Friday, May 14, 2010

Was Bill Boomer the Fifth Beatle?

I originally posted this one back at floswimming. I got an email response from Sean Hutchison about it and was thrilled that he enjoyed it. I am posting it here today because SWTV just re-posted the interview with Bill Boomer that I was referring to in the blog, and they are right-- it is just as relevant today as it was when they recorded it.

I have always had a theory about the Beatles. I am waiting for Paul McCartney to finally let us all in on the joke. I think that when the Beatles realized they were more popular than Jesus, they all decided that they were going to test their fame. They started putting out albums that no one could possibly respect as legitimate music. They wanted to see if we would keep buying their stuff just because they were the Beatles. It was the biggest prank ever pulled.

I mean, think about it… If they weren’t famous, if it were their first album, would you have bought Sgt. Peppers? It was just too out there, man! Just like Radiohead and Tori Amos, they just kept getting weirder as their careers went on. Mean Mr. Mustard? Octopus’s Garden? Yellow Submarine? Hell, by the time Magical Mystery Tour came out John Lennon was dressed like a Walrus yelling koo-koo-kachoo and declaring he was the egg-man on what could have easily been mistaken for a children’s album.

…and we bought it. We took the bait and made them even more larger than life than they were before. We were all suckers. Right?

The flip side of this theory is that when they realized they were unfailingly popular, it gave them the power and confidence to make the music they really wanted to make, without the confines that they had to live with before. They were the first rock band with unlimited creative license. They could do anything and it would sell, so they were effectively given permission to show us a new way to do it. The last few Beatles albums were quite possibly the beginning of everything popular music could be.

How does this relate to swimming? Where in the heck am I going with this? I feel that coaches, when they have had enough success, can become what the Beatles were: free of the trappings of conventional training and technique. They can gain license to really be creative, and that is one of the most beautiful aspects of modern swimming.

I was at the hotel lounge at a coaches’ clinic once and was lucky enough to talk Sean Hutchison into sitting with me so I could pick his brain. He’s a nice enough guy, and I got to hear the Bruce Lee/Ninja Turtle thing first hand. He got into detail about stroke rate and distance from underwater film at the world championships and how he plans workouts around the data. It was good conversation. He thinks outside the box. Some of the things he says make you think he is a pretty weird guy, but at the same time you totally get what he is saying. Eventually Coach Troy from Florida joined in and I started to feel like I was hosting the Chris Farley show, starstruck and bumbling, listening to these guys chat. It was odd how they could have said just about anything and I would have bought it, the same way I bought Sgt Peppers on vinyl, cassette and cd. By the end of the night I was ready to do an 8000yd IM workout attached to a bucket with a $600 suit on.

Just the other day I listened to Bill Boomer rambling about cats, dogs, and advertising while calling Gary Hall the “King of the Cheetahs” and I didn’t hesitate to hail him as a swimming genius the same way I can listen to Bob Dylan make absolutely no sense for an hour and walk away feeling like I just heard poetry straight from heaven. If someone other than Bill Boomer said all those things I would have looked at him like he was trying to sell me a magic flute.

No matter how you look at it, modern training has changed. We are thinking differently in so many ways, and we have our innovators to thank. Swim coaches are some smart people. Thinking back, just imagine if Doc Counsilman had decided to just keep doing the same old stuff? Big brains like him will always keep things fresh and exciting. I just have to wonder… are there more great thinkers out there who just haven’t been discovered yet because they haven’t ever had the chance to work with a blue chip athlete? How much innovation is going on out there that we don’t know about? I am pretty sure there are thousands of really smart coaches out there, and I hope Garrett plans to take his camera to as many small time programs as he does major programs just to see what is going on everywhere. Maybe he will stumble upon the next coach with the ideas to advance our sport.

My chicken/egg question is this: does someone like Sean Hutchison or Bill Boomer become an innovator before he has had national level success? Is Hutch successful because he is creative, or is he creative and willing to try anything because he has been successful? Were the Beatles waiting years for their chance to break out the good stuff, or did they not know they were going to change the entire direction of popular music until the opportunity presented itself and their confidence had reached cosmic levels? If top-notch athletes started transferring into my program, would I change my game plan? Would I get weirder or more traditional? Would I go with “what works” or would I be brave enough to try to find new ways to do it better?

I am just glad that there are people out there who are always moving the sport forward. Our brave innovators are a part of why we are a strong swimming nation. We share ideas. Just think of how many coaches have opened their doors for Garrett and others to come see what they are doing. The sharing of ideas in swimming in the USA and all over the world is amazing. We all want to see the sport improve as much as we want to see our own swimmers do their lifetime best. Ideas are fuel.

Any innovations I might come up with on my own at my current job are based on the fact that my athletes haven’t spent too much time in the water and have a lot of room to improve. That can be a lot of fun. It is probably a good thing I am not sought out as an innovator by other coaches. I tend to get pretty weird right out of the gates. If I were coaching at a top-tier NCAA division 1 program I probably would have skipped “Hard Days Night” and released my “Sgt Peppers” way too early in my career. That might not have been a good thing at all. I could probably have been personally responsible for moving the sport backwards if people actually listened to me. I now know first-hand that I am not as smart as Sean Hutchison. (Although, my Bruce Lee impression is pretty good if I do say so myself.)

Of course, the flip side of all of this is that Bill Boomer, Sean Hutchison and the rest of our big-time coaches could just be completely talking out of their butts and we are all a bunch of suckers. Think about it, eh? It could all be a big prank. They get paid to speak at conventions knowing we are gonna listen because they coach Olympians. Who are we to call them on it? Hutch probably got paid a lot of money to educate us about impressionist painting and jeet-kune-do… and I say “keep it up.” I’ll keep paying for tickets to hear your ideas no matter how far out there you get.

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