Mad Scientist Ray Looze Shoots for the Moon

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. 

Specialized Coaching is Not Just For Elite Athletes

In the world of coaching swimming, it's dangerous to call yourself a specialist. Even in the college ranks, where there are 'sprint", "middle distance" and "distance" coaches (the most common specialties, coaches fight it.

They fight it because getting pigeon-hold with a specialist title means that you could miss out on that next big opportunity. If you're known as a "sprint coach", and "they" really want somebody who knows "distance", well you're out of luck.

The fight against specialized coaching is a silly one. It's denying reality, and good for no one involved. Imagine if Anthony Ervin was out there, insisting to everyone that he was just as good at the 1500 free as the 50. Would that be good for anyone?

No, and in the same way, it is ok for coaches to admit what they are good at (and what they are not good at). It is also far too simplistic to say that a coach is "bad" at coaching sprinters or "good at distance". Coaches have a set of skills that work in a system. The sum of those skills can mean positive outcomes for certain swimmers and negative outcomes for others.

This is where specialized coaching comes in. By knowing and admitting what your skills are, you can augment how many swimmers will be successful by having swimmers coached by coaches with different skills, skills that may connect more with them being successful. While we often think to do this at the elite level, it is actually equally important at lower levels, where we miss opportunities to move potentially great swimmers developmentally because we fear specialized coaching.

Let me give you an example. In 2015, I was with the Danish Junior National team at a meet. We had a swimmer on the team, a sprinter. She had poor skills, bad turns, bad dive and did not know how to perform a relay start (even though she was due to be a on a relay).

How was she relatively successful then? She had a coach who connected with her enthusiasm for the sport. She loved to race and compete, and she overcame a lot of her skill deficiencies with her attitude. Her coach was not perfect, but he had done a good job.

Now imagine if that coach had been able to team up with a coach or coaches who's skill set was all built around teaching the details of swimming. The more a coach brings other specialties into the mix, the greater chance for success they give all their swimmers.

At Chris DeSantis Coaching, I'm not trying to do anything that I'm ok at, or pretty good at, definitely nothing I'm bad at. I'm only working in the areas where I am exceptional, and that I know I can make a big, lasting difference in only a small amount of time. Are you interested?

Sexism in College Swimming: A Man's Guide

Yesterday, I wrote about the stunning inequity between men and women in college swimming. The blog focused a lot on the describing the problem that's out there. What it didn't do is talk much about solutions.

Now, rather than mansplaining to female coaches about what they should do, I'd rather reach out to my fellow men. We hold the most power to do something about this situation, and with that power comes the responsibility.

Here are some things you can do as a man to address this issue. For the purposes of this advice, I have split these into a "boss" category and a "colleague" category. We'll start with the most powerful:

For Bosses

1. Actively recruit women to coaching positions- One of the most frequent complaints I hear from men about the lack of female coaches is that they can't find any "quality" candidates for their open positions. This is lazy. Yes, if you have an open coaching position at school you will most likely be deluged by men applying to that job.

That does not mean that there aren't actually a lot of well qualified female candidates out there. Spending time recruiting them will give you a competitive advantage because you will tap into a market for assistant coaches that many of your competitors are ignoring. Imagine if you got to recruit in areas of the country that your competitors totally ignored. Wouldn't that be an advantage?

When I was a head club coach, I easily filled my staff with over 50% women, helped them find opportunities for advancement and generally felt as if I had a competitive advantage because of it. It was a win-win-win.

2. Create a family friendly workplace- The world of swimming jobs is notoriously bad for families. Between the odd hours, the lack of off-season in many Division 1 programs and often non-existent family leave policies in athletic departments, it's a tough world out there, especially for those looking to start a family. Also, don't forget about the bad pay!

Men can be at work the day after a child is born, although I wouldn't suggest it. Women, on the other hand, have unavoidable disruptions with work should they choose to have a family. Some of the worst attrition in among the ranks of women in college coaching comes after the birth of their first child.

If you're a head coach, go ahead and read this excellent guest article on Swimswam. Please realize that Greg Meehan and Tracy Slusser did not lead Stanford Women's swim team to a NCAA title despite her being six months pregnant when she started working there. They made a conscious decision that coaches having a family would be a strength of their program.

There's a giant talent pool of female coaches that have left or never tried college coaching because of the poor work-life balance. This inequity can be a huge advantage if you are bold enough to make a change. 

For Colleagues

1. Don't be a bully- Women are far fewer in number in college swimming. They are often excluded from the socializing and casual deckside banter that is pretty much the lifeblood of coaching relationships and hiring.

They are also easy to pick on. As I pointed out in my article on Teri McKeever, female coaches often get criticized for characteristics that are praised in male coaches. As Toni Armstrong points out in the article above, female coaches are also pushed to "masculinize" their coaching style. Isn't that some paradox?

No wonder female coaching attrition is so high. Isolated, pushed to act a certain way and then criticized for it. The situation can feel hopeless. As a male colleague, you need to break out of this system and rise above it.

2. Be an ally- As a male coach, there are so many things you can do to shift the power balance towards women in swimming.

Cultivate female mentors (there are some amazing ones out there), and talk openly about that mentorship. If you're a male coach and don't have female mentors you are really missing out on some amazing wisdom.

Look for situations where your female co-worker is selling herself short and be the person who tells her she deserves more. As we approach salary and evaluation time, be open with your co-worker about how you will approach the head coach.

At least start

These suggestions are just a beginning. There is so much work to be done! Ultimately, the more we improve the standing of women in our sport the more we improve our sport for everybody involved. 

Are you a woman who would like to speak out on this issue? Write me for a guest posting spot. 

Your 2017 Guide to Blaming Teri McKeever For Everything

Ho hum. Another year goes by, another top two finish at the NCAA Championship for Teri McKeever's Cal squad. McKeever, who had to weather being snubbed for the Olympic staff followed by Missy Franklin's decision to train with Cal men managed another stellar year.

Despite her obvious success, McKeever does not receive the adulation and hero worship of her male peers. Instead, she is battered by whisper campaigns that seek to undermine her success. As a result, McKeever has largely eschewed any media engagement the last few years. Why engage when it seems the world is set against you?

To that end, here are some things that Teri McKeever is sure to take blame for in 2017, regardless of whether she had anything to do with it.

Missy Franklin's double shoulder surgery- Surely the physical breakdown of Franklin, the 2012 Olympic darling, has something to do with her time training with McKeever. There is no possible way that Todd Schmitz, who trained her in the lead up to the Olympics and said of her poor performance "I truly don't think it was physical".

Abbey Weitzeil's disappointing NCAAs- Weitzel was expected by many to challenge Simone Manuel in the sprint events at NCAAs. Instead she only finaled in both. If Weitzeil bounces back it will probably be due to the coaching the Coley Stickels provided her prior to coming to Cal. McKeever has zero history of helping talented swimmers come back from disappointing results. 

Kathleen Baker not going 48 in the 100 back- Kathleen Baker, who had an outstanding freshmen season, followed up with Olympic silver, and then dominated at the NCAA Championships, definitely would have swum better with a different coach. 

Cierra Runge adding time in the 500 free- Cierra Runge swam 4:31 in the 500 free her freshmen year at Cal in 2015. She transferred to Wisconsin and swam 4:41 in the 500 free at NCAAs this year. This had nothing to do with Runge or her coaches at Wisconsin and is obviously a residual effect from her time at Cal.

Donald Trump- Many people are blaming Donald Trump for stuff. What they are missing is that Teri McKeever, in cooperation with Russian intelligence, single handedly swung the election in Trump's favor. So, stop pointing the finger at Trump and blame McKeever

You not liking this blog- If you don't like this blog post or are taking the above points seriously, it is because Teri McKeever has used her psychic powers to invade your brain and destroy your sense of humor. 

Chris DeSantis takes swimming very seriously even if he doesn't always take life very seriously. If you are serious about improving your swimming, write him. 


Ways to Compete in Swimming, Ranked

Can you remember the most fun you ever had swimming? For me it was my first year of high school swimming. I stepped up to swim the breaststroke leg of a medley relay. To my right? Future Olympian Erik Vendt.

And although I lost significant ground, it was so much fun to compete with someone on that level, in a distance where I didn't get totally blown away.

We are lucky that swimming comes in so many forms in the United States. It isn't so in the rest of the world, some of the ways to swim I'm about to list are painfully absent outside America. So, without further ado, here are all the ways to compete in swimming, ranked.

1. Summer League/Rec League/Town Team

Is there a focus on the best part of the sport, direct competition? Yes. Is there score kept? Yes. What's the atmosphere like at competitions? Typically people are having a blast, spectators included. 

Recreational swimming has the most coaches involved for the best reasons (certainly not money), to have fun with the sport and to enjoy that sport with kids.

2. High School Swimming

Combines everything great about rec league swimming with a concentration on a certain age group. Bonus points for the recognition swimmers can get among their peers when they compete in something their peers actually understand.

The only reason high school swimming isn't ranked #1 is that in contrast to recreational teams, there is a more fringe of high school swimming sucking the fun out of the sport for kids. Still, go to a competitive high school meet and have the slightest idea what is going on and I guarantee a good time.

3. College Swimming

College swimming co-opts some of the best parts of high school and rec swimming. There are dual meets and championship meets that are often exciting and where score is kept. There is a focus on team competition.

Unfortunately coaching in college has a downside. Often collegiate programs exist without much oversight from their athletic departments, mostly for the worse. Many coaches can get away with poor treatment of athletes and maintain their jobs because of entrenched hierarchy.

4. YMCA Swimming

Although YMCA Swimming is similar to club swimming in many ways, there is a greater focus on enjoyable competitions, as well as the context of sports.

The institutional nature of YMCAs mean that more often than not they are more professionally run than most club programs.

5. Club Swimming

Some will say it is unfair to put club swimming last. There are some truly excellent club swimming programs out there, run professionally with the proper focus on kids enjoying the sport, learning and with the proper perspective on swimming's role in a life well-lived.

Club competitions, however, are mostly terrible and drain competitors, parents and coaches alike. The business model for such meets is heavily entrenched and seems unlikely to change.

We do not have good metrics for rating club programs, so instead use club recognition program that is overwhelmingly results focused and skews heavily towards club size.

The most successful club model, the coach run club, can also be the most dangerous, particularly if there are not good internal checks placed on coaching behavior.

Teams run by board of directors often suffer from a board made up of parents of swimmers on the club, leading to huge conflicts of interest.

We've Got A Lot

Although this can sound critical, the good news is that there are a lot of good options should you choose to get involved in swimming. Parents, coaches and athletes should take into account all factors when considering which teams to get involved with. 

Disagree? Want to know more about how to make swimming better on your team? Write me!

The Retirement That Launched A Hundred Resumes

In the world of swimming, there aren't that many "good jobs". That is not to say there aren't many jobs that are rewarding and fun. I'm talking about salaried, stable jobs that pay well.

The Head Men's Swimming coach of THE Ohio State University is a good job. Thanks to public accountability laws, anyone can look up what they paid out to have Bill Wadley coach the team this past year. 

Wadley is retiring, and there is a reasonably large amount of coaches who are qualified or think they are qualified for the job. There are also a ton of coaches that think they could do it better than Bill Wadley.

Regardless, the proof of whether or not that will be true will come when a new coach steps in. Is Ohio State a sleeping giant with NCAA Championship potential? Or are there factors people miss that lead them to overestimate what is possible in Columbus?

Here is the case for Ohio State as a sleeping giant:

Ohio State has a great facility (10 lane 50m pool, shared with the Women's team, superb diving facilities) and great resources in general (wealthy athletic program). They have history (11 NCAA titles, although quite a long time ago). There are very few schools that have a similar combination.

So what will coaches have to overcome to awaken the Buckeyes? Well, for one, the fact that the team is in Ohio. I don't say that as a dig on a state, but more as the fact that Ohio State does not have the same in-state recruiting advantage you get in Texas, California or Florida.

Ohio is also cold, which will mean that there will be a chicken and egg situation with foreign recruiting. Foreign recruits gravitate towards warmer climates, unless you establish a really strong international reputation. So, kudos to Bob Bowman for coaching at Arizona State.

Finally, football success is often overvalued in judging the athletic potential of a school. In swimming, the pecking order within conferences leans harder towards academic rankings. Ohio State trails Michigan, Penn State, and Wisconsin in the US News and World Report rankings, although only slightly so. 

Still, if you do the same salary search that turned up Wadley's compensation on some other top ten NCAA programs, there are many coaches of programs ahead of the Buckeyes who would be in line for a nice raise if hired. Whoever it is, you can count on their fellow coaches to be ruthless if the team doesn't surge in the NCAA. 

Want to make your team better whatever the environment? Contact me!