Thursday, December 22, 2011

100 Minutes With Chuck Part 4: The Future

This is the last blog in a four part series after a meeting last week with Chuck Wielgus. I had thought we would have the meeting, Chuck and Susan would have time to respond, and things might continue slowly from there. I was mistaken.

Since Saturday, Chuck and I have exchanged over ten emails. Susan and I have communicated over text. Both of them thanked me for the meeting over those respective mediums. I mailed my thank you the old fashioned way to Colorado Springs.

I could paraphrase all of our discussions or just post the messages wholesale, but I won't, at least for now. Chuck and I are still at odds over many issues, including the role anonymous voices should play in this dialogue as well as the consequences for his actions.

To his credit, Chuck has started to show far more humility in our conversations than I ever saw when I was just an another member. Progress in this direction will help him heal the wounds in USA Swimming, but only if the entire membership feels it.

Also to his credit, Chuck has continued to pursue conversation despite the fact that I have not diverted from my two central statements- that what he did was wrong and that he should step down as a result. He has instead tried to give me more information, even extending an invite to Colorado Springs to meet the entire staff and attend a board meeting.

I have to admit to a few personal reservations. The longer this discussion goes the higher the stakes are for both of us. What if, after seeing the inner workings of USAS, I still believe in their failings just as much as I do now? On an even more personal note, I am growing uncomfortable for getting so much attention for writing. I guess I always hoped that if I was flying out to Colorado Springs it would be as a coach. That is the goal I chose. The fight to change USA Swimming for the betterment of all involved chose me.

Last Saturday Chuck mentioned how no one can predict the future. He challenged me to tell him where this was all headed, or what the problem that would blindside them next would be. I wasn't prepared at the time but I am now.

For one, I think non-sexual abuse is common in swimming but has had little attention paid, for many of the same reasons that sex abuse went undetected. USA Swimming has no idea how many of its athletes are abused. Although that number is impossible to find out, that shouldn't stop us from trying.  The fact that little attention has been paid is continuing evidence of a disconnect between Colorado Springs and ground level problems. Every year as a college coach I am subject to anonymous reviews by every athlete on my team. What would we find out if every USAS coach had to do the same?

Susan Woessner has been given an enormous responsibility. Because we are still underestimating the problem by so much, she is one person doing the job of many. Athlete protection is adding an employee. A step in the right direction, but not far enough.

In 5-10 years, I think we will be regretting how slowly we moved once we knew there was a problem, and how we continued to underestimate the problem. That is, unless we make dramatic , somewhat painful change. I'm not so naive to think that pouring more resources into athlete protection comes from an endless pot of money. But is it worth it? Absolutely. I plan on using whatever influence I've gained to make us a little less resentful.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

100 Minutes with Chuck Part 3: Why?

I want to make something very clear from the beginning of this post.  I am about to give my best attempt at explaining why not just Chuck but our board of directors and others failed to do the right thing. I think it's an important endeavor to understand, but not excuse why bad things happen. I'll repeat it simply for emphasis: I want to explain but not excuse.

In my last post I discussed my own motivations.  One of the things I left out is that I feel a lot of compassion for my abuser. I don't know, but I have a strong feeling that he feels the same hurt that I did. It is likely that he is still living with it while I have been able to (mostly) move on. The sad truth of abuse is that many abusers were abused themselves. They are deeply hurt individuals that need help.

But what about everybody else? The people who turn a blind eye, or don't say anything, or only go as far as their lawyer tells them they need go? Why do they do it? I believe there are a variety of explanations for this behavior.

Allow me to get briefly sidetracked with an anecdote. My mother in law grew up in Baltimore during the 1960s and 70s. She remembers quite well being allowed to play and run around the city on her own. It wasn't abnormal behavior. People, in general, just weren't that worried about what would happen to children let run free in a big city. A few decades later, with violent crime actually much less frequent in a major city like Baltimore, people are much more hesitant to let their children run free. Why? Because they are much more aware of the potential danger, even though it is less. This is a paradox that is facing the swimming community today: I think that if many parents knew how likely it was that their coach was abusing children, they would likely stay. At the same time, having that knowledge is probably one of the best deterrents there is.

There is a generational gap in understanding just how big of a problem this is. When I say "generational gap", I am not suggesting that all people older than a certain date do not understand and all younger people do. I am saying that the younger you are, the more likely you understand. Joe Paterno, for instance, came from a generation that generally did not talk about sexual abuse. His experience can explain why Paterno did not do the right thing. Joe Paterno's age and culture help to explain why he did the things he did, but they don't excuse it.

Walking away from my meeting with Chuck, I realized that this generational gap is more than just this issue. There is a generation that is entrenched with power in swimming as a sport right now. Take a look, for instance, at the coaching staff for World Championships last summer, with approximate ages:

Eddie Reese (70), Frank Busch (60), Gregg Troy (60), Bob Bowman (48), Jon Urbanchek (70?), Teri McKeever (50), Jack Bauerle (56?)

The USA Swimming Board of Directors is lead by President Bruce Stratton (app. 62). A quick scan of the rest of the board finds few, if any,  young people (and I'm defining young as less than 45 years old) where they aren't required, i.e athlete reps.

It would be very "young turk" of me to just dismiss the accomplishments of all these people off hand. They are there because they have done good things in swimming. Chuck was extremely proud and eager to talk to me in our meeting about all of his other accomplishments as Executive Director. I have to confess that was I was 13 years old when he took the position I have very little idea what it was like before he got there. It is obvious that there are people who have been around and feel positive about his leadership.

The makeup of USA Swimming, both it's volunteer board, it's paid employees, and the most powerful coaches with the most influence, are overwhelmingly stacked with people who likely empathize with Chuck for being caught off guard in 2008.  They were likely caught off guard as well. Unless USA Swimming leadership makes an effort to empower their young critics they will continue to lead from behind on this issue. Meanwhile, that younger generation looks on, disgusted, incredulous that their leadership could be caught off guard by something they think is so obvious. Even more enraging for that younger, disempowered generation is the lack of accountability. They see the people in power make mistakes but they see no consequences.

In between, there is room for reconciliation. But it has to start at the top, with the people in power. Those on the bottom have already made plenty of concessions- they had no choice.

Monday, December 19, 2011

100 Minutes with Chuck Part 2: My Bias

The following is the second part in a series of blogs about my meeting on Saturday, December 17th with USA Swimming Executive Director Chuck Wielgus. Click here for part 1.

I spent nearly all of Saturday processing. I was lucky that Kate was with me. Not only did she ask all the questions I would have kicked myself for not asking afterwards, but she was somebody else I could talk to about what had happened. She also probed me to think more about my own motivations than I had before. That afternoon I told her a secret.

It's not a secret to many of my teammates or my parents, but it is to this audience just as it was to Kate. In my life, I have been abused by my coach. Not sexually, not to the horrifying, debilitating degree that many swimmers have. But I know I was abused. When I told someone who had the power to stop it, to take a stand for me, that person chose to protect my abuser, even suggested that I deserved it. That was the experience that kept me up at night before the meeting.

I'm going to go into more detail only because I believe that it might help someone else. The abuse carried over several years. The coach knew my insecurities and attacked them precisely. The primary, but not the only, target was my weight. It was something that I'd never felt particularly self-conscious about. The more he targeted me, the worse I felt, and the more I comforted myself with food. Emboldened, one of my teammates joined in the "fun". Rather than protect me from that teammate, my coach actually forced me to swim with him every day. When I protested, he told me he was having me swim with that particular teammate so that he wouldn't pick on anyone else.

I remember the anger, sadness and frustration. I remember feeling totally powerless to do anything about it. I had to medicate myself to sleep, otherwise I would lay in my bed restless with anger. I was angry at my coach but also angry at myself for not confronting him. I thought about quitting but I was too stubborn to do it. I loved swimming and I wasn't going to let a coach ruin it for me.

After two years and with the help of family, friends and mental health professionals, I got momentum in the right direction. I lost some weight and felt better about myself. My coach's taunts turned to back slaps. Everything was fine on a superficial level, but I hadn't forgotten what it was like before. At one practice, I saw my coach go after some of my teammates. My anger was back again. I wanted to protect them, I didn't want them to be a victim like me. I wrote an e-mail I came to regret. In it I told my teammates the truth: that coach was abusive and that they didn't need to take it. They could hold their heads high.

I should have known that the e-mail would propel me into a confrontation I had long avoided. One of  my teammates forwarded the e-mail to my coach. The next day I found myself in his superiors office. The two of them confronted me. Did I know how serious my allegation was? I did. They threatened to remove me from the team if I didn't recant. I stood my ground. I detailed everything as calmly as I could to my coach and his superior. When I was done, his superior asked me "But wouldn't you admit that losing some weight helped you swim faster?".

My cat out of the bag, reactions from my teammates were mixed. Some of them felt like I was putting them in the way of a fight that was just between me and my coach. Still others came to me and told me stories far more chilling than mine. They had been abused too. I felt like I hadn't done enough. so I climbed one rung higher in administration and told my story again. At this level, I at least wasn't told I deserved it, but the inaction was the same.

I didn't have peace for a long time after that again. I struggled with the same cycle of anger and frustration. I was incredibly lucky that in the next year I would meet my wife, somebody who has lifted me up in too many ways to count. After two years still feeling angry, I read in a book about the power of forgiveness. I wrote my coach to tell him that even though he had never apologized to me, I forgave him. I apologized for my own anger and immaturity in dealing with the situation.

Kate believes (as do I, to a certain extent) that our meeting would have gone differently had I been up front with Chuck and Susan about this event in my past. I have no idea whether either of them were ever abused by a coach- they may very well have been. I recognize that every individual handles it differently. I also recognize that some people will read this blog and scoff at it. They will call it a sob story and think I am playing a victim. There will be those who, like that superior, think I deserved it. I am at peace with that fact although I admit it did give me trepidation before writing this.

So I have to admit, when I see the Chuck respond to Katie Kelly's e-mail with "No formal complaint is being filed, so there is no formal action for us to take" I go back. When I see Deena Deardurff Schmidt hold a press conference and, when asked about it, Chuck says "Well...I wish she would file a complaint", I go back. I go back to that room where I sat with my abuser and someone who could do something about it but chose not to.

It's easy to give in to anger, but I've learned over the years it doesn't help. I'm incredibly lucky that I had so many people to help me do better than be angry. The best I can come up with at the moment is to continue saying as best I can to Chuck and others a simple truth: what you did was wrong.

In my next blog, I'm going to attempt to explain, but not excuse, why these things happen.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

100 Minutes with Chuck: Part 1

On the Tuesday before my meeting with Chuck Wielgus, I couldn't sleep. Saturday morning brought back a lot of bad memories I would rather not relive. There were four of us in the lounge of the Marriot Marquis: Chuck and I with Susan Woessner and my wife Kate. We spoke for roughly an hour and forty minutes, far longer than I expected. If my thoughts before the meeting were tortured, afterwards I almost had too much to process. My opinions about Chuck's actions and leadership are unchanged. In a series of blogs this week, I hope to explain everything as I saw it.

Chuck told someone later that although he thought the meeting went well, he wished he could've gotten me to crack a smile. While proposing the meeting, Susan had expressed her hope that I would feel differently about Chuck once I met him. Chuck spoke frequently of his children, two teenage girls and two older sons.  I had no preconceptions about Chuck personally, but I'm not so naive about the world that I thought only someone monstrous could do what he has done. It's an unfortunate truth that many people who are otherwise considered "good people" can fail to do the right thing. That was part of the comparison I was trying to draw between Chuck and Joe Paterno in a previous blog.

As I mentioned in the comment section of my previous blog, our conversation started long before Saturday. Chuck e-mailed trying to "manage [my] expectations" for what we could discuss. When pressed, Chuck quoted USA Swimming's confidentiality policy. He also made it clear he wanted to say less than it allowed. He also said he wouldn't discuss "personnel", citing "standard business practice". I agreed to respect the confidentiality outlined in the USA Swimming rulebook, and nothing more.

He provided more explanation when we met. He pleaded that, given the ever growing list of lawsuits against USA Swimming and their handling of sexual abuse by coaches, lawyers governed what he could say. Chuck asserted that he wants to engage his critics. He now feels powerless to do so, although he told Kate later that he didn't feel he needed to answer my criticisms anyway.

I decided before the conversation that I wouldn't go in guns blazing. The responses that I got were telling, those given to Kate were far more so. Chuck was not as defensive for Kate's questions. When she asked him whether he was caught off guard by having to deal with the problem of sexual abuse by coaches, he was emphatic that he was. I got the impression that Chuck believes any other person would have done the same: that critics like me are abusing hindsight. Those two responses were part of a theme: Chuck would say something humble and then undermine it. I asked him later whether he thought USA Swimming members had a right to be disappointed in his leadership. He admitted that he felt badly about his performance in the ABC 20/20 interview but followed that up with a defense of why he did not do well. He cited that the 20/20 interview was the only disappointment that the USA Swimming board had in him. (EDIT: Chuck emailed me after reading the blog to inform me that neither he nor the board considered this the only disappointment. 

I hope to explain in the following blogs just how complex the problem is we are facing. I left the meeting feeling no different about Chuck's actions. Whether or not he did not fulfill his legal responsibility as our leader will be decided in the courts and not in this blog. USA Swimming members can judge whether Chuck meets their expectations as a leader of our organization.  Just as with the law, ignorance is no excuse.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Meeting Internet Friends

Bjarnason during Tuesday's warmup
One of the pleasures of writing this blog is that I get to talk to people from all across the country and the world about swimming. One of the hazards is that many of my friends are people I have never met "in real life", whatever that means in 2011. Duel in the Pool this weekend is going to feature some crazy fast swimming in an awesome format. It's also a chance to meet a couple characters I've written a lot about, Jon Bjarnason and Pal Joensen.

Pal is here representing Denmark for the first time. You see, the "European All Stars" is really "the best swimmers we could get to agree to fly directly from European Champs over here and not go to a silly meet in Russia with more prize money". Denmark is one of the countries invited. Joensen has thus far represented the Faroe Islands in every international meet he's swum in. However, the Faroe Islands does not have it's own IOC membership, thus Joensen must represent big brother Denmark. This consequence is not without it's past or present politics.

At this meet, however, Joensen represents just one of the swimmers who should be favored against the American opposition in his primary event. I had a chance to watch both of them in workout earlier this week and practice my Faroese. The workout went much better. It's phenomenal to see an athlete who can travel for nearly 24 hours and look sharp in the water the next day.

Jon and I had a long conversation, one which we've been having for some time and that I've hinted at before. I admire the Faroese for the efficiency of their system. Despite all the disadvantages in terms of infrastructure (no 50 m pools, just a handful of pools total in the country), they have an elite international senior swimmer and fast juniors on the way. Meanwhile, they admire the great resources we have at our disposal.

One of the things we discussed was the clustering of athletes under one coach, a practice that has in the past become even more frequent. The most recent and dramatic case was last year's crowding of Trojan Swim Club, with seemingly infinite elite swimmers choosing to train in the same place. The Post Graduate Centers are institutionalized clustering, but the process will continue whether or not USA Swimming promotes it.

Jon and I agree on one central point: no matter how good you are at coaching, the quality of training you are delivering decreases with each successive athlete you are coaching. This is particularly poignant for adult, international caliber athletes. These are athletes that have reached a point where they need extremely specific training to continue to improve and develop. For instance, even though I believe Dave Salo is the best swim coach in the entire world, there are far too many elite swimmers there.

I recognize that I am essentially making a socialist argument in the country of capitalism. This is America after all, if you are the best coach than you should have as many swimmers as will swim for you! There is also some benefit to having other elite athletes to train with. What is the magic number? I don't know, but if I had to guess it would probably be less than ten. Jon has every reason to be overconfident about his own coaching ability, but he had enough humility to admit that it has been a challenge to add just one more international caliber swimmer to his coaching responsibilities earlier this year. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

All are invited to the /r/swimmer party!

Lately I have become a Redditor.  If you don't know what I am talking about, you are missing out. is a news site where anyone can post text, photos or links and they are ranked with up/down votes by readers. Those posts grabbing the highest number land on the front page.  One of the best things about it is that the comments, like floswimming back in the day, are a free for all.

I am getting a lot smarter from reading articles about foreign policy and science, and dumber due to Rage Comics and memes, but after a while I realized I had been reading a lot less about swimming so I tried to find out if our sport had a presence there.  When I sought out the sub-reddit /r/swimming, I was a little disappointed.  There was no funny, and hardly any links to real swimming news and blogs, so I decided to start a new sub-reddit for real swimmers: 

This is a meme someone posted:  First World Swimmer Problem.  Don't worry, you'll understand when you get sucked in to browsing reddit.

Please head there and subscribe. I ain't gonna lie-- I plan to post links to our stuff there just like we do on facebook and twitter, but at reddit, anyone can post anything they think is interesting.  The more the merrier.  The up and down votes sort it out democratically.  It is yet another swim community to check in with every day, but I have to tell you, it could become a really cool thing if we get enough swimmers, coaches and fans on board.

See you there!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Nighttime Snack: Just in Time

In a post earlier this week, I bemoaned the lack of track blocks at the Winter Nationals recently held at our home pool. So imagine my surprise when I came to practice on Monday and saw this:

It's here! We couldn't have gotten them a few days earlier? But that wasn't the only thing that was dramatically different. Where our west pool once was the floor has been raised and USA Swimming is building an ambitious set of stands that will put fans right on top of the turn end of the pool:

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Heading to the Chesapeake Pro-Am

Since I am back to club coaching again, I am thrilled to have the chance to go back to Oklahoma City for one of the coolest meets in the midwest.  What is not to like about the Chesapeake Elite Meet?  They offer prize money with bonuses for setting records; they attract some pretty big name national team swimmers along with great clubs and college teams from around the country; and they offer the tournament style "50 free shoot-out" that has proven to be a lot of fun over the years.

This is the 20th year of the meet, and a meet record swim to win the 50 or the 1650 could bring someone $2400 each!  I have been smoking two cartons a day, all week getting ready for that mile and I plan to start swimming some laps sometime soon too.  $2400 would buy a lot of smokes.  (Yes, I really did just hyper-link to the story recommending cigarettes as a training tool.  Deal with it.  I ain't deleting that masterpiece.)

In the few times I have been there I saw Dave Denniston swim a 1:54 200 breast, watched Lezak hit 42.22 in the 100 and 19.11 in the 50 unshaved in a brief, watched Amanda Beard almost get worked over in the 200 breast by a local high school kid , Caroline Bruce, who was relatively unknown at the time, and had some of my young swimmers get autographs from some of swimming's super-stars.  It is just an all-around fantastic swim meet experience.

One of my friends was lucky enough to land the 8th place spot in the prelims for the shoot-out once.  That put him, you guessed it... up against the first place swimmer in round one of the semi's for a one-on-one swim.  Who was first seed to complete the match-up?  Jason Lezak.  My buddy now has a story he can tell for the rest of his life that even non-swimmers will appreciate.  How freakin' cool is that?

One of my favorite memories from the meet comes from Swimming World's coverage in 2009.  I wasn't actually there that year but several of my swimmers were, which made this video an extra special treat.  

Please notice the swimmers in the bleachers.  Many of them are from my club.  If you are paying attention, you will see our club coach at the time (former swimmer of mine) picking his nose, one of our girls poking her head out and making a face at the camera, and several of our team's swimmers just walking right through the footage and pushing Garrett and Darren out of the way like they own the place. The nerve!

At one point Garrett even says "that's okay... we're just live on the internet" and then later "so, apparently we're getting in everyone's way so we are gonna call it a night."  Haha. Some of those kids will be going this year with me.  They are a fun group.  I will try to keep them from ruining everyone else's good time.  Haha.

Are any of you readers out there gonna be at the meet?  If so, let me know.  So far I have never actually met anyone in person who reads the blog and I am starting to wonder if the comments are actually just really well-programmed robot-generated spam.  Plus, my life doesn't have enough awkward experiences... if you spot me on deck, please pretend you are a fan of my work so I can make the most of it.

Just kidding.

Kind of.  You would probably end up in a video on the blog.  But don't let that scare you off from saying hi.


Monday, December 5, 2011

Late Night Snack: Swim Brief on NBC (sorta....not really....)

Makes you tear up a little, no?
So this afternoon while the kids were at school I turned on NBC's coverage of ATT Nationals as I sat and folded an endless barrage of towels (because that's what swim moms do) when....lo-and-behold...who shows up in the background of a Brendan Hansen interview but our very own Mike Gustafson wandering around with nothing but a camera, a USA Swimming All Access Pass and a dream.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

My Team Doesn't Take Bathroom Breaks...

we take smoke breaks.

I am all about reading up on the latest science to help me become a better coach.  Of course, there are a lot of off-the-wall coaches out there spouting some really ridiculous stuff, so I don't buy into everything I read on the internets.  Have you seen those Boomer Chronicles videos?!  Yeah, right!  What a bunch of hooey.  I only  pay attention to articles that use big sciency-sounding words and cite sources and stuff, because that means I can believe every word they are saying.  I like to think I am somewhat of an innovator, and that is why I love it when I stumble upon a gem like this one, in a scientific journal, written by someone like me who really thinks outside the box.

Kenneth A. Myers, BSc wrote a really intriguing review of existing research entitled "Cigarette Smoking: An Underused Tool in High-Performance Endurance Training."  In it, he explains that several studies have pointed out that smoking has an impact on three factors related to endurance performance:  serum hemoglobin, lung volume and weight loss.  Essentially, he is saying that smoking gives us all of the benefits of altitude training and more, with results that are much less temporary.  He cites several sources showing data supporting these claims, and then says "despite this scientific evidence, the prevalence of smoking in elite athletes is actually many times lower than in the general population.  The reasons for this are unclear; however, there has been little to no effort made on the part of national governing bodies to encourage smoking among athletes."

USA Swimming needs to get with the program.  USA Cycling is years ahead of us in pursuing a more science based training regimen.  

The best part of the article is that the author sees this as a developmental tool in age group athletics.  He states that since the benefits of smoking "appear to be dose-dependent and may not develop until many years after initiation of treatment... smoking should be commenced at as young an age as is reasonably possible.  Children who have not yet developed a pincer grasp might require modified cigarette holders, safety lighters or both."

Wow.  This guy thought of everything.  He even says this regarding the laws that prevent anyone under age 18 from buying cigarettes: "countries should strongly consider repealing the existing laws or at least allowing exemptions for people thought to have athletic potential in endurance sports."    Where do I apply to get my 10 & unders their smoking permit?  Fan-freaking-tastic!

This picture of a young Kate Ziegler proves that her  coaches in Florida had identified her talent and had her on the right track before she had even graduated from their lessons program.

I can't wait to fill in my assistant coaches on the new direction our program is going to take.  I plan to give every new member a carton of Marlboro's when they sign up.  Well, maybe I should start with menthols for the little guys, I guess-- but by the time a child turns eleven years old and can start swimming the 500 and the 200's of the strokes in meets, I hope to have them up to about a pack a day.  Really, I should be progressively building the kids so that they smoke two packs at every practice by the time they get to high school, which puts them up to four packs a day when they start doing doubles.  Should I contact the PE coach to see if they can light up during their weights classes at school?  That could put us up to six packs a day which would be pretty freaking phenomenal.  I am pretty sure none of the other teams in the area will be smoking anywhere near that many cigs.  I wonder if I can get my swimmers' parents to stand at the end of their lanes with lighters so my swimmers don't have to miss their intervals when they have to mess with lighting up between repeats.  Come to think of it, the kids can't really just set a lit cigarette at the end of their lane next to their water bottle. It would get all soggy with the splashes from their flip turns.  Do they make waterproof cigarette protectors?

this guy is getting ready to rip that 1500 in half.  There is no way he ain't gonna make that trial cut.
This is really exciting to me.  I get so sick of all of these so-called "experts" writing their books and selling their DVD's to tell me how to make my swimmers faster.  Really?  Can you show me one single scientific study that proves that pilates is anything more than a waste of time?  Can you prove to me through scientific hypothesis that getting the right balance of carbohydrates, proteins and fats will help my swimmers to recover better?  No, you can't... because you were making all that crap up!

I plan to make a real change in the way I coach my swimmers at all levels, and I got the science to back it up. The term "smoker" ain't just reserved for the guys in the outside lanes any more.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The FS3 Combo Pack

It's been a couple of years now since polyurethane was banned from suits and length restrictions freed our calves, forearms and man-boobs from captivity, but I am starting to worry that we might be opening that door again with the new Speedo gear.  I fear that this new tech could set off a chain of events that could have us all arguing once again about technology cheapening the sport as we head into the 2012 Olympics.

Some of the biggest arguments against tech suits were:

-They cost too much
-Some swimmers got more advantage than others
-Compression wards off fatigue
-We could no longer compare to historical records

So now with the whole 3 pack and the suit that gives you 11% advantage this way and 16% advantage that way, the cap that fills in the natural line of your neck to reduce drag, and the goggles that make you look like Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD-- do we need to revisit this whole thing again?  Methinks those arguments against the tech suits really haven't been solved.

Kabukiman? If you don't know who he is, you need a little TROMA in your life.

After the plastic was banned and suits were supposed to be deemed "permeable," of course Speedo tried to sneak this one by us, which was thankfully recalled-- but with FS3 they aren't even trying to hide that the new tech is as close to the old plastic monsters we banished all to hell as possible.

Seriously... watch the video and tell me that we aren't right back to 2008:

Of course, like every comedian on Earth breathed a sigh of relief when George W was re-elected, a blogger like me should probably just shut up and be glad that we might have this wonderful topic out there to argue about once again. 

My guess is that after Phelps retires, we will be back to plastic and full length suits in 2013 and this stuff will be downgraded to a practice suit anyway.  


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

View From the Stands: Swim Fans Rejoice!

                                                   Hip Hip Hooray!

Okay swim fans, is everyone here?  There's A LOT going on, good stuff.  How 'bout Urban Meyer going to Ohio State?  Wait, wrong sport........ sorry.

First up, Speedo is about to unleash it's big secret today, the Speedo Fastskin 3.  Guaranteed to make all you swimmers faster than Michael Phelps during the last 50 of a 200 fly.  It's FINA-approved so it must "look" normal.  I'll never forget everyone sitting around the Today Show in '08 looking like crosses between Aqua Man and extras from some rubber fettish film.   I noticed there's not a lot of media yet (as of midnight the night before) but there's this:

Secondly, Ryan "Jeah" Lochte has been nominated by Kelli Anderson as Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year.  It's a great article.  As a swim fan it makes me proud of "our" athletes who work so hard....usually not for the nearly the same fortune, fame and glory as say, an NFL or NBA player who is always on the cover.  This is great for the sport.  Kelli's article is here:

Lastly, 2011 AT&T Winter National Championships begin on Thursday in Atlanta.  Our very own Chris Desantis and Michael Gustafson will be there so, if not for any other reason, check it out.  They've worked really hard on their mash-up and they've got some some really hot dance moves.  The psych sheet can be found here:

Good stuff!  Yippee!!

Monday, November 21, 2011

MSU Bears Men take the Northwestern TYR Invitational

Yeah... I know what you're thinking.  Who cares about the Bears.  Right?  I understand that this blog isn't supposed to be my MSU Bears showscase or anything, but as Supreme 2nd Assistant Editor in Chief of The Swim Brief blog, I wanted to take this special chance to rub the win in Mike Gustafson's grubby little face in the hopes of starting an annual MSU vs Northwestern blog fight.

The meet was close the whole way with the two teams trading the lead down to the end, and they threw in some pretty stellar swims along the way too.  With such excellent competition, I hope my Bears head up there next year... but mostly so I have a reason to tell Mike to stick it.


Results here if you're interested.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Late Night Snack: A Feel Good Post

Sheeeeeesh.  When did things get so serious around here?  I thought I'd throw up a small warm-fuzzy for everyone to say, "WE'RE BACK!"  Happy 2011-2012 season, everyone.

This lovely little story comes to us from Howard County, Maryland.  The Columbia Association has announced a blocked-off time for "Women Only Swimming."  The need for this comes from Howard County's growing Muslim population and the fact that many Muslim women felt uncomfortable swimming in a co-ed situation but they very much wanted to swim.   The Columbia Association felt that not only Muslim women had a need for a "women's only" swim time but other women might also feel more comfortable swimming at these times for other personal reasons.  The reserved times are scheduled during "slower" parts of the day.

New York City Parks and Recreation also has "women only" swim times at the Metropolitan Recreation Center and some universities are also implementing a blocked-off time for women only.  At George Washington, some complained citing concerns over the program "infringing on other's civil liberties."

Personally, I think this is nice.  It brings a population to the pool that would otherwise be excluded.  I have always found the swimming community to be especially inclusive and this is yet another example.  There will be arguments against this, I'm sure.  I just like how the swimming community opens itself up to people from all walks of life.  Water is universal.  So throw on those "burqinis" ladies and get in the pool!!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Bears in Briefs: or "Why I Can't keep My Mouth Shut Anymore."

This is the proof that I was there.

Fine. I have been awakened from my stress-induced blog-hibernation. I can't keep my big fat trap shut anymore. Last month I wrote up a blog out of frustration but I didn't post it. Upon re-reading it I decided that I was being petty and I was letting the distant past taint my typically fair and balanced view of collegiate swimming.

The blog I wrote was about my beloved alma mater, the Missouri State Bears, winning the Men's side of the Show-Me Showdown, an early season meet between every college swim team, at every level, in the state of Missouri. My Bears pulled off the upset and beat the nationally ranked Missouri Tigers. Hells yeah!

There is a great rivalry there with an awesome history. Well, maybe not so awesome... the Tigers never seem to want to admit when the Bears beat them. In 1992, MU tried to cheat at the SIU invite by putting their stud sprinter in too many events and our fearless leader Jack Steck went apeshit. He is called the Bobby Knight of swimming because of days like this you know. That was Brian Hoffer's first year on the job and even after that incident I gave him the benefit of the doubt. He seemed like a nice enough guy. He backed down and we went home with the better score. Water under the bridge, right?

Then a few years later, when the new Mizzou pool was built and they hosted the first Show-Me Showdown, they were too embarrassed that their men got beat by the Bears-- so they decided to go against the meet info and score an exhibition event so that they could win a meet they had actually lost. That sent the Bears home with a bad taste in their mouth. Tiger blood tastes kind of sour I guess. Everyone there knew they won, but who do you report it to when the host team changes the rules?

Ya know, if my school had just built me a big, fancy multi-million dollar pool I might feel compelled to put a spin on the results of the maiden voyage... but I probably wouldn't tell an outright lie. That just sucks.

That's okay. We got beat by MU once during my four year career as a Bear. If we won all the time it wouldn't be much of a rivalry, right?

Anyway, this year MU and MSU are back to racing again after a few seasons of well needed cool-off time. They had been refusing to match-up in recent years. Coach Rhodenbaugh and Coach Steck finally decided to set bad blood aside and resume competition. Wonderful! I have heard great things about Roddy and have already seen Mizzou move into uncharted territory in his first season. I thought maybe the Tigers had grown up a little with new leadership. Apparently not, though, as when the Bears' men won the Show-Down in October 2011 the results were awfully hard to find on-line. As a matter of fact, when I finally found them they had no scores attached. AND... two newspapers in Columbia, Missouri reported that Mizzou won both the Men's and Women's divisions of the meet!

What?! The Bears and their group of nervous underclassmen bested Mizzou by over 60 points!? Since when is that second place?

Still, I wanted to give Roddy the benefit of the doubt. I mean, it really could have been a miscommunication. We all know campus and community papers like to report about the 20 IM and the 400 breach-stroke and other stupid careless crap all the time. One of the newspapers did make a correction to their online paper the next day after taking complaints. Maybe it was just a freshman reporter being an idiot and wasn't a reflection of the MU program. Maybe Coach Rod had nothing to do with it. I typed up that blog but never posted it. I held my tongue.

But alas... No. last night my blood boiled. You see, this week Coach Steck was thrilled to be hosting Mizzou once again at Hammons Student Center Pool. It had been a few years since they dualed. With a new coach and new team, he was excited that they were going to come down to the ghetto and be forced to wonder how a team with so little advantages can be so fast. The MSU pool is an out-dated bunker compared to the MU pool. Every detail is pathetic in contrast. Their budget is a mere fraction of that of the Tigers. There were many in our state political base who wanted to keep MSU down, forcing the school to continue as SW Missouri State forever, because Mizzou Alumni were offended that a school so much less impressive could share their status as a major state school. The name change finally happened, but MSU is still considered the underdog in nearly every rivalry they have ever had. They are scrappers. They are junkyard dogs. They always are in a position to have to prove themselves.

...and Coach Rodenbaugh's troops-- they showed up at this dual that they could have played off as insignificant, fully dressed for battle. They wore brand new LZR's right out of the box! Championship meet suits! The Bears took them on in briefs!

I ain't making this up. They essentially showed up at a
knife fight with a gun-- which is a nice compliment to my Bears, I guess.

The biggest reason I am pissed?... This was stacked up to be an awesome dual on the men's side: Their 400 free and 400 medley relays were both 3:22 and 3:03 on the season. These were two very evenly matched teams and this should have been a barn-burner of a meet. If I had paid for admission, I would have felt ripped-off. Every Mizzou male had his thighs covered with compression fabric. (Well, except for the divers of course.) Every MU man and woman but one, Dominique Bouchard, had a LZR on, and Bouchard just happened to get embarrassingly reeled in on the last 50 of the 200 fly by MSU's Roni Balzam on her way to setting the pool record with her 2:04.59. MSU set another meet record on the men's side when Vitaly Baryshok swam 1:38.22 in the 200 free, one of his three individual wins of the night in a brief.

Of course, in a meet with 18 pool records set between men and women, those were lost amongst the mess of an outrageously fast dual. An unnaturally fast in-season dual, I should say. Results are here.

Sorry if I seem overly bitter. I don't want to sound like a sore loser and I certainly don't want anyone to think my attitude has anything to do with the feelings of the MSU coaching staff. I just, well... as a loyal alum, I can't help but feel robbed. When people look at the score of this dual, and see it as an overwhelming win for the Tigers, I want them to know that the playing field was not level. So many times as a mid-major, the Bears have been accused of resting and shaving and suiting up when they pull off the win against a Goliath. I want to make sure that everyone sees this. MSU is a damn good team this year, and they are capable of hanging with even a top 25 ranked team like Mizzou. This meet was closer than the score indicates, and I only wish Mizzou had the nuggets to face their ever-underdog in-state rival with all things equal. Of course, then they would have to admit that this lowly mid-major is a respectable rival, and that just wouldn't be prudent for a big time program moving into the SEC, would it?

This was dirty pool and I ain't afraid to say it. Coach Rhodenbaugh, please!... The next time you face my Bears, treat them with the respect they have been earning for decades. This rivalry deserves that. My generation, and those before and after mine, deserve better. Jack deserved better treatment in his final season. I don't claim to understand your motivation for wearing your fancy pants last night, but I can't help feeling utterly let-down with the feeling that fair play was not honored.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Sound familiar?

There's so much going on today, I struggled to pick one topic. Maryland Swimming is under serious threat, a prospect that is completely terrifying. The first set of College dual meet rankings is set to be released later in the day. But you won't hear about either of those things if you turn on sports center. The sports world's gaze is firmly fixed on State College, PA. But this is a swimming blog! And still it might be the most important swimming topic of the day.

For those that haven't been following, news broke over the weekend that long time Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky would be indicted for committing sexual crimes against minors. That part of the story should be all too familiar to the swimming community, as the details of allegations against Sandusky poured out. They detailed how he used his position of authority and children's charity to get access to and abuse children.

Equally troubling are the indictments of two Penn State officials, Athletic Director Tim Curley and Vice President Gary Schultz. Both are alleged to have been given a first hand account of Sandusky having anal sex with a ten year old boy, but the only action they took was to ban Sandusky from Penn State main campus facilities. Head football coach, Joe Paterno and Mike McQueary, the graduate assistant who reported the incident to Paterno and the administration, aren't in any legal trouble, but they certainly are in moral trouble over their hesitance to do anything more than send it one step up the line.

It's both heartening and depressing to see the response. After "nothing to see here" response from Penn State president Graham Spanier, the board of trustees stepped in and seem to be moving swiftly to hold the administrators accountable. Is there even one person in a position of significant power in swimming that has taken action to hold coaches accountable? Or are they all in "nothing to see here" mode?

The masses seem to have no trouble publicly calling for the heads of Paterno and others. In swimming the response to our powerful people putting themselves before victims remains largely muted. The public outcry has already yield a pretty dramatic outcome: Paterno announced as I was writing this blog that he would be retiring at the end of the year. It may not be enough, but the thought of Paterno stepping away was pretty unthinkable a week ago.

There are certainly some positives to swimming existing mostly far out of the limelight. It keeps the majority of our athletes fairly well grounded. It means that as a college coach, I get to coach student athletes rather than running a minor league for the pros. The down side is this- there is almost no one outside of swimming to hold the most powerful people in our sport accountable. When Joe Paterno is in trouble, he has to hide from a ravenous media that wants him to answer the hard questions. When Chuck Wielgus is under fire, he gets lobbed a few softballs from Swimming World Magazine, shuts down access to anyone else and we're all supposed to forget it ever happened.

Penn State is a lesson to the swimming community- but is anyone listening?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

About those deadlines...

"If you hang up this phone, the offer is gone"

That's the line that many college prospects are facing and have faced over the last few weeks. In the cutthroat world of college recruiting, deadlines are an effective way for schools to get commitments. While the above is perhaps the most extreme example, most scholarship schools use deadlines to varying degrees. If you're a prospect or parent (or even a college coach) you may be wondering why.

The reason is simple. Most schools over-recruit. The process is similar to filling job positions. When you have one job opening, you don't only interview one candidate. You likely interview several. Ultimately you will decide who you want the most and offer them the position. They may say yes, and you can give every other applicant your regrets. Or they say no, and you move on to the next person down the line.

But the college recruiting system for swimming has a few more variables. For one, the list of openings can be somewhat fluid, depending on roster caps or minimums. And unlike most job systems where there is a somewhat structured pay range, college swimming programs are free to cut up pieces of scholarship cake however they want.

If a college coach puts a swimmer on a deadline, it is because they are interested in having that swimmer above a group of other swimmers they are currently recruiting. They want a final answer on whether they can have the swimmer so they can either move on to plan B (or C, hopefully not D). Therefore, it's easy to understand why some colleges are in such a rush. Everything else they do hinges on each particular commitment as they try to construct a recruiting class.

At the same time, I think that there is a right and wrong length for these deadlines. Deadlines like the one that led this post off or of 24 hours are unfair to the prospect making the decision. They are not against NCAA rules. They prey on the natural loss aversion of humans. Prospects are put in a position where they may be sacrificing something if they don't say yes in a very compressed time.

Whenever we negotiate with prospects at Georgia Tech, we typically set deadlines of 1-2 weeks. They are also often open for negotiation with the prospect. Sometimes I wonder if we are being naive in not setting more extreme deadlines. Are we costing ourselves in the competitive landscape? I can see the other side of the coin: extracting commitments with high pressure tactics can't always yield good long term results.

If you're reading this, where do you stand on deadlines? What is fair to the coach and what is fair to the prospect? What gets the best long term results?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Brief Conversation About The Michael Phelps Video Game

Friend: "Turn on the TV."

Me: "Why?"

Friend: "Michael Phelps is on."

Me: "What's he doing?"

Friend: "Flailing his arms."

Me: "Is he swimming?"

Friend: "No."

Me: "Then why is he flailing his arms?"

Friend: "It's for a video game he's demonstrating on Jimmy Fallon."


Me: "What?"

Friend: "It's a swimming video game."

Me: "How does it work?"

Friend: "Why won't you just turn on the TV?"

Me: "I'm lazy."

Friend: "Then you wouldn't like this game."

Me: "I like games."

Friend: "You move around in this game."

Me: "Does it have tubes of water in your face?"

Friend: "No."

Me: "Does it make you wear a Speedo?"

Friend: "No."

Me: "Does it make you throw up on Christmas morning?"

Friend: "No."


Me: "Maybe I would like it."

Friend: "Totally."

Thursday, October 6, 2011

These Hands

Nothing has ever come easy for my girls.  Born more than 10 weeks prematurely they weighed 2lbs each when they were born.  They spent their first few months in the hospital;  tubes, needles, wires.  Monitors  incessantly beeping.  Sometimes the monitors became frenzied, a baby was crashing.  Doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists.  Hand washing, the smell of disinfectant.   All my girls have scars from their time in the NICU on their hands and feet.  Their physical tolerance from pain is unusual and I've been told it's due to the "programming" their little nervous systems endured from their first couple of months.  Sometimes I'm like, "seriously, that had to hurt."  It's made them tough.  Tough in many ways.

Upon discharge from the hospital we entered the realm known as "early childhood intervention."  Occupational therapy, developmental therapy, speech and language and, of course, physical therapy.  Everything happened but it took extraordinary effort;  rolling over, grasping, crawling, babbling, first words, walking.  Hours and hours and hours and hours.  When they girls turned 1 we knew Kate was on a different trajectory but that Charlotte and Anna would be okay.  We continued.  Preschool.  More therapy.  Finally, entering kindergarden and the final evaluation.  Charlotte and Anna no longer qualified for services.  They no longer were "disabled."  They were.......okay.

I waited to put them in swim lessons until they were 7.  They probably could have started earlier but, whatever.  Swimming is the only sport they ever wanted to try.  Soccer?  No thanks.  Softball?  No.  "Mom, we want to swim."  Perhaps I was too sensitive to being a "swage" mom (my combination for swim/stage mom) due to my own interest in the sport and maybe I had some PTSD from their early history but last fall we finally began swim lessons.  They did really well through freestyle and backstroke, flip turns and racing starts and then.....breaststroke.

Seriously, what the hell.

According to Wikipedia, the history of the breaststroke goes back to the Stone Age.  Somewhere in Egypt, near Libya, there's a "Cave of Swimmers" with drawings of Fred and Barney doing their best Kitajima impersonation.   It should have stayed in the Stone Age.  Extreme prematurity and a higher-ordered multiple birth wasn't going to conquer us but breaststroke sure as hell was.  Between getting the timing down and the kick.  *sigh*  "The teacher says I'm scissor kicking" they'd tell me.  "Yeah, well keep it in your back pocket for when you really need it like at a World Championship" I'd mutter under my breath.  Honestly, I didn't have a lot constructive to say so I stayed supportive and encouraging.  I took them to the Indy Grand Prix.  I showed them Lochte's tweet from Nationals, his call for help regarding breaststroke.  I told them everyone has a hard time with certain things, everyone has something they really work hard on....even Olympians.  So they worked.  They continued to try.

So this past Monday was report card day.   I could sense their excitement tinged with a hint of apprehension.  Since spring they've stayed in "level 5" while watching others move up.  I told them it didn't matter what level they were in and for how long-what mattered is that they learned the stroke.  Honestly, I saw kids being moved up that weren't ready but I think there was pressure from the parents to move them up (allegedly.)    (Ahem.)  The swim coach had told me the week before that they were moving up but I waited until they came running up to me with their wet report cards clenched in their soaked cold little hands.......

.....The same hands scarred by needles, the same hands that were once so small.  They're bigger hands now.  Stronger.  They're the hands that inspire me and some days lead me to insanity.  They're the hands of my heros who have worked so hard to accomplish what comes so naturally to others......those hands .....are moving onto butterfly now.  

Monday, September 19, 2011

Oh, Hey Pitt!

I was enjoying a brief respite this weekend from what has been a far busier fall than I anticipated. Of course, when you have a smart phone you are always sort of at work. An e-mail flashed into my inbox. Pitt and Syracuse were joining the ACC.

You'll notice that I left Syracuse out of the title. It's not a snub at their recently departed swimming program. It's more at their University for shamefully dropping swimming. Although the details have yet to be hammered out, it appears that Pitt will be the newest ACC team.

This morning, I figured I would rouse myself from my Gustafson-level posting frequency to comment. Major media outlets will focus on the football and basketball implications. But you don't care about that, right? Well, maybe you do, but you at least sorta care about the swimming right?

Pitt will fit in very well in the ACC right now. They have traditionally competed against ACC teams (UVA most frequently), they bring another nice facility into the league, and academically they are very comparable to the rest of the schools in the league. The geography will be a little strange, but they are way closer to the rest of the league than BC is and could\probably swim Virginia Tech, UVA and Maryland each year.

It also will provide a nice bolster for the ACC, which is saying goodbye to Clemson after this coming season. The ACC is probably fourth out of the five "power" conferences, and could be "last" if the Big East ceases to exist.

From a recruiting perspective, I think that Pitt gains more from entering the ACC then the rest of the league gains from their presence. Western Pennsylvania has always been a strong recruiting area, and UVA in particular has made a killing recruiting in that area. I don't expect that to change. Pitt, however, will gain from being in a league that has a presence up and down the east coast.

Everyone seems to think that Pitt won't be forced to wait the compulsory 27 months to switch leagues, so we could see them at the ACC championship come 2013. From what I'm reading today, there could be more. I only wish we could get a cooler team like the Screaming Viking's alma mater Missouri State, but you can't get everything you want.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Could the PAC-12 TV Deal Bring Back Husky Swimming?

Do they have a chance to get back in the race?
I just wanted to point out a link today from the Seattle PI in which the author, who plainly states that he doesn't give a rip about swimming, speaks up to support bringing our beloved Husky swim programs back.  He states that since the University of Washington blamed hard financial times as the culprit forcing them to cut the mens and womens swimming programs for a whopping 1.2 million in savings, they really don't have any reason to not bring them back.  They just landed a sweet tv deal in which they will bring in about 12 million annually over what they previously received.

From the article:

"So, I understand why Woodward killed the swimming program in 2009, but now? Now that they are knee-deep in greenbacks because of someone else’s business acumen (read: the aforementioned Larry Scott) it would be embarrassing for the UW if they continued to ignore their castaway. It not only would appear greedy, it would simply be an overt gesture of greed.
If the excuse for killing the program before was lack of funds, what’s the excuse now?"

Amen brother!!  The only problem is, the author probably isn't aware of the history there.  Admin had been trying to kill swimming at UW for decades and finally had a financial crisis to fall back on as an excuse.  I would do anything to see the Huskies back in the water, but I really worry that the thought won't even occur to them.  Maybe now is the time for the swim community to rally and make them aware that we know the money problems are gone and this wrong should be made right.

Don't forget, the Husky Swimming Foundation is still fighting the good fight.  Let them know you still care by making a donation or supporting their events.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

British Comedy, Swimming and Charity. What's Not To Love Here?

David Wallliams swimming past my brother's house this past weekend for Sport Relief

David Walliams, actor and comedian best known for the BBC show "Little Britain" (and Little Britain USA on HBO) swam the length of the Thames, about 135 miles total, for the British charity Sport Relief.  The swim took him 8 days to complete.  He said he was in tremendous pain and he and was  warned by the health authorities he'd be swimming through sewage.  Sure 'nuff, on day 3 it resulted in a bad case of "Thames Tummy" and yet kept calm and carried on (get it?  get it?)   He raised over $2 million.

Sport Relief is associated with Comic Relief (which if you're American of a certain age you may be having flashbacks of Whoopie Goldberg and Billy Crystal doing jokes about homelessness in acid wash jeans) and BBC Sport.   Sport Relief raises millions and millions for causes in the UK  including: bringing sports into lower income communities, mental health treatment, support for domestic abuse and sexual abuse survivors as well as worldwide funding schools for girls, clean water programs and free trade initiatives.  

Good stuff.  Why don't we have anything like this in the States? The NFL has charities as does the NBA but there is no national, all sport, all inclusive charity which also brings in entertainment.  Phelps vs Shaq was great television.  Millions watched and millions of dollars could have been raised.  In America we're very good at bringing everyone together after national emergencies and global tragedies.  What I love about this is it's a national movement.  People hang red noses on their doors, school children hold "sport days," there's a mile walk, there's usually a telethon of sorts with great clips like these:

James Corden  (aka "Smithy") and Beckham 

James Corden and Tom Daley

We want to grow the sport?  I think this is a great way to do it.  Everybody wins.  This country can use a little "feel good" about now.  I know Mel Stewart agrees with me.  He's written about this on his blog, too.  In the meantime, expect to see David Walliams be given an OBE (Order of the British Empire) by Queen Elizabeth soon. Well done.  If you're interested in learning more about Sport Relief you can find it here and big thanks to my brother, Gavin, for letting me use his picture. 

Friday, September 9, 2011

Nighttime Snack: Top Ten Public Pools in the World!

This one's in Denmark so even DeSantis can enjoy!

I have a new bucket list.  Yahoo has come out with a list of the "Top Ten Pools Even Nobodies And Losers Can Use" and every single one looks amazing.  The link is here and if you click on it you'll never want to go to the Y ever again.  

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Can We Please Admit We Have a Problem?

When I read yesterday that Ben Sheppard, USA Swimming's (now former) Diversity Consultant and club coach in the Oakland area, had been fired, I have to admit I wasn't that shocked. I wasn't shocked because I know that there are far more coaches that have inappropriate sexual interactions with their swimmers than have been "caught" That is pretty depressing. Sheppard wasn't someone I knew well, or at all, but he was a facebook friend. In this weird new era, Ben Sheppard and I were "friends" although I never recall having a conversation with him.

And now he has been suspended from his club and fired from USA Swimming, according to the article linked to above. The allegations against Sheppard center around facebook messages to swimmers. If there's a silver lining in this story, it's that the young girls that made the report understood that what they were being sent was not right. That's not insignificant.

The title of this post is devoted to the fact that we, as a swimming community, still seem to be in denial. There is no question in my mind that despite all attempts to cast this as a "societal problem", its far more frequent in swimming than in general. It's a big problem and we could do a lot more to solve it if we actually admitted that it existed.

The problem is, of course, that USA Swimming is being sued and part of that lawsuit hinges on sexual abuse being prevalent in swimming. So the denial will continue, even from sensible people in the organization who know exactly what is going on. If and when USA Swimming verifies the accusations against Sheppard, there will be a concerted effort to not discuss the matter.

But as the frequent refrain goes, admitting you have a problem is only the first step. USA Swimming has taken action, most of it in the form of creating more hoops for coaches to jump through in order to be on deck. I would like to see USA Swimming tackle this topic from another angle, a more positive one. Let's do more to encourage the right people to be on deck with kids.

Right now, swim coaching is disproportionately represented by unmarried men. Why? Just read fellow blogger Shawn Klosterman's post from earlier this week if you want to know the particular stress coaching swimming can put on having a family. Or ask almost any coach. Not every coach works the kind of insane hours that Shawn works, but most coaches work during times that other professionals are likely to have "off", nights and weekends. That's time you can use to have a normal social life. With a summer season that cuts clear into the middle of August, there's no true "off season" for swimming.

And the above only addresses issues that coaches of any gender face. Women coaches are under even more pressure, and in my opinion that they are fewer in number. If you somehow pass through all the above as a female and get married and want to have a family, there is absolutely no "good" time of year for you to have a baby. Swimming has lost a ton of great coaches because the structure of our sport put women in such a precarious position.

I don't pretend to have all the solutions, but I think some creative reform could tackle this issue from another angle, and ultimately make swimming in general better. At the same time we are cracking down on coaches who misbehave, we must also make a concerted effort to buoy coaches who are doing the right thing.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

View From the Stands: A Swim Fan's Survival Guide to "Off Season"

The Minnesota Grand Prix is 64 days away

The other night I found myself watching swimming on You Tube.   At one point I said to myself, "this must have been what it was like during the Great Depression when people ate rutabagas they grew in their front yard and made clothes out of potato sacks."  I wondered if there were Hoovervilles for swim fans where we could all go, get a hot meal and re-watch Worlds or irrelevant NCAA races from 2003.    I really don't want to get heavily involved in another sport so I've been coping with enormous handfuls of chocolate chips and large blocks of cheese.  Desperate times require desperate measures.

This year we were especially spoiled because we had Worlds and then immediately Nationals.  We couldn't even keep up with all the blogs and tweets.  My tivo was loaded.  Every night it was like Santa came by and dumped a load of presents under my tree.  (If my children are reading this yes, Santa is real and this is not merely an analogy.)  It was a glorious few weeks but that just made the comedown even harder.  Not only did Santa stop coming but so did the Easter Bunny, Hanukah Harry and the tooth fairy.  

 For the past few weeks the swim fan has endured almost nothing but vacation tweets and silence from their favorite elite level swimmers.  But....listen....(ahhhhhhhh.....) there has been a recent rash of tweets from swimmers about being sore and tired.  Ricky Berens tweeted yesterday he had his first double of the Olympic season but it's still early.  Tyler Clary doesn't even know what time practice is, he showed up an hour early or something.  There's been a lot of activity at the NCAA level (like no one wants to be in the Big 12 anymore)  but, overall, it's been quiet.

This year I have taken some initiative.  I have decided that being a swim fan means supporting the sport at all levels.  A couple of weeks ago I took my daughters to our local high school's swim team "open house."  It was awesome and the kids really appreciated it.  You could tell they weren't used to a lot of attention.  I'm also taking the girls to some meets at Mizzou if there's anyone to swim against (ha ha) and to some sectional meets.   Going to see the high school swim team really showed me elite-level swimming is only a piece of swimming and there's much more out there to enjoy.  I had a great time at the high school, saw some good swimming and got a great recommendation for an think you're gonna get that at Ultra Swim?

So hold on swim fans we can do this.  Don't call Dr. Drew just yet.  Check out the swimming in your area;  the college, high school or even club.  Get around some chlorine, I guarantee your serotonin levels will rise.  In the meantime, how are you coping?  I'm getting tired of cheese.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Scared of Realignment

Gratuitous headline photo loosely tied to Texas A&M

Is college swimming staring down it's Ragnarok?

While the college football world is completely abuzz with rumors that Texas A&M, in the Swimming World we only have one article from TSC to put the swimming information in perspective. Last week, as Georgia Tech coaches gathered for our all staff meeting, our Athletic Director made a passing reference to realignment while stating that we are committed to the ACC. And then it was done.

I wish I had some extra special information to put in this blog, but the truth is that I am as scared and bewildered as everybody. When I read in a college swimming thread that Georgia Tech was supposedly one of the teams they could use to form the SEC super conference, at first I laughed. Then I thought "could it be true?". 

On the one hand, maybe nothing bad will happen at all. Maybe its just a reorganization of chairs that happens from time to time with conferences. But its hard to feel completely safe when the decisions are being made primarily on the basis of football (and maybe basketball, a little).

The last time around, there were certainly some positives that came out of realignment. To speak specifically to the ACC, Virginia Tech makes way more sense geographically and educationally in the ACC. Their swim team has flourished since switching conferences. Boston College, on the other hand, didn't even send their best male swimmers to the ACC championships last year, a curious decision given their membership. 

So I'm hoping its all good news, that Texas A&M makes the SEC that much faster, that Texas and Mizzou men find a conference meet to go to and that Kansas, and Iowa State don't get left out in the cold. I'm hoping that this decision doesn't ricochet off in so many other directions and put programs at risk. To think that's exactly what is going to happen given the atmosphere in college swimming, however, is almost completely naive.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

It Finally Boiled Over

The Viking is gonna be typing a little slower than usual for a while...

I have hardly blogged all summer. I have just been too busy. Renovations, teaching, high school swim, summer league, USA coaching, swim lessons... in a small town the swim program can often seem like a one horse show. I have tried a few times to write about it all, but have abandoned the post every time. The frustrations I have are aimed in too many directions, and none of it is really anyone's fault. It just all adds up to being more than one person can handle.

I put in at least four weeks of over 100 hours on the clock this summer. Physically, that isn't so bad. For a large chunk of my life that has been the norm. That is the coaching life. I chose this over commercial fishing. At age 15, the first job I ever had took me away from home for a week where I worked shifts as long as 41 hours, and I was sea sick for most of it. I can handle the grind, but now that I have two little girls at home I struggle with missing them. I cried when I missed their first jumps from the diving board because I had a Sunday night meeting. I can deal with being tired and watching my body slowly fall apart, but this is new.

My classes started today. My renovations aren't done. I am not ready at all. Not ready for class. Not ready for high school swim season. We are hosting a meet this Thursday and I can't find our stopwatches and back-up buttons. I can't secure an official. We still have no seating of any kind and we have about 90 lockers on the deck that were supposed to be installed over a week ago. The new filtration and chemical systems aren't adjusted and automated yet. I don't have time to do the things needed to get the pool ready. We are using it and can actually swim, but when kids are in the water, my hands are tied regarding getting anything else done. What in the hell kind of a job can you work from 5:30am to 8:30pm six or seven days a week and still have work to do when you get home? No one would ever guess a swim coach could claim that. The other teachers laugh and give me a funny look when I talk about how stressed I get. Especially in the summer.

Tonight is also the first practice for the club. Since we could not find a coach, I am back in the game. I love doing it. The club is my baby, but it is a huge sacrifice for family and my stress level. I am not handling it well and the season hasn't even started yet. I had my main assistant back out on me, which means that since I have so many conflicting high school meets the club won't have any coach at all on deck for about half of the meets on the schedule. Another part of the stress is simply that I am in a state where high school coaches can't coach their high school swimmers outside of the season, which means that when I have to coach the USA program, my school gets screwed. I am making all of the other schools better and am forced to exclude my swimmers from the elite groups. They are swimming (if I find an assistant,) but they must swim with the novice groups because they cannot be directly coached by me. There is no way around it. Once again, small town kids get screwed. The cities have multiple clubs to swim at; the small towns don't. My club serves multiple small towns and with it being so hard to find coaches, it puts my swimmers at a disadvantage. I heard once that coaches in Michigan won a lawsuit to force their state to drop those restrictions, but I don't have the time or money to pursue that. I would if I could. Every year we search for coaches, and there just aren't any. The rules are supposed to be about making things equal. Right now they are keeping my athletes from getting the same opportunity as everybody else.

Either way, it doesn't matter. The only other option would be to shut down the club. I am not okay with that. It would doom me to never having a chance to have success for the remainder of my career, and more importantly swimming in our area would go back to the dark ages where swim moms didn't understand why their swimmer who wins all the time in the summer league isn't being offered full rides and Olympic team spots. Before my club got here, no one knew about the great big world of swimming out there. The kids who live here deserve the chance to truly pursue excellence. That is why I built it and I was fully aware of the high school restrictions when I did.

The problem is, I am starting to crack. This life-consuming job is fundamentally changing who I am. I have developed anger issues. Today I got angry about the stupid pool vacuum. I punched the wall. I have three fractures in my wrist. I am an idiot. I haven't always been an idiot. I promise.

My wife told me "please don't punch anything else today."

My response: "You don't have to worry, baby. I look like a dork when I throw a punch with my left hand. I don't want to look that stupid."

I have already started telling the kids I got attacked by ninjas. I don't think they're buying it.