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Don't Have Assistants

I got my first “assistant” coach in 2013. I was an assistant myself, coaching at Georgia Tech. I had a big group (18 swimmers) and therefore I often found myself in the company of our volunteer assistant at the time.

I didn’t know what to do with her. I mean, I had ideas like holding a stop watch and taking times, sometimes I would assign her to work with a certain swimmer on a certain thing. I now realize that having an “assistant” in that capacity is a massive waste of resources.

As I stand here in 2019, I simply don’t believe in the concept of assistants. Nicholas Nassim Taleb sums up part of why in this tweet:

Now, I say partially because there is a second part of this. You may infer from the above that I believe in working alone almost exclusively. Not at all. What I have come to understand is that no matter the relative level of experience or skill or knowledge, you should look for partners in what you do.

This is no semantic difference. An assistant is part of a hierarchy. A partner is not. The nature of many of our sporting structures is that they are very hierarchical, and for reasons well beyond pure performance, I think there’s a much better way to do it.

Autonomy Matters

In order for someone to be at their best in a workplace, there are three things I find absolutely critical. One is that they are highly motivated to do good work. Another is that they have applicable strengths to bring to the table. Finally, that they can work autonomously, that is, they can apply their strengths without constant supervision.

Let’s talk about autonomy first, because it bleeds into the other two. Autonomy is about the ability to make decisions for yourself. None of us have “full” autonomy. We are always limited by external factors in our ability to make decisions.

However, you want someone that works with you, even if you are the boss, to be making a lot of decisions for themselves. Otherwise, you will waste time with them checking back with you about what way they should go, often missing critical windows to do the right thing.

In order to cultivate that kind of autonomy, you’re going to have to let go control a bit and be willing to have your assistant/partner do things differently than you. You’re going to have to have a forum for discussing those differences which both recognizes when you know better but also allows you to be wrong.

Finding Strengths

Which brings me to my second point. The great part about working with other people is that nobody has identical strengths. So, the synergy of two or more people working together is incredibly powerful. Hierarchies diminish the potential to leverage different strengths by creating more fixed paths for problem solving.

Again, you’re going to need a way to evaluate and discuss what strengths each of you bring to a partnership. I am a fan myself of the VIA Strengths, but you may find your own model.

The great thing about a model like the VIA strengths is that no matter the experience, knowledge or skill level of who you partner with, they have strengths. Knowing what they are is key to understanding how they might work autonomously to apply those strengths to the problems and challenges that you face.

Motivation

Motivation is such a tricky subject. It often gets mixed with other terms. I don’t really like when it is used as a verb or an adjective. Let me give you a couple of examples:

“Coach is not motivating me”

or

“I don’t find this environment very motivating”

What I really think the two statements above are conflating is inspiration. Inspiration is very much about how external factors augment internal drive. Motivation, while influenced by external factors, is far more about internal emotional states and thinking.

How does it feel to be trusted and treated like a partner versus an “assistant”. Better yet, how does that feel when you’re keenly aware (and the person you work with/for is keenly aware) of just what strengths you have to bring to the table? I’d argue that’s an environment where I would feel a lot of motivation.

Let Them Draft Their Own

Within the first year of coaching in Denmark, I found myself pulled away for Junior National team duty. On training camp with the National Head Coach, he walked up on me with a furrowed brow typing a workout into an e-mail.

“What on earth are you doing?” he exclaimed. I explained. My assistants couldn’t write workouts themselves, so I just HAD to do this.

“Why have assistants if they can’t write a bloody workout?” was his retort. And he was write.

Later on in my coaching career, I actually scheduled a practice where I was not present, but my two assistants were. They designed the entire workout and coached it cooperatively.

They loved it, the swimmers loved it, and I should have found ways to do more of that or incorporate the same energy into the practices that we coached together. Good thing there’s still time.

Chris DeSantis coaching is currently on vacation, so if you have specific questions regarding this or other posts, expect some delay in response.

Biggest Misses of 2018

Biggest Misses of 2018

The stakes for doing so seem to high. There are more people to tell you that you messed up than there ever were. That is a bit daunting. In the same vein, there is more room for personal growth than there ever has been. So here, in no certain order, are the posts I look back at over the last year with a little cringe on my face.

Mark Schubert, Dick Shoulberg Update

So much has happened since I published the accounts of five former swimmers at Germantown Academy last week. As many have pointed out, Shoulberg and and Schubert were chummy in their day.

I had a snarky joke in the previous paragraph that has since been deleted. The reader also challenged me to solicit experiences with Shoulberg that were positive. There are in fact many people who speak glowingly of the man, including many of the top swimming coaches in the country.

I chose not to include them because these experiences are well known and well documented elsewhere. You are likely to have only heard positive things about Dick Shoulberg in your life. He has been lionized and put in multiple Halls of Fame.

These perspectives are often included when discussing abuse allegations against a prominent figure. Their main purpose, from my perspective, is to discredit accusers. I’m not interested in that. When somebody gets accused of robbing a house we don’t need to hear from all the other people who interacted with the alleged robber who claim he was a nice guy who never robbed them.

So, if you want to read about how much everyone thinks Dick Shoulberg is amazing, swimming go to swimmingcoach.org and search some ASCA talks for his name. You will never get to the end of the praise.

There is a lot of new information in both cases. So I’ll lay it out here as well as discussing at the end why I feel compelled to blog about this stuff despite my own position as a coach.

Shoulberg possibly on the outs at GA, finally

I’ve heard from multiple sources that there is a possibility that the blog post from last week will lead to Germantown Academy finally, officially, cutting ties with Shoulberg. If you recall, the initial complaint that is the subject of a lawsuit probably led to Shoulberg’s “retirement” a few years ago.

Germantown wanted to have their cake and eat it to. They wanted to appear as if they were meting out some consequences for Shoulberg while giving the appearance of a friendly parting to his rabid constituency. It didn’t really work, as devotees of Shoulberg were furious and victims were left without closure.

Since then, Shoulberg remains in the GA Athletic Hall of Fame. And he is still welcome back on campus as a conquering hero. Word is, there is a meeting this week that may determine whether those two important distinctions will continue, or whether Shoulberg will be out of the Hall of Fame and no longer welcome on campus.

USA Swimming receives report

I submitted my blog as a report to USA Swimming’s Safe Sport Manager Elizabeth Hahn. You can read her reply below:

“Thank you for reaching out and sending me your article.

 I wanted to get back with you to let you know that I have taken your report and made a report to the U.S. Center for Safe Sport. Based on all of the information, this was the next to take.

 I’d also really like to offer SwimAssist to the athletes that you mentioned in your article and any of those that did not want to be named or mentioned. SwimAssist is available as a resource to financially assist with therapy for any person who suffered abuse by a USA Swimming member during the time that they were involved in USA Swimming, . Please share this information with those that you have talked with and my contact information if you are comfortable with that. SwimAssist is available now or anytime in the future.

 Thank you again, Chris!”

I plan to follow up with Hahn in regards to why the entire report was forwarded to the US Center for Safe Sport. I was under the impression that USA Swimming’s Safe Sport division still handled non-sexual abuse complaints, and most of what is included in the post I made was non-sexual. I will keep you informed as to the response I get.

Schubert Knew

On the heels of the post, the Orange County Register’s Scott Reid, the top source for Mark Schubert related news, published a report that details more clearly Schubert’s actions to put a sexual abuser in a position of power within the organization.

The article tries to put a lot of “scoops” into one post, and therefore is kind of hard to follow. I’ve read it several times, and here are the most important details:

  1. Dara Torres has given a deposition in the lawsuit that Kukors is bringing against USA Swimming, Schubert, Hutchison and Aquatic Management Group. In that deposition she asserts that she saw Hutchison leaving Kukors hotel room late at night at the 2009 Rome World Championship. Torres told both USA Swimming and Schubert about what she saw.

  2. Despite that knowledge, Schubert went on to install Hutchison as the head of the post graduate training center at FAST (Fullerton), and helped convince Dagny Knutson to forego her amateur status and join the group.

  3. Torres account is disputed by that of disgraced former Safe Sport head Susan Woessner, who in emails dated around the time of her “investigation” into the incident says that Torres stated not actually seeing Hutchison leave the hotel room and instead spoke to Hutchison about it. Woessner had to resign after admitting to “kissing” Hutchison sometime prior to the “investigation”

The best working theory (what follows is all conjecture from me) for Schubert’s actions are as follows. He knew that Hutchison was a rising coach and would attract a talented group of swimmers to FAST. He knew that Hutchison was compromised due to his grooming and abuse of Kukors. He was also on the outs with USA Swimming Executive Director Chuck Wielgus.

So he installed Hutchison at FAST, hoping he would last long enough to do some solid recruiting but then be taken down. Schubert hoped to replace him, and despite some confusion about where the money was coming from, there would be little Wielgus could do to interfere since the post graduate center coaches were payed by the USOC.

Oh and by the way, Schubert’s lawyer friend is finally, officially, out of options to try and reverse the blame he got for his deception of Dagny Knutson, and is facing possible disbarment.

Why am I doing this?

Readers have often asked, “why are you doing this?” and not often in a kind way. I am aware of some discussion that I am somehow conspiring to take down "big names” in order to advance my own career.

The fact is, criticizing people like Mark Schubert and Dick Shoulberg has made it exponentially harder for me to continue coaching swimming. There are literally hundreds of coaches who have banked career advancement with precisely the opposite strategy. So if I was truly a craven opportunist, I would be licking the boots of these two men and not making these posts.

I am in the awkward position of doing “journalism” in something that i am participating in. I cringe at that word, mainly because I know what I do doesn’t meet any standard of true journalism. This is a blog. I have a strong bias that I do not apologize for. I am mostly editorializing, and not reporting “news” and I rely on true journalists to report news that informs what I do.

However, I think that there is critically little discussion of some really important news within our sport. The major news “outlets” for swimming do woeful coverage of these issues. USA Swimming still treats abusive coaches as much more of a public relations problem than a priority problem for them to solve.

So I’m often uncomfortable doing this, however much some people may think I “like” it. I would glady hand over the reins to someone else who was not a coach if they were willing to do it. Unfortunately, we need many more of such people to reach a critical mass to change things. Until then, I can’t just ignore it, I’m in too deep.

As a reminder, I’m going to continue on this beat for free. If you want to continue enjoying it for free, go ahead. There are no plans to change that. However, if you can make a contribution you will make it far easier for me to continue to do this work.