What A Coach Should Be: Leader By Example

This is the second in a series that started in June 2019. As we discuss what boundaries should be set on coaching behavior, it’s also useful to have a positive direction to move in. For the first in this series go here.

I had a coach once that demanded we call him Coach (Last name). When asked why, his reasoning was simple. He believed it was a respectful way to address him.

Personally, I’ve never insisted on such, even though we see the same thing in pretty much all schools. Still, I would say the majority of people I have coached have addressed me in one of two ways, either “coach” or “sir”. The first one is obvious, but why the second?

Well, a few years into coaching I decided to flip the above scenario on its head. Instead of demanding that people I coached address me in one particular way, I started to sprinkle it the other direction. I called people “sir” or “ma’am” or “ms”. Always with my tongue firmly in my cheek.

The kids picked it up pretty naturally, and pretty soon I was getting called “sir” all the time.

Leading by example is a concept with 100% approval but lots of murkiness when it comes down to actually defining it. So I’m going to try to. When it comes to coaching, you’re never going to do 100% of the stuff that you ask your athletes to do, and it would be dumb to do so. So you can’t exactly “lead by example” by simply modeling all the tasks you assign.

You can, however, model behavior and decision-making in the types of situations that your athletes will face on a daily basis. They will see and judge your behavior and decision making far more than you likely give them credit for. You will also see some of your own greatest vulnerabilities manifest in the people you coach.

Here are a few categories where I believe it is critically important to lead by example:

  1. Emotional Regulation- As a coach, emotional regulation is a headline skill that you want to develop for yourself and see in your athletes. Often misunderstood as “controlling” your emotions, it is actually about responding to your emotions. Modeling how to respond to your negative emotions, be it anger, sadness or fear in a way that both allows you to express and deal with those emotions without “acting out” on those around you is crucial. On the flip side, I’ve struggled myself with capitalizing on positive emotions, often feeling most uncomfortable when things are going well. When I coached in Denmark, I took my coaches on a retreat to plan for the year. We ended up discussing for an hour how much our athletes collectively worried about competition. At that moment, I knew one of the biggest problems was how worried I was about competitive results.

  2. Work/Life Balance- Many athletes, especially elite athletes, struggle to find the balance between outworking their competition and leading a healthy life. Coaches face the same struggle. The higher level I was coaching, the more I felt pulled in two directions between my life outside of work and the competition I was engaged in at work. But if we truly want our athletes to lead whole lives and grow up to be great people, they need to see us doing the same. You don’t need to regale them with stories of your time away from the pool, but having the athletes know that you have interests outside of coaching, things that you do for yourself sends a powerful message that they should do the same.

  3. Relationships- These of course are not distinct categories. Relationships are the key to true emotional regulation, likewise an important part of work/life balance. As a coach you have a really unique opportunity to model good relationships for the people you coach. Many may come from abusive pasts whether in sport or at home, and this can warp their sense of a healthy relationship. Showing care for other people in your life, talking about it openly and modeling respectful boundaries can be hugely influential.

  4. Self-reflective- A key part of working on something and improving is the ability to be self-reflective. I think many worry that if they do some of this self-reflection out in the open, it will be perceived as weakness to those they coach. I disagree. It took me ten years, but I finally noticed that coaches often end up “frustrated” with athletes that mirror some of their own quirks as an athlete. I was a mouthy back-talker as an athlete, and found myself perpetually vexed by kids who ‘didn’t listen”. I knew one coach whose youth coaches deemed “lazy” that was always frustrated by his own athletes lack of determination. If you are secure enough to reflect on yourself, it can actually be a starting point for good empathy with the most “frustrating” athletes you coach.

  5. Showing Up- So obvious that I almost left it out. Want to set an expectation that people arrive and are ready to go by a certain time? If you want consistency out of those you coach, you have to be the most consistent person on the team. Consistently on time, there when you say you are, following through on what you said you would do. As simple as that, sort of.

As I said above, I once spent an hour discussing how “worried” athletes were on the team I led. Although I made improvements even during that time, I didn’t make the big leap in progress for helping people I coached until I actually started working on solutions for my own anxiety.

Leading by example is about more than just specific actions, and far more about modeling (and explaining) the complex decision-making process you use as a coach while being open to improvement.

The Recruiting Fallacy in College Coaching

Recruiting. If you have ever held a college coaching job, applied to a college coaching job, or talked to a college coach, you have probably heard this word more than you'd ever like to. Recruiting is the lifeblood of college athletic programs, and most coaches will admit that it is at least as important as your actual coaching ability at this level.

That is true. Recruiting is incredibly important. It's also something anyone can learn to do, and may already have a lot of skills for that they don't even know. Coaches who look past well-qualified coaches because of lack of "recruiting" experience do so at their own disadvantage.

This is one of many reasons that college coaching remains a weird, cliquish sub-culture in the swimming world. Every year, hundreds of otherwise nice resumes face rejection from the college ranks because of this.

What is recruiting? For one thing, recruiting is marketing a college swimming program. A club coach who runs their own business may have experience with marketing. Now, in college coaching you have to deal with NCAA rules around how you can market.

These rules are made by what I can only assume are miserable people paid to ask the question "What would the most insane college football coach try to do to get an edge?" and then get their legislative pens out.

Recruiting is also sales. You sell to a family and a student athlete the promise of studying and swimming at your school. Coaching any kind of practice is it's own kind of sales job- after all you will not be successful as a coach if your swimmers are not "buying" the workouts you are "selling".

In fact, career club coaches can bring a lot to the table that career college coaches cannot when it comes to recruiting. Many of them have way more "reps" in their back pocket interacting with families and high school age swimmers.

They have seen the process from the other side and know what works and what doesn't. They have sat and wondered "why doesn't (anonymous college coach) just call me? Don't they know I could help them right now?".

The final absurdity is the notion that coaches without college experience are a great risk to commit NCAA violations. It doesn't hold water- especially when you consider how easy it is to pass a NCAA recruiting test (an open book test on one chapter of the NCAA manual) and the infrastructure that athletic departments have built in compliance to prevent this very thing.

Ultimately, the divide that exists between the skill set it takes to be a successful college coach and a successful club coach is not as great as the hiring market would indicate. College swimming would benefit from a more open coaching pool, and individual programs that see the opportunities in hiring "club only" coaches will gain a competitive advantage.

Are you looking for help getting involved in college coaching? Write me

A Frustrating Listen: What Comes First

Yesterday, I took a listen to the Gutter Lane podcast's return. Zac Adams, the host, had one of the most well-regarded coaches in the country on. Todd DeSorbo has received a lot of well-deserved praise for his outstanding work with sprinters at NC State.

But I couldn't help but get frustrated very early on in the podcast. As both men admitted, they were recording just after the funeral of Jason Turcotte, a coach admired by so many in the swimming community. The issue of work-life balance in swimming could not be more topical at the moment.

Adams tried to engage DeSorbo on the topic. Surely, on a staff with multiple coaches at the age where they have young children, they must have discovered some secret sauce for work life balance. If they have we didn't hear it.

Instead, DeSorbo demurred (all that follows are not direct quotes and paraphrasing:.. "I could certainly do better, we could certainly do better" he said. "Our goal is to outwork everyone" was almost a defensive response to any suggestion that they were taking less time to do an outstanding job. Finally, I heard the same old tired story I've heard a hundred times before "my/our wives are very understanding".

I'm sorry, but screw that. I got angrier and angrier the more I listened to the podcast. DeSorbo had plenty to say about recruiting, training sprinters and the professional career of Cullen Jones. Family? We'll figure that out later. I totally understand that many people would like DeSorbo to "stick to swimming", but it clearly seemed like Adams knew something really great about how they do things at NC State but never got DeSorbo to get it out.

As pretty much everyone knows, "we'll figure that out later" almost always turns into "never". It shouldn't be a pre-requisite to high level success in the swimming world that your spouse just "knows how it is" and accepts a lesser standard from you.

As coaches, we have a higher calling. We talk about coaching people first and athletes second. We need to walk our talk. Our athletes need to see us leading healthy complete lives. They need to see us putting our families first, and asking our work to understand that.

The coaches that look up to us need to see that the path to the top is not paved that way.

I have to imagine DeSorbo's family life is better than it sounded. If this post makes me sound angry at him, I'm not. I'm angry at the culture he describes, but for him I feel great sadness. Having met Todd many times, I've found him to be a kind and humorous. I have no doubt that he loves his family very much. 

When people are dying, no one thinks to themselves "I wish I'd worked more". But you can bet they do think "I wish I'd spent more time with my family". I truly believe that you don't have to change your measures of success to live that way. I think there's an even higher level of athletic success we can find when we as coaches start living a healthy, full life. 


It's Lonely at The Top: Head Coach's Dilemma

Becoming a head coach is sort of like becoming a parent. All of the work you to up to that point doesn't really translate to the job that you suddenly have. Where once you could rest easy that someone else was steering the ship, you now lay awake at night either fretting about or actively navigating around icebergs.

Being a head coach is lonely, and most coaches don't get a lot of warning for that. Swim coaching can be a lonely profession overall, with a strange schedule compounding a weird tribalism. When you're coming up the ranks you often have the benefit of working on a "staff", so at least you have some peers to share the experience with.

Head coaches don't often have peers. All of a sudden, all the assistant coaches are going out for a beer after the meet without you. More than socially isolating, the challenge of continuing your coaching development when you become a head coach is the real nut to crack.

Swim coaching relies on an apprenticeship model. You learn from the coaches you work with. When you start out, you may have many other "peer" coaches as well as a coach above you. Head coaches have few peers, certainly rarely within their own team, certainly no daily teacher above them. 

One possible solution is to work cooperatively with other head coaches in your area. Your results may vary- in many cases your peers at this level may fail to see the value in improving a competitor coach. Another solution is to attend clinics and talks, but these sort of one-off experiences don't provide the ongoing experiential learning so many coaches crave.

Hiring a coach consultant for continuing education is the best of both worlds. You get a peer, someone who can help you get better (and by that virtue make your whole team better) whose only vested interest is your improvement. You also get the consistency and continued support over a length of time to actually fully develop. 

Are you coach feeling isolated that wants to up your coaching game? Write me for a free consulation. 

How Coaching Upped My Parenting Game

Last week, I wrote about how parenting made me a better coach. The reverse is at least as true. While the old saying "you're never ready to become a parent" is true, there are many ways in which being a coach, and a swim coach in particular, gave me a leg up in my humble beginning as a father.

More than anything, parenting is the ultimate coaching job. It is extremely long term, constantly evolving, and it takes tremendous time and energy. It's also the most rewarding. Watching a swimmer go a best time is crazy fun. Watching your child learn makes you feel like the most important person in the world.

Before I get too weepy, there are some really practical ways that coaching prepares you for parenting:

1. Early morning wake-ups? No big deal- Babies do not come into this world sleeping 10 hours through the night. The early days of parenting are a sleep struggle for all new parents, and sometimes it feels like there is no end in sight.

If you've swum or coached, you've had plenty of tough wake-ups in your life. Waking up to hang out with a very cute little bundle that looks like you is far more pleasant. Even if she is screaming like a banshee. 

2. Knowing when to say "no"- As a coach, you'll encounter swimmers at many different ages and many different stages of development. All of them should be at a stage where they can handle hearing "no" from an adult. If you've encountered fifteen year old who can't handle hearing no, you'll be pretty motivated to go differently with your own child

As soon as my daughter started making phrases, she started hearing no from me. Especially when she fixated on "wanting" something and threw a temper tantrum about it. Instead I gave her a hug, reminded her that I loved her, but under no circumstances was I going to accede to a whirling ball of limbs.

3. You know how to trust other people who care for your child- As a coach, you are constantly working with other people's children. You know how frustrating it can be when parents react emotionally to something with their child and lash out at you. When you become a parent, you instantly understand the emotions these parents are feeling.

So when my daughter started daycare, and subsequently pre-school, I started from a position of trust with the people that cared for her. I said "thank you" at the end of the day when I picked her up. When my daughter was struggling with one thing or another, I came to them to ask for help and we tackled problems together.

It's an unfortunate climate in swim coaching that so many workplaces are not good for family life. Workplaces that recognize how much value they can get by giving their coaches the space and time to build these relationships will see a huge advantage.

Want to hear more about how to change the culture of swimming?

How Parenting Upped My Coaching Game

There were little bite sized bits of avocado strewn on the plate. Occasionally, Olivia would poke at one before making a hasty retreat.

"it's icky" she said. She eats avocado almost every day.

"I don't like it." She whined. I took a big inhale, and got down on my knees next to her chair. I spread my arms wide and her head slumped on my shoulder.

We hugged and she started to cry. I squeezed a little tighter and she wrapped her little arms around my neck. After a few minutes of crying she conceded:

"I'm tired daddy". 

"I know". I replied. "And I love you very much, and I'm going to help you to go to sleep after dinner". I had disengaged from the hug with this sentence, and I was looking her in the eyes.

I sat back down in my chair. Her fork pierced an avocado, and she gingerly lifted it to her mouth. Within minutes, her plate was clean.

We're not so different, you and I

This may come as a surprise to some, but it turns out children are also human beings. There's a lot of advice out there about what to do specifically with "kids" as if they are some foreign species.

Since my daughter was born in December 2013, every hour spent with her I've learned a lot more about coaching than I ever would have spending the same time on the pool deck. While it would be impossible for me to list all the things I've learned in that time, here are some of the big ones. 

1. Trust comes before fun- One of the things little kids love to do (especially with Dads) is get tossed around. Olivia likes to be tossed in the air, or tossed on the couch. My physical fitness cannot keep pace with her desire to these sorts of things.

As an adult, we might not find it so fun to be tossed into the air. But she is confident that nothing bad will happen to her. She trusts me to throw her into a soft landing on the couch, and to always catch her in mid-air. Because of that trust, she is able to let go and just have pure, uncut fun.

All coaches want their athletes to have "fun". But do they trust you? Do they trust the people around them? Without trust, fun is pretty hard to come by.

2. People's "Problems" Are Almost Always a Rationalization

Let's return to the uneaten avocado. Olivia did not want to eat the avocado because it's "icky". But it turns out the real problem was that she was tired and feeling overwhelmed. When she was able to express that and get support, she could return a calmer emotional state and eat the avocado.

No amount of "but you love avocado!" or "eat your avocado, or else!" would have helped in this situation. As a coach, pay attention to the "problems" you are presented with by athletes. They may complain about a teammate or something specific that happened at practice. 

Too often we coaches focus on rationally fixing a problem, instead of keying into the emotional state of the athlete. Are they feeling sad, angry, or overwhelmed? How can we convince them that as their coach, we acknowledge how they are feeling and can help them?

3. It doesn't matter if you're right if the other person isn't hearing you

One of the most frustrating things you can hear a coach say is "well, I told [the athlete], but they did it anyway."

Parenting will put you in a lot of situations where your well-intentioned, reasonable advice goes unheard. You will think you have communicated clearly when you have not. 

With a toddler, you will tell them something many times before you get through. It is not ok to throw your hands up after a few attempts and say "well, I told her". You keep trying and find a way to communicate that works. 


More than anything, becoming a parent has given me more perspective on coaching. I love swimming and I love coaching it. I love to watch people go fast, lead good lives and succeed academically. 

But I love my wife and my daughter more. On the most disappointing or frustrating day of coaching, I know it's not the end of the world. 


Why Your Swimmers are "Choosing" Backstroke

Let me set the scene for you. Your in the heat of a swim practice. Your the coach and you've written a set, a set where you dreamed that all the swimmers could work on their stroke (non-freestyle). It all seemed perfect in your head. You made it "choice", because you're smart and you know that the swimmers will be more motivated if they have some autonomy over what they do.

Except they all chose backstroke. "YOU CAN'T ALL BE BACKSTROKERS!" you scream, either internally or out loud. You look at lane two. There is Agatha. She complained to you last meet about how "we never train breaststroke". And she's swimming backstroke. Your blood starts to boil.

Take a deep breath. Count to ten if you need to. Here are some reasons why your swimmers might be making this choice, and what you can do about it.

1. They might be backstrokers- Have pity on them for being the most inferior sect of swimmers. Shots fired Garrett McCaffrey. 

2. The sendoffs could be wrong- One of the biggest rookie mistakes in constructing practice is to assign a single interval time for all three strokes as if they are equal. Backstroke and butterfly are much faster than breaststroke by an order of 3-4 seconds per 50m on the elite level.

Also, if you are not training race pace (why aren't you training race pace?), then backstroke will be much easier to do at below race pace, for longer distances. 

Swimmers instincts to avoid butterfly and breaststroke when sendoffs do not allow them to do the reps at quality are correct. Common technical problems in these two strokes are a result of "struggle" technique when forced to do repetitions with inadequate recovery or too long distances.

If I were designing a race pace set of 25s for butterflyers, backstrokers and breaststrokers to all do together, it might look something like this:

30x25 on :30/:35/:40

Backstrokers able to go under 1:00 should start on the :30. Backstrokers 1:00-:1:12 on :35. Breaststrokers up to 1:00 on :35, Breaststrokers up to 1:12 on :40. Butterflyers up to 1:00 on :35, up to 1:12 on :40

Any butterflyers or breaststrokers who struggle to string more than a few together at 100 pace, you could consider adding 1 sec to their 100 pace, focus on efficiency, or making every 4th one "easy"

3. Your swimmers are scared- Do you know the theory of learned helplessness? It's really important to understanding why people don't do things that would benefit them. Training hard, particularly in breaststroke and butterfly, is painful. 

As a coach, you need to build a bridge between this painful training and results. If your swimmers are scared and avoiding it, it is because they don't see the bridge. Yelling at them may scare them enough to take the leap, but will ultimately just be adding another painful thing to avoid.

Have empathy for your athletes, and connect with them on the level they are on. Figure out at what level they will be willing to risk themselves, let them go there and make sure they see the progress that results. 

4. Their backstroke technique is poor- I thought of backstroke as an easy stroke when I was a swimmer. Why? Because my backstroke technique was terribly. 

Specifically, I barely kicked when swimming backstroke. Kick is the most obvious thing that all coaches want swimmers to do, but much like breaststroke and butterfly, it makes things much more painful. But much like an appropriate risk in butterfly and breaststroke, this pain brings better results.

If swimmers are going to insist on swimming backstroke, you need to insist that they maintain a steady, narrow kick. Don't allow backstroke techniques that make the stroke "easy".

If you've tried all of the above and your swimmers still insist on swimming backstroke, don't give up hope. Someday, they may grow up to win an NBA title.




Guest Post: Maximizing the Pro Swim Series

The Arena Pro Swim Series is just like any other USA Swimming toy. They have the resources to make a great event, but the insular nature of decision making means that members get an inferior product. Don't believe me? Check out their latest website that purportedly came with a $2,000,000 price tag. 

Friend of the blog Erik Wiken is a club coach, a studious helper of other swim coaches on the Swim Coaches Idea Exchange Group on Facebook, and a tireless thinker of how we could do things better. He submitted the following plan (edited slightly), which I will feature today, on how to improve the Arena Pro Series:

"In light of recent changes to the Australian Olympic Trials (ed: closer to the Olympics like the US) , Ranomi Kromowidjojo joining the Pro Derby in Louisville, Kentucky this April, I felt motivated to revisit an idea i've long left dormant: bllowing the Arena Pro Swim Series up.

Before I get into it, let me just establish off the top that I will ignore the messy logistical web that could complicate this for the moment to just focus on the series itself. 

We need a two-cluster series in the U.S. for the 2017-2018 year. One in the fall, one in the spring. The fall cluster avoids the Golden Goggles and makes stops where teams across the country will enjoy the weather. The spring cluster starts three weeks after the NCAA championships while avoiding a certain popular, rabbit-centric holiday weekend.

I have proposed locations, for the purpose of attracting international talent. If it goes well, we can change the cities every couple areas, staying near major hubs while offering underexposed areas of the swimming population something to new and exciting to see.

2017-2018 Proposed Schedule

October 5-6 Clearwater, FL (Clearwater Aquatic Center), 25m

October 13-14 Atlanta, GA (Georgia Tech University), 25m

October 21-22 New Orleans, LA (University of New Orleans Aquatics Center), 25yd*

April 12-13 Mesa, AZ (Skyline Aquatic Center), 50m April 20-21

Los Angeles, CA (University of Southern California), 50m

April 28-29 Las Vegas, NV (University of Nevada-Las Vegas), 50m

The purses need to be sufficient to attract foreign national teams and pros, in line with the World Cup Circuit for individual events, WR bonuses and cluster bonuses. For the fun of it and for our young swimmers/fans to reference, make the 3rd stop in the fall short course yards, but up the purse per event to keep the foreign athletes visiting to compete in the final stop

What We Do With These Stops

1. Require National Team members on the APA to choose one of the two clusters to compete a, offering further incentive to compete at both.

2. One of the stops on each of these clusters could be a competition for the National Junior Team, combining it with a camp going into the meet.

3. Each stop will come with it opportunities for community outreach, clinics for professional swimmers.

4. Local clubs allowed discounted tickets and priority purchasing for all sessions, to ensure the most exposure to the USA Swimming developmental level.

5. USA Swimming coordinated training sessions at the pool for national team members who would compete, open to registered USA Swimming athlete members to watch.

6. Education tracks for local swim parents, coaches and athletes between sessions.

7. Live Stream both prelims and finals (need a sponsor!) and have Facebook live on deck (the action, the noise, some interviews during warm-ups, awards breaks, etc.). Keeping it off TV will make it far more enjoyable and accessible.

It’s time the US did something different with this series and put an even greater emphasis on the fan and athlete experience. By clustering these stops we afford athletes and fans alike an experience that will be fun, impactful and intriguing to athletes from around the world. With the right people involved we could do a ton of good and build the popularity of the sport even further."

Erik's plan sounds in many ways similar to Europe's Mare Nostrum serious, where over the course of ten days or so, three elite swim meets happen on the Mediterranean coast. The clustering means that it is worth it economically for international athletes to make the trip and makes for a better meet experience for everyone. 

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Four Swimmers that Show Why NC State Is Killing It

NC State can win a men's NCAA title in a couple weeks. That will be a remarkable achievement in a sport where just moving into the top ten is a monumental achievement. One thing that often gets lost when evaluating coaches of any teams is that we focus on the fastest swimmers of the team. 

When I look at what the NC State coaching staff has done, I'm more interested in the swimmers that, given average college coaching, were not likely to develop as much they have in Raleigh. Here are four swimmers who have showed incredible improvement for the Wolfpack:

Adam Linker- Linker was a decent power conference distance prospect coming into NC State. He recorded a 15:32 in the 1650, 4:32 in the 500 and 3:58 in the 400 IM.

All those times suggested he could grow into a solid scorer at the ACC conference level. Instead, in four years Linker has made the leap to an NCAA scoring level. His times from the most recent ACC Championships: (4:13.9 in the 500, 14:44 in the 1650) would have put him in top eight scoring position in all three of those races at last year's NCAA Championships.

Derek Hren- An early weakness of NC State's surge was breaststroke. Their breaststroke leg on medley relays stopped them from being truly competitive at the national level. 

While the Wolfpack still haven't gotten a true breaststroke prospect on campus, in the meantime Hren has had a development nearly as impressive as Linker. Again, his high school times (55.5 in the 100 breaststroke) suggested he would be an ACC scorer. 

Hren has improved three years in a row, and is likely to make that four years at the NCAA Championship. With a personal best of 52.2, he has a good chance of scoring at the meet. His relay performances are consistently good and with three other top notch legs, NC State can compete in medley relays.

Alexia Zevnik- I know I said I wouldn't focus on stars, but Zevnik's progression is too good to ignore. While she definitely had some solid backstroke swims in SCM her final year in Canada (1:00/2:13), those are not the typical incoming times of someone who will contend for an NCAA title their senior year.

Like the two swimmers already mentioned, Zevnik has made a big push forward every year. Rough conversions of those SCM times indicate around a 54/2:00 backstroker coming into college. Where is she now? 50.8 and 1:49.6. How many swimmers do you think enter college at above 2:00 in the 200 backstroke and finish with a performance under 1:50?

Natalie LaBonge- You may be tired of hearing it, but once again here is an example of an NC State swimmer who with average coaching might not have even scored at ACCs. Labonge's incoming times, 23.5 in the 50 and 51.1 in the 100, would have been well outside of scoring at the 2017 meet.

She could have even shown some progression and still missed being a conference scorer. It took 22.8 and 49.5 to score at the ACC meet this year. But LaBonge had more than "some" progression. She swam 22.0 and 48.6 in her senior year, and that progression has paved the way for Wolfpack coaches to get better sprint recruits in classes that came after hers.

I know it's becoming fashionable to hate NC State as they turn the corner from lovable underdogs to hate-able frontrunners. I simply can't find any hate for the awesome coaching and development taking place in Raleigh. 

Frank Busch: USA Swimming's Calming Force Retires

Frank Busch retirement was much like his career as national team director. He left quietly, saying the right things, with a solid claim to outstanding results during his tenure at the top of American's swimming machine.

While Busch had his critics, his tenure was far less controversial than his predecessor, Mark Schubert, by a mile. Whereas Schubert wielded a heavy hand as National Team Director, Busch was far more subdued. He tapped into the essential truth of leading USA Swimming- that our athletes and coaches could have great success if there was far less top-down meddling in their lives.

It's easy to forget now, but Busch stepped into a messy situation when he took the job in 2011. He had to unravel the "Centers of Excellence" a Schubert brainchild that was an abject failure. He had to face the angry mob of coaches that saw the National Team Director position as an overpaid hindrance to getting where they wanted to go.

Busch was able to calm fears through his more understated approach, but he also made a lot of empty promises along the way. Banking on his own credibility within the coaching community, he assured the anxious masses that USA Swimming would close the technology gap that had emerged between its sorry website and the internet around it. 

That promise was never realized, but should not have been surprising given the rumor that Busch didn't even read his own e-mail as head coach of the University of Arizona. USA Swimming's website and knowledge sharing platforms remain woefully behind the times, with their only positive development coming from their partnership with GoSwim to bring technical video to their site.

Still others found it curious that a man who's career was so largely built on college success would be put in charge of an apparatus that mostly dealt with club swimming. I've always found this argument a bit silly, also given that Busch did have a history as a club coach, but the enmity between club and college swimming coaches is real.

The next National Team Director will have tough shoes to fill. Not only will they need to match Busch' coaching chops, but also will face criticism if there is any drop in USA Swimming's world domination. 

The list of candidates floating around also exposes the fact that women and minorities are woefully under-represented at the highest level of USA Swimming. If the new director is a middle aged white male, as is likely, here's hoping that they will do more in their tenure to address this intractable problem. 

Remember Bill Belichick When Hiring Your Next Coach

Photo By David Shankbone (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Bill Belichick is the greatest football coach of all time. That's at least up for argument this morning after he won his fifth super bowl and crowned a dynasty in a free agent football era. For all the things written about his coaching "genius", one thing has always stuck out to me. In a world where coaching hires are still often made on the basis of playing ability, Bill Belichick stands as the strongest possible counterargument.

Football wasn't even Belichick's best sport. He was better at Lacrosse, where he managed to become captain of Division III Wesleyan University varsity team his senior year. Think about that for a second. Bill Belichick was a below average Division 3 college football player (Wesleyan plays in the NESCAC, a Division III league that forbids its members from post-season play). 

Look further down Belichick's coaching staff, and you'll be hard pressed to find a "star" athlete making game plans. Defensive Coordinator Matt Patricia played at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was also a Division III player. 

Coaching and playing a sport are two totally different skill sets. I've often compared the practice of hiring coaches based on what they achieved athletically to hiring a competitive eater as the executive chef of your restaurant. Yet despite the obviousness, coaching hires continue to happen.

You don't have to look far in the swimming community to see the wealth of coaching opportunities given to former "top" athletes. While some do turn into great coaches (I'm looking at you Rick DeMont), many contribute heavily to the stagnation of coaching development. They try to coach the way they were coached and don't look to advance coaching.

I can guarantee you that Bill Belichick coaches very differently from his coach at Wesleyan in the 1970s. The innovations, the tactics, the ability to get players who "didn't fit" elsewhere to be stars on his team all came from a humble athletic career. That career forced him to think a lot about what it took to influence the winner of the game without his own playing prowess.

So the next time you're making a coaching hire, look for those inquisitive minds. Look for the nerds who never caught your attention between the lane lines but did plenty of thinking on the poolside.