Petition to USA Swimming Board

Yesterday I wrote an open letter to USA Swimming. I received an overwhelming positive response. One part of that response asked me for a way that people could show public support of the letter.

Having never conducted an online petition before, I had some reservations. I have seen people choose not to sign online petitions because of rightful concerns about how their e-mail would be used.

So here is my promise to you: if you sign this petition I will not use your contact information for anything unrelated to this letter. This website is my personal website, and I do use it for marketing my personal services. I will not contact you about these services- I have used this space to advocate specifically on this issue and will continue to do so.

I will tabulate results and send them to members of the USA Swimming Board.

So without further ado, here is where you can sign and signal your support for the open letter:

Name *
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Mark Schubert Has Plenty of Lies

One of the strangest parts of the last week has been the bizarre "interviews" Mark Schubert has given in relation to initial look into what Sean Hutchison was doing in 2010. Schubert's apparent strategy is to double and triple down on his lies, hope that most of the media covering this story will take his lies at face value (they have), and position his back for gratuitous slaps at the next ASCA event.

One problem for Schubert in this process is that he actually testified under oath about the first time Hutchison slithered away. Robert Allard, as part of Dagny Knutson's suit against Richard Foster.

If you want to read the deposition for yourself, here it is. But if you're lazy and want me to read the parts where Mark Schubert contradicts himself, skip ahead:

Here it is.

Now, there's a lot in here that you may or may not find interesting. For the purposes of this blog, lets focus on the discussion of Hutchison and how it jibes with what Schubert is trying to tell us in interviews today.

First, on page 40, Schubert is asked what his relationship with Bill Jewell was. Here's the exchange. He answers that they were "friendly". He indicates that the way that he found out about Hutchison is that Bill Jewell informed him of a "rumor" and asked him for advice.

This is the exact opposite of what Schubert told Swimswam earlier this week. He said that he heard a rumor about Hutchison from a "coach back East" and then he was the one who confronted Jewell.

Then, Allard tries to press Schubert on some specific terms of his settlement agreement and is blocked by Schubert's lawyers. A good question is why we as membership of USA Swimming are continuing to tolerate that confidentiality agreement, especially with what we now know.

But i digress. As Allard presses on, Schubert reveals in his testimony that the private investigators that he says he recommended to Bill Jewell were in fact headed by a former boyfriend of Schubert's daughter, and that his wife also worked for the investigator.

Schubert says that after Jewell revealed what the investigators had learned, he had no further discussion with Jewell. Quite a contrast to what he represented to Swimswam, wherein he asserts that he was "angry" with Jewell for not pursuing further investigation of Hutchison and allowing him to resign.

Now, to give credit, this final lie has been widely reported. Schubert somehow expects that people will forget that he was so "angry' with Bill Jewell that he went on to hire him ultimately defend him, even though Jewell was also sanctioned by USA Swimming for his later conduct.

Schubert remains head coach of the Mission Viejo Nadadores. The club, which says it is run by the volunteer driven Mission Viejo foundation, appears to still be quite happy to have a coach who contradicts his sworn testimony. Go figure.

 

 

Grooming, Bravery, and Boundaries

Ariana Kukors has given us an amazing opportunity. I reflected on that yesterday as I field another phone call, criticizing me for pointing the finger everywhere but myself.

So here it goes, I failed too. I did not like Sean Hutchison, I thought there was too much smoke in 2010. But I did nothing. I was afraid. I feared that in doing so I would face a retaliation from Hutchison and others that would be career ending. 

Kukors' bravery allows us to have a conversation about how we can improve our culture. We must not allow that opportunity to pass us by. We cannot just say "Sean was bad" and move on as we have many times in the past. 

So I would repeat my call to my coaching peers. Rather than nitpicking my posts or sending me your hushed encouragements, join me in demanding change, especially in the form of transparency from USA Swimming. And don't let up.

Can I still shake hands?

One of the biggest missed opportunities I see in coaches discussing this topic is the way they misinterpret Kukors' description of the grooming process. Kukors says that it started with a handshake, and I've seen coaches lose their mind about whether they can still shake hands with athletes.

They are missing the forest for the trees. It's not about handshakes, it's about being compelled into physical contact whether you want to or not. Rather than focus on whether or not their hands get shook, coaches should speak to their athletes and be clear that they can set their own physical boundaries with the coach, and that the coach will respect that.

Coaches should also communicate what true and appropriate boundaries are, since young people can often be unclear on that. 

Likewise, many coaches bemoan the fact that part of Hutchison's grooming process involved getting to know Kukors life outside of swimming. They pride themselves on seeing the whole person, not just a swimmer in the water. Do not interpret this description as "no talking about anything but swimming".

Once again, make clear to athletes that they are free to set the boundaries of what is discussed with their swim coach, and what a clear set of appropriate boundaries are again, since young people can often be confused about what those boundaries are. 

One thing I have seen discussed is that a coach can help people if they are struggling with mental health. This is correct, but only as a supporting player. Coaches are not a one stop shop. if they believe an athlete is struggling with a mental health issue they need to get a mental health professional involved as quickly as possible. 

The point is, this is about the swimmers, not us. They have a right to show up to swimming practice and get great coaching regardless of whether they touch us or tell us anything about their lives. If they want more than that, let them make it clear to you that is what they want.

Recognize that, the younger athletes are, the harder time they will have setting boundaries with you. So you must be extra careful. 

Ariana Kukors bravely gave us a form to discuss these topics, and we should use that opportunity to talk about how things should change and get better. 

Michael Brooks Has Questions to Answer

Since last week, there has been a rush to focus on the problem of Sean Hutchison. This is understandable, Hutchison stands accused of monstrous behavior and was a prominent figure in our sport for the past decade.

However, before we move on, it is actually very important to understand what exactly happened, and the culture that supported Hutchison. It is far more important that we do not replicate the environment that allowed Hutchison to flourish than to just punish Hutchison and move on.

The current head coach of King Aquatics, Michael Brooks, has some important questions to answer in the wake of Hutchison "stepping down" as CEO of King. So far, the only quote circulating from looks is as follows:

"Ariana Kukors is part of the King Aquatic family and we only want the best for her,” Mr. Brooks said. “Our staff is meeting to review this devastating news. Sean Hutchison has stepped down as an executive with King and has had no direct interaction with our swimmers for a very long time.”

This statement still leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Here are a few we should demand from Brooks:

1. When did he learn of a sexual relationship between Hutchison and Kukors, and what was his reaction?

2. What does "for a very long time" mean in relation to Hutchison's presence on deck. Specifically, when was the last time Hutchison interacted with swimmers at King?

3. Even though Hutchison has stepped down from his position, is he still the owner of King Aquatics? When families at King pay their dues this month, is that money going to Hutchison?

4. Who made the decision that Hutchison was no longer CEO? 

If these questions seem to the reader to be aggressive in assigning blame to Brooks, let me present a counter scenario. If Brooks and others truly were in the dark about Hutchison, they should be furious with USA Swimming right now. They clearly sat on information about Hutchison, and as a result of that lack of clarity, have put Brooks' career and others in jeopardy.

So to MIchael Brooks, I ask for answers to the above questions, and one more. Depending on the answer to the above, will you join the fight for transparency at USA Swimming. Membership of USA Swimming, swimmers and parents at your club, deserve answers about what happened in 2010 at FAST, and who knew what about Hutchison at that time.

If you want to catch up on somebody who was way ahead of their time, Irv Muchnick was reporting on much of what we now know as long as six years ago. Few listened, and far more should now.

Coaches: Lets Demand Action

Yesterday, I spelled out a couple steps that anyone, anywhere in swimming could do to help change swimming as we know it.

Today I want to focus on the biggest reading audience of this blog, coaches. As a coach myself, I've been working hard to figure out what we can do to improve our sport break the cycle.

The first step for coaches is to admit that our culture, as it stands today, is not a good culture for athletes. A part of any solution going forward has to begin by acknowledging that we should look to athletes for leadership about how they would like coaches to be a part of their sport. Athletes must come first.

With that said, here are the start of some of the actions coaches can put pressure on USA Swimming to take.

1) Release individuals immediately from any confidentiality agreements, period. USA Swimming needs transparency and sunlight. This should include, but not be limited to, FAST, Sean Hutchison, Mark Schubert, and Everett Uchiyama. We cannot move forward with effective solutions, and the maze of confidentiality agreements is a huge barrier to true transparency within our governing body.

We need to demand this even if the response is that doing so will completely bankrupt USA Swimming. No organization is more important than the well-being of athletes in our sport.

2) USA Swimming must release the tens of thousands of pages of coach complaint files that they have. They are sitting on information that deserves a public airing and could potentially save many future athletes from abuse.

These suggestions are just a beginning of what coaches can use their power to demand. Make your demand public, or reach out directly to the people that are accountable to you within USA Swimming. Send your demand as a letter directly to USA Swimming Executive Director Tim Hinchey, or USA Swimming President Jim Sheehan. 

In the coming days, I will be asking coaches to use their platforms to amplify this message and more to the power structure of USA Swimming.

 

 

Enough With the Victim Blaming

It's not even been a week since Ariana Kukors bravely told the story of what happened to her at the hands of her swim coach, Sean Hutchison. Already there is a disturbing trend in the discussion of it. To varying degrees, Kukors has been maligned. The arguments I've heard are something like follows:

"She was a consenting adult to the sex because they had sex after she was 18 years old"

If this is how you read the story, I'm going to ask you to reconsider. I'm being polite today because several friends reached out to me yesterday and asked me to stop being so angry. That's hard for me- abusive coaches have really hurt the sport I love, but more importantly really hurt people that I care about. 

It's worth reading Kukors' story several times, even though it is hard. People are fixating on the handshake as the first step to grooming. Don't fall into this trap- shaking hands is not a in isolation. Grooming children who you hold power over for sex is. So if you ask kids to shake your hands, 

Power is the key to understanding this story. Hutchison held huge influence and power over Kukors and others. I do not believe that a 16 year old girl can consent to sexual contact with her 34 year old swim coach. 

Likewise, Kukors story reveals that Hutchison used another power imbalance to his advantage. He knew what he was doing was wrong- victims are often far less certain about what is right and wrong due to their age and position.

That he "saved" intercourse until she was 18 is a key tell. He knew what he was doing was wrong and was trying to do it in a way that would leave him less exposed to legal jeopardy. Even though he knew he was in the wrong, he effectively transferred the shame onto his victim and used that power to tighten his grip.  

So please, spare all of us the insinuation that Kukors somehow consented to any of this. 

So What Do We Do Now?

I mentioned that friends reached out to me, and even a few people that I had never spoken to. This is the part where I tell them "I hear you". They wanted less anger and more proactive steps. So here are some proactive steps.

1. Offer whatever platform or forum you have for the girls and women you know in the sport to talk about what they would like to see get better. Many of them will not want to- be empathetic to that.

I believe that prominent female voices within the sport will be speaking out on this very issue in the next few days, and there will be strength in numbers that there has not been before in this moment

2. If you are a man, get out and positively support what these women and girls are saying. Take their suggestions to heart and think about real change you can effect in whatever domain you have.

That's it. I think that step one will reveal a lot about what step two should be. It's time for big change and the moment is now. 

Silence is Complicity

Yesterday was a whirlwind. I spoke to more people than I can properly remember, all about the topic of the day. This day there will be more, I'm sure.

Here's a message for all those conversations, and the ones I'm not having. The time is now. Speak your truth.

There are people who know more about Sean Hutchison, FAST, "SafeSport", Mark Schubert and all the other tentacles of this story. Some of them, like Dia Rianda or Dagny Knutson, have been ignored. It's time to start listening. 

There are other people who know more who haven't spoken. Right now they are waiting on the sidelines. I hear their stories third or fourth hand. I have empathy for the fact that some of them have also been hurt in this situation. They do not want to be defined by what they know and said.

I think soon they will be defined by what they knew and didn't say. Their silence makes them complicit in this story repeating itself. 

Everyone is scared right now, myself included. When I told my wife I would begin writing about this full force again, her first inclination was to beg me not to. Part of me agreed. I knew that keeping my mouth shut, however, just wasn't an option.

Eight years ago, I questioned why big name coaches like Bob Bowman contribute nothing to this discussion. The same question is worth asking today. These are people with powerful platforms, that they have used to advocate for far more trivial issues. What does their silence say?

There is a huge category of silent partners right now who can still play their part. We need more than silence from them too. If you're reading this and you think "I don't have any special knowledge, I'm not a big name, I don't even know what to say". Say something. Use my words if you want. You have a platform. The time for silence is over. 

Hold Their Feet to The Fire

I'll be honest: I'm mad. I don't know where to start.

In the days since Ariana Kukors publicly revealed not only the brutal manipulation and abuse that Sean Hutchison inflicted on her, but the insidious grooming process he used to achieve it, the other characters in this story have been far too silent.

It's time to hold some feet to the fire. This blog is directed specifically at the media covering this story.

It is not an attack. It is a request. Hold their feet to the fire.

Who are they? Like I said, it's hard to know where to start. Here are two suggestions:

Mark Schubert

Schubert, who played a huge role in enabling Sean among many, many other things, is out in the media trying to cast himself as some sort of whistleblower that was ignored back in 2010. 

Nothing could be farther from the truth. Schubert took his knowledge of Sean and used it as leverage to his own gain. He gladly accepted $625,000 to keep his mouth shut and went his way.

Oh, and he hired the man, Bill Jewell, who oversaw Hutchison day to day at FAST, Jewell was another enabler who fashioned himself as a whistleblower. He was quoted in the original Washington Post article in 2010 saying that he had looked into the "rumors" and addressed them with Sean.

Jewell would go on to be banned for three years from coaching by USA Swimming after a real whistleblower, Dia Rianda, actually held some feet to the fire.

As Craig Lord aptly put in a facebook comment underneath Schubert's latest distortion, there is some basic journalism that anyone that talks to Schubert should engage in. Spend 5 minutes googling Mark Schubert and Sean Hutchison and catch up on some of the above. Ask some follow up questions.

Mark Schubert is not a hero in this story. He is one of the villains.

USA Swimming

USA Swimming cannot be allowed to put out statements like the one they did for Kukors without strong pushback. 

Here's the worst part of that statement:

"During the USA Swimming investigation, both Ariana and Hutchison, as well as Ariana’s sister, Emily, unequivocally denied the existence of a romantic or sexual relationship"

USA Swimming loves to be cagey with revealing details about their "investigations", but here they are changing the rules and burning Kukors to defend themselves. 

Kukors own story provides so many questions USA Swimming needs to answer. Why did their investigation consist of one brief phone call to Kukors? Why were they in such a rush to consider this "case closed" and move on?

Why did they have to pay Mark Schubert $625,000 dollars for his silence if nothing happened?

Most importantly, where do they get off throwing a sexual abuse victim under the bus? How do they justify that their organization is somehow more important than the welfare of a human being? 

So again, my request goes out. Craig Lord, Swimswam, Deadspin, Scott Reid at the OC Register and anyone else that has shown a modicum of interest in this story. Hold their feet to the fire, keep asking questions, and don't let up until we get the answers we deserve.

 

Coaches Can Do Better for Athletes Like Kukors

Yesterday, the axe finally fell on Sean Hutchison. For the first time, publicly at least, Ariana Kukors spoke about how he groomed her for sexual abuse from a young age. 

I've been known to go after big organizations, like USA Swimming and ASCA, in this space. They certainly can do far better, and USA Swimming in particular is already out there blasting PR that they did everything they could.

I almost got whiplash from how quickly they announced (via their propaganda outlet, Swimming World Magazine) that Kukors had denied a sexual relationship in 2010. 

Lets set all that aside, and talk about us. And by us I mean coaches. Because we have a huge role to play in whether abusers get a free pass and athletes live in fear. It was that fear that kept Kukors silent for so long.

There was plenty of smoke when it came to Sean Hutchison for nearly a decade. The crumbling of the center he was running in Fullerton, the facile implication that some part of his relationship with Kukors went beyond coaching.

The coaching community could have held his feet to the fire. We could have demanded answers and transparency from him. Instead we let it go, and he got to re-brand himself as a swimming entrepreneur with Ikkos.

He also, in the past couple years, got to be a headliner at the School of Thought Clinic down at the University of Tennessee. 

A lot of discussion around this will center on the fact that "our hands were tied" without Kukors willing to publicly denounce Hutchison. That ignores the fact that we, as coaches, could have chosen a braver stance, that let a victim like Kukors know where our culture stood.

We did not need to continue to put Hutchison on a pedestal. We did not need to fawn over him and talk about what a genius coach he was.

I had the chance to meet Hutchison early in my coaching career. He didn't much like me (go figure). I might have had a chance had I respected my elders a bit more. It would be have been very advantageous to my own career advancement to try and buddy up to him.

At the same time, I was also too scared to put him on blast here. Hutchison used his considerable power to evade this moment for quite a long time, and that made him scary.

Hutchison is not the end, he's still the beginning. As coaches, we need to become less defensive, less scared, and hold each other to the fire a little more. We need to step up for athletes and let them know that we are willing to do what's right for them, even if it means going against powerful peers.

Why I'm Ditching the Word "Performance"

Over the weekend, I was talking to a teenage swimmer about optimism. Like most of us, pessimism came naturally to him. I asked him what kinds of thoughts went through his head after a bad race.

Five minutes later, I cut him off. I had lost count of the personal recriminations he had leveled against himself. 

As we walked through the ways he could train optimism, I had a revelation. Not once did I use the "p" word. You know what i'm talking about. Performance. 

Why should I? Swimming was the context in which I was helping this young man, but I did not really care whether it helped his swimming. It would be pleasant, of course, but far from the point. 

When I started this business with Positive Psychology at it's base, I included this word in a few descriptions of what I had to offer. Today I scrubbed them away. 

I had put it up there because I thought it was what people wanted. There are probably a lot who do. But it's not what I'm offering.

Better swimming times is a nice side effect. That's all it is. Competition comes really naturally to us, so of course we think about how we're doing, how it compares to other, and many of us try to improve. That's all fine and good.

Optimism is a real skill and worth working on, even if you never set foot in a pool ever again in your life. It might save your life, in more ways than one.

Relationships are the most important thing in life. Working on how to have better ones, with your friends, your teachers and coaches, and your own family, is therefore definitely worth some time. 

If you get a little faster in the 100 breaststroke as a result of that, great. 

I understand that we live in a world (especially as coaches) where we will be judged heavily on results. Club coaches are heavily accountable for how they do in their local area of LSC. College coaches get hounded by their athletic directors about their conference ranking.

In that environment, it can be easy to lose your mind. You can slowly become indoctrinated to focus more and more on results. Your mind will work on rationalizations for why you are sacrificing things that are, in reality, far more important. 

If performance is the most important thing to you, you'll find plenty of psychology "experts" out there with the word front and center. I'm sure they'll be happy to work with you. 

Want to join the conversation? Write me. 

If You Have to Ask: The Answer is No

Often, when I'm coaching swimmers, I think to myself: "I'm not sure what's going on here. I better figure it out". I have questions, and I want them answered. As a coach, it is good to lean into that curiosity. 

However, there are some questions that you really do not need to ask. There is such thing as a dumb question. Here, in no particular order, is a list of questions you don't need to ask. Why? Because the answer is obviously "no!"

1. Are you having fun? 

Do you like fun? I think most people do. What kinds of things do you do when you're having fun? Do you smile, or laugh? What is your body language like? 

I talked to someone yesterday who expressed a similar sentiment when it comes to engagement. If you have to ask people if they are "engaged", you are kind of missing the point. It's very obvious when people are enjoying themselves, and when they are not. 

As a coach, you don't have to make things "fun" all the time, and it's certainly part of the job to create things that are only really "fun" after they are accomplished. Still, you don't need to ask people if they are having fun. 

If people are obviously having fun, great news! If not, ask yourself, or others, what you might do to change that. 

2. Are you ok? (To someone who is crying)

I waded into this question like a complete dumbass many times early in my career, particularly with female athletes. Someone who is crying is experiencing some pretty intense emotions. This prompt is somehow deeply coded into my man brain because although I know it's not worth asking I still slip up from time to time.

Asking them if they're ok can seem like a sensitive approach, but more likely you will signal to an athlete that you are uncomfortable with their emotional response or don't really understand. 

I've found better luck with simple statements that let someone know that you see them in pain, and want to help. And then, often, shutting up and letting them talk without judgement.

3. Are you ready for this?

I am cringing writing this paragraph. During one ACC Championship, when I was an assistant coach, there was some debate among the coaches about who to place on the relay. Should we put the swimmer who had for the majority of the season been a clear choice, but was struggling at the meet, or another swimmer who was performing better than usual. It was a coin flip.

What we decided to do was ask the struggling swimmer if she thought she would do a good job on the relay. And it was a disaster. The swimmer, already doubting herself, now all of a sudden had to deal with her coaches signaling their doubt too. 

Even the most confident swimmers will have to confront some doubts in stressful situations. As a coach, you will be stressed too. It is not the athlete's job, however, to reassure you,. 

4. Do you want to swim a 12,000 IM (or something like that)?

If they aren't begging you to do a 12,000 IM...they definitely do not want to do it. Trust me on this one. 

5. Do you want MUFFINS???? Or medals???

NO! Just no.

 

 

All of These Things Can Be True

On Friday night I couldn't sleep. Earlier that day, I'd found out what would later become public on Swimswam. Janelle Atkinson, who I'd just had on my podcast a few weeks earlier, was fired by Stony Brook. An athlete of hers put her name to a long list of allegations against Atkinson.

Those accusations would later be corroborated by former athletes at Fairfield, where Atkinson coached prior to Stony Brook. And no, I'm not talking about the comment section- I spoke directly with Swimswam, who verified that Fairfield athletes had reached out to Swimswam after the article was published, and that there were other Stony Brook athletes backing up the story. 

Over the course of Friday and the weekend, I talked to various people off the record. People were mad, for sure, although a great deal of that anger was misplaced. When somebody you know and like gets accused of doing some terrible things, your reflexes tell you to fight it. "It can't be true this time" is an easier push for your mind than when it's some person who you've never met.

So while I and others sort out our confused feelings on this, remember that all of the following can be true, at the same time:

1. The probability that athletes "made up" these accusations is extremely slim: 

I'm sorry to even have to point this one out. Athletes have a lot to lose by speaking out against their coach. As someone who spoke out against my own coach when I swam in college, I know.

So let's please stop pushing back reflexively on athletes in these situations. 

2. Some of the accusations are not things you should be fired for

I have definitely told an athlete that they "pissed me off" before, and I have definitely at times ignored an athlete's question (most of the time inadvertently. 

Anger and frustration are normal parts of any job. But as coaches we need to remember that we have enormous power over athletes. When that anger and frustration inflicts real pain on athletes, we are abusing that power.

Furthermore, in every instance where I did the above, if I'm being honest I can think of a better, more positive way to coach. Athletes deserve that. 

Finally, even if some of the accusations within the range of normal coaching behavior, that does not invalidate other accusations. 

3. Women and minorities are more likely to be punished

It's not lost on me that Atkinson, was, as I described her, a "Unicorn". She was a single mom, a woman of color, coaching Division 1 swimming. 

It is very likely that were she a white guy with more "stature" in the swimming community, she would be more likely to not suffer consequences.

Just because other people are getting away with the actions described does not mean that Atkinson should be allowed to. If in fact this is a "coaching style", she learned from somewhere else, whoever taught it needs to go too.

4. Coaches experience other coaches differently than the athletes

Here is perhaps the hardest part to grapple with as coaches, and I'll own up to my end. I liked Janelle a lot. I talked to her on the phone and interviewed her. I found her to be honest and tough. 

But I did not swim for her. Even if I did, and I really liked her coaching, it would not invalidate the experience of athletes. As coaches we need to accept that as we change sports for the better and make it a safer environment for athletes, part of that will involve empowering the experience of athletes. Power is still way too imbalanced between the two.

We also need to understand that coaches who do bad things are often people we like. The very insidious nature of abusive behavior is that it is perpetrated on vulnerable people. My own coach would be sure to be extra nice to my teammates when he was at his worst to me. He knew that he could get away with it as long as I seemed like one crazy kid making wild accusations.

Coaches, if they just interact socially with other coaches, are not likely to be on the receiving end of harsh behavior, because they are operating on a similar plain of power to each other. 

This situation leaves me only more determined that we need to keep pushing to make sure athletes are heard and that coaches learn that many "tough coaching" techniques of the past simply aren't going to be accepted anymore. We need to be better as a community if we want a better sport. 

Coaches Need to Believe in Swimming's Reckoning

Right now, the leading story in Olympic sports is Gymnastics. Specifically, the actions of one team "doctor" Larry Nassar, who was allowed by many people with the power to stop him to molest hundreds of teenage girls.

Many are asking the right questions in this moment. How did we let this happen? How did so many people fail to protect these young athletes and enable such monstrous behavior?

Gymnastics is having a reckoning, with no end in sight. If anything, the pace of change only seems to be accelerating, with the stunning move to no longer have national team athletes train at Karolyi ranch.

I know a lot of people in swimming that think our "reckoning" is mostly over. What's closer to the truth is that it never happened. 

USA Gymnastics CEO Steven Penny had to resign in disgrace last March, and new CEO Kerry Perry is basically in constant damage control for the very existence of USA Gymnastics as an organization.

In swimming, Chuck Wielgus was able to assume a defensive posture, black out media except for the groveling Brent Rutemiller of Swimming World, and slowly start to implement "SafeSport" measures. He was able to retire with many people within USA Swimming considering him some kind of hero. 

New CEO Tim Hinchey has also been allowed to ignore USA Swimming's legacy altogether. In the near future I'll be asking him to come on a podcast to do a bit more than the current gestures toward SafeSport.

We can make all the rules we want. We can ban coaches, and make educational programs. None will address the true problem that our greater society is actually talking about and finally seeing a reckoning on. When "men" hold nearly all the power in anything, it will be abused, and anyone down the power food chain will suffer.

I've watched my "group", coaches remain mostly silent on this topic. We are the on the ground leaders of this sport, but we have failed to provide leadership. The major coaching organizations have shied away.

So I've decided that we need to organize as coaches to stand up for the most vulnerable people in our sport. I'm starting a group "Coaches Who Believe".

What does that mean? Instead of the status quo, (which is do nothing), we will trust people in our sport who come forward to say that they have been abused. We will work to verify those claims, instead of ignoring them or reflexively dismissing them. We will not leave the victims of abuse in our sport on an island, with only a handful of people to support them.

As for leadership of the organization, I hope that as soon as it gets some members I can cede that to someone else, preferably non-male. It's time to let somebody else run things for a while.

 

Kate Kovenock Is Bringing Brown Back From the Dead

A decade ago, Brown Swimming and Diving was in a dark place. In a league where you can practically set your watch to some order of finish between Harvard, Princeton and Yale, Brown was among the schools fighting to be "the best of the rest". Then, their pool, old and weird but 50m long, broke.

Brown tried to soften the recruiting blow it knew was coming by immediately announcing a new pool, but it would be years, spanning the career of entire classes, before that building materialized. 

But this blog is not about pool construction. It's about coaching. In 2014, Brown made a bold decision. They would split their men's and women's team. bucking a nationwide trending towards "combining" programs.

They hired Kate Kovenock, coming off a run as an assistant at Notre Dame that saw her take Emma Reaney, a 1:02 high school 100 breaststroker, to a 57.7. Oh, and she won Notre Dame's first women's NCAA title in the 200 breast.

Kovenock somehow remains underrated and undermentioned. But here's the short story: she was a top Division 3 swimmer. She kicked butt as an assistant coach at Kenyon. She tore it up at Notre Dame. When she came to Brown, the team had finished 6th in the conference the previous year and was non-competitive in relays.

The team would finish 6th again in her first year. But it was the most possible improvement you could possibly get and not make a move in the standings. All of a sudden, swimmers were having "Emma Reaney" like moments.

Kate Dillione, a 53 100 yard freestyle who had swum nicely at Brown, found an extra gear for her senior year and recorded a 49.68. The women's 400 freestyle relay leapt up to title contention with a second place finish. 

By her second season, Kovenock's team started to climb the standings, finishing 5th. Ally Donahue, a 2:21 high school breaststroker, was winning an Ivy title in 2:12. By 2016-2017, only a league record from ascendent Yale could stop Brown's 200 Medley relay from coming out on top.

I got inspired to write this because this past weekend, Harvard eeked out a victory over Brown in a double-dual, 166-134. Brown had to absorb the punishment of Harvard going 1-2-3 on both diving boards. I guarantee you the trend line of this dual meet, which as of last year was not close, does not comfort anyone in Cambridge.

Making a swimming powerhouse at Brown University is no easy task, but Kovenock seems up to the task. She's proving right now that she's one of the best young college coaches in the entire country by making Brown an exciting place to follow again. 

Remember That Tom Brady Used To Be Lazy

I only loosely follow the American football, but I am told that Tom Brady of the New England Patriots is one of the best football throwing men, if not the best in history. I've also heard that Bill Belichick is one of the most successful former Division III Lacrosse players at coaching American football. 

Now 40 and still playing at a high level, Brady's work ethic has only grown more legendary by the year. Perhaps you've heard about it, and there's a lot to be learned from what he has accomplished. As long as you don't follow the part that says proper hydration will save you from sunburns, which is about on the same level as some of the more byzantine swimming "training" methods. But I digress. 

Brady's legend grew out of the fact that in a certain point of time, many wise football men did not think that he would be one of the best ball throwers. To me, that is the interesting part of the story, when I think about what we do as coaches.

Why did so many people miss that Tom Brady was going to be great? Because he wasn't, yet. He came to the NFL Draft combine in 2000 and completely bombed, particularly in terms of his physical fitness. Tom Brady was not working (that) hard in 2000.

He was 22 going on 23 before he started to figure out what he needed to do to reach his ultimate potential. His lack of drive at that age meant that he nearly missed out on even playing professionally at all. 

I think about this while I'm watching a high school freshmen loaf his way up and down a pool, legs immobile as if he's got an imaginary rope binding his ankles. I remind myself when he stops short of the wall to make a joke to his friend. Does it make me angry? Of course it does.

So let's remain optimistic. We ought to be hopeful that people can figure it out, and that many of them will need abundant chances to do so. 

I remember being a teenager. I did not walk uphill both ways, in the snow. I did a lot of boneheaded things and wasted my potential and acted like a jerk when any well-meaning adult tried to talk to me about it. 

Somewhere out there, some part of Lloyd Carr is probably pissed that Tom Brady didn't figure out how to be TOM BRADY a little sooner. That's just how it goes sometimes. 

 

 

 

Three Things I was Dead Wrong About in 2017

A lot of people are putting up posts right now, collecting their best content of 2017. That sounded too boring and lazy to me, so instead here's what I'm going with. This blog has always been a space where I've been outspoken, and will continue to be that in 2018.

Despite some of my more controversial takes, I do try to not open my mouth about something unless I feel really confident in what I know. That's why you won't find me putting up articles about dryland, injury prevention or physics. I know a little about those topics (well, maybe not physics) I know I wouldn't want to read a blog written by somebody who just fires off about whatever.

Still, despite being somewhat careful in the topics I choose and what I know about them, I still miss the mark some time. So here's a post for everybody that has gotten furious about at least on the three posts I am about to feature. I'm sorry- I was wrong.

1. Expect Weirdness in Budapest

I had a pretty good 2016 predicting some big things in swimming. That gave me a little confidence to keep it going in 2017. But this post, predicting what would happen at the Budapest World Championship, had some big whiffs. To whit:

2. Virginia Should Hire Stefanie Moreno

I may be stretching the definition of "dead wrong" here, but bear with me. When revisiting this article, I feel two things are equally true:

  • Virginia made a good decision to hire Todd DeSorbo, who immediately put together a strong coaching staff and the early results on UVA are really positive. You can't really argue with the decision they made, plucking the top assistant from a top ten program within the same conference. 
  • There are other schools that will not be mentioned that totally blew it by not hiring Moreno. I have heard from several sources that she was turned down for several jobs where the person hired just doesn't have a resume that stacks up to Moreno. That's wrong and a blown opportunity for those schools. 

3. Announcing the Under One Project

A year and one day ago, I announced my personal quest to break a minute in the 100 breaststroke. I have not written about that quest for over seven months.

The reason is simple. My own vanity and my desire to protect it hasn't left me very motivated to tell you that I had weeks at a time where I didn't train or just barely sustained swimming.

That after getting down to a svelte 176 lbs for my last competition in March, I have hovered between 195-200 lbs this fall and winter. I can't fit into half the pants I wore last winter, and I'm embarrassed. 

But I should have, Because I learned in 2017 probably the biggest lesson of my life, and I still only learned it a little bit, if that makes sense. I learned a lot about the power of failure. I learned the emotional power of admitting that you need some help, and how that makes you stronger, not weaker. 

Starting my own business meant more failure in one year than I have experienced in all of my years of swimming, school and coaching combined. That's been hard, but I'm so grateful for the growth. 

A lot of us are making resolutions for the new year. My project was basically a resolution, and it fell apart by around May. It's fair to say I have failed, but also fair to say that five months moving towards something is infinitely better than nothing. And it's not over until I say it's over.

Happy 2018.

 

Your 2018 Guide To Hating On Michael Andrew

The new year approaches, and with it brings promise. There is the opportunity of a new day, a time for reflection and change.

For people that love to hate on Michael Andrew, 2018 is a really important year. While hating on Michael Andrew has gained in popularity ever since around 2012, there's something special about next year.

You see, this next year Michael Andrew will turn 19, and therefore no longer be a "junior" or "age group" swimmer. That offers some really exciting new avenues for anonymous internet persons to criticize, complain or otherwise minimize the accomplishments of a very fast swimmer.

There is an art to this. Much like Blaming Teri McKeever for Everything, the key to hating on Michael Andrew is to first find your particular soapbox issue, and then find a way, no matter how distant, to connect that issue to Michael Andrew. In that way, Andrew becomes the perfect vessel for whatever you want to complain about in swimming at the moment. 

So without further ado, your guide to hating on Michael Andrew:

1. He Doesn't Even Swim Long Races.

Key Talking Points: Tom Jager made his first national cut in the mile! Matt Biondi swam a lot of yards! Michael Phelps focused on longer races before going to shorter ones! ERIK VENDT SWAM 1000x1000 WITH A PARACHUTE ATTACHED TO HIS BACK

Make sure you ignore: That Andrew decided to swim the 400 IM this year again, making a US Open cut in the event. Oh yeah and he's pretty good at short races. 

2. Race pace training is ruining America

Key Talking Points: A wise old swimming man once told me "Work works, do 100x100". When I asked him why he said "GRIT GROWTH MINDSET and because I said so, also work works". I had to take him on this because of his excellent use of buzz words and lack of scientific evidence. Michael Andrew is not following the wisdom of wise old swimming men.

Make sure you ignore: Science

3. Sometimes, MIchael Andrew Swims Not Fast

Key Talking Points: Look at Golden Boy Michael Andrew, he did not swim fast in a swimming race. I always knew he was not a real golden boy like Michael Phelps who never swam bad. His whole life is a failure because of how he swam bad.

Make sure you ignore: All the times he swims really, really fast. 

4. If Michael Andrew is so good, why doesn't he win all the time?

Key Talking Points: Oh man, did you guys see the World Cup where Michael Andrew lost the 100 IM? What a loser. How could he not even win? How dare he call himself a pro when he cannot even win a stupid World Cup 100 IM.

Make sure you ignore: Andrew set a world junior record in the race, swam the same time at 18 that Michael Phelps did at age 26, and lost out to the World Record performance in the event by an elite SCM sprinter in the prime of his career who was implicated in doping prior to the Rio Olympics.

5. Zane Grothe swam lots of meteryards and got faster

Key Talking Points: Wait, why are we talking about Zane Grothe? Oh, because he made a casual reference to increasing his "volume" and then broke some American SCY distance records. Hmmm, maybe I should be listening more to wise old swimming men. "Volume" is good and race pace training is destroying the fabric of American values. Michael Andrew likes race pace

Make sure you ignore: Any information from Indiana University coaches about how Zane Grothe trains. Any information about how Zane Grothe trained prior to coming to Indiana University. Above all else, please ignore Mike Westphal. He is not doing anything special, coaching wise.

Let's get back on topic

6. He's Not Swimming in the NCAA and Therefore Will Be A Failure in Life

Key Talking Points: This would be the year that Andrew would have begun college swimming had he not declared himself professional at age 14. Had Andrew not declared pro, he undoubtedly would have been the most prized recruit in his class and gotten a full scholarship wherever.

Except Stanford. It's REALLY HARD TO GET into Stanford.

Hey, Cal is a really good school too!

Stop being elitist, the Honors Program at Aub..

FOCUS GUYS!

Make sure you ignore: That he can still go to college. That Michael Phelps took a long time to finish college. That Missy Franklin threw away some of what would probably be here most lucrative professional swimming years and now her career is probably over. Now I'm sad.

If you have read this far, and skipped the tags and categories for this post, please give them another look before losing your mind. 

 

Does USA Swimming Want Big Clubs?

Yesterday, USA Swimming announced its Club Excellence Results for 2018. Nations Capital Swim Club led the rankings for fourth consecutive year. 

There are a lot of critics of the rankings. The biggest criticism by far? That the rankings favor not just large clubs, but the biggest of the big. 

I've never coached a true USA Swimming club, and my livelihood doesn't depend on these rankings. But I know a lot of people that do. So I want to examine the purpose that USA Swimming sees behind ranking clubs in this way, and whether the criticisms are fair.

Ranking is Good

First off, let me acknowledge one obvious but probably understated fact. Ranking clubs is the right thing to do for a national governing body like USA Swimming.

I coached club swimming outside of the US in Denmark, and one of my primary frustration was that we didn't even have scored meets. Medal count (1st,2nd and 3rd) was the primary marker for deciding on how clubs stacked up.

Because of this, clubs were motivated to produce "medalists", and in my opinion, less than focused on helping swimmers who were not potential medal winners on the national level.

That medal focus meant a lot of squandered opportunity for Danish swim clubs. What is important in the US context to recognize is that if USA Swimming did nothing to rank clubs, there would still be some ad hoc way that clubs measured themselves against each other, and it would probably be worse (like medal count). So credit to USA Swimming for stepping into the void.

What Do We Want?

USA Swimming has some stated goals for the program. Let's take them one by one:

"Promote the development of strong, well-rounded age group..." Pretty simple, they want to avoid teams focusing on a small number of swimmers. However, the rankings do not account for age whatsoever. The assumption made by USA Swimming is that producing the high level results necessary for scoring in the program is a byproduct of "well rounded age group" training.

"and senior swimming programs that produce elite 18 & under athletes." They also want senior swimming and "elite" junior swimmers. The standards used for scoring are designed for these athletes, with the "gold times" specifically set to international world rankings from the previous year. 

"Provide recognition and resources to motivate and assist member clubs to strive for the highest ideals of athlete performance". They believe these rankings will promote the two above goals.

So Tell Me How It Works Again...

If you're confused, so was I the first 100 times I tried to understand this program. Let me try and give one case of how NCAP got such a high ranking this past year.

The "points" scored are "FINA Points". FINA points are built on a scale where 1000 is equal to a world record swim. So for example, in the 200 Butterfly, a 1000 point swim is 1:51.51, the same as Michael Phelps world record. 

Confusingly, USA Swimming has its own, similar, "power points" system that is not FINA points, which you can find when you do a time search for a swimmer. 

Anyway, one of the biggest reasons NCAP got a high ranking was Sam Pomajevich. The University of Texas freshmen swam a 1:57.62 in the 200 fly this past summer. That swim gave him 852 FINA points.

Because that time also achieved the club excellence "gold" ranking, that total was doubled, meaning Pomajevich scored 1704 points (NCAP's total was 91,597) with just one swim. A swimmer at Pomajevich's level alone can account for tens of thousands of points in this scoring system.

What Does It All Mean?

It's hard to think of a system that doesn't reward club size. Having a large club with large membership, by sheer probability, increases the likelihood of both there being a swimmer like Pomajevich and a lot of swimmers at the senior level who can achieve these time standards. If the rankings were changed to account for "depth", larger swim clubs would likely have an even bigger advantage.

These rankings ought to have more thought, however. Large clubs are definitely a more successful business model, and consolidation is happening because of that. But USA Swimming doesn't need to provide an additional boost of marketing to this end.

Large club size is not how American swimming dominates internationally, in fact it is the inverse. We are dominant because we have many places where excellence can grow, not increasingly fewer, coupled with a huge population base.

Small countries that punch above their weight (Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands) do so because they create an astounding amount of opportunity for both athletes and coaches despite their small population base.

China flounders for its population base because despite a huge investment in outside coaching and chemicals because you have to be elite of the elite to get access to top notch coaching, and there appear to be almost no development or opportunity for domestically born coaches within their system.

Likewise, Russia would probably have some incredible clubs in this ranking system. Their focus on producing "elite" juniors with similar tactics to the Chinese has payed off at the European Junior level. But they are pathetic on the international senior stage, and again must rely heavily on coaches outside of their system to take swimmers to a top international level.

All food for thought as we ponder another year of "club excellence". Do we want big clubs? I say no, and it's up to us to put pressure on USA Swimming to come up with something better.

 

 

 

Should We Amputate the Olympics?

Last week, the extremely confusing news that Russia would be banned (kind of, sort of, ok maybe not really banned but we're going to put it in the headlines as banned) from the Winter Olympics broke.

There were a lot of people applauding the decision, including me. Like many of those people, I saw the excellent documentary Icarus . Included in that documentary was a man from the inside of the Russian system telling a lot of us what we already knew: that Russia had state sponsored doping.

I'll admit, I haven't always been with the anti-doping crusaders. I've mocked John Leonard, Craig Lord and others for what I saw as their hysterical takes on doping, specifically as it affects the sport we care about most, swimming.

I'm having Craig Lord on a podcast later this week to discuss this very ban (and hopefully many other things) and what it means.

But for now, I'm left with an incredibly unsettling feeling. Rather than feel comforted by the news out of the IOC, I'm wondering if the Olympics, and how strongly swimming is tied to it, are a recipe for disaster.

It's crazy to say that swimming doesn't need the Olympics. The sport swells to its highest crescendo every four years on the backs of those rings. But there are some serious cracks in the Olympic foundation. 

For one, the IOC and other governing bodies (our lovely FINA, for instance) haven't stood up well against a modern internet age level of scrutiny. So it's hard to credit the IOC for making such an obvious decision. How much more evidence did they need?

I think it's a legitimate question whether swimming should continue to pin its survival to an event organized by crooked plutocrats every four years. With swimmers trying to formalize professional competitive swimming, should we move to abandon ship as a sport before the decision is made for us?

What would we do if suddenly there was no Olympics every four years.? How would we fill that gaping hole? The Winter Olympics is starting to look like a doubtful exercise. How far behind will the summer rendition be?

Would that even work, or given that the corruptive rot extends to FINA as well as NOCs (National Organizing Committees), where do we start running into an organization worth saving in the sport of swimming? 

It's scary to imagine a world without the current organizations that we have, and recreating a lot of the events we love to watch and compete in would not be easy. But we also need to consider whether we've tolerated too many lies in exchange for "nice" swim meets.