Week #1 – Preparing for Success

Yesterday I had two very contrasting meals for two very different reasons. For lunch, I went to a fast-food restaurant with a bunch of my coaching colleagues. I got a grease burger with the bucket of fries and a trough of ice tea. The meal was of gluttonous proportions, more than any human should eat. But it was fast and cheap and just what I was looking for so that I could get back to work. Not more than a half hour after eating this fast and cheap meal I felt exactly that way. That night I made chicken with a Thai peanut sauce over wild mushroom couscous. The preparation for this meal took nearly half an hour with the cooking time almost the same. I settled on a glass of Pinot Grigio to accompany the meal, which was delicious and left me feeling satisfied and thinking, oddly enough, about swimming. How could I make sure our season ends up like the fulfilling chicken dish, and not the quick-and-easy grease burger? The answer was pretty clear: It’s all in the preparation.

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Because we had a highly successful season last year, planning will be even more important this year. We have to fight the tendency to rest on our laurels. I think that any coach with a certain level of competency and the right amount of luck can have one successful season. The mark of a great coach, however, is the ability to repeat that success year after year.

I have spent the past two month attending northeast coaching clinics and trying to improve my overall knowledge in the sport. I was fortunate to have a friend bestow a wealth of information on me. He handed me a copy of what he calls his Gold Book. It’s a binder filled with nuggets of information that he’s collected over the past twelve years — everything from workouts to season plans to articles written by some of the greatest swim coaches of all time. He also gave me a copy of all of the workouts his team had done over the past two seasons. After reading through the Gold Book, I went through all the practices I had written last season. We accomplished a lot last year, but there’s so much more we can do. Our potential is greater than ever and therefore our planning must be better than ever. Success this year will take more hard work and preparation than last year.

The general plan will stay the same. In order for our athletes to be successful we have to divide our season into three phases. We will begin with a skill-development phase, then move into a training phase, and end with a race-preparation phase. This is a road map for success that works very well here. The details of how we do each phase are constantly changing. I plan implement changes in the way we train our sprint groups. One of the most significant changes I plan to implement in the early season is that videotaping will be mandatory. Swimmers are at a disadvantage in that they train and compete in a horizontal position, with half their body virtually hidden from the coach. Videotaping lets coach AND swimmer see what’s happening under water.

Each year that I have been coaching I see things in the beginning of the season that blow me away. Unfortunately, I am not being blown away in a good way. The first ten days of practice are reserved as captains’ practices. My role is to serve as lifeguard and silent observer. Captains are wholly in charge of writing and running the workouts without the assistance of the coaching staff. This gives me the opportunity to watch the athletes interact, and to talk with them about events outside of swimming. The problem with these practices is that I have never been good at being silent, which makes this role slightly unbearable. I always want to be involved, tinkering with mechanics and engaging the athletes mentally. The first-year swimmers who come to these practices routinely make simple and common mistakes that should have been eliminated years ago. These ten days allow me to see the work that is ahead of me; they also allow me to plan how I will help each of these athletes achieve his or her goals. John Wooden once said on the importance of being prepared, ‘The time to prepare isn’t after you have been given the opportunity. It’s long before that opportunity arises. Once the opportunity arrives, it’s too late'(Wooden, 130). So now is the time to prepare for what is coming.

I believe that one of the fundamentals of success for running a team is the same as running any organization. One of the cornerstones of a successful organization is its literature. This summer we produced the first edition of our Swimming and Diving Handbook. My degree in Organizational Communication came in handy. Yes I have heard it before, ‘Communication is a joke major.’ I disagree wholeheartedly, because I spent four years studying effective communication patterns of highly successful organizations. The coaching world is no different than the business world. The Handbook is complete with mission and vision statements, policies, and an objectives/goals page. Each of these items helps give our program the direction it needs. There is also detailed information on how we make certain decisions throughout the season. The following is an excerpt from our Mission Statement:

The team believes in the concept of synergy as a means of improving each individual. By working together as one cohesive unit the output of the team is greater than the performances of any one individual. The focus is put on empowering each individual to make the decision that is right for them and the team. The program is specialized to meet the individual needs of the athletes in the program.

The team Handbook is a big part of the planning process from the coaches’ standpoint. It helps to answer questions that our athletes might have, it lets them know what is expected of them, and it makes them think about why they are on the team. We ask our athletes to do the share in the planning process by filling out a goals sheet for their season. Goals help athletes prepare for greatness; after all, if you have no vision of what you want to accomplish, what is there to prepare for? When the athletes complete their goals they come and talk with the coaches about what they hope to accomplish over the season. In the meeting, we try to guide them in planning a path toward their goals. When the goal is set it gives both the athlete and coach a means to discuss the process that is going to be involved.

Some people might think that this entry has little direct pertinence to swimming and or coaching. I admit it’s slightly off of the topic of swimming, but I think that if you are a coach who hopes to run a successful program, you will have to do these things. I imagine that there are some of you out there who have already written mission, vision, and objective/goal statements. Next week I’ll get more into the Xs and Os of preparing to swim.