Tuesday, February 28, 2012

coachmikepodcast episode 15

Very quick post: this week I interview Jamie Brough of the OSCC (Ontario Swim Coaches Committee) regarding the announcement of the changes to the Swim Ontario meet and schedule format for 2012-2016. While these are big changes and I have several strong opinions of my own, I strongly feel that this particular episode was not the place for them. The OSCC did not make any actual decisions, just consulted and recommended them, therefore, I allowed Jamie to speak and held my personal opinions to myself. Hopefully this helps to educate coaches, teams, swimmers and parents as to what to expect next season... and to entertain those headed up to Nepean and have a 6 hour car ride ahead of them.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

We need more years...

When I took over HHBF about 4 years ago, there were many things on my "To Do" list; however, none more important than to find a way to get older athletes on our club. High pressure was for recruitment, but I didn't feel that, at the time, we had enough to offer in order to recruit a solid enough base of older athletes. My only viable option was to roll up my sleeves and sell, sell, sell.

The history of HHBF to that point was pretty simple: we were a feeder team to GDHS high school's team. This was for a couple of reasons including tradition. But more importantly, there was no perceived need for a team for kids 14 and older.

The high school was cheaper.
The high school only made you train a few times/week for 4 months.
Perhaps most importantly, it was easier. You could train up until the first day of grade 9, then beat the crap out of swimmers who had never swam a day in their life. You didn't have to achieve high standards to go to the championship meets AND you didn't even have to SWIM at those championship meets (you could have 7 people on a relay team as alternates).
Why would anyone in their right minds bust their humps for 10 months of the year and many practices/week to race against fast people and lose?? Many of these thoughts are portrayed in my article from last season OFSAA And The Damage It Does.

I began discouraging athletes from swimming for the high school in the 2008-2009 season for about 2 weeks... then I realized that it was a useless endeavour. I couldn't fight history and tradition. All I could do was sell the difference and the importance of staying in swimming... why swimming in Canada NEEDS you! I started bringing in guest speakers such as Joe Bartoch, Kristen Bradley, Lindsay Seemann and others to talk about their swimming experiences. I started blogging. I started opening up lines of communication and education for my club, swimmers and parents. They needed to understand why this was important.

Fast forward 4 years and see that we've been really successful. HHBF has 2 alumni swimmers in University, will send more next year and a TON the year after that. We succeeded in selling the reasons to swim and the need for our club to exist. We have fast age groupers... but now comes the need to educate about the next step in this development. We need more years on HHBF.

Dean Boles, Randy Bennett, Pierre Lafontaine and general statistics will tell you that the average age of athletes performing at a world level is raising. Very few 17 year olds are making it and so we need to keep athletes swimming longer. Universities will help us achieve this goal, but more importantly, WE need to prepare these athletes to be able to survive the student-athlete University experience so that they can continue their swimming careers; That is priority #1.

Priority #2 now is to support these athletes and encourage them to help HHBF succeed. This is a new priority for us, as we've never been in a position like this before. We recently had Elizabeth Skuriat represent HHBF at Eastern Canadian Championships and swimming faster than ever, with 2 pbs and breaking 2 club records at the meet. We have former Blue Fins that want to wear the Fin and represent our team. Very simply, WE NEED THESE ATHLETES.

Accepting these athletes is one thing, but truly supporting them is another. These athletes that go to University are met with a plethora of options; teams trying to recruit them. Honestly, it would be pretty exciting for a former Blue Fin to swim for their University's club team... possibly be the 4th person on a Provincial or National medal winning relay and have their travel covered for the meet. So when it comes decision time for these athletes, the question that pops into their minds is simple: "whats in it for me?"

Supporting these athletes and bringing them back here is very important for our development as a team over the next quadrennial. The way to look at this is investing the return on the investment we made already. My long term goal with HHBF is to have a world class performance by a Blue Fin or a Blue Fin's alumni that we can all play a part in. My message this past season was all about team work and role play. Imagine how much excitement would ripple through our club, our community, Swim Ontario and Swim Canada, to have a Blue Fin make the 2015 Pan Pac team and perform on a world stage in front of a home crowd. Even if they were not with our team anymore (Training Centre, etc), imagine the excitement of former team mates knowing that they played a big part in getting him or her there. Imagine the satisfaction of the parents and executive knowing that their support ended up in such an outstanding achievement. That we played a part in Canada's resurgence into swimming world relevance.

Our responsibility to swimming in Canada (not to be confused with the organization; Swim Canada) is to be part of the success. Do everything we can to help Swim Ontario achieve their goal of an Olympic Medal produced from Ontario. To raise the bar for other clubs and all other athletes**. We need older athletes to do that. Very few 14-15 year olds will be in London this summer. What are our chances to achieve this goal if we don't have the years?

** Evidence: take a look at the role HHBF has played in raising the bar of 100BK in the 15-16 age group. Look how many athletes, chasing HHBF's Kyle Haas, made the top 50 times of all time this season. Take a look at 50BK.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Success never happens by accident... but neither does failure

HHBF has done some remarkable work lately, and based on the number of hits I'm getting per day, I assume you want to read about them here:

HHBF finishes 18th @ Central Region Championships: Aysia Leckie wins High Point Trophy
Quite a few remarkable performances by our athletes at the Central Region Championships and a few athletes making the jump to another level. Aysia Leckie (the girl with a very unfortunate birthday) just missed out on qualifying for provincials in 3 events, but won the 50 and 100FR. Whats more impressive is that she also won the 400 and 800FR... impressive because she's a great natural sprinter; the endurance came from work and practice. Bronte McMaster also made a jump by qualifying for provincials (just missing Age Group Championships qualifications) in 200BK. A number of athletes made best times, made it to finals for the first time and gained valuable experience at this level of meet, which will serve them very well in their careers.
Top 8 finishers include:
Trevor Burwell (17) 8th 400FR
Britney Dortona (12) 3rd 100FR, 1st 200FR, 6th 50FR
Livy Olson 4th (11) 200FLY
Bjoern Ole-Schrader (13) 5th 200FLY
Emma Fender (13) 7th 200IM
Quinn Jaggard (13) 8th 100BK
AJ Tarczy (15) 8th 100BK
Mitchell Krafczek (16) 5th 200BR & 6th 100BK
Michael Jans (13) 6th 200BK
Aleks Plackoski (11) 8th 100BR
Bronte McMaster (14) 5th 200BK
Aaron Brautigam (17) 5th 50FR

As for the placing; its difficult to gage anything by results at this meet because we have athletes that are too fast to be there and swim their best events. 18th is a decent enough place to finish, although we lost to Milton by 1 point. Thats okay because the next weekend...

HHBF WINS HALTON CUP: final score HHBF 6087 - MMST 2709
Everyone who participated in this meet helped their team keep the cup in Georgetown. I'm very happy and proud of this victory. Congratulations to everyone! Wear your fins with pride!

HHBF Break Records at Eastern Canadian Championships:
Eastern Canadian Championships was a busy meet; about 850 swimmers including National Team members Mike Brown, Erica Morningstar, Pascal Wollach, Katerine Savard and Brittany Maclean. The pool is beautiful (see interactive 360 panoramic view HERE) and the atmosphere was intimidating, but that did not stop Kyle Haas, Matt Fox or Elizabeth Skuriat from performing well.

Matt Fox shattered 2 HHBF records in 200BK (2:09.32, now 2nd in the country) and 400IM (4:59.21) and took off a second in 100BK (1:00.57). These were remarkable performances, not only because the times were great, but also because Matt was one of the only men under the age of 15 at the meet. Matt finished 10th in 200BK out of 48 16&Unders and beat a lot of older swimmers as well. I m really proud of where Matt is going.

Elizabeth Skuriat also broke 2 club records in 400FR (4:36.57) and 800FR (18:03.52). Elizabeth set a great example that you can continue to get better through University and represent our team. You cannot put a value on this type of team help, you really can't.

Kyle Haas won the 50BK (27.10LC, HHBF CLUB RECORD) and 100BK (57.87LC) and finished4th in 200BK, 7th in 100FR and 8th in 50FLY (HHBF record in prelims 25.69sc). Kyle was not fully rested in this meet (his main focus will be Olympic Trials) but was competing against swimmers that were fully primed and rested. I felt the performances were a pretty good indication that all systems will be go at Olympic Trials in 36 days.

Despite having only 3 swimmers there, HHBF finished 32nd out of 81 teams: A very respectable ranking.

No one performed really well recently by accident and conversely, no one performed really poorly by accident. The final product is a combination of preparation and willingness to perform. Practice time is a big part of that; not just being there, but actually doing what is asked of you. No one is going to make you do anything because its your swimming... which means you are accountable for it. I think watching all of the success that we had over the last 2 months should have a lot of younger swimmers asking a very important question: "If they can do it, why not me?".

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Central Regions post

I've been exceptionally busy this week and was only able to write this to the paper. Enjoy: story here.


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Wednesday Links

New Off The Deck: 60 Days Until Trials
I talk to GMAC's head coach, Don Burton; Cobra's head coach, Bill O'Tool and Oakville's head coach, Sean Baker. All about what these coaches are doing 60 days out from Olympic Trials. Video HERE.

New coachmikepodcast:
Featuring SNC's CEO Pierre Lafontaine. Audio HERE. I usually announce when it is available on iTunes (likely tomorrow) on my twitter feed.

Helping Children Achieve Success and Learn from Failure:
Fascinating article from Ohio State University with an interesting concept.

Keep Our Child Athletes Safe:
Interesting piece from former Olympic Swimmer, Katherine Starr.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Follow up to last post.

Sooo.... that went well. Thanks to everyone who visited and checked out my last post. It was VERY popular with over 500 visits on the first day... which kind of confirmed what I thought: This is a big issue and we need to spell out the reasons. Swimming is a great sport and a fantastic character builder. I don't want a single person to miss out on that experience in their lives.

Further to my last post, I think it should be said that being a good team mate is also important. By that I mean, being supportive. In the newest episode of coachmikepodcast (available today), CEO of Swimming Nataion Canada, Pierre Lafontaine talks about the importance of being a good family before we can be a good team. I had never thought of putting it that way, but it totally agree. We need to be just as supportive as a family. If you're brother gets a good mark, you don't talk badly about them or undermine the achievement. You don't make that person more nervous about things to come. You should be happy for them and are supportive of what comes next. That is the role of a family. Be a good family member: be a good team mate. It bothers me to think that athletes can be mean spirited towards the only people that can truly understand and support you. My point: If you're truly supportive, good for you! Keep up the great work. If you're not: get your head on straight. You cannot expect support unless you give it out. This is a learned trait that will add a lot of value to your life. LEARN IT!


SUPER BOWL: Great GRANTLAND article from Bill Simmons, broken hearted Patriots fan.

coachmikepodcast: New podcast featuring Pierre Lafontaine.

Swimmers in ads: first look at Annamay Pierce in her new Pantene ad. Congrats, Annamay!

Brent Hayden had better be ready: some VERY fast swimming happening in the world. And yet, Richard Weinberger somehow flies under the radar. Why isn't he a bigger name than he is..??

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Why Should I Swim If I'm Not The Best?

I think I've already covered this topic on this blog about 7 times already, but it still seems to be a big issue with age group swimmers all over the place. So I'll spend 1200 words covering it again because swimmers are still faced with a few different scenarios. The big ones are:
a.) I used to be a really fast 12 year old but now I'm not winning everything anymore so whats the point?
b.) I'm not the fastest and I'll never be the fastest so whats the point?
c.) The group of swimmers I used to be as fast as are now all national qualifiers and I'm not and I'm embarrassed by that so I don't want to swim.

Swimming means so much more than just winning. But how much value is truly put on amateur sports? For whatever reason, here in Ontario, clubs driven by parent volunteers, really want to see their kids do really well NOW, with very little long term thinking. What is going to keep these athletes involved in the sport long enough to truly succeed? Look around... how many 14-16 year olds were at World Championships this past summer? How many will be swimming at the Olympics this summer?

Sports has changed and athlete & parental mind sets must change as well. 20-30 years ago, it was normal to see a 16 year old girl or a high school aged boy swimming at the Olympics or breaking world records... and there was a reason for this: money. Years ago, amateur sports were truly amateur (loosely translated "for the love of the sport") and athletes could not afford to keep going past a certain age (the physical toll on their bodies was a lot higher as well with limited sports science knowledge). Now, there is lots of money through Universities, grants, endorsements, sponsorships, etc to keep athletes going. So what is YOUR plan to keep swimming after age 22? What is your club's plan to make sure that this will happen?

Here is my final whack at the question "Why should I swim if I'm not the best" (which I'm sure I will recycle a few times in the coming years). The 6 reasons to swim even if you're not the best.

1.) Sports is about role playing. Tobias Oriwol articulated this very well for the Halton Hills Blue Fins at their October Awards Banquet (audio can be found on coachmikepodcast episode 7). Basically, Tobias put it this way: in football the roles are clearly defined: you're a blocker, your job is to stop someone from interfering with a rush or pass play. Very little glory there; but you know that getting into it. In swimming its a little different. Training roles and competing roles exist and its important to figure out what role you play and how you make the TEAM better with you on it. If there was only room for world record holders, there would only be about 6 clubs in the world and those clubs on average would consist of 2 people each.

2.) Average age of champions is on the rise. Aside from USA's Missy Franklin, the top 150 swims in the world are not exactly littered with 18 and unders. Swimming has to exist after high school in order for Canada to succeed in the world... and High School Swimming is not helping. Stephen Clarke (Canada's best freestyler and flyer back in 1996-2000) didn't even qualify for Nationals under age 18. Rick Say didn't even really start swimming seriously until University. If you're 14 and not where you want to be yet: don't sweat it! Your career is very young.

3.) Its about the journey, not the end result: "Swimming produces some of the best and most well rounded people." ~ Dean Boles, Ontario Provincial Mentor Coach. Swimming can teach you so many things, amongst them, time management. Not many other sports demand as much training at inconvenient hours... as a result, swimmers have the opportunity to learn how to balance a busy and important school schedule with a long training schedule. I say the opportunity because it is very tempting to not train during exams or busy school time... and thus is the challenge and the lesson. I'll say (and be accountable for) the following statement: Swimmers are better people... but its a learned attribute. Rise to the challenges ahead of you.

4.) Self reliance:I swam for (what feels like) a life time. In that time I really learned a lot about myself. At age 15, I realized that I was a big wuss and it embarrassed me. Upon that realization, I decided I wanted to become more self reliant (in charge of my attendance, swimming, travel, etc). There were several times when my family was going away for a weekend and I stayed behind to train. There were many times when my mom would put me on a team bus or with another swimmer's family and wish me luck for the weekend. I was (with the exception of my coaches and team mates) on my own. At 19 I was still not very adventurous (I decided to stay in Ontario for University rather than scholarship) but I really feel that swimming kept me on track in University and made me University ready. Those opportunities are there for everyone in the sport. Here is a good read by Dick Hannula. EVERY swimmer should have it printed out and sitting next to their bed.

5.) Fitness: I have 2 children under the age of 4 and its very easy to let fitness slip when you have children. However, I had done so much in the past that I was still able to fake general fitness for years... and when I got back into a gym, it didn't take me very long to get back into shape... AND I knew what I was going to do to get me there. This is my round about way of saying that the benefits of childhood fitness pay off. Trust me! Also, swimming is a life skill. You should always want to pass that skill to your kids... and then beat them in a race and gloat about it.

6.) What if you ARE the best and just don't know it? Above, I referenced Rick Say and Stephen Clarke, obvious late bloomers... but how would they know if they backed out at 13? You owe it to yourself to answer that question. Train and practice as if you already know the answer is "yes".

Far too many athletes give up too early because no one can give them an answer to that question. I've given you 6. See you at morning workout, right?

If you liked this post, please follow me on twitter @coachmikeswim and check out coachmikepodcast and Off the Deck.