Week #27: Double Whammy

Mar 10, 2004
Week #27: Double Whammy

 With the end of something great comes the inevitable absence of great. For the past twenty-six weeks I have been writing about how we prepared our team for a final championship weekend. Now that weekend has come and gone and I am left with the ups and downs of post season.

I am somewhat of an optimist so I�ll talk about the highs first. Seeing all of our preparation and hard work result in ultimate success is something that can�t be equaled or recreated. The women finished their dual-meet season undefeated for a second straight year. That alone is an accomplishment, but dual meets are merely a precursor to conference championship, where anything can happen. Our women overcame a first-day deficit and relay DQ, to win by more than 200 points. The men won two dual meets during the season, and finished second at championships behind a very strong and new adversary. Our men� team is not the most talented team in the league -- as far as raw talent goes they are somewhere in the middle. To take second place, they had to exceed their talent level, and they did this by being a TEAM. They knew they were going to sink or swim together, and when it came to it, they swam. I am incredibly proud of what the teams achieved and how each individual contributed to the whole.

With all that we accomplished, people still see our results as just doing what we were supposed to do. Had we lost, we would have been the biggest disappointment in the athletic department. I also feel that we are chasing a ghost that we created. Comparisons to last year� season are inevitable. But no season can be equaled or re-created. The mix of athletes and personalities is different. Our competitors are different. No victory is so sweet as the first, especially when it was the first in school history for both programs and the first time a program had won both in the same year.

I am incredibly happy with the way our season turned out, but I am left with the inevitable self-questioning� what could I have done differently or better to make THEM even better? There is still a feeling that, as a coach, I have let down the athletes whom I was supposed to help. After practice this week I was sitting with Ms. Orange talking about the NCAA meet. She has made a provisional cut in both the 50 and 100 Free for the second season in a row. We both had come to the realization that she was not going to make the meet. She was ranked 53rd in the country and that wasn�t going to cut it. This is a young woman who four years ago went a 25.1 and a 55.5 coming into college. Last week she went 23.22 and 50.96 -- not a bad improvement. She will graduate as the pool, school, and league record holder in both events. That said, she is still disappointed that she isn�t going to be swimming in the fastest short-course yards meet in the world, even though this year the meet is short-course meters (much to my chagrin). She feels disappointed and I feel like I have let her down. We must have painted a sad-looking picture, sitting on that bench together. An impartial observer might have thought she had finished last and I had forgotten to coach her all year. To make things worse for her, all I could do was ask a simple question. Ms. Orange, what should we have done differently? It was an honest question and I didn�t have the answer. I was hoping she would. But she didn�t. We went through our season together, calling everything we did into question, and couldn�t come up with any answers.

So this is the post-season depression I�ve heard so much about. I have seen it happen to a lot of my colleagues, as well as to my Dad. There is a period of about a week when nothing seems to be in focus. So much emotion and energy is spent finishing a season that there doesn't seem to be any emotion or energy LEFT after the season is over. Part of me says there is no reason to be upset with anything that happened. We won a championship, and finished second. Those are good things. Those are just the results of what we accomplished, not the accomplishment. The accomplishment is what we did on a daily basis. I say we and I mean the athletes, coaches, and myself. Now we don�t get a chance to do that anymore. These extraordinary individuals have been an integral part of my life for seven months�and now they are gone. There is a quote we use on our spring schedule: �It is the practices that I will miss the most.�

There is another larger reason that I will miss what we have accomplished on a daily basis here. This will be my final season as an Assistant Coach at my current place of employment (I have to keep up the mystique, even though I imagine many of you have put it together who I am). There is one thing that is somewhat inevitable in the tenure of an aspiring assistant coach. The position is intended for people who want to be head coaches. I want to be a head coach.

I have known for quite some time that I would not be returning for a fourth season. I have allowed this to drive me all season. Having a finality to what I was doing here gave me the daily energy and drive to finish with everything I�ve got. I tell my athletes that when they race they have to leave everything in the pool. I guess I was trying to do that this season.

Today I had to address the team at our end-of-season meeting. As far as tasks go, this should have been pretty easy. I wanted to tell them I was leaving, so that they would hear it from me rather than from someone else. At least that� what I told myself to convince me this would be easy. There I was, standing in front of the entire team, knowing I had to tell them I would no longer be their coach. I have always taken pride in being able to speak in front of a crowd. I was a communications major, after all. But I must have missed the class where they explained how to tell 57 superb young adults that you are leaving them. Thanks, everyone. I have counted on you for my ups and downs for the past three years, but now I must leave.

As I stood before them, my notes no longer made sense, so I just talked. I didn�t give a polished speech, I just talked. After I told them I would be leaving to pursue another opportunity, I assured them I wasn�t dying and not to treat me like I was. I will still be a part of the program for some time to come. Furthermore, the wired world has given us greater access to everyone. After I got that out, I couldn�t talk anymore. I was too emotional. Then something I hadn�t counted on happened. They started applauding for me. I was in such shock that I couldn�t even react. I waited until now to start crying.

My reason for leaving is that I have the opportunity of a lifetime. It� a clich�, I know, but I can�t think of another way to describe it. There are certain things that make all positions attractive: responsibility, an increase in salary, living in a new city. These aren�t the things that make my new position the best for me.

Well before I made the decision to leave, I consulted the people whose advice I value the most. First, I consulted my Dad. He is the reason that I got started in this coaching racket in the first place. When I was a young swimmer I used to swim for his club. His club team was not the same team that the kids from my town swam for. It was a 40-minute commute each way. That meant that for an hour and twenty minutes, three times a week, we got to hang out together because of swimming. I was never a great swimmer because I didn�t want to be, but that didn�t matter to my Dad. When I got older I stopped swimming year round and we didn�t get the same chances to be together. But I never stopped wanting to hang out with my Dad. When the opportunity for him to run his own clinics came around, he asked me to be his assistant. This meant we got a chance to hang out again, but on the pool deck. He treated me as an equal, giving me half of the responsibility and half of the money. We still talk shop all of the time and coaching has given us a bond that is rare between fathers and sons in post-nuclear-family America. So you can imagine that when he thought the idea was great, I started to be convinced myself.

The second person I consulted was my Head Coach/Mentor/Friend. When I took my current position I was a young (and by division-one coaching standards very young) kid fresh out of college. My experience in the field of swimming was limited, to say the least. I had coached in a summer country club league, part time at a club team, and done clinics. Not your standard hire for a division-one assistant. He must have heard something from my references that impressed him. He took a chance on me and allowed me to work with the sprint group over the past three seasons. He has shown me the ins and outs of college coaching, as well as infinite patience. When he told me he thought this was a great opportunity and that he would do everything he could to help me, I knew this was something that I couldn�t pass on.

Last and certainly not least, I consulted Glenn, the person who is the vision behind GO SWIM. I met Glenn when I was a college student, and had recently retired from swimming. I had the opportunity to work with Glenn several times while I was in school. The thing that struck me about Glenn was that he wasn�t concerned with my age or appearance. He wanted to know what I saw as a coach watching swimmers. He encouraged me to explain what I saw the way that I knew it. That is sound advice to give an 18-year old who is trying to coach a group of Navy SEALS twice his age. He didn�t want me to listen to him and repeat him. I also learned that it is all right to be yourself when you are coaching, even if, and especially if, you have a sense of humor.

So I know the people to blame for the long hours, bad pay, and chlorinated lungs. I also know whom to thank when one of my athletes gets out of the water with a smile you couldn�t wipe off with steel wool. Then they drop the two best words in the English language on you: �Thanks, Coach.�

So now you know that I am leaving my position. Many of you may be asking, What position is he taking? For that you will have to stay tuned.

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