Monday, August 31, 2009

Don't ever underestimate a 4th grade sense of humor.

Today was my first day with a new group of 4th graders coming over to swim as a part of a PE unit. 4th grade is fun because they remember me from the third grade unit and I can have a little bit of fun joking and messing around with them. Some of them can tell when I am joking before I let them in on it, but the ones who think I'm serious give me some great reactions when they finally realize what's going on. For instance, when I go over the facility rules, I like to say things like "Did you see the no smoking signs in the locker room? We caught a third grader last week smoking cigarettes under water and we had to call the police."

Sometimes I even tell them I don't actually know how to swim but I have read lots of books about it.
It takes them a little while to put it together and see my sense of humor for what it is, but they always get it by the end of the week.

Today I was lining the class up and making them stand like soldiers while I wrote their names on my chart. One boy, a really skinny little blonde guy, was playing around like his arm had a mind of it's own. While the rest of the class was frozen really well, he would move his right arm up, and then act like he was trying to hold it down with his left.

I thought I was being clever when I put on my best Texas tough guy accent and said "Son, I'm about to bite that wiggly arm off! You better keep it still!"

I am not kidding... he looked right at me, looked himself up and down, and then said, "Oh well. At least I'm fat free."

HA! I am gonna make it a point to email and ask his teacher if the hyper little bugger is that quick witted all the time. His parents must be proud.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Roman Sludnov is back in the water!

I drove to Springfield last week for the MSHSAA rules meeting and got lucky. First, the greatest thing that tech suits have ever done: it was the first rules meeting I had ever attended where we didn't talk ad nauseum about jewelry. Yay!

Second, I went early to pick up some touchpads at Missouri State University and caught Roman Sludnov after his last swim before moving away. The first time I interviewed him he said he might consider training for the next Olympics if he thought he could find some change to bring him into the 58 range. He actually said he was surprised in Beijing that a 59 wasn't an automatic medal. When the suits were taken away he was the first person I wanted to hear from. With all of the new names hitting 58 and 59 recently with fancypants on, it will be interesting to see how the landscape changes and which names will disappear versus who can keep up in the move back to skin. He is one of the few who has been under a minute in the 100m breaststroke without tech. It was a thrill to get to hear what he had to say now that FINA has made the big decision.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

High School Suits and MSU's New Conference

I am not quite sure how it all works, but the high schools decided to ban suits and apparently the states each get to decide if they are going along with the decision...?! After the announcement was made, our advisory committee rep sent out an email asking for input about what Missouri should do. According to the Texas Swimming Blog, they have decided to play along. I am sure Missouri will too, although I know a few of the coaches on the advisory committee who really liked the suits. I guess we shall see.

In other big news, mid-major division 1 swimming just went through a major overhaul when Missouri State, Southern Illinois and Evansville (the former Missouri Valley Conference teams) announced they are leaving the Sunbelt to join the MAC. Last year, the MAC and Sunbelt swam the same championship, but scored out separately, which I have to admit was strange. It is good that the two are split again. I guess the only thing that makes me sad about it is that Denver and Western Kentucky had become such great rivals for my MSU Bears. Also, with former MSU assistant Randy Horner heading New Orleans in their reinstatement and return to their home pool, they added something special to the Sun Belt as an up-and-coming powerhouse and potential rival for Jack Steck's Bears Squad. Randy is a hell of a recruiter and I see great things in their future.

Oh well... I think this will end up being a good move for both conferences. I really felt that the wierd, two conference scoring last year helped my Bears get beat by Denver. No hard feelings though. Both teams swam out of their mind fast. If you don't follow the mid-majors much, you really need to check out last year's results. It was a great meet, and it looks like it will now go back to being two great meets.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Odin gets Onion-ized

From Wikipedia:

(pronounced /ˈoʊdɨn/ from Old Norse Óðinn), is considered the chief god in Norse paganism. His name is related to ōðr, meaning "fury, excitation", besides "mind", or "poetry". His role, like many of the Norse gods, is complex. He is associated with wisdom, war, battle, and death, and also magic, poetry, prophecy, victory, and the hunt.

Odin had three residences in Asgard. First was Gladsheim, a vast hall where he presided over the twelve Diar or Judges, whom he had appointed to regulate the affairs of Asgard. Second, Valaskjálf, built of solid silver, in which there was an elevated place, Hlidskjalf, from his throne on which he could perceive all that passed throughout the whole earth. Third was Valhalla (the hall of the fallen), where Odin received the souls of the warriors killed in battle, called the Einherjar. The souls of women warriors, and those strong and beautiful women whom Odin favored, became Valkyries, who gather the souls of warriors fallen in battle (the Einherjar), as these would be needed to fight for him in the battle of Ragnarök. They took the souls of the warriors to Valhalla. Valhalla has five hundred and forty gates, and a vast hall of gold, hung around with golden shields, and spears and coats of mail.

Odin has a number of magical artifacts associated with him: the spear Gungnir, which never misses its target; a magical gold ring (Draupnir), from which every ninth night eight new rings appear; and two ravens Huginn and Muninn (Thought and Memory), who fly around Earth daily and report the happenings of the world to Odin in Valhalla at night. He also owned Sleipnir, an octopedal horse, who was given to Odin by Loki, and the severed head of Mímir, which foretold the future. He also commands a pair of wolves named Geri and Freki, to whom he gives his food in Valhalla since he consumes nothing but mead or wine. From his throne, Hlidskjalf (located in Valaskjalf), Odin could see everything that occurred in the universe. The Valknut (slain warrior's knot) is a symbol associated with Odin. It consists of three interlaced triangles.

Yeah, I am into Norse Mythology, and I think the Thor comics rock. That is why I had the pic of Odin on the throne framed and hung above my toilet for a couple of years. It makes this Onion radio gag that much more funny.

Monday, August 10, 2009

What are the high schools gonna do?

I received a very strange email (while I was on my way-too-short vacation,) from our local coach rep on the Missouri high school swimming advisory committee. It was a forward from the MSHSAA swimming office:

I hope to get confirmation from the NFHS this afternoon regarding the action of the Swimming Rules Committee today, along with final rule wording, if they indeed pass a change. If a change takes place, I will be forwarding you the new rule wording along with any decision options that Missouri needs to make. The NFHS will allow some flexibility in the implementation of this new change, if passed, that we may or may not desire. That is what we’ll need to discuss. I know I’m being vague right now, and I apologize, but this is an extremely long story and if they make no change today, this is all moot anyway, at least for another year. So…. I’ll shoot you some information as SOON as I get it, although I’m not sure when that will be. My guess is that you’ll hear from me again on Monday, probably by email, and I’ll call you as needed.

Stacy at MSHSAA does an amazing job, but I feel for her in this situation. She is obviously doing the best she can with what she has been given. I was hoping for a little more info.

The email went on to ask for input from coaches in our area. Now that I am back from my trip and plugged into the plasmapheresis machine, I have had time to look up some swimming news. According to Amy Shipley at reachforthewall here and here, it seems that the NFHS is considering allowing suits to ankles so long as they meet the FINA definition of textile.

Now, I understand that the high school federation wants to steer their own ship. I get that they don’t want to just blindly follow USA Swimming and all of their rules changes. I also understand that there are several things that need to be different organizationally and in spirit… but in the water, to push against the current has great potential to hurt kids. This is one of those times that the NFHS could cause a gigantic problem if they don’t play along.

Here are my guesses:
1) They might be considering a middle-of-the-road date to phase out tech, which is a problem because each state competes at different seasons during the year. The states who swim in the fall would get to keep long suits while other states would be SOL. I doubt that will happen, but January 1st would be a disaster for high school swimming.
2) When they say that there may be some flexibility, I imagine that it means that they will set a minimum standard that is less restrictive than FINA’s guidelines, and that each state might have the freedom to vote to make their own rules more restrictive. .. but that wouldn’t really solve anything. They would be trying to make both sides happy, and that would really make no one happy unless they only suit they own is the FS1 legskin.

Even if Missouri were to choose to follow USA Swimming’s lead and swim in textile with proper length restrictions so that they could maintain their USA meet sanction for approved swims, at the national level the all-america list would still be a mess, and recruiting will be crazy. The NFHS needs to follow the other major swimming organizations and set their restrictions from the top, and start them right now. The middle is too muddy, and waiting around makes it harder to clean up. I would rather see them completely buck the tide and embrace tech than see them try to compromise and end up drawing flak from both ends.

Oh yeah… and then they have to decide if they are going to move into the realm of asterisks. Good luck with that one!

I will be patiently waiting for my next vague email.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Are you feeling me?...

Ya know that feeling?…

That feeling you get when you just did something amazing at a swim meet? A lot of you know what I am talking about, I‘m sure.

It is that indescribable feeling you get as you tuck into your hotel bed at night and your shaved legs feel so strange as they touch the sheets. When it is time to sleep but your heart is still racing because you can’t contain the thrill of how awesome you are for just performing better than your best…

It’s the confidence that burns inside you because your weekend is off to a great start and you just can’t wait for your next race to see how far into "uncharted territory" you can take it…

It's the beaming smile that makes it hard to eat your dinner even though you are crazy hungry, and the giddiness that comes from joking around with your team during down time; when you just feel so “on“… so connected.

I wouldn’t know how to describe it to a non-swimmer. I can’t help but wonder how many people have never had the chance to feel so charged.

I felt a little bit of that today. I am at a summer league championship meet and my athletes have done well on their first day. I am going to bed tonight feeling some of their charge with them. I have heard world class coaches describe the look on an athlete’s face after they have done something beyond what they thought they were capable of. It is that very look that keeps so many of us coaches at it even when there are so little other payoffs to a lifelong coaching career.

I told my assistant coaches tonight that I can attest that it is the same at age 21 as it is at age 8. You do better when you are having fun, and it is easy to have fun when you are swimming well. I want my swimmers to have fun first and foremost. Having fun and working hard are not exclusive of one another. If swimming fast is fun, I guess I am just trying to make sure they are having more fun than everyone else, right?

I can only imagine what it has been like to try to get a normal night’s sleep after breaking a world record in Rome this weekend. I have to wonder: Does Michael Phelps really get that same feeling that my summer leaguers get? Does he have a hard time sleeping after a great swim? Does the excitement make you hyper after you go a 49 in the 100m fly the same way it does for my 10 year old who dropped two seconds to swim a 36 in the 50y back and earn a medal in the finals?

I can tell you every detail of my 50y fly that was such a blur at age 10... That was the swim that made me really fall in love with swimming at the Alaska JO’s… the same way I can tell you every vivid detail of my 200 breast when I won my university conference championship. For me it has been the same. Will masters nationals carry the same thrill if I ever get to compete there some day?

I love to imagine that Michael Phelps, Aaron Peirsol, Ariana Kukors, and all of the other athletes who have put on such an amazing show this week are going to bed with that feeling tonight. I like to think that even at the highest levels, it is not about suits and sponsorships… not about newspaper articles and paychecks. I consider myself a purist because I like to dream that our best and brightest still get that thrill. I like to think that is why they have stayed in it long enough to reach their true potential and keep improving upon it. It brings me comfort to think that even they still feel the joy of a 10 year old every time they swim a big personal best.

I hope I get to see that look on my daughter’s faces someday. I hope that every athlete I ever coach gets a moment that makes them feel this at some point before they hang up their suits. I hope that I can still catch a little bit of it every time I set my coaching bag down in my hotel room and crash hard in my hotel bed, just waiting to see what my athletes are capable of tomorrow.

But most of all… I hope I can feel this way until the end of my career and tell stories about it until I no longer draw breath on this earth.

I love this sport.