Week #26: Good Job, Coach

 This is something that I have heard a lot lately. While I am thankful for the appreciation that people show me for the work that I do, there are two things that are inherently wrong with this statement. First�any success that is achieved is the result of what the athletes do in the pool. The way I figure it, at the end of the season I get the best seats in the house for the championship meet. I am as much a spectator of great performances as anyone in the stands. The difference is that I get a chance to interact with the athletes on deck after their races. For the entire season I get a chance to watch each athlete perfect his craft, then put it on display at league championships. They are the ones doing the work and they are the ones whose names are up on the board. I have been there throughout the process to merely suggest different options or focuses.

Second�I have a problem with the word �job.� I do not consider what I do a job. I have had jobs before — working construction, landscaping, and dish dog, to name a few. Those were jobs. I showed up at a certain time, worked hard for the day, and went home. When I went home that was it. The job was done, and I didn�t have to worry about it until the next morning. The only reason I worked these jobs was to get money. Working a job is admirable and I have a ton of respect for people who work jobs to support themselves and their families.

Coaching is not a job, it is a lifestyle. Coaching, for me, is a passion. Helping athletes develop their minds and bodies for an entire season is what fuels me. Giving them challenges to face on a daily basis, and seeing them MEET those challenges, is rewarding beyond belief. I get to witness perseverance and commitment up close, every day. There is nothing 9-to-5 or Monday-Friday about it. At the end of the day you don�t stop thinking about what you can do better the next day. I have pockets full of notes that I take at all hours of the day. I am fortunate that I have a chance to expand those notes for other coaches and swimmers to read. I even get feedback! These diary entries have given me another way to reevaluate what I am trying to accomplish over a season.

I�ve been getting compliments this week because of what our athletes did last weekend. Their performances were — simply put — inspiring. This was the most difficult championship meet that I have ever been a part of. I have never felt this kind of pressure before a meet. That is due, in large part, to the fact that we were defending champions on both the men�s and the women�s side for the first time in school history. Expectations were high, and rightly so. Last year we were a Cinderella story, coming out of nowhere to steal both titles. This was the first time that any school had won both sides in the same year. So we had that pressure to outdo ourselves this year. That pressure hurt us on the first day. The meet was held in a hostile environment, in that the host teams were the primary challenge to our title defense.

So the scene was set. The first day leans heavily to the sprint events. The fastest individual event of the weekend is on the first day — as is the fastest relay. I have decided to limit this article to the athletes that I work with and their events. The sprinters. I don�t think there is enough room on the worldwide web for me to write about every athlete who contributed to our team�s performance. The women�s 50 Free was the first sprint event of the morning. Ms. Orange was heavily favored because she is the reigning champion as well as the holder of the school, pool, and league records. This played to her advantage and disadvantage. She was very excited to get into the race, perhaps a little too excited. She is an excellent competitor and was focused on beating everyone in the pool. In the morning she broke her school, pool, and league records by swimming a 23.22. This was a good start and something to build off. We had two more women athletes in the event � Ms. Red and Ms. Pink. Ms. Pink recorded her lifetime best by nearly a second, and was sitting in fourth place after the morning with a 24.24. Ms. Red bettered her PR by almost seven tenths of a second when she swam a 25.07.

The 50 Free played out very differently for the men. Last year we dominated this event, placing two in finals and four in consolation finals. This year our chief rival mirrored our team�s strengths. In the 50 they were seeded 1 through 4 after the morning swim. Their top swimmer smashed the pool, school, and league record by posting a 19.95. It took a couple of minutes for the place to settle down after his swim. That swim really started the meet for our opponents, and left us feeling weak. What had been a spectacular event for us in the previous year had now become a decent event. We managed to place two swimmers in finals and two in consolation finals.

That night our men and women entered finals slightly on edge after having not performed to their expectations. The night session started off with the 200 Free Relay, an event we won handily on both sides last year. The women went first and seemed to be glued to the blocks. Our freshmen were put into an atmosphere that they had never seen before. It is a lot to ask of freshmen to put them on relays at championships. The atmosphere is electric and isn�t like anything they were used to. Ms. Orange anchored the relay with a 22.40, but she was unable to catch our opponents. In the men�s 200 Free Relay our adversary dominated, and came up with a new league and pool record. Nerves were at an all-time high as we went into the 50 Free. Ms. Orange had a demeanor that I haven�t seen from her in quite some time. She was determined to win at all costs and she was going to do anything in her power to beat the other swimmers in the pool. Unfortunately, her race was more with the clock than touching the wall in first. She swam a solid race and won, which was big for the team to get going. Her time was slower than in prelims, and would leave her with a provisional cut for the NCAA meet. She had been training all year for this event in particular. I could tell that she was disappointed but she was happy that the team would get the points they needed. Ms. Pink and Ms. Red both swam better at night. Ms. Pink lowered her mark to 24.22, and finished fourth. Not bad for a freshman in her first-ever championship meet. Ms. Red broke the 25-second barrier and finished with a 24.96, a personal best.

The morning proved to be a sign of things to come on the men�s side. In the 50 Free the pool, school, and league records were broken again in impressive fashion. The winner went an automatic NCAA qualifying time of 19.74. Mr. Blue finished in fourth with a personal best of 20.43. Expectations for a repeat last year�s win were quickly fading. The night ended with the 400 Medley Relay. If there was a turning point in the meet, it was this swim.

The women were up first. We had not lost this event all year long. We were the league record holders and were looking to better that mark. We smashed it. Ms. Orange posted a 49.58 final leg to stop the clock at 3:47. Unfortunately the officials felt that her start was a little too fast. We were disqualified after breaking our record from the season before. Ms. Orange was devastated after learning that we were in third place after all was said and done on the first day. What happened next was beyond explanation. Our Men swam an adequate time for them. Due to the DQ in the heat before, they were running safe starts. I thought they were being too safe. The officials felt they were too fast. Our men�s relay team was also DQ�d. The swimmer that was called split a 50.27. This same athlete went 50.82 from a flat start. Hardly a blazing start but there is nothing we could do about it. The men now found themselves in fourth place. This was the defining point of the meet. We could fold up and end up getting fourth or third on both sides, or we could start the charge.

Day Two saw two teams that were very fired up. The relay fiasco from the night before was just what we needed to take the edge off. We were no longer feeling like defending champions. We were out to prove to everyone that we were the best team in the pool and that no officials could take that away from us. This was a day that a lot of the sprinters swam their third stroke event. The men and women scrapped all morning to get themselves back into a good position for the night. Almost everyone earned a second swim in the evening.

The 200 Medley Relay was the first event of the second day. Our women were glued to the blocks, but still came in second. They missed touching in first by .09 seconds. It was a decent start because we would at least get the points for a second. There is no doubt in my mind we would have won that relay easily had we not gotten DQ�d the previous night.

The men were similarly cautious with their relay starts. We qualified fourth for finals. The day continued with the 100s of stroke. Ms. Orange showed great resolve by finishing third in the 100 Back. Ms. Red took home her first piece of hardware by coming in third in the 100 Fly when she bettered her lifetime best by 1.3 seconds. Mr. Blue was the only male sprinter to final in the 100 Fly, where he finished 8th. At the end of the day the women were back in front by scoring 377 points in one day of competition. The men had moved into third place, just 10 points out of second. It was clear that the race was going to be for second after our adversaries put a chokehold on the competition after two days of swimming.

We had prepared all season for Day Three. We arrived at the pool a little tired. This is also the day that the sprinters compete in the 100 Free. We lifted a saying form Rocky IV for this occasion. After Rocky has been getting pummeled for thirteen rounds, the only thing he can say is �No Pain,� and as we all know he was able to come back and win.

The morning was filled with more great swimming. Ms. Orange broke her school, pool, and league records in the 100 Free by going 50.98. Ms. Pink was right on her heels, placing second after the morning with a time of 52.32. This was only two and a half seconds faster than her lifetime best. It was apparent that after the morning there would be nothing the other teams could do to catch our women. Their perseverance after the relay disappointment was awe-inspiring.

Our men were in a dogfight for second. The score of the meet kept surging back and forth for second. It came down to the final relay. The 4 x 100 Free Relay would decide the meet — at least that is what our opponents thought. During the meet the meet directors had made an error in scoring. They neglected to hand-enter the scores from preliminary rounds of diving. The opposing coach didn�t keep track of the score so he was unable to detect the error. Prior to the men�s 400 Free Relay it was announced that we were leading by half a point. We were actually DOWN by 9.5 points. Had the opposing coach been scoring the meet for himself, he would have known that there was no way our men could finish in second, unless they were DQ�d. Fortunately for us he didn�t notice. The crowd of faithful fans was going nuts. It seemed like we were in our home pool again. Their cheering brought the meet to a five-minute standstill. What happened next was beyond bizarre. Our opponent took the lead after the first leg and never looked back. They finished ahead of our swimmers, essentially winning the meet. Getting caught up in the moment of beating us, one of their athletes jumped in the pool to celebrate. One team was still swimming, making the event LIVE. Once you have exited the pool you cannot reenter the water until the event becomes official. The other team was disqualified and we were awarded the runner-up trophy. It is not the way that I would prefer to have beaten them, but it is something that their coach could have avoided.

Our women reclaimed their title and the men finished in second. The women asserted their dominance in the league once again. They have not lost a meet championship or dual meet in two seasons. They were able to overcome a hostile crowd and the pressures that come with being champions. The winner of the men�s meet was not in our league last season and has helped to raise the standard for the league. While no one likes receiving a runner-up trophy, they have given us a mark to strive for. While I think that our results speak for themselves, they seem to pale in comparison with what this group of athletes has accomplished over a season.

There is one bad thing about the completion of the season. I won�t have anything to write about. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the people who have made this possible. Glenn obviously gets top billing because he is the engine that makes GO Swim run. What a lot of you readers don�t know is that I am not really a good writer; all of my professors and teachers can attest to that. The reason that I come off sounding like I know what I am talking about is largely due to the efforts of Barbara. I heard that there is a circle of hell dedicated to writers who don�t thank their mothers, so I need to get that out of the way. Also I want to thank my dad, who is the best coach/teacher/role model/ friend that I have. I would also like to throw in my three sisters here for making me the sensitive new-age male that I am today. I would also like to thank my girlfriend who, if I didn�t thank her, would punch me. Last, I want to thank all of you readers who have made this possible, I hope that you have enjoyed reading my experiment. Please feel free to tell me how bad it was or just to drop some hate mail at [email protected].com