Tuesday, January 31, 2012


Admit it.  After Chris's post yesterday, your thoughts on the state of Chinese swimming at least briefly turned to one of these two movies.

So, uh... yesterday Chris posted his concerns about Chinese swimmers setting themselves up to soon overtake the American men for world dominance and I was expecting it to launch a firestorm of comments about doping and population base and development systems and structures and maybe even a little Craig Lord bashing and all those other good juicy things that swim nerds can't shut up about that make swim blogs so awesome...

you know--  the whole reason we love the internet:  Anonymous arguing where everyone can pretend they are experts and throw insane comments out there with no fear of retaliation other than trolls out-smart-assing them, which is really more fun than it is painful.  Blog commenting can be a sport all on it's own, ya know?

I guess I shouldn't have been surprised then, that instead it turned into a discussion about dental hygiene.  Really?  Jason Lezak couldn't find a company to sponsor him after the greatest relay performance in the history of mankind and you are all worried about an up-and-coming Chinese kid's dental plan only living up to British standards?

because dental hygiene is not necessarily a precursor to grooviness

I am almost surprised I didn't see some right-wing bloggers show up and use our comments section to declare that picture of Sun Yang as proof of the failures of the Chinese socialist system.  (Not that I have dental coverage in our wonderful capitalist system or anything...)

Plus, guys... the teeth add a certain something to his intimidation factor.  I can't wait for this guy's athlete bio on NBC this summer.  I am hoping he tries to bite Matt Lauer.

Thank you internet friends for hijacking the usual swim discussion and launching it into an orbit of absurdity.  This is why I will always keep coming back to you.


Friday, January 20, 2012


This morning we only did about 1600 yards at practice... but that doesn't mean it was easy.  I am one of those coaches who believes that mornings are for getting specific and doing the things that are hard to organize when the whole team is in the pool.  We do a lot of speedplay, parachutes, cords and other things that can become chaotic when we are sharing the pool with the whole club.  Mornings are valuable, and they are not just to cram in more yardage.

Another belief I hold dear, is that easy kick sets are a waste of time.  Kick sets need to have a focus.  Which of the great coaches was it who said this gem?:  "everything we do in the morning is BS except for the kick."   HAHA.

What I am presenting here is nothing new.  This first one is actually as old school as it gets, and a lot of people probably think it is ridiculous, but I think that kicking with shoes has great value. I think it forces swimmers to kick big, and engage the larger muscles of the hip and leg with their kick.  I love when I can actually see a swimmer's technique improve after they take the shoes off.  A proper up-kick can change a lot about a person's freestyle.  Kick is not just from the knee down.  Kick should lead the stroke.

When my swimmers don't bring a pair of shoes that they are willing to ruin, they get to wear an old pair of my size 14's.  It gets pretty comical.  Especially when the kids bring high-tops.

The next one is what we call a no-touch.  It is a pretty simple concept.  We aren't allowed to push off of the wall.  Swimmers have to practice building speed from nothing with their dolphin kicks.  We do a lot of 25's incorporating these and what I have found is that it helps me to determine who is ready to stay underwater out of the walls longer than others.  Some swimmers can keep accelerating while others can get going but their speed stalls.  If I can consider their dolphin kick a weapon, then I can start allowing a swimmer to stay under longer as a race strategy.  We also do these with zoomers often and we always focus on a clean breakout with a smooth transition from streamline to swim that loses no speed.

I have been know to time turns and starts and to experiment with finding the right number of dolphin kicks for each swimmer.  I have a had a few athletes who trained to come up at 15 meters, and others who I have told to do no fly kicks at all... just get up and swim.  Of course, it is a skill that can be improved.

About once a week we will just hold on to the wall and kick for 15 minutes, alternating 40 seconds hard with 20 seconds easy.  The kids kind of like it because it is so interactive.  Even though it is difficult, it is a great chance to joke around with them and play drill sergeant for a while.  Swimmers are not allowed to hold on to the gutter, even on the easy parts.  The video below is of a wall-kick sprint.  We will do 25's or 50 where we hold the wall and kick as hard as possible for 15-30 seconds, and then tuck hard for a flip and a race intensity underwater/breakout.  On some we come up and kick the rest of the way, while on some we come up swimming.  We will start them holding the wall on back or on belly, (yes, they do a back-flip and push off on their belly) and we focus on accelerating as far as they can without losing speed while still underwater.  They are to time their breakout to come while they are still moving fast.  We don't want to practice staying under past the point where our swim will start slower, but we do want to practice extending that underwater speed further down the pool by becoming stronger kickers..

If you aren't already incorporating these into your workouts, give it some consideration the next time you start cooking up a kick set.  In my opinion, it is hard to make a normal kickboard set that works appropriate fitness levels for a large group all at once, and they can get kind of boring too, especially for the kids who aren't good kickers in the first place. These are a chance to throw in something that can be fun, improve general athleticism, and work on specific skills that will help swimmers become better racers.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Those were the days!
The title of this post pretty much sums it up. With the decision to allow Speedo's FS3 "System" in NCAA competition this coming year, college swimming is right back in the same situation a majority of us were complaining about in 2009. So, like many coaches, I'm left scratching my head. How did we not see this coming? Why didn't we learn our lesson? And why do so few people seem to care this time around?

First of all, I will say that many saw this coming. When the swimming establishment rose up in 2009 to banish the new generation of bodysuits from the sport, it was a polarizing issue for swimming. On the one side, you had swimming "purists". These were the people who had the most power in the system before the dramatic change in the competitive landscape that year. They naturally wanted to remain in a position where they were the most powerful coaches/swimmers/journalists/swimsuit company/"coaches organization" leader in swimming. They fought tooth and nail to roll suit technology back, and they were successful. There was something decidedly unfair about it. The best analog I ever heard, from someone working at a non-Speedo suit company, was that it was as if you were playing chess against somebody, only after they started losing they decided that pawns could move like queens and that queens were useless. All sorts of reasons were trumped up for casting out the "suits": they cost too much, they are unfair, they are ruining the history of our sport. None of them were true and all are being ignored now.

Another group (that I consider myself a part of) saw something far more exciting. New people were winning, coaches were innovating under the new rules and thriving. The sport was ripe for change, interest was high, and meets were more exciting because the suits mitigated the effect of tired swimmers racing. There was also far more variability where there had been almost none. I swam in college from 2003-2006 and saw nary a non-speedo racing suit at the end of the year. In 2009, I saw blueseventy, rocket science, arena, jaked, all at smaller level US competitions.

In any case, we all know what happened. We went "back" to a suit rule that never existed, arbitrarily cutting women's suits off at the knees and men's from hips to knees. For a while, pretty much every manufacturer had the exact same suit. It took Speedo more than a year to recover from being completely outflanked by their smaller competiton, but in 2011 (alongside some crazy marketing), they released a suit that has reignited my worst fears on this particular issue. All of a sudden, their suit is the "must have" for the coming championship season. Supply issues will no doubt abound, and Speedo is already charging far more for the "system" than a good old poly body suit cost back in the day.

College coaches tried to avert this very situation back in 2009. In the spring of 2009, we (members of the College Swim Coaches Association of America) moved to recommend that the NCAA formally change it's rules to prevent new suits from coming onto the market mid season and be allowed in NCAA competition. This did not happen. There was still some hope and precedent- in 2008 LZRs had not been allowed at the NCAA Championships. However, there was no such ruling this time around.

I'm complaining as one of the "haves". It is likely that my team will have far fewer issues than many outfitting their squads for the end of the year. Do we really feel we're in a better place with this issue than in 2009? I don't think so, but so far the outcry has been muted.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Chatting with Gary Kempf

On-deck conversations with other swim coaches are one of the best parts of the whole coaching gig.  I feel blessed to get to talk shop with some great people on the weekends, and the world of swimming is small enough that it seems like no matter what part of the country a coach is from it turns out that you know some of the same people.   I especially love chatting with old school coaches.  They often have a kind of insight that could only come from seeing the way we do things now in contrast to where we came from.  Often they know personally the people who helped us to innovate and move the sport ever forward and remember the thought processes behind some of the major decisions that have shaped competitive swimming into what it is today.

Last week, while Coach Keyser had the Asbury team training at our pool, I had the pleasure of getting to know his "assistant coaches" Gary and Dorothy Kempf.  Gary was the Head Coach at the University of Kansas for over 20 years, and Dorothy is a great coach in her own right.  As a matter of fact, Gary says "she is one of the best sprint coaches in the country" and she won't let him touch her sprinters.  Haha.  They are both just wonderful people and I loved getting to see them work with the Asbury kids.

I got to show Gary an interview I did with Tammy Thomas, one of his former swimmers who was an American Record holder, and he said it made his day.  We also talked a little about some of the Alaskans he recruited to swim at KU.  One of them I knew pretty well.  They called him Robo-Todd and he used to beat the heck out of me when he was 16 and I was 10 playing water polo at swim practice. Anyway, Gary was generous enough to let me turn on my camera so I could share some some of the poolside chatter with all of you Swim-Briefers.  Enjoy.

Friday, January 6, 2012

A Different Take on Christmas Training-- Asbury University

I got an email from a guy recently who was college roommates with one of my former swimmers.  He was asking for pool space for when his team comes to town in January.  Sure!  I am happy to accommodate, but why in the heck are you bringing your team to Joplin, Missouri?  Shouldn't you be on a beach somewhere?

So I have to ask all you swim-briefers out there:  where did your college team go for Christmas training?  Drury is in Hawaii right now.  I know some teams head to Florida, Bermuda, Brazil...  When you are training that hard, you deserve to spend some time at the beach between workouts, right?

Seems legit... but this coach had other things in mind.  No surfing and sunbathing on this trip.  They had more important things to do.

Alex Keyser is the Head Coach for the Men's and Women's swimming programs at Asbury University, twenty minutes southwest of Lexington, in Wilmore, Kentucky.  They are an NAIA program with almost forty athletes on the team.  They pursue excellence between semesters in a unique way in and out of the pool, and Joplin fit into their plan.  I will let him tell you a little about that in the video.  Get ready to be inspired:

How awesome is that?! Yet more evidence that swimmers can be some of the awesomest people on the planet.  Go Asbury Eagles!  Way to set an example!

The video below is of a drive before and after the Joplin tornado.  You can see that a few weeks had gone by since the storm because in the "after" portion of the video the streets are clear of debris and the light and power poles are up and functioning again, but it gives you an idea of how extensive the damage was.  Several businesses and homes have been rebuilt, but driving through town even now is eery, especially when you remember how it all looked before.  You can surely tell from Alex's interview that there is still a lot of work to be done out here, but the spirit of community in Joplin is stronger than ever before.


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Value of Anonymous

The serious, social issues strain of the Swim Brief took a nice holiday break. Now, with 2012 upon us and me holed in a hotel room during a Florida cold front, we are back. Today I want to discuss something that was going on in the background of my ongoing discussions with USA Swimming Executive Director Chuck Wielgus. As I posted my series of blogs, Chuck requested that I disable anonymous commenting for the blogs. I refused. Here's why:
It occurred to me that we have never really adequately explained a commenting policy for this site. It's primarily because we don't have one. Over the time this blog has existed, I can't recall deleting a single comment, even though I admit I wanted to sometimes. And I won't commit myself or the other bloggers here to not deleting comments. In fact, we probably should delete more, or respond to more so that people dropping by to read the site don't interpret any endorsement by us of all the comments that appear here.

That said, I think that anonymous voices have a lot to offer you, even when they say something that makes you very upset. As an employee of Georgia Tech, I am subject to semi-anonymous review by all the athletes on our team. I say "semi" because I know each comment comes from one of forty eight athletes, just not which one. For the most part, the evaluation is fairly straightforward. But every year, somebody takes their opportunity to vent.

Last year, I got a full five paragraphs from one person on how unfit I was to coach swimming. I have to admit, reading it the first time made me upset. I thought a lot of it was petty, and untrue, or distorted. But as I reflected on it, I realized that I definitely have something to learn from that comment and others like it. There was a huge gap between what I perceived that I was doing and what one person thought I was doing. These things happen, but you can always improve. 

In much the same way, the anonymous comments on this and other websites are opportunities for evaluation. While there may be some misinformation out there, and people can be unfair, I consider it valuable to understand what somebody would say about me behind my back. It doesn't mean that I have to have a dramatic reaction or base my life around it, its just information. If you refuse to look at the anonymous information because some of it is bad then you miss out on the parts that are good.

I still think it's better to light a candle than curse the darkness. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The 2011 Chesapeake Pro-Am

I love the Chesapeake Elite Pro-Am.  If you are a coach and you are looking for a great meet for a December shave, I can definitely tell you it is worth the trip to Oklahoma City.  My swimmers always come back with great stories to tell and it is one of those rare sporting events where club kids get to mingle a little bit with some of the world's best swimmers.

I wrote up a post before the trip this year and for some reason never did post it, (I am retro-posting it here) but in it I list a few of the awesome things I have seen at the meet in the past.  This year I can add to that list-- I got to see Anthony Ervin's comeback first hand.  Hells yeah... but honestly, that was just one of many highlights.  Pick through the results and you will see.

I talked with the meet director, Paul Thompson, about the blog and he gave me permission to post some content.  He runs an excellent meet and has for a long time.  This was the 20th anniversary of the Pro-Am and it just keeps getting better.  I was pretty busy with the 13 athletes I had in the meet, (one picked up his first ever Junior National cut to win the B final in the 200 breast- yay!) and I didn't want to bother the pro's between their races, but I did get a few good conversations recorded that I hope all y'all swim-briefers will enjoy.

Krista Kesberz is one of the coaches for the Chesapeake Swim Club.  She swam in the meet as well, but she also was in charge of taking care of all of the Pro's.  It took her a while to agree to go on camera, but I finally got her.  Incidentally we discovered that in the Garrett McCaffrey/Darren Grose Floswimming recap in the retro-post I mentioned above, she was actually holding the camera and remembered my swimmers getting in the way.  Haha.

Gardner Howland is the Head Coach of the Kansas City Blazers:

Kelly Kremer is the Head Coach at the University of Minnesota:

Max McKnight is the Head Official in Charge of Discipline:

Oh yeah... I also recorded a couple of races as well.  Enjoy!.. and sorry it took me so long to do this write-up:

I just have to say 'thank you' to everyone involved with putting on the Pro-Am. You are doing great things for the sport of swimming and I wish you twenty more years of success. We will be back next year in force.