I first discovered Irvin Muchnick six or so years ago. I think it may have been in a Swimswam comment. On first read, Muchnick's words can hit you like a two by four across the face. Especially in the world of swimming, to say his approach and willingness to take on powerful figures is uncommon would be a vast understatement.
Later today I will be recording a podcast with Nancy Hogshead Makar. It's a conversation I've been wanting to have for a long time. Because the podcast with Nancy comes at such a crucial time, I'm treating it a bit different than a typical podcast.
For one, I'm doing way more homework than usual. Hogshead Makar is probably best known currently for her fight to get the Safe Sport Act through congress. But that is just one angle that she's used to chip away at the maltreatment of athletes in sport. Her personal story is deeply moving and important to understanding what she stands for.
In swimming circles, Hogshead Makar spearheaded an effort to prevent the International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF) from inducting Chuck Wielgus in 2014. She was successful in that effort, which only looks better and better the more that we know about Wielgus' reign at USA Swimming.
Although Wielgus was kept out, there are still a lot of ignominious names in both the ISHOF and the ASCA Hall of Fame. I plan to ask Nancy about these. Specifically, what I continue to here from ASCA loyalists is that it would be a violation of rights or due process to keep people like Paul Bergen in the Hall of Fame.
I'm not a lawyer, but as far as I know there isn't any law that gives you a right to stay in a Hall of Fame. Here's a list of honorees from one or both halls with serious questions surrounding them:
- Paul Bergen CORRECTION: I made a mistake in asserting Bergen was in the ASCA Hall of Fame. He is only in the ISHOF
- Jack Nelson (both)
- Murray Stephens (ASCA)
- Don Easterling (ASCA) . Not often mentioned, the NC State coach was found liable in 1990 by the State Industrial Commission in the death of one of his swimmers.
But Hogshead Makar is about a lot more than just Halls of Fame and legislation. She has fought this problem from all angles, and I'm eager to here about them and share that knowledge with listeners. I have heard from many that are eager to find out how they can make their own corner of the swimming world go above and beyond USA Swimming's "efforts".
Finally, we will discuss the departure of Susan Woessner and Pat Hogan from USA Swimming, and what possible changes may be yet to come in Colorado Springs. This is an ongoing story with Scott Blackmun resigning from the USOC yesterday. All in all, I expect a packed conversation.
Dear Members of the USA Swimming Board,
The time for secrets is over. In the past days and weeks, greater and greater media attention has come to our sport, as journalists have begun to peel away at the veil of secrecy that has existed in USA Swimming and the USOC at the highest level.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Yesterday I had a bit of fun on facebook, posting a tongue in cheek status about pushing my three year old's racing speed. The jokes that followed often reflected real-life complaints and frustrations that coaches often have.
One of them was the fact that coaches are sometimes faced with swimmers on their team going outside for help with their swimming. There's a mistrust of private coaching. I understand why.
But I am that private coach. A good share of my business involves coaching swimmers who are on a team they otherwise train with. I don't think I'm worthy of that mistrust, but if we're going to get anywhere, I have to understand where the mistrust is coming from. So here are three complaints I often hear about private coaches and what I'm doing to answer them:
1. "Private coaches contradict what I am trying to teach and confuse the swimmer"
This is a huge potential pitfall when multiple voices start giving input to a swimmer. One of the things that I stress before any swimmer I work with takes a stroke in the water is that I will not contradict their primary coach.
I ask them to be honest with me when they think I am, and bring that conflict to me. In almost all cases where the swimmers sees disharmony, there is in fact a lot of harmony between the advice I am giving and what their coach is saying. I ask the swimmer not to focus as much on the details but the concept.
2. Private coaches are charging a lot of money for something I do every day for far less
Many coaches feel a natural pride about what they are doing. They bust their butt in practice, working with big groups of swimmers is a very challenging teaching environment, often for very little in compensation.
I know two things as a private coach: the first is that I will go out of business very quickly if the coaching I deliver is not worth the money it costs. The second is that I have a mission to convince people the value of good coaching- and if I can do that in a broader sense I will make life better for a lot of coaches out there.
3. Private coaches don't make a big difference
This one kind of goes hand in hand with the above. Many coaches rightly argue that a lot of private coaching is not making much of a difference. They already provide a lot to the swimmer in question.
Here are some situations I consciously avoid even though there is quite some hay to be made in these areas:
1. Rich parents who just want to throw money at making their child better
2. Adults who want a "quick fix" in their training
3. People without an honest motivation to get more than what they receive in some other situation right now.
The last one is where I see the biggest opportunities for private coaching. I've found the most success working with swimmers who are not near the best on their team, often on a team that cannot provide enough practice or coaching for optimal development.
When I get the chance to talk to primary coaches, I tell them this "I'm here to make you look good". Which is the truth, because I'm unlikely to get credit for a great performance by one of these swimmers, unless I somehow boast the word out myself.
Having been on the other side of the fence as a college, club and now high school coach, I see opportunities for more coaches to get involved with helping more swimmers.
Are you interested in private coaching to build on what you're already doing? Contact me.
Gratitude is not necessarily the first trait people grab for when describing a great coach. Imagine saying "She's the best coach- she's so incredibly grateful". Sounds weird right? Well, I'm going to make a case for how building gratitude more intentionally into your coaching can really help. Then I'll talk about some really easy ways to start doing that.
Gratitude is (hopefully) something we all practice every day. We say thank you to someone who holds the door. Maybe we tell a loved one how much it means to have them in our life. We are not inherently grateful or ungrateful, we are the sum of the gratitude we put out into the world day to day.
When you practice gratitude, you create virtuous circles, the opposite of a vicious cycle. You send gratitude out into the world and good things come back to you. This exchange of gratitude will put you in a more positive emotional state. Being in a positive emotional state has a host of benefits: it helps your relationships, and you are more ready to learn. Simply put, it can make you a lot better at everything you do.
So how do you cultivate gratitude beyond your daily routine of thank you and please? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Replacing "I'm sorry" with "thank you for...":
For this one I have to credit my colleague Sherri Fisher, who patiently taught me to do this in the last year. There are so many little situations where we end up apologizing where gratitude can fill the space better.
Imagine you are late to a meeting. You burst in the door.
"i'M SO SORRY I'M LATE"
How do you think other people in the meeting feel in that moment? Some of them are probably annoyed. Even though you apologized unconditionally, the statement is still all about you. Try this instead:
"Thank you for your patience in waiting for me"
Now you've shown gratitude to other people, and acknowledged something positive in them instead of making it about you. There are still situations where an apology works best, but gratitude can fill a lot of gaps.
2. Tell people what you like about them
Here's a simple mission: when you show up to the pool today, give a simple appreciation to each person you interact with.
I know the first thing I learned as a coach was to diagnose problems. I could see what was wrong, and what needed improving. On the flip side, I tended to take for granted what was right and what people were already doing well.
But it's hard to have a self-awareness of what you are doing well. Many people, especially younger people, can easily doubt and find fault in themselves. Telling them something you like about them can help them to learn what they are good at.
3. Insert gratitude into tense situations
Do you ever get stressed it starts snowballing? Use gratitude to reverse course. I've been alone with my three year old daughter for a couple weeks while my wife travels, and it's stressful. I try to be a good parent and not let it get to me, but the stress builds.
Last night, my little girl was testing my limits about going to sleep. I was highly annoyed, which wasn't helping. Instead of yelling, I tried gratitude. I looked her in the eye and told her a simple truth:
"I love every day we get to spend together".
A tear welled up in my eye, and all of a sudden I didn't feel so stressed. Neither did she- she looked at me wordlessly and gave me a hug. Five minutes later her eyes were closed.
Want to learn more about how to put Positive Psychology into practice on your team? Write me.
Because it's fun.
I guess i could stop there. Not much more to say than that about one of the best, purest forms of our sport that is somehow mostly relegated to the fringes of what we consider "serious" swimming.
It's been almost a year since I moved back to the United States and started my own business doing private swim coaching and mental performance training along with some college recruiting consulting. Through that time I've made a ton of progress developing my business and my life.
I started working out every day. I walk my daughter too and from school and we spend hours together every weekday. My family has something social going on most weekends.
While that all sounds great, I did find something missing from my old life grinding up and down the side of a pool deck. I missed the tactile feel of day to day coaching. I missed the simple rhythm of showing up to a pool, getting into a coaching flow and having two hours slip by in what seems like a matter of minutes.
So, to compliment what I was doing I went in search of a job. I didn't need a job, but I wanted one. One where I could get that swimming fix without having to give up a lot of what I'd worked so hard for.
I tried my old familiar friend college swimming, my old familiar enemy club swimming. Nothing fit. Every time I got close I found myself compromising too much of the life I'd built.
So I went back to my roots. When I graduated from college, I thought that I would have to teach to support my swimming habit. I taught at a boarding school in Western Pennsylvania, the Kiski School, and coached the swim team. I also coached soccer despite never playing in my life, but that's for another blog.
I'm going back to coach high school swimming at a boys school here in North Jersey. I found a place that shared a lot of values with me. I'm coming back to a part of swimming where the competitions are actually fun without any gimmicks.
I'm excited to see how it goes.
If there is one criticism swimming nerds must take to heart it's this: our sport can be boring. One thing that often gets lost in the conversation is that swimming has fairly predictable results. This is why we have had dominant swimmers over the ages who rack up big medal totals.
This is also why many the most memorable races are the ones with unexpected results. Unpredictability is at the heart of many widely watched live sports- people feel compelled to watch because they simply can't predict what will happen.
Which brings us to some recent results. Yesterday, everyone's favorite name to say Ranomi Kromowidjojo blistered to a 22.9 in the 50 free SCM, beating the sizzling hot Sarah Sjöström at the Berlin World Cup. Witness below:
Sjöström came off a World Championships where she swam to a world record in the 50 and 100 freestyle and performed her usual 50/100 Butterfly domination. What's fun about this is that Sjöström is swimming phenomenal- but on a given day Kromowidjojo can reach even higher and take a victory.
As good as Sjöström is, Kromowidjojo is perhaps the world's best technician on the start, and even in losing in Budapest she had a significant advantage in the early going. Sjöström's raw speed advantage was blunted a bit by the short course format.
Likewise, Simone Manuel was lying in wait at the World Championships for Sjöström in the 100 freestyle. Sjöström was just a bit off, and Manuel seized the opportunity to snatch another gold.
Like the Pellegrini win over Ledecky at the meet, these kind of results point to an ever more competitive world stage for swimming, and that means a more entertaining product.
I'm not suggesting that it's not fun to watch envelopes pushed to the extreme that one swimmer is dominant for a period. As a swim nerd I love to watch Adam Peaty- but his races have come to take on an air of inevitability. I'm looking forward to him having a significant challenger.
In any case, this is fun, let's hope the competitive level keeps building and we can go into Tokyo with less certain winners than ever.
I don't pretend to know David Marsh very well. I've met him a couple of times. But it appears there are many people out there who also don't know David Marsh very well weighing in with rumors about what he might do. A lot of those people were shocked to hear that he would take over as Head Coach of UC San Diego.
Marsh, who's coaching resume means that he has had his name floated for every "extra super high profile" coaching opening for what seems like over a decade, is probably not what a lot of people expected to take over a program transitioning from Division 2 to Division 1 swimming.
But Marsh to UC San Diego makes a ton of sense, and speaks to the changes in the landscape since Marsh left college coaching to incubate a pro group in Charlotte, North Carolina. Let's tick off some obvious reasons why this move makes sense
1. San Diego is by all accounts a lovely place to live. Beautiful weather year round. One of the trickiest aspects of building professional swimming is making places to have professional swimming attractive to adult athletes, while balancing that areas that are attractive to people in their 20s and 30s are often expensive.
But my guess is that San Diego will be a much better draw for professional swimming talent than Charlotte was, even if it appears that Charlotte will continue to have professional swimmers.
2. The Bob Bowman affect. There are only a few truly creative people in charge of hiring swim coaches in the college system. One such person is Ray Anderson of ASU, who went for broke to get Bob Bowman to cross the country and take over a struggling team. Bowman's instant success has essentially provided a model for what Marsh will be doing in San Diego.
3. UC San Diego will see a talent boom in coaching. Likewise, San Diego will be an attractive destination for coaches, and now doubly attractive with David Marsh running the show. As I once said in a video, being a head coach of a combined program is far more about managerial skill than coaching skill.
David Marsh is perhaps swimming's top manager. He has figured out how to scale his own coaching ability by finding great coaches to work for him and putting them in positions to be really successful. A great example from the very successful Charlotte training group was that he had Bob Groseth, a vastly overqualified assistant coach, roaming the pool deck with him.
You can expect UC San Diego to be an even better platform for Marsh to put coaches in strong positions to be successful and find a way to create positively imbalanced situations like Groseth's.
It will be exciting to see what happens in the next few years in NCAA Division 1 Swimming, as there are for the first time in my memory five or more teams who are honestly pulling out all the stops to win a NCAA Championship.
Want creative ideas on hiring to make your team better? Write me!
It's amazing that in 2017 people still believe in aerobic base. Although, I guess when you compare this to people believing the earth is flat, the belief that you can magically hold on to a training effect for months or even years of de-training sounds fairly innocent.
Witness this interview from the most likable person in swimming, Elizabeth Beisel:
Beisel returned from months away and can still swim a pretty slick 400 IM. She credits the "base" of her training from years of high volume work with both Chuck Batchelor of Attleboro Bluefish and Gregg Troy at Florida for her continued ability to put up solid times in an endurance event.
All credit due to both men, who coached Beisel to a long stretch of outstanding, world class swimming. I have never met Troy, but I have met Chuck Batchelor. He is a wonderful guy who has done a lot to raise the standard of what was quite a depressing LSC prior to his arrival.
But Beisel's claims are very tame when it comes to some of the whoppers I've heard about aerobic base. I've heard at various times over the years how a strong "base" was key to Tom Jager's 50 freestyle performances in the 1980s, or basically any older swimmer that hardly trains and can still reproduce best times or near best times.
When I myself produced a best time in a 100 training three times a week and roughly 1000 yards a practice (at age 27), many people told me it must be due to my "base" even though it had been five years since I had done anything that was then considered "aerobic" training in swimming
To me, these performances say far more about how far we have yet to get with the sophistication of swim training systems. The fact that there is such a relatively small dip in performance from an athlete like Beisel, or any number of post-collegiate athletes after months of de-training indicates to me that the training is not making as big of a difference as we would like.
I don't believe in magic, and I don't believe in training adaptations that last forever. As far as we've come in swimming, there is an incredible level of performance waiting for us in the future if we embrace how primitive the methods we have for improving swimmers are right now.
Do you want to try and swim faster, practicing less time than you do now? Write me
Over the weekend, the news came out from back in Denmark. Sigma, the perennial "best" or almost best club in the country, was breaking up into two. Why? Well, put simply, because the (parent) boards of both teams simply couldn't get along.
In America, the conventional wisdom is that coach run/owned teams are a better competitive model than board run teams. It's true that many coaches prefer this model, especially because of the volatile nature of board run clubs. The situation is much the same in Denmark, where not one of the major Copenhagen area clubs has the same head coach that they had when I moved there a little over four years ago.
But coach run teams have their own problems too. I'm personally uncomfortable with the lack of oversight that many coach run programs exhibit. Coaches need checks and balances just like anyone else, and they need productive ones.
Enter the board. Here's the problem with almost any board I've ever heard of in swimming: It is made up mostly of parents of swimmers on the team. The inherent conflict of interest is the root of most problems on teams with boards. It's an impossible expectation to put on parents to set aside the interest of their own child or children when serving as a volunteer leader for a team.
I feel for the parents who serve on team boards. Their hearts are in the right place, and often times they are filling a role that no one else will even step up and do.
So who should serve on the board? There is actually a more important question to answer first. How do we get people other than parents interested in serving on the boards of club swimming teams? I don't pretend to have all the answers to how to do so.
A good start would mean identifying people with strengths outside of the the typical "parent" group who would be able to contribute something to the board. They could be local business people, former athletes, educators. Then ask them some questions: what would it take to get them interested in serving on the board? What would they value in return for contributing to running a team?
I can promise this: the process alone of attracting new talent outside of parents to team boards would give you a huge competitive advantage.
Want to learn more about how to structure your team? Write me
Let me preface everything I'm about to say with this: I do not know Ray Looze. My impression of him is mainly formed from pool deck gossip and fifteen or so years of following the Indiana University Swimming and Diving team from afar.
I started nerding out about Indiana in the early 2000s, when a star of my local club scene went to swim there. It was an eye opener for me. I felt like a real country bumpkin watching our local hero miss the conference team and compete in a last chance meet instead. Furthermore, I recall them having a guy (named Murph Halasz, I think) who went 1:46 in the 200 fly, and that was not fast enough to qualify for NCAAs.
I couldn't believe it. It was my first introduction into how crazy fast NCAA swimming is and was. In the subsequent years, Indiana remained a fascinating program for me. I remember how impossibly fast Colin Russell seemed, and then the drama that ensued when Colin Russell got ushered out of NCAA swimming.
The Russell saga established Looze' reputation as someone who pushed the boundaries. Indiana remained an always solid national presence, often derided by other coaches for exceptional recruiting classes and somewhat less exceptional results.
As I wrote about earlier, all of that changed when Looze shocked the college swimming world by managing to recruit former heated rival Dennis Dale over to his staff a few years ago. Now he's made two stunning pickups.
The first was Coley Stickels, the man who, in my humble opinion, has the most creative workouts in the country. Stickels has cut a swath through various club coaching jobs over the last decade, and success has always followed. Although, Stickels has a reputation for being even more of a loose cannon than Looze. That's where the mad scientist part comes in.
He followed that dagger by pulling in Mark Hill, formerly of Michigan and currently at Old Dominion Aquatic Club (and his own business Flow Swimming). Hill played an instrumental role in Michigan's 2013 National Title, and has spent the last year disrupting the swim clinic game. Hill will also help IU's already strong recruiting with his impossible-to-not-likeability.
While NC State is everyone's favorite ascendent team right now, Indiana is now staking their claim. They've built a coaching staff that can put them in contention for a National title very soon, even if Eddie Reese doesn't retire.
Want advice on how to put your coaching staff together for a competitive advantage? Looking for a college job and want someone to give you an edge? Write me.
I swim by myself*. That's not very remarkable. After all, plenty of people show up to the pool, put their heads down and plod back and forth on the black line. Many of them are not competitive swimmers, they are the "recreational" swimmers that drive many "competitors" to practices. Also, swimming with other people can be fun and motivating.
For many people though, doing workouts on your own can make or break whether you continue to compete. Better yet, there are a lot of reasons why swimming on your own can be even better than being on a team. Let's talk about them:
1. You do a workout just for you- Every time you add another variable to a given workout (another person), it becomes more and more challenging to fit that workout to the swimmers to it.
2. You swim on your own time- I've heard rumor that people are busy these days. Sometimes even the most well made schedule of practices can mean that you sacrifice going to the pool because it just doesn't fit. When you swim by yourself, you swim on your own time when it works for you.
3. You are an introvert- For introverts, the socialization at large group team practices can really be draining and distracting from the energy you need to workout. Especially if you use training to "recharge" from other activities, a solo swim can be an incredible time to not have to talk to other people.
4. Swimming by yourself is infinitely better than not swimming- If there is any other immovable object stopping you from swimming by yourself, get in the pool alone. A lot of people who want to swim consistently don't because they beat themselves up over a 30 minute swim by themselves not being "good enough". Hogwash.
Today I started my day by going to my local pool for a swim. It was refreshing for both my mind and body, and I left with a feeling of accomplishment. Another day at the pool is a good day.
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Sports announcing is something people love to hate. All the major American sports have announcers, and while we love to pick on their mistakes, they add a lot of value to a sporting event.
In swimming, the most famous announcers are two men: Rowdy Gaines and Sam Kendricks. Gaines is the color commentator on all major international competitions, as well as the NCAA championships (for broadcasts). Kendricks is lesser known outside of swimming but legendary within it for memorizing names, pronunciations and his relentless energy.
Gaines gets a lot of crap (undeserved) for the way he talks about Olympic races. He's doing what he's asked to do, which is to make swimming appeal to an audience that is possibly turning into the first swim meet they have ever seen.
(Confession: I met Rowdy Gaines in person once and if you have the same chance you will be so overwhelmed by what a nice man he is you will struggle to ever say a critical word about him the rest of your life).
All of this is beside the point. Rather than criticizing Gaines, or Kendricks, lets focus on the hundreds, nay thousands, of swim meets that drone on without any announcing to help. Here are several ways good announcing can help your swim meet:
1. CONTEXT! You know what's exciting? Two swimmers trying to break 6:00 min for the first time in the 500. Many of the swimmers and parents and anybody else that may have wandered by a swim meet will not know this? An announcers job is to get you involved from the first stroke- tell the story of what's happening in the water.
I used to find soccer horribly boring. Why? Because I didn't understand anything about the sport. I spent half a season "coaching" soccer at the start of my career, and my enjoyment went up exponentially having context for all of the things I saw happening on the field.
2. Energy- Again, many exciting things happen at a swim meet. People will not instinctually recognize them. They need leadership- someone with a microphone that is energized at the appropriate times.
No one likes to listen to somebody who is raving like a maniac non-stop, but the appropriate energy and love for what is happening in a swimming pool is infectious (and we need more of it)
3. Building fans- The general state of swimming fandom is sorry. Ask young swimmers to name who was in the Olympics even a year later and you will face a struggle.
This is not young swimmers' faults. We need to build fandom in swimming from the ground up. Swimmers and everyone else in attendance in swim meet need to be educated from the grassroots up. We have such an easy sport to understand on some levels (people race each other and someone wins). It's not a huge leap to explain enough of the bigger details to people to make swimming interesting.
The responsibility for good atmosphere at swim meets should not rest on coaches and volunteers alone. Meet organizers should consider adding quality announcing to the benefit of all involved.
Caeleb Dressel's swimming is so fast you can't believe it. Already an NCAA record holder after just his sophomore season, he pushed it to a whole new level this past spring, with new records in the 50 free (18.20), 100 free (40.00) and 100 butterfly (43.58).
That's right, as if his mind boggling 100 freestyle that put him on the doorstep of 39 wasn't enough, he also beat the man (Joseph Schooling) who beat Michael Phelps, in Schooling's best event.
For all his mind-blowing swimming, Dressel wasn't even on the US Olympic team in the 50 free and put up a couple solid 100 freestyles (47.9 and 48.1) on the 4x100 Freestyle relay. What demands explanation is, how can a swimmer like Dressel be so much faster in short course than an all-timer like Matt Biondi.
Biondi's best short course 100 was 41.87, giving Dressel a nearly two second advantage in that race. In the 100m, where a margin should theoretically be bigger due to the longer race, Dressel is just .9 faster (47.5 to 48.4).
Dressel is just one glaring example of a trend. Short course swimming (especially yards swimming) has seen an explosion in improvement over the last two decades. That improvement hasn't translated to long course meters, the Olympic format. So it begs the question: why?
The Skill Explosion
Basketball fans: have you ever watched highlights of Bob Cousy? The greatest ball-handler of his generation doesn't exactly blow people's minds with his moves in 2017. Yes, I know they allow more palming now- blah blah blah. Basketball has seen a skill explosion.
In swimming, skills are all the stuff that's not pure swimming (starts, turns, underwater kicking/pullouts)
Take a look at Matt Biondi swimming, at his peak (race starts around 3:24):
Here's Caeleb Dressel (shown in long course for accurate comparison)
There are some obvious differences that stand out right away. Dressel's start is worlds better than what Biondi or anyone was doing in a bygone era.
Even more so than the aerial theatrics is what happens when they enter the water. I've watched enough Biondi races to know that this wasn't a particularly bad breakout. Seen with modern eyes, Biondi always had a bad breakout.
He surfaces on too steep of an angle, his head lurching awkwardly up to the surface and looking straight forward. I went frame by frame at the turn, and it appears Biondi doesn't even fully streamline, and his legs are loose and unconnected behind him.
Meanwhile, on the surface, Biondi seems like he could be swimming today. In fact, I would venture to say that if we could de-age Biondi and teach him a proper start, turn, and how to kick underwater, he might still be the world's best over 100m.
The Short Of It
A focus on short course swimming can account for this skill explosion. Short course swimming rewards skills, as does higher intensity and measured race pace training. In three years coaching in Europe, I noticed that the majority of European countries placed a much higher focus on long course swimming.
While that led them to have fit athletes, overall you can see a broad deficiency in skill especially at junior levels in European swimming. This, broadly, is why many European athletes have a lot of NCAA success- they pair a strong fitness with increased skill development and make a performance leap.
A leap in long course performance is possible- but it rests on two huge developments. The first will be some significant innovation in overwater stroke technique. Adam Peaty is a good example of a swimmer who has made massive improvements in the world standard of long course performance despite below-average skills.
The second innovation will come with a continued evolution of race pace training to prepare swimmers better for long course racing. There are some inherent conflicts in the race pace theories- with one of the biggest ones being that specificity is given a ton of value, but somehow you should swim repeat short course 25y or 25m to prepare for a long course 100m.
Any coach can tell you that where swimmers struggle to translate their performance in long course is from 25-50m, maintaining their stroke technique, speed and efficiency. I saw it first hand when I used race pace and skill to get a swimmer who had never broken 1:00 in 100 breaststroke to a 55 in short course yards. That swimmer promptly went to Summer Nationals and swam a 1:09 in LCM, which is a nice argument for Long Course only Olympic Trial standards.
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