Omaha, Nebraska in late 1970’s….
I started to swim competitively, when I was 7 years old.
When I was 8 years old until I was around 12, I was one of the top swimmers in America for my age group.
My coach (my first and only coach) was very tough, and even at that young age, I was expected to train hard.
I don’t remember him to be a nice guy; he was very tough on me, but I succeeded, and swam fast. He wasn’t my friend, he was my coach.
I also did well in school, and had an overall good attitude.
My father would tell me years later – that the quality of my teammates on that first team was exceptional — most everyone on the team got good grades, and there were not trouble makers/losers bringing anyone down…at the time, that team succeeded in the pool and in their personal lives as well.
Around the time I was 13 years old, we moved and I changed swim teams.
I can still remember the first day I met my new coach.
The coach was very friendly, and I enjoyed that first swim practice with my new team.
The practice was easy.
many people came to practice late, often the older guys would waste time playing around in the locker room and just show up 5-10 minutes late.
The coach would get angry, but the next day the same thing would happen again.
There was not the same strictness as there was on my previous team I swam.
Once a guy in my lane just decided to stop and get out because he was having a bad day.
I remember the coach jokingly, punch him in the arm, and they both laughed as my teammate walked away in the middle of a tough set.
I must have been about 13 at the time, but I understood the guy was a total pussy; the set was too hard, and the coach allowed him to stop.
This never happened at my previous club.
The coach was tough.
No one missed practice.
No one was ever late because the coach wouldn’t let them practice if they were.
No one ever left early.
The age group team was easily the fastest/best in the state – one of the fastest in the country
But at my new team, there was not the same discipline — and the club/team was not successful; it wasnt even ranked top 10 in the state.
The quality of the team was different – yes, some succeeded, but there were many bad apples who ruined a bunch with their bad attitude.
The team and coach didn’t have the same core values.
After a couple weeks, I went from being the star of my age group to one of the clowns on the team.
Practice was not challenging, it wasn’t difficult at all.
I remember skipping a couple practices just to ass around with my friends ….
The coach never said anything to me.
He was a nice, friendly guy….like a buddy.
At the same time, my grades went to shit.
I had a bad attitude with my teachers and a bad attitude at home.
I went from being a great talented swimmer to just another kid in the pool.
At school, I became a class clown
To be honest, I became a fucking loser…
2-3 years of mediocrity later….
I got kicked out of school for getting bad grades and getting into too many fights – overall I was kicked out for having a bad attitude.
Luckily, my parents never gave up on me. My parents agreed to give me another chance.
They sent me to boarding school which had a strong swim program ….
The Bolles School in Jacksonville, Florida.
I did not know before I joined, but I quickly learned ….the coaching staff, Coach Troy and Coach Shofe were well known for being (exceptionally) tough.
I lived in the dorm – it was a boarding school, but in the summer the dorm became a swim camp and summer school.
I remember my first day in the dorm … I arrived from Omaha at 9pm.
Although I was just 15 years old, I decided I would skip the morning practice (which started at 5:15) to be ready for my first day at summer school which started at 10:00.
At 5:20 am Coach Troy knocked on my dorm room door …. (I can still remember the big grin on his face and his voice) “we’re waiting for ya….”
Of course, I had to get out of bed and go to practice.
My new team’s practice schedule was very intense – double the practice yardage I had ever done before.
The coach was incredibly tough.
You could not miss practice.
You couldn’t show up late.
There were nearly, no clowns on the team …anyone who was not focused, would not make the cut … not just because the coach would kick him off, but the teammates on the team wouldn’t allow it.
Everyone was focused not just in the pool, but also in their personal lives.
I had a fairly successful first year with the team, but it wasn’t until my last two years in high school that it all click — not just in the pool, but also in school as well as in my personal life.
Practice was hell, but I really got into training hard.
Monday – Friday 5:15 – 7:30 am … school was from 9:00 – 15:00 and then swim practice from 3:30 pm – 6:00 pm every day.
Saturday was just one practice, but always the toughest practice of the week.
We did sets that no other high school team would or could do.
The team thrived on working hard together – and for the most part, no one moaned and complained.
We all had the same goal – to be the best, not just as individuals, but as a team.
Reflecting back – the secret was obvious: we were led by a great coach who ensured we all had or developed the same core values.
Because we trained so hard – the team became very close and there was a possessiveness of “the team.” Clowns, mediocre, half assed teammates did not last.
There was strong pride amongst us … we considered ourselves to be the best high school swim team in America.
No one missed work out – but, no one ever wanted to miss workout.
No one was late, but no one wanted to be late – if anything, some fought to see who would be the first in the pool.
We were an exclusive team, like an exclusive club ….
And we supported each other from letting anyone or anything bring us down.
My senior year, we were the number one high school swim team in America.
Unquestionably, what made us, “the team” so good was the discipline Coach Troy instilled.
His discipline created consistency.
To be continued….