When I was younger I always wanted to be a rock star. I was intrigued by the lifestyle they got to lead. Recording artists spend countless hours in the studio perfecting all of the new material that they are going to release, then they take to the road playing sold-out shows with roadies, screaming fans, tour buses, and groupies. It was just my luck, though, to be born without rhythm, which makes playing music pretty much out of the question. Fortunately I have found the second best profession, Swim Coach.
Believe it or not, the lifestyle is very similar. Musicians spend all fall and winter secluded in their recording studios, getting everything just right for the new album. Come summer, they take their new material on tour, to glamorous-sounded places like Cleveland, Dallas, and Pittsburgh. As a swim coach, I spend all fall and winter on deck, trying to get everything just right with the team that I coach. In the summer, I hit the road to work camps in glamorous-sounding towns all across the northeast, testing my material and some new stuff. In addition, I get a chance to jam (it’s really just coaching, but I can still dream) with other coaches and hear their take on training, technique, and the general state of swimming. Rock stars perform to screaming fans in packed venues with flashing lights and big amplifiers. At swim camp, I get to perform to kids who scream and shout for no apparent reason — sometimes because the water is a little too cold and sometimes it’s because they can’t hear ME screaming because of the bad acoustics. Rock stars enjoy fame and fortune. Fame and fortune are the two big reasons that I have chosen to be a swim coach. I know that I will never have to worry about the added stress and paparazzi that comes with either.
I have recently completed my third summer tour. This summer was different from all of the rest, and I have taken to calling it the Hard Water ’04 Summer Tour. One big difference is that, in the past, I took to the road for seven to nine weeks in hope of making some money. This year I have taken on a lighter schedule, so that I could be more hands-on with the touring experience.
The first stop on the tour was Penn State University. I have been coaching their summer camps for the past three years. Over the years Ed Bartsch has asked me to come back to work each summer. Not only to I make a decent wage at the camp, but also I get the chance to be surrounded by great coaches and athletes. The camp staff includes Division I coaches and athletes whose successes span from Olympic gold medalists, to National high school record holders. Every year when I get there I feel like the opening act for a Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Frank Zappa tour. In kid terms that is like Nsync, and The Backstreet boys, Brittany Spears tour. I am the band no one has ever heard of, and I get to set up on a stage in the parking lot. Everyone there does a great job of making me feel welcomed. This year I actually had the opportunity to present the breaststroke lecture in front of 130 campers and staff. I would like to think that I took full advantage of the opportunity to be on the main stage. I was looking through the video material that was there to use. The material was dated or very coaching oriented. I actually found one that had Glenn swimming in it. Knowing that I would be talking to a room full of kids first thing in the morning, I decided that I was going to make the lecture less video-intensive. I had prepared some things, and then forgot them as soon as I got in the room. I decided to do what I do best, improvise. I had the kids all standing and working on some of the more basic elements of the stroke, pressing with your chest, hooking with your hands, and popping with your hips. When it was all said and done I thought that it went well and I was grateful for the opportunity. After the camp, Ed said he would have me back for another year if it would work into my schedule. Week one of the tour and I got a chance to play on the main stage at one of the premier venues in the country with some of the best at what they do. This really helped to set the stage for the next round of camps.
In true rock-star fashion, the Passat wagon was loaded up and I hit the road for my next gig. If the first week was similar to me opening in the parking lot, this was my reunion gig. I had the chance to work on setting up a camp that combined my former employer — Bucknell University — and my current employer — Go Swim — for the Bison Go Swim Camp. This was another star-studded event that included four Division I coaches, a high school coach, an Olympian, and a Masters national champion (and coach). Beyond being there to coach, I set up and organized the camp. Kind of like being the rock star AND tour manager — all in one. This was the best camp that I have ever worked. Bucknell is a perfect setting for a camp. We had 7 hours of access to a brand-new, long-course pool. The facility also had enough space for dryland, and a classroom for viewing DVDs and talking about swimming. This was our hard water ’04 version of Woodstock — the original, not the debacle in ’99. Great people, a great venue, and plenty of space. The week was capped off by the first-ever Bison Go Swim Long Course Meet. Each swimmer got a chance to see his or her name up on the board for as many events as they wanted to swim. For many of the campers it was the first time they’d swum in a long-course meet. The thing that made the camp so successful was the staffing. We had seven professional coaches for forty kids. The kids were never sitting around. They moved from one station to the next, receiving great instruction the entire time.
Like all great tours there is no rest for the weary. The Passat was again loaded to the wheel-wells, gassed up and headed for the next destination. This week the Hard Water Tour had a stop near Glenn’s old stomping grounds in Cornwall, NY. The cast of characters had been altered slightly. The Bucknell staff stayed put in Lewisburg. But we picked up an old friend along the way. Don "Smiley" Walsh decided to provide his expertise and energy for the week. The staff for the week was five coaches for forty kids. The facility was slightly less accommodating than Bucknell the previous week. But when you get the chance to work with great coaches, things like this are merely distractions and end up being a test to your creativity. Not to mention the venue gave the week a certain ambience. When rock stars play sold-out stadiums they are expected to put on a performance that is as big as the seating capacity. The show is always glitzed up with fireworks and light shows, but the music is still the same. Playing small venues allows bands to really focus on the music. So I likened this week to playing a small bar in front of a good crowd. We were able to pull off everything that we were looking to do. At the end of the week we ended up having the use of an indoor AND an outdoor pool, with fields for a dryland station and games. This was the week that we truly played to the crowd. We made ourselves as flexible as possible and achieved great results. The meet at the end of the week was another great success, with everyone getting a chance to race in the events of their choosing (including a kickoff relay in which kids balanced a half-full water cup on their foreheads while attempting to swim backstroke). After the meet the Passat was crammed full of luggage and people, and we headed for the final destination. Unfortunately there are no roadies on this tour so we had to pack our own gear, and no bus so we had to drive.
The final tour stop was my chance to play the venue I had learned in. I had epic visions planned. It was to be Bruce Springstein playing the Stone Pony, or Ozzy Ozbourne rocking the Alamo. We even had a group coming in from Mexico to attend the camp. Unfortunately it didn’t work out quite like that. Friday afternoon, just minutes after we completed the Cornwall camp, I received a phone call from Cheryl about the East Aurora Camp. The grounds personnel ran into some problems while they were resealing the pool. They wouldn’t be able to put water into the pool until Monday, the day the camp was slated to start, and it wouldn’t be ready until Wednesday. This would going cause quite a problem, because no matter how good your staff is, no water means no camp. The Hard Water Tour was rolling into town now without a pool and it was looking bleak, when Tom Lengel saved the day and the tour. He was able to find a pool at the Hamburg Middle School, only twenty minutes away form the intended location.
This week was nothing like the week before, and come to think of it no two weeks or camps were the same. That was one of the beauties of working with this staff. There was no rehearsed message that stayed the same throughout the weeks. Every week was a different group of kids, a different venue, and a completely different set of circumstances. We had to adjust to fit the needs of the camp rather than making the camp fit our needs. The Buffalo camp was the perfect example of this. One coach led the sessions at a time, with the other coaches giving feedback to all of the swimmers. We chose to keep everyone together because they were all around the same level. There was a group of three eight-year olds that had the benefit of coaches all to themselves for the week. The final day we hosted the Buffalo Go Swim Invitational Open Classic, which was heavily attended by the parents of campers. It is always great to be home, but when you get the chance to go home to do a camp for the kids in the area, it makes it that much better.
While I had always wished that I was a rock star, I wouldn’t trade places with them. There is no doubt that I would enjoy the money and fame that come with rock-star status, but I will take the companionship of the other coaches over that. To replace all of the screaming fans, I have attentive campers. These campers come to these camps just to try and learn one or two things that are going to help them for the entire year. They are constantly trying to get the most out of the camp and in turn are encouraging the coaches to give the most they can. So that was my rock star/swim coach Hard Water ’04 summer tour. I am now back at the Go Swim International Headquarters, resting up to hit the pool deck again.