Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Change For Canadian Swimming broke the story earlier today that Pierre LaFontaine will step down as CEO and National Team Director of Swimming Canada effective March 1st I had been expecting this news for some time (whenever someone emails me that they have big news, I jokingly ask them if they were appointed the new National Team Director of Swimming Canada) but it still feels like a bit of a shock.

It could feel like a shock because the Canadian Swimming community is rarely met with major news like this and maybe I'm more shocked by the fact that there is news at all than of this particular news. Although, more likely, I think I am shocked of the follow up to this news: that British Coach, John Atkinson, has been hired as SNC's new Director of High Performance. Former Director of High Performance, Ken Radford will take over as interim CEO.

There are a few of small reasons that this shocks me:
  • There has been a lot of push to develop Canadian swim coaches over the past little while and the last 2 coaches SNC has hired are British.
  • The job of National Team Director was posted online last season and many were expecting a move around Olympic Trials last season. I'm a little shocked that this took so long.
  • John Atkinson has been working with the British Para-Athlete system for the past several years which was remarkably successful. He even comes from Britain, which has a large number of World Class (top 8) athletes and is coming to Canada which only has a handful. I can't help but wonder why this job is appealing to him.
One thought I have that stands out as being very positive is this: Atkinson worked with Bill Sweetenham for a long time and Sweetenham was a big believer in developing performing coaches. I think I have said this before on this blog (although I have too many posts now to comb through to find it) that the state of (swim) coaching in Canada is not world leading - it is way to age group - club success oriented and way too much of an "old boys club". Not an "old boys club"? Take a look at the last 4 Olympic Teams and I'll give you a dime for every new name you can spot on that coaching roster. And has our medal count improved drastically in the last 16 years?

Rules exist that you have to be certified as a Level IV coach or a ChPC in order to join an Olympic roster, but in the last few years, there has not been much opportunity to certify yourself any higher than level II or III (which have been discontinued). AND recent changes to the coach of record rule prevented jugling of coaches and athletes in order to get friends and collegues on to National teams. According to the NCCP (National Coaching Certification) website, the highest you can register for is Senior Coach - the equivalent of Level III - thus, there will not likely be any new young, Canadian born coaches on that team in 2016 either... but the sad news is that not every coach works (or lives) forever. Young coaches need international experience so they can pick up where the older ones left off... unless job protection is more important that performance. I am hoping that there is more thought put into developing more young coaches who can pick up where the old ones left off when they retire so we don't have to keep hiring from other countries; and even that the new ones can work with the old ones before they retire.

I am really hoping that new blood pumped into Canadian Swimming by John Atkinson and by Ben Titley will change coaches understanding of the sport outside of their 4 walls and outside of the pages of their books. I know that my work with Ben so far has been amazing for my coach eyes and brain. None of it has been mind blowing, but certainly non-confusing and layman's terms. Also some fresh and new ideas with technology and openness. I embrace this change and wish Pierre the best of luck over at Canadian Inter-University Sport.

*You can hear Pierre speak to me on #coachmikepodcast about swimming philosophies last February  here.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Not All Things Are Equal

A few different random thoughts today:

1.) Attendance Matters: 

Not everyone is built equally and along those lines, life isn't fair. Guy LaFleur used to smoke heavily before hockey games and still had a great lung capacity and played better than most. If EVERYONE smoked before athletic events, I would argue that sports, in general, wouldn't be as good and performances would suffer (as would health). It worked for Guy, so good for him. It's not fair that everyone can't smoke before their event; and just because 1 person could, doesn't mean that everyone should or can.

With "Championship Season" on the horizon, we have to rest assured that we've done the work and that (ideally) we're not trying to scramble to improve with 1 week to go; that work should be done. Attendance is important and you have to be honest about the work you've done. If you've had to miss a large chunk of practice time for a specific reason (injury, illness, etc) or a non specific reason (you're lazy and don't like coming to practices) you'll have to make up that time somewhere. My rule of thumb is that you need to be about 90% attendance to get good results from training - and in my system, our workload is only about 90% of most larger clubs - so we're already working from a 10% disadvantage. Realistically to compete, attendance is a huge factor.

You can't expect your workload to go down if you're workload was never up to begin with unless your goal is to lose fitness. Will some athletes swim outstandingly well without having done much work? Yes of course anomalies will happen and physical athletic freaks will be there... but if you're not one of them (and in many cases, even if you are) you have to get the work done when it's work time.

Not everyone is created equal in sports. I remember Todd Schmitz (coach of Olympic Champion, Missy Franklin) using the analogy of having 2 cups: A talent cup - filled with the genetic advantages you passively inherited from your parents (height, body shape, eye sight, muscle density, etc). You also have your work cup - the cup that starts empty and you contribute to over time with the amount of practice that you do. The point is this: You cannot change the talent cup! You are always predisposed to certain things; but you can change the work cup and fill it to capacity.  Get your practice hours in when it's time to get them in. Don't complain if you have to don't get the same amount of time off as someone in the lane next to you. Not everyone is created equal*.

*Further reference to this is Dr. Greg Wells' appearance on #coachmikepodcast discussing taper and the individual aspects of it.

2.) Shaving??:
I overheard the Georgetown District High School swim team coach telling his swimmers the magical principles behind the "shave and taper" today and, while he may have overstated it, there is a benefit, although not totally physical. Anyone interested in the concept and the science behind it can read more here.

3.) Best Excuses From Swimmers: 

I started this on Twitter using the #bestnoH2O tag but I had a lot of good Facebook ones too. Facebook below followed by Twitter responses. Please follow everyone who contributed on Twitter.

  • My son was too hungry to come to practice 
  • My sister is in town and had to take me shopping 
  • My son/daughter pulled all the muscles in their stomach and couldn't get out of bed (used for soar abs after dryland) 
  • My son/daughter couldn't walk... I had to carry them to the bathroom. They couldn't make it down the stairs (after a hard practice) 
  • University swimmer could not do flip turns becuase he tasted cucumber!!! (Strangest & most original excuse I've ever heard!!!! )
  • I was making a cd and my computer wasn't working right. (the cd was for another swimmer) #noworkout
  • I didn't come back for finals cause my Brother didn't think I needed to... I made my time in prelims!
  • My mom doesn't like to wake up early 
  • I was still tired from last night's practice

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Links of the day with Jocelyn Jay

What kind of value are you adding? Are you "living olympic"? David
Marsh speaks about these and about perserverance in Davis Tarwater's
journey to gold!

A great blog by Sergio Lopez, head coach of the Bolles School, and
prepared swimmers for London 2012, such as gold medalist Charlie
Houchin and finalist Ariana Kukors. -

A great exercise in racing, making swimmers more conscious of their
underwater elements and get down to the business of time! -

Persistence is a tough trait to teach, it really comes down to the
athlete, but you can teach them about toughness...Grit! -

A pep talk from a kid president -

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Links of the day with Jocelyn Jay

Sports Illustrated Sports kids of the Year - What an amazing (& tearful) story about teamwork, sportsmanship and love of family!!

Quinoa - why its a superfood!

"What would you do if..." 

The Top 5 Things Great Athletes Do (When their Coach isn't Standing Over Them, Asking for It):

1. Great athletes complete their strength assignments in full.

They realize that skipping little bits and pieces of their strength/agility assignment may not affect themmuch in their lack of strength/agility, but their skipping will affect them in their daily practice of functioning with focused integrity -- the type of focused integrity one needs to be successful at the highest level of pressurized racing.

2. Great athletes view practice as a chance to perform at a high level.

From 'predicting' performance in practice to applying perfect technique, the best athletes find a way to make practice a mini-competition -- even though it's only in their own mind.

3. Great athletes have their best practices after their worst practices.

To do this, an athlete must first actually judge their own practice performance -- and then issue a grade for themselves (or a score of some sort).  Great athletes enjoy leaving a practice knowing that they have improved -- and so if in the mind of the athlete improvement hasn't occured during a particular practice, the best make sure big improvement gains happen the next time out.

4. Great athletes are optimistic as they approach a performance.  

It's easy to look for reasons that we think may lead to inferior performance (poor practice performances, meet warmup 'feeling' isn't 'right', amount of rest achieved the night before competition isn't adequete), but the best athletes don't think along these lines.  The top athletes at any competition are in a mind state that is centered around controlling their environment -- and are optimistic in their excitemnent to 'let it go'.

5. Great athletes tell themselves the truth.

Athletes will always view themselves in an honest light.  The mirror they look through shows the true reality of their own situation (as it pertains to training effort in and out of the athletic forum).  There is no room for shortcuts in a top athlete's preparation, and the best athletes will recoginize a potential short cut -- and take the alternative (tougher, more detailed) 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Catching Up With Old Friends

+Brian Keats and I were friends and competitors as teenagers. He since has moved to the US where he studied and worked for a number of years. He's now back as an Age Group Coach in Etobicoke. Below is an episode of #OFFTHEDECK and a rare inside look at what the top Age Group Coach at ESWIM is doing. - Note that I have switched from SKYPE to Google Hangouts for this format. Let me know which one you like better.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Links of the day with Jocelyn Jay

The Greatest Come Back EVER!!!

Doesn't matter who you are, what sport or instrument you play, it is a process!

How do help your child-athlete deal with failure? Making it a positive experience helps the learning process. "Failure is simply feedback, and feedback is the Breakfast of Champions."

No one wants to listen to complaining. Choose to find the smile in every instance or circumstance!

My Love/Hate relationship with the 60min workout

I both hate and love 60min practices. 

I hate them because it takes me almost 60min (and several drafts) to plan an effective, time efficient and quality 60min practice. There is little time for explanation, no time to start something again and no time for garbage metres. Every metre has to count in my workouts and even more so when I am pressed into 60min on Wednesday morning*. 

*We can only get 60min that morning because the high school team has the pool from 6:30-8am and I don't want my athletes in the water earlier than 5:25am. Some mornings, they will let us drift a few minutes into their pool time (as a favour to me) if we need an extra couple of min.

The success of the 60min workout on Wednesday morning is largely dependant on the athletes. They need to be awake and ready to go. If I can get things explained quickly (a set that we have "rehearsed" before or a very basic concept that they are familiar with) there is very little for me to do other than bark commands,  call out reminders, minimal stroke correction, refresh the focus points of the set and deal with issues as they arise. If athletes are not awake, not able to focus on a complicated set or drag themselves in late, the whole thing falls to crap. Which is a long way of explaining the second reason I hate 60min practices: I am not in control - its all up to teenagers to be on the ball at 5:30am.

But when things are done well, I love them! This morning my senior group did a pretty tough speed set of 25s. The concept was not complicated but the effort was there.  One of the things I am noticing with this particular group of seniors is the level of personal growth they are showing. 8 months ago, many of these athletes would be sprinting 25s at 16 or 17 seconds, where as this morning, the slowest was 15.8 or 16.2 (BR& FLY). True effort was given to the full 60min of work and I couldn't be happier to see it.

I often wonder if my athletes resent me for making them do work while not doing it myself. I am trying to remember if I felt that towards any of my coaches during my 16 year career. I don't believe that I did... however, I knew how much time Dean Boles, Alan Swanston, Bud McAllister and the others spent numerous hours planning and re-planning in order to get the best results (and Bud worked out, himself, on a bike and in the weight room for about 5 hours/day between workouts). Anyone interested, start asking me for the pages and pages of drafts for next Wednesday's workout; I'll be working on it this afternoon.

Monday, January 14, 2013

What Are We Doing For The Ones In The Middle?

I love to see "high performance" a key focus of our sport (or at least getting around to an actual definition of what "high performance" is, at least). Canada is getting better with Olympic performances and international level meets and is taking it up a notch by eliminating bonus events from National events and making it harder to qualify for National level meets. This is all great news to me and I'm happy to see this progression at the national level. However, I want to make sure that Provincially and Regionally, the concepts of athlete retention & having fun are still there and at the forefront. 

While preparing for the Ontario SC championship season, I read through all of the meet packages and found several spots that worry me; we may not necessarily be concerned enough about the mid level athlete. Take these new Ontario Provincial Festivals; for example. The entry fee is set at $60. Lets say that 12 year old Jimmy swimmer's best event is 200FR and he only qualifies for the Festival (his version of a championship meet) in the one event. There are no bonus events at the Festivals so Jimmy is limited to 1 event. Thats expensive, but not a major deal if the festival is in Toronto and he lives in Toronto, but what if the meet is in London and he lives in Ottawa. Suddenly this becomes a much larger expense. It becomes an even larger expense should Suzy swimmer (same situation) end up missing her only race at a "championship" meet because she's overcome by nerves, an argument with a parent or sickness. According to the meet package, this infraction (late scratch: past 30min prior to the start of the session) will cost her family $100, payable to Swim Ontario.

If Jimmy and Suzy live in the Central Region, they cannot swim their best & favourite events at the Central Region Championships because they are over qualified. If they wish to compete at a championship in their best event, they have to pay $60 for that race and go to the festival (and hope that they don't miss it). They also will have to settle for swimming it as a 25m race because there is no LC Festival in Ontario; not even in the long course season. Jimmy & Suzy may have the National Age Group Championship standard, but they need a minimum of 3 standards to even attend the meet. So they either have to pony up the MONEY to go to the Festival or not swim their best event in a championship meet. I wonder if a volleyball player in Canada has the same decision to make.

Competition is great but we need to remember that competition does not only exist inside the pool; it exists in gyms and hockey rinks and recital halls too. Our competition Nationally is international competition, while our competition at the grass roots level is competition from other sports. Swimmers who do not get the satisfaction of a "true championship" (or at least an affordable one) may find the satisfaction they crave in volleyball or basketball or dance or even life-guarding... more importantly, the paying parent may want this satisfaction for all of their hard earned money and time dedicated to the sport. I am not arguing that we have things organized the wrong way. My point here (again) seems to be that we (the swimming community in Ontario - not to be confused with Swim Ontario) need to value the income from any event less than we value the service we are providing to the athletes or face the consequences down the road. Its great that we're accommodating the fast kids and the kids that aren't fast enough to compete with the fast kids... but what are we doing for the ones in the middle?

4 Years ago, HHBF and MMST put together a dual meet/championship to accommodate these athletes in an exciting atmosphere. Distressingly, I have been told by coaches at other clubs that they would not be interested in this type of meet because there is no money in it...

Friday, January 11, 2013

Reality Aquatics TV: Good or Bad for sports?

This week, FOX premiered Stars In Danger: The High Dive for 2 hours in Prime Time. Wow! Aquatics coverage in Prime Time in a non-Olympic year. Unbelievable... sadly it was for a sad reality competition - D list celebrities (some of whom are professional athletes BTW... thats a little unfair, no??) doing high dives after private sessions with private divers and coaches. I'm not really sure what to make of this; I'm sure I would have watched for fun had I not been away that night working helping another coach in Toronto... but I would have watched for the same reason I watch "Skateboard Fail" videos on the internet or why everyone on the 400 slows down to see a car wreck. Is this good for aquatic sports? BTW, this was after Kim Richards trained for several hours with pro divers and coaches...

This week, Ryan Lochte also announced a reality show on E!. If it's possible, his show may be even a bigger train wreck than SID:THD. Sure it's funny for us; we're kind of "in" on the joke... but is this how we want our sport to look to outsiders? Ryan Lochte has already embarrassed himself in interviews and created a media personality as being sort of an idiot (I tried to phrase that nicely). Imagine a camera following him around 24hours/day??? Although, a thousand monkeys at a thousand type-writers will eventually write the great American novel... in other words, Ryan is likely to have 22min of intelligence in a week's time.

I have opened up the comments section for this post (which I NEVER do) because I'm interested in your opinion on this. I honestly don't know how to feel. Post below or send me a twitter message. Are we getting good exposure or will the public write fail to take our sport seriously?

Update: For some reason the comments section is not working. Tweet me and use the hash-tag #realityswim

Links of the day with Jocelyn Jay

Andrew Luck's dad, on how he helps his son -

A very interesting article on 'how college students think they are more special than EVER: this study reveals rocketing sense of entitlement on U.S. campuses', and Canada can't be that much different -

Refuse to Worry, be Mentally Tough - dealing with nervousness is normal, its how you manage it!! -
The mental side....another perspective -

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Videos for your viewing pleasure

Full disclosure, this Rebecca Soni video was presented by Kellogs so the nutrition bit may not be "biased-free".

USA Swimming video on Ed Moses (Breaststroker).

Aaron Peirsol breaks his 6th world record and becomes the only human in history below 52 seconds in the 100BK.

Michael Phelps has mastered the psychology of speed.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Told ya so!

After reading the Central Region Championship package, I feel sad and disheartened; especially after yesterday's diatribe about money being valued more than experience. Allow me to explain:

Back in November, I was able to make the Central Region Qualifying Times available on this blog with a brief explanation as to why they were set the way they were and why they were released so late and my displeasure with the decision.

"2 seasons ago, the Region held a meeting with coaches, where we decided the purpose of the meet and the standards. Since then, coaches voices seem to have taken a back seat to Central Region Board members, meet managers and Ontario Officials (after all, what do we know? We're just the paid professionals). Coaches wanted a higher quality meet and a true "championship" .  The people running the meet decided that there would be too much "unused pool time"and that the meet should be opened up to more athletes in order to generate more revenue and use more pool time. Coaches (led by former Olympian, Oakville's Laura Nicholls) pointed out that the drop to a "D" standard would create much longer sessions and worse swimming (waiting 3-5 hours to race a 400 or 1500, for example). 

A meeting was held this past Thursday (unfortunately, I was unable to attend personally). The final decision was that the Central Region Championships Qualifying Times would be set at a "C" standard + 2.5%."

As I pointed out, a drop in standards diluted the meet and filled it up beyond typical capacity. "How can I tell before the entries are submitted," you ask? One major change speaks volumes: 800FR & 1500FR.

In previous seasons, the 800FR and 1500FR were held on opposite days and allowed swimmers to compete in both events (as is the case with Provincials, Easterns, Age Group Champs and Senior Nats). This season, both events are being held on Thursday night and athletes must (inexplicably) choose between one event or the other. My main fear here was that meet management and the Central Region Board realized that there was not enough time or space to open up both events to all of the qualifiers due to a meet that was too full (a fear that was confirmed by the Central Region Regional Coach's Representative by email earlier this morning). I hate to say "I told you so," folks, but the concern about filling the meet and getting more income ($) was far more valued than the experience of the swimmers in this case. The meet is too full to allow you (the regional level distance swimmer) perform and excel in your best events... you must choose only 1 while everyone else gets to swim what they're good at.

Distance swimmers are being punished for no reason here. I think that this level of swimmer (especially distance swimmer) is being undermined so that host clubs and the board can charge more and get more. I'm worried because of 1 statement made by a Swim Ontario employee recently, that in order for Canada to thrive in swimming, Ontario must thrive in swimming (I believe it is because of the population). By that logic, Ontario cannot thrive unless the Central Region (again, population) thrives. Short sightedness such as this is indicative of a big problem. Why can't these kids race. Not like the meet doesn't pay for itself.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Yay, the NHL is back... #sarcastic

I would like to begin this post, in the interest of full disclosure, with the admission that I am not an avid Hockey fan and never have been. I should also mention that the concept of Billionaires fighting with Millionaires over a few percentages of additional revenue is the height of greed, in my opinion. So when the news that the NHLPA and owners struck a new deal and that the NHL would be returning, I wasn't really thrilled. I was pretty happy a couple of days before that because Canada's World Junior Team failed to medal at the World Junior Hockey Championships (which always opens up conversation on whether or not Hockey is our main sport anymore). Now I was just disappointed that the NHL's indefinite leave was over and that Canada would, once again, be swallowed by hockey; no other sports would be important and Canada would once again value "Blue Collar Work Ethic" over Performance. But this post is not really about hockey - its more about what the return of hockey reminded me of. 4 thoughts that I consider important here - allow me to mount my high horse:

  1. Swimming needs to change its national identity. Its men and women who are in great shape in bathing suits racing and breaking records... we can't sell that to TV??? We already have 3 Olympic medalists and a building cache of talent. We're becoming good again and we need to inform everyone and their grandmothers. Events like The Big Splash are good but they only reach the people who are already interested. NBC televises most American and World Championships (this year they've been doing it on Sunday against NFL coverage) which Canada can usually benefit from. Olympic Trials on SportsNet were extremely well done, but only 1 meet/year..? Come on; we can do better. I think some of the difficulty in much of the coverage comes in the bi-lingual aspect of things but if the SNC is going to spend money, this is definitely a worth while spot. Get people interested in the club system and the University system. Call me, I'll help you for free. If we do everything in private and only broadcast to our members we're stuck.
  2. Communities need to value ammeter sports. I do not see value put into any ammeter sports in many communities basically due to bad budgeting. Here is my case for fixing the budget - I pay property taxes and so do my neighbours (...I assume or I'm getting ripped off huge). My taxes go towards town facilities, garbage pick up, rainbows and sunshine; but lets focus on town facilities. If I want to go for a dip at one of my local facilities, I still have to pay money... same if I want to go skating or play tennis or borrow a room at the Library for a volunteer organization meeting. Everyone on my team and most teams in Ontario pay property taxes as well but they get hit twice; Once on their tax bill and another time when they join the team - because the town charges user groups high amounts of money to use the pool. I took my son for a swim yesterday morning and was there with the High School's Special Needs group - who had to pay the general "Family Swim" fee - we can't budget to allow these kids to swim for free?                                                                                   Technically this practice is not a form of revenue generation because they use the income to offset other shortfalls, but towns see teams (especially Swim User groups) as walking dollar signs rather than a way to help the community. In other words $>Support.
  3. Can the Canadian World Junior Team place 4th or higher at World Junior Championships this summer and equal or better Canada's World Junior Hockey Team's placing? I think SNC should make this a challenge if they think it's possible (obviously the team has not been selected yet). Then if we do, HIT EVERY MEDIA OUTLET WITH THE STORY! Get people talking about it. Get people interested in swimming!
  4. Lets talk more about money since the NHL strike came down to mostly dollars. 2 weeks ago, my podcast past 11,000 downloads. Someone had mentioned to me that if I was charging $0.99/download that I would be making a pretty solid side income. I dismissed that person but am still simmering over that statement. Why does everything have to come down to money? My reasoning behind starting my podcast was to help and educate a base of parents, swimmers and coaches. My goal never was, nor is, to be rich. Yes, I could start charging for downloads, but fewer people would listen, which would not be in the best interest of the sport. Somethings are more important and valuable to me than money. Yes, the amount of extra work I do for the swimming community for a significantly negative income, in return, is at least 10 hours/week. But supporting a sport I believe in is more important. Being a driving force behind positive change in this country is more important. Hopefully someone reading this at the beginning of a new year will be inspired to take the same approach towards something. As long as money is valued above all other things and your time is equated to money - we're all doomed. Did the NHL players and Owners do Hockey any sort of service by bickering over money?