnt a whole bunch of stuff, and made some changes, incorporated that information into my coaching. And voilà, the rest is history—as they say. (Some pretty-good history there.)

I have got to tell you that in the last couple of years, 3-4 years, I find myself stuck in the same spot. Ken and I came back from the NCSA meet in Orlando a couple of years ago, and we said, “Our kids are getting faster, but the whole country is getting even faster.” So while our kids are getting best times and we have got some people swimming in finals at night, I feel, and so does Ken to a certain extent, that we are getting left-behind; it is like we are not fast enough. We like competitive swimming—there is a real part to us that likes that—and we like it when kids go fast. So I have been thinking a lot lately about how to overcome that.

And another person, Theresa Kamler, who is my massage therapist/my body worker—she is like really my total therapist, I go in, sit down, and give her all my stories. She said, “You might want to check out this book: The Rise of Superman.” And so, I would like to talk about the what: what are we really doing as coaches?

The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance by Steve Kotler. (If you heard Kirk Grand speak yesterday, that guy is right in the middle of all of this.) There is a difference, right? Optimal human performance: being your best. That is what we all want, right: we all want to be at our best. And then there is ultimate human performance; it is difference from optimal. Ultimate human performance: being at your best when any mistake could kill you.

Doug Ingram the other night talked to us about his climb of Mount Everest. Not the whole way, but in parts, ultimate human performance. In certain places in that climb, if he was not at his best, he could have killed himself: walking across those ladders, thousands of feet of emptiness beneath him. And he told us how he practiced it, right? Put together the ladders in his backyard, and practiced and practiced and practiced.

But most of us really want to be at our best when it counts the most. How do we… when we get on the blocks at the national championships, state championships, Age Group championships, league final—whatever it is when it counts the most—how many of us really do not care? Pretty much everybody in that situation cares: they want to be at their best.

Our understanding of how that happens, as illustrated nicely in this book—which I have read twice and still do not have a real grip on. The role of action- and adventure-sports, and the growth of our knowledge about how to be at our best, is unparalleled. Skateboarding, big-wave surfing. Big-wave surfing: 60-, 70-, 100-footers. Skiers, extreme skiers; people in the X Games.

It used to be a big deal. Right? We all… how many people here used to line-up, if you are old-enough, on the television and watch Evil Knievel jump-over, you know, 20 school buses. Well, now people jump over those things, and they do back flips, and they let go of the bicycle in mid-air and somehow land on the bicycle again, and they do flips… it is just insane.

So, the explosions in those kinds of sport activities have led to people wondering: Why? How could that person do that? How do we learn to be optimal, and in an ultimate situation, not make a mistake that would kill us? Most competitive swimmers are not in a position to have to have ultimate human performance.

They talk… this book is about flow. Flow is a term that was developed by a guy—whose name who I cannot pronounce—in 1970/’71. Basically flow describes being so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; ego falls away, time flies, every action moment and thought follows inevitably from the previous one. You could say being in the zone. But flow is distinguished a little bit more than the zone. And so basically what you do is you work at your game in practice, and then in the game or a race, whatever, climbing Mount Everest, you become fully present and you are in the state of flow. And when you are in the state of flow, you are able to access much-more of what is available to you.

That is an example of flow.

There are three basic properties of flow: profound mental clarity, emotional detachment and automatic nature. One right decision leads to the next. Those are the three basic properties of flow. Conditions for flow: you need to have clear goals, you have to have immediate feedback, and then you have to have a proper challenge-to-skill ratio. As Kotler says, the one element that truly sets flow apart is the creative problem-solving nature of the state. Because flow requires action, there is a decision-making involved at every step; other states of consciousness do not have this.

(I am going quickly, but we can come back to this.)

EEG: our ability to measure the brain waves. Again, Kirk Grand talked about this yesterday. The electrical responses that are involved in the decision-making. There are five basic brain-waves. (You do not need to write this down: the information is available.) The Beta one is interesting: learning and concentration on the low end, fear and stress at the high end. But we can measure this; this is what is so incredible about this: we can actually measure people and see. I do not know how they measure it; believe me, I have no idea about that. I just know that they can do that, and that when people are in flow, they are in that beta.

The two defining characteristics of flow: it feels good, it is always a positive experience; and flow functions as a performance enhancer. Why? Well, there are neurochemicals that your body releases. They are used by the brain to transmit messages from one part of the brain to the next to cause you to be able to do certain things. And again, the science of this is a little bit like ugh, makes my head hurt—no pun intended. But it is important to know that:
• Dopamine is released into our system, and we experience that as: encouragement, excitement, creativity, desire to investigate.
• And then norepinephrine (I have a hard time pronouncing that); look at what it does to your body. In the body: the heart rate goes up, muscle tension improves, respiration, and glucose is released. That is a pretty powerful thing. And in the brain it: increases arousal, attention, neural efficiency and emotional control.
• Endorphins, you all know about that—that is pretty straightforward. What I did not realize, I thought endorphins… because I used to do a bit of running, and I thought, you know, people talk about, you know, get on the runner’s high, feel the endorphins. Well endorphins, actually relieve pain; it is a natural opiate.
• Then anandamide: it shows up in exercise-induced flow state. It elevates mood and relieves pain, dilates blood vessels and bronchial tubes. It also inhibits our ability to feel fear.
• And then serotonin helps cope with: adversity, to not lose, to keep going.

These things happen when you are in a state of flow. Why would you not want to have these things flooding your body when you are at the moment where you are trying to do your best when it counts the most. Well of course you would want those.

What are the conditions for flow? How do we get ourselves in the spot for flow? Well, there are four that have been identified, and he kind of groups them into: external, internal, social, and creative triggers.

Look at the external ones: danger. Look at Danny Way standing on top of that ramp, looking down; there is plenty of danger there. Standing up on that block, all by myself, that ribbon of water going all the way down to the end, and I got these people here and these people here; that is a dangerous situation.

Risk drives focus; so, the first step to flow, right: having focus. As risk increases, so does the dopamine (that other substance that I have a hard time pronouncing), which the brain uses to amplifier focus and enhance performance. So, first and foremost, if you are going to get into flow, you must be able to tolerate, and actually enjoy, risk. You have to be willing to do that, otherwise these other things do not take place.

An external trigger is rich environment. Novelty: something I have not ever done before, or maybe something that no one has ever done before. Novelty, we know, is a singular driving-force for development. The unpredictability and the complexity of something. Deep embodiment, full-body awareness. Those are the external triggers.

The internal triggers. Clear goals that define immediate success. You saw that practice run that Danny Way did: he neglected to hold-on to the skateboard. Oftentimes we focus on the goal, and we forget the clear part. Immediate feedback, those are internal triggers. How am I doing? Or as a team, how are we doing? And the challenge-to-skill ratio: if the challenge is too great, fear swamps the system; if the challenge is too easy, we stop paying attention.

A fair amount of discussion in this book, The Rise of Superman, is… we are not going to be—well, I am not going to speak for you, but—I am not going to be jumping the Great Wall of China anytime soon. I would love, and this is true, I would love to learn to skateboard; it looks like a cool thing. I am not talking about jumping; I just see kids powering-around town on these skateboards and they are going five-times the speed of me walking. And I thought: That’d be really cool to do that. But, I am not willing to fall and break my bones, and have to go through that whole thing at age 68. So I just think about it.

But how do we take this concept, what we saw Danny Way do, the big waves, the guys in kayaks… you know, the World Record right now, I think, is a 112 feet, taking a kayak off a waterfall, landing at 70 miles an hour and living. How do we take that? Ultimate, right? When a mistake could kill you? And transform that into, or transpose that into, what we are looking for, which is optimal human performance.

Today, when this book was written, published in 2014, 4% is generally believed to be the amount of improvement that is enough to stimulate us, but not so far gone that nah, I could never do that. Next year, it might be 3%, or it might be 5%; but right now it is 4%. I do not know what that… all I care about is: how can I get my swimmers to swim faster. Right? That is where this started: how can I get them to swim faster?

I asked my bookkeeper, because she is really good at this and it only took her about ten minutes—I would still be working on it. I arbitrarily picked 2:30, and I said, “At one second intervals, all the way down to 19 seconds, tell me what 4% faster is?” Look at that top on there: 1:46. You go 1:46 for your 200-whatever; a 4% improvement is 4.24 seconds, taking it down to 1:41.7. Look at the 55 over there: 4% is 2.2 seconds, down to 52.8.

You know what is uncanny about great coaches? Jon Urbanchek is one of those. When I was working/teaching seminars on goal setting and risk taking and all of that stuff back in the late-70s into the mid-80s, Jon had me come to Michigan and work with his team—I think two years. I remember the first year, hanging-out with Jon between sessions of the workshop. He said, we were talking about goal setting, “You know, I tell my guys that if they go to the biggest meet, and all the marbles are on the line, if they’re not thinking about going faster one second per 50 in their swim, then they’re not thinking right.”

So I had my bookkeeper put this chart together, and the guy who is going 1:46, four-second improvement, that is about one second a 50. Jon intuitively knew that that is possible, it is available. You know, the 55-second 100 drops 2.2 seconds. Uncanny 4%.


[audience member]: I am not sure if I understood, are you suggesting that we need to set some goal statuses at approximately 4% increase to create perceived risk and create flow, or that when you have flow at best we will probably have approximately 4% increase?

[Swartz]: Um, the question was: which comes first, the chicken or the egg? And the answer to that, from my standpoint, is: I do not know. I mean, I am six months ahead of you, if you have not picked this book up. I will tell you what I have done to promote flow in our practices; this is where I am in the experimentation process.

I have the kids, we have done 3-, 5-, 7- and 10-minute swims. I turn the clock off, so they do not get distracted by trying to see. You know, I do not want them focusing-on the external; I want them internally. So I say, “I’m going to have you swim for five minutes, and all I want you to do is breathe below the surface of the water.” Right? Dave Durden calls it hiding the breath. Get your head down, and breathe right here. I have got kids who do that, if you stood at the side of the pool, you would not be able to see their mouth or their nose, you would only be able to see uphill goggle. It is just like this.

I say to them: so, during this swim—five minutes, whatever it is, and I blow the whistle at the end: that is how we know we are done. I say when your mind wanders; because none of us can keep singularly-focused for five minutes until we get really good at practicing and being able to do that. But once we get there, as soon as we find our mind wandering—through the parking lot, and what we are going to have for dinner, and you know, homework I have got to do, and my test tomorrow; oops. My mind is wandering. Come back, keep coming back, because we are working at getting in the flow and that means being totally present.

You have to be totally present, if you are going to be in the flow. As soon as you wander…. I do not know the answer to this, but I am guessing when Danny Way tried that first jump, I guess he was thinking about the consequences, and I wonder if and, you know. As a result, he did the thing that was you would never think of doing, which is letting go of the board. Whoa, you know.

The other thing that we do: we do a set… let’s say, we are going to go 3×7-minute swims. So for seven minutes, all I want you to do is think about this. They are just swimming easy and deliberately; there is a lot of value in that, as we know/we have heard this week. They are just working on taking that breathe right there in that little spot.

I blow the whistle, say, “Okay, now we are going to go seven minutes again. We are going to work on the exhale part of our breath; that’s all we are going to do. All I want you to do is make sure that you have fully exhaled before you turn your head to the side to breathe. You know, minus about 3% or 4% of the water, so the water doesn’t run into your mouth.” And so then we do that. And I can visually see them working on a skill.

And then we might say we will do the next seven minutes, and we will pick something else. Put your hands in the water exactly where you want them; you can swim backstroke, you can swim butterfly. You know, you can put a lap of fly in there. On breaststroke, put your hands exactly where you want them.

Dave’s [Krotiak] great footage of Kevin Cordes, right. You do not swim breaststroke like this, because when you pull your elbows back…. What is attached to your elbows? Your hands. When your hands go backwards, your body cannot go forward. So we have our breaststrokers do that, and they are just swimming very purposefully.

The other thing that I did, using this chart. I take this, I laminated it—I got about a dozen of them. Go down to Kinko’s, laminate it, throw it out on the deck. I want you to kick… we did this set in the Spring. We did 3×150 kicking. Because everybody on our team can kick in 2:30, or better, for 6 laps of the pool. And I said, “I want you to go 70%. Be honest now: 70%. You have to get the time when you come in.” Those two things: kick 70% and get the time.

So they come in and they get the time. I said, “Now, look at the chart, look at the time: see what you have to… see how much you have to improve to go 4% faster.” Now, the key is when you are going 4% faster, not to think about the time, right. [Instead] Think about what you need to do to get the time. Relax our ankles, perhaps—I do not know what. There is any number of things you can tell them. Better dolphin kicks off the wall, if they are doing dolphin kicks on their back.

Then they come in, they get their time, and they are really curious. They look at the chart and they say Oh, yeah, I did it. And then we go one more, 4% faster than that. And again, focus on what you need to do to go 4% faster.

Then we did the same thing 3×150 swimming. Started 70%, get your time, etcetera. Then we did three more kicking with fins, and they liked that because they go faster. By the time they got to that third one, they are going pretty-damn fast. And then we did swimming.

I will tell you: there was not any chattering between the repeats. They are all like processing, thinking about, okay, I got my time. I’ve got to get 4% faster; what’s that? How am I going to do that? You know. And then they came in, and some of them said I got it or I missed by a little bit or I overshot a little bit.

I have tried it with four rounds: they cannot do it. There does not seem to be… if they started at an honest 70, then they do not… that fourth round, they cannot grab another 4%. They are just struggling to do what they did on the third round. I have done swims where we started and we do just two swims. And we do one and we started at 85%; and then we go from there and see if we can go 4% faster.

So it is a way, it is my personal initial attempt, to take what the science tells us and see if we can put it to work.

There are social triggers to flow, and groups have flow. This is about things that they have identified—they: the scientist and the people who contribute to the information that we spoke of—identified as things that work for group flow. There are ten of them there. [On slide are: serious concentration, shared clear goals, good communication, equal participation, element of risk, familiarity, blending of egos, sense of control, close listening and always say yes.]

Creative triggers: creativity. Creativity is a big part of flow. They define creativity as: the process of developing original ideas that have value. That is what we are doing as coaches: we are working to develop original ideas that have value.

Every person in this room has probably been, if you think-back and reflect on it, have had moments in your coaching where you are in flow. You are giving instructions for a set, and the kids are looking at you and they are not distracted, and you do not even think about what you are having for dinner and how much time. You just give this, and then off they go. And they swim and they come back, and you say, “That was really good. Now, on this one, let’s do” this. And you are just like… you are in flow.

I try to hit flow every day. I do not get it every day—I do not get it. Sometimes I fall off my skateboard. There is a cycle to flow: there is the struggle, which gives-way to the release; which gives you flow, and then you are into recovery. That [recovery] is the aftermath of your success; that is not always fun.

The book Mindset has been mentioned in several presentations this week. The fixed mindset is the one that says: you are limited in your ability to swim fast by your talent or your gene pool. And the growth mindset is the one that says: actually, talent doesn’t matter. You have got some people in your pool who have fabulous feel for the water, and they have no interest in going fast. None whatsoever. And you have got some kids in the pool who are like hackers, and they are some of your faster swimmers. There is nothing in the scientific literature, there is nothing in the scientific literature that I have read or been told about that suggests that talent is important ultimately. Does it make it a little bit easier? Yeah. Is it the cornerstone? No.

You know this, about intrinsic motivation, right. People need to feel they have autonomy, mastery and purpose. You have those three things, kids will go anywhere. Let the kids determine how fast they want to swim; that is… you know, they need to have the autonomy. We say—as I have heard people say here in this conference—the kids own their swimming; we are facilitators.

Visualization, of course, is an essential flow hack, because it shortens the struggle period. If you spend time visualizing, and the scientific literature is full of the proof—if you are a person who needs proof, and it is good to get proof—that when you visualize a certain motion taking place or a certain activity taking place, that it burns memory into the brain. The scientist that measure the wavelengths and measure the dopamine, and all those chemicals that are released, when you are in a visualization mode and you do that all, those things dump into your system as if it is real.

Let us talk for a minute about the dark side of flow. As the author points out in The Rise of Superman, in 2012, the fatalities that occurred in action- and adventure-sports were up dramatically from any year previous to that. Base jumping—flying in those winged suits that Dave Salo was talking about—people actually get killed doing that. In 2013, as the book was being written and they were compiling the statistics, the number of fatalities was far outpacing 2012.

It is because all of this stuff is available, and you have got kids sitting around at home thinking I can do that. YouTube is full of people doing stupid stuff, right. The movie Jackass. You know, let’s see how crazy we can be… what are we going to kill ourselves; well, yeah, actually you can. The difference is optimal human performance being your best; and ultimate when if you are not, if you make a mistake, you could end up killing yourself. So you want to be careful about that.

I have two things to share with you before I say goodbye; we are almost out of time and you have questions, perhaps. Two things happened on our swim team in the last two weeks that were examples of flow.

Eight days ago, on Friday night, the fourth day of our practice, kids had been out of the water for three weeks—they had been in the weight room for two weeks, but they had been out of water for three weeks. One of the girls on our team, Arianna, on the last swim of the day, which was a 300; at the end of the workout, we did a 100 on 1:30, a 200 on 3:00, and then 300 that was not on anything because there was nothing coming after it.

I said, “Put your fins and paddles on”; so they had their little Honda outboard, right, and big hands. And I said, “Why don’t you see how fast you can go. Let’s see where we are, end of week one; just for fun.” One of the boys says, So does that mean you want us to go fast on all of them? Look at the big brain on Peter…. I said, “Yeah. Let’s just see. Don’t save anything, let’s just go.”

So off they went, and they were… you know, the boys were down in the low-50s and some of the girls were in the mid-50s; you know, people were going, it was like there was just big pool of energy. And they were [heavy breaths], a sip of water. 200, you know, bunch of 1:50s and a couple of girls under two minutes.

And then in the minute between the end of that 200 and the start of 300, this girl Arianna, who is going second behind Ava. I did not hear the interaction, but I saw it. She ducked under the lane and went into the next lane, and had the boy who was leading that lane going to this lane and get behind Eva. And off they went. She put her foot down, right from the beginning, and, to my visual ability, never took her foot off. Went 56, 58, 58; went 2:52 on a 300. Now fins and paddles. I have never seen anything like that from her; never.

So as practice was over and she was walking out, I said, “That was pretty impressive. Where did that come from?” And she said, “It came from a place deep, deep inside.” And I said I wanted to share that with the folks here in Jacksonville; is it okay if I do that. And she said sure. I said, “I’m going to guess that while you were exerting yourself, that you weren’t aware of any specific pain.”

In fact, when she hit the wall and finished, there was no huh, huh, huh; you know, none of that—like look at me, look at what I did. You know, it was just like [smooth exhalation]. She said, “Absolutely, I didn’t feel a thing; I just went.” And I said, “Why?” She said, “I guessed I just wanted to go fast.” It is not that complicated, when you strip away all the other stuff.

The other thing that happened: Kim Chambers is on our Masters team. Kim Chambers is amazing woman; she is 35 years-old. She started swimming… she knew how to swim… she is a Kiwi—she grew up in New Zealand—and she knew how to swim when she… you know, they all were taught how to swim in school, whatever, when she was a kid. But she had not done any swimming, per se, until five years ago. So she started swimming in our Masters program five years ago, and got the bug about Open Water.

The Ocean Seven is patterned-off of the Seven Summits, where you go out and you climb the highest mountain on every continent. The Ocean Seven, they, the people that do this stuff and enjoy it, picked seven channels:
• the Molokai Channel;
• the English Channel;
• the Strait of Gibraltar;
• the Cooks Strait, between the two islands of New Zealand;
• the Tsugaru Strait, which is between the tip of the northern-most part of Japan to the next island [between Honshu and Hokkaido];
• I am forgetting one [the Catalina Channel], and
• the last one was the North Channel, which is between Ireland and Scotland.

She saved that one for last, because it is considered, if not the most difficult, certainly one of them. The water temperature is 55°, it is 21 miles across, there are very-strong currents, and occasionally jellyfish. And the rule of the Ocean Seven is as you start on land, you go in and you have to finish on land.

Kim on the second/third—I cannot remember which day—of September, this last week, became the sixth person in the world to do this—it is a very select group of people. This is a woman who has no talent in swimming—trust me. She would be your least-talented swimmer if you had them in the pool. She decided, for whatever reason and very personal, and you will hear her story somewhere, on YouTube or TED talks, one of these days. She is totally a flow master.

“Due to being stung hundreds of times by lion’s mane jellyfish throughout my entire journey, the last hour of my swim was the most difficult and challenging hour of my life. As my body desperately tried to fight the toxins from the jellyfish stings, my energy was diverted and I became hypothermic. Thanks to the support of my crew, I was able to complete my swim, but admitted to a local hospital shortly thereafter suffering jellyfish toxicity which affected my breathing.”

One of the people on her boat said, and he is one of the six guys who is an Ocean Seven champion, said the last hour-and-a-half she was delirious; she was vomiting. She got a 100 yards from shore, and was pretty sure she was not going to make it. But she would not think of the boat; you know, I’m doing this thing. There is an amazing amount of capacity within us.

Footnote to this: Kim came home four days ago, and she is in the hospital again. She has still got complications with her breathing; it looks like pneumonia, they are not sure. It appears that she will live. She is dancing on the dark side. Before she left I said, “Kim, you’ve got to make sure you come back.” She said, “I know.” But it is such a powerful experience.

Arianna for two minutes and fifty-two seconds; Kim for thirteen hours and six minutes. Flow is a powerful thing. I believe that once I get—not if—once I get a better grasp of it and how to get our kids in it, you will see more of our kids swimming in front. I think it is that important. I think it can have the kind of impact on my coaching and on the people that swim with me, that the cycle training had 40 years ago. The talk by Kirk Grand the other day was captivating. The science is there, the understanding is there. And then you are going to get people every now and then, like Jon Urbanchek, who have already figured it out, way ahead of time.

Anyway, thank you very much. The ASCA experience is fabulous; hats off to John and his whole crew for making this whole experience possible over the decades. We are in a fabulous profession. You should feel really good about what you are doing because it is important work, and we are impacting lives.


[audience member]: Do you have any suggestions of how to get the average kid in to flow?

[Swartz]: How to get the average kid in flow? The answer to that question is: I do not have any suggestions right now. But I do know that the more you can have them swim in the present, right. A simple 3:00 swim; you have got a young kid, have them swim for three minutes and see if he can just do a simple repetitive task for three minutes. I think you talk about it; you let him know that it is there, that it is available. You show them Danny Way.

We had one of our girls on our team at a development meet this summer, came up to me before her 100 free long course swim. She says, “I’m going to Danny Way this one.” And she laid one out there.

I think we are just starting to understand this stuff. And some day, someone is going to come up with the ten exercises. Like Teri had ten keys to success, someone is going to come up with the ten things you can do to teach people how to get into flow. But we are not there yet,


[audience member]: I would suggest that, with working with a lot of Age Group kids, that, as far as flow is in the question, there is a big different when you are starting out with young kids. If you want them to swim a 500, if you go “Swim a 500”, they go oh my god. But if you say “Swim seven minutes”, they take off.

[Swartz]: Right. Make the task something they can wrap their arms around, perhaps.

[audience member]: Change the focus.

[Swartz]: Change the focal point. There is no question that flow happens when you are focused and you are in the present—totally in the present.

Thank you. Have a great end of the conference.

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