Kahncept Of the Week (KOW)


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December 21, 2015

As I wrote last week, this is my last KOW of the year. It’s rather bittersweet because I’ve enjoyed the results and the feedback, but some of the columns have been more challenging than others.

This one I’ve been saving for last.

At this time of year, our focus is on family, friends and relationships. Fortunately for all of us at DAM, our main connection isn’t materialistic but interpersonal. The only thing we really have to share is ourselves. As your coaches, Mary and I want you to know how much each and every one of you mean to us and to the program.  We know that our team is only as good as its members.

There are times though, when we’re busy and miss those awesome little moments where we could tell someone how special they are. I know I’ve been convicted of that loss at least once.

In the summer of 2012, I wrote an item in the team newsletter describing my impressions as a first-responder of a deadly car crash on Co Rd 102. The biggest impact came a few days later when it was noted the driver who caused the crash was on drugs and texting. It was also rumored the driver was experiencing social separation. My full account is here, but my desire from the story was to urge all of us to increase our awareness of others and take time to make someone else feel good.

This is another story of the time that I didn’t.

It was February 2006 and I was coaching the Aquadart youth team at a split-session meet in Vacaville. It was a sunny, cool day and since I was coaching the youngers and olders that spring, I was there for both the morning and afternoon sessions. Coaching at USAS meets is a little more hectic than Masters meets. Typically, we speak to each swimmer before their race and then again right afterwards. More kids means more coaching. On that weekend, though, something happened that changed my life. I saw George Haines.

I’d never met George before, only seen his pictures and heard his reputation. He was, is, the greatest Amercian swim coach of all time. At the age of 24, he started the Santa Clara Swim Club with 13 swimmers, and since they had no pool, he began their swimming in lakes and canals. During his career he was a 6-time USA Olympic coach, his Santa Clara club won 43 AAU national swim titles, his swimmers won 44 Olympic gold medals, and at one time his high school boys team owned every HS national record.

He retired to Roseville where he was a very good softball player until a stroke immobilized him in his late 70’s. He recovered after a few years to venture out again and, according to his daughter, one of his first visits was to that Vacaville meet.

George was a swimmer's coach. He didn’t write books or do research, he was just charismatic, inspiring and beloved. And he always wore the same type coaching hat.

He walked just in front of my coaching table and I recognized him immediately. I watched him walk past and around the deck as I calculated how much time I had to go say hi. I just wanted a moment to congratulate him on his lifelong successes and thank him for everything he did for our sport.

I got distracted and missed him…he was gone. That’s Ok, I thought, I’ll talk with him next time.

Just two months later, George passed away. In the accompanying news story to his obituary, his daughter publicly noted that he’d recently fallen into a severe depression that greatly hastened his demise. His health immediately changed following the Vacaville meet where not one person recognized or talked to him.  

Here’s what I want to say now -

To Coach Haines, I didn’t know it at the time but you are one of the reasons I became a swim coach. If there was anyone who embodied the enthusiasm, passion, and innovation for which I've striven...it was you.

To all my DAM teammates, you are the reason I continue to do what I do. I never actually thought I’d find the perfect coaching job…but I did. I’m incredibly proud to be a part of this wonderful organization.

To my wonderful wife, Mary, you are the reason I am what I am. I will never stop being grateful for all your loving support and acceptance, and I will always admire you as a mother and grandmother.

Happy Holidays/Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year to All!  

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December 14, 2015

We’re nearing the end of the 2015 swim year and it’s been another rewarding experience for me and Mary. The inaugural Grand Prix was a huge success and Matt Biondi’s presentation at the Holiday Party was a one-of-a kind event. So, too, has been the Kahncept of the Week.

The KOW was my main coaching goal this year. I’d never done any type of annual challenge and after seven years as your Head Coach, could think of no better time to try one. I wanted to use the Monday messages as an avenue to connect and communicate my ideas of what was important in swimming lore, training, attitude, competition, technique and personal stories. Some KOW’s were short and sweet compilations from other sources and others, like the stroke videos in March and September, took hours to create. I have one more column to write next week and then I’m taking an as-yet-to-be-determined break.

I’ve been leading up to this point for a while and wanted to end the yearly series with my ‘Three R’s – Recognition, Responsibility and Relationships’; the building blocks of our beloved organization.

Thank you and Congratulations for being a part of our DAM swimming family. You are coached by staff that have your well-being at heart and who are determined to improve both your physical and mental fitness levels. Not everyone can win an Olympic Gold Medal, but, if you have honestly given your best effort, everyone can have Olympian moment.

Every member of DAM shares the responsibility of building the stature and prestige of the team. Every swimmer from age 18 to 88, novice to team record holder, contributes to the program in a unique manner. Take pride in being a part of DAM and share in the following responsibilities:

Safety – DAM swims in all weather, except lightning. During thunder storms, swimmers must exit the pool for 30 minutes between and following lightning strikes. No swimmers are allowed in the water without a visible coach on deck. Coaches are not responsible for water temperature or chemical contents. Please wear appropriate cold/sun gear depending on the time of year.

Changing rooms – Remember to protect your valuables whenever leaving anything in the locker rooms or on the pool deck. DAM is not responsible for lost or stolen items.

Warmups – The first ten minutes of practice are extremely valuable. Use that time, to loosen your joints and muscles, practice drills and work on individualized skill enhancement.

Warm-downs - Please start your cool down with enough time remaining to complete your session without overlapping into the next hour's practice.

Whiteboard – Check the top of the board early each week to find the lane assignment rotations. All lanes spend one week on the wall every four weeks.

Equipment – The coaches put out equipment needed for practice each day. Typically, no equipment is used on IM and Volume days. On the other days, be sure to return your items to the buckets, barrels or baskets from which they came. If you're not able to use assigned equipment, please adjust your position in your lane or move down to a different lane. Be aware of the swimmers in your lane who are using equipment.

Starting practice - If you arrive late and are entering a lane that's already stated the pre-set, you need to notify them you're joining the lane. Either wait on the deck until the swimmers stop, or slide into the swimmers right-hand corner. Wait there until everyone sees you before starting to swim.

Drills – An essential part of skill acquisition is the breakdown of complex motions into manageable and teachable pieces. Since our sport is strength and muscle based, doing drills not only isolates specific movements but also recruits additional fibers to augment basic and existing muscle memory.

Stay Informed – Take advantage of the DAM website (damfast.org) and these weekly emails to keep up-to-date on club events and team information.

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December 7, 2015

After seven years as Head Coach, and being a part of countless swim meets, special events and club parties, I can honestly say that last Saturday's Holiday party exceeded all my expectations and was the best DAM event I've ever attended. For me, it was the tangible acknowledgement that our core team values of camaraderie and competition are alive and well. 

There were so many moments, large and small, that stood out throughout the evening. First and foremost was the overwhelming amounts of delicious food and drink that everyone contributed within the exact 15 minute window that we asked for. The attendance percentage was also nearly perfect as there was only one no-show. We had exactly 199 total guests. 

Karen Philleo did another great job of decorating the tables with beautiful cloths, hand-made candle-holders and greenery. She also provided an excellent array of craft beers and, at the end of the evening, dessert treats. Her husband, Byron, announced the results of the club elections (see below for details) and, as Treasurer, briefly highlighted the strong financial status our club is currently enjoying. Greg Stoner, DAM City Liaison, provided an update on the 50 meter pool status and introduced Melanie Gentles as our newest Berryessa Race Director. 

I was next and began by recognizing current DAM Board members and all previous Board members who were present. But, then I went off script, and never came back to recognizing three other top volunteers. I apologize to:

Scott Allison, Webmaster. Scott has been managing our website for nearly two years and after looking around the country at sites of other clubs, I'm pretty sure we have the most up-to-date, most accessible, most layered masters site in the nation. Any and every upgrade, change or addition we ask of Scott is fulfilled, quickly and correctly. Thank you, Scott.

Trish Price, Berryessa Race Director. After the race cancellation of 2011, Trish took control of the lake swim and guided the event for the next four years. Working diligently to reduce event costs, and often with skeleton crews, Trish was able to oversee an average event profit of roughly $10,000/year. Thank you, Trish.

Erica Fleischman, Registrar and 3K/6K event director. If you've joined DAM within the past two years and/or taken leave, then rejoined, chances are you've been in contact with Erica. She manages our USMS swimmer database, our Club Assistant member roster and all replies and connections with prospective members. Erica, also the DAM liaison to USMS for this year's 3K/6K ePostal, handled its website creation with Club Assistant, event merchandising and race results. Thank you, Erica.

Over the years, our club has benefited from the voluntary contributions of numerous others like Scott, Trish and Erica, all of whom increased the value of the club with their time, energy and enthusiasm. Our visible achievements, such as being honored as the 2011 USMS Local Club of the Year, are the result of all those invisible contributions. 

But our members also produce obvious and real achievements, as well. This year, we produced two new competitive milestones. As you'll find in the 'Year-in-Review', sixty-six DAM swimmers qualified for the USMS TOP TEN relay recognition, more than in any year and, in its inaugural year, eighty-three DAM swimmers were recognized for achieving at least one of four levels in the DAM Grand Prix. That event was a huge success, especially towards the end of the season as the energy and excitement of winning prizes soared. The Grand Prix now becomes an annual event and we already have three participants in next year's competition. Greg RecanzoneJulie Langston and Gian-Claudia Sciarra all swam the Brute Squad after this year's Nov 15 entry deadline, so their two points count towards the 2016 event. We have a three-way tie for the lead. 

The only major changes to the Grand Prix event involve the scoring system. Beginning with the 2016 season (which runs from Nov. 16 to Nov 15), the totals needed for each level increase by two points. They are now:
Bronze - 7 points, Silver - 13 points, Gold - 20 points and Champion - 28 points. That's the bad news. The good news is that attendance at each official DAM social event is worth 1 point. Everyone who attended the Holiday Party on Saturday earned a point. Congrats! (Julie was there, so she has three points.)

Just for fun, I used the Year-in-Review as a guide, and looked for the names that appeared the most. I want to recognize one of the two who was listed five times. And that's Mary Kahn. There is no possible way I can describe the joy I have in job-sharing with my wife. Just as I was positive in suggesting to the DAM Board last June that Matt would be an unforgettable presence at our holiday party, I was equally positive six years ago in recommending the board hire Mary as the Assistant Head Coach. Not only is she an incredible swimmer, i.e., team records, TOP TEN listings and Grand Prix Champion, she's an amazing coach. When I get tired of reminding people to kick, or to breathe bilaterally or finish to the wall, she's out there saying those exact things, and more. She's always doing the little things like timing sprints and calling out splits, or finding and replacing broken equipment, or telling people to get in the pool or to get out of the pool. But beyond those, she does the greater, more important things, as well. Things that only a mother and grandmother would know. She puts a soft hand on the tummy of our pregnant women or on the shoulder of the moms dealing with difficult children. She steps aside to sit and weep with members who've lost or are losing loved ones. She rejoices with new parents and new grandparents over their growing families, and she genuinely shares the loss when DAM members leave and move out of Davis. She's quick to laugh and share a funny story, and there's no one I'd rather be working with. Nor is there anyone I'd rather share my life with. 
Knowing that we're a part of this incredible club, with remarkable members such as you, continues to convince us that this is our place and where we should stay. Thank you for having us as your coaches.

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November 30, 2015

This is from fellow USMS Coach, Fares Ksebati. He used this perfect time of the year to remind us Masters swimmers what we can be thankful for today and every day.

1) Teammates Your teammates are your family. Our tight-knit community bonds swimmers together across miles and years. Whether you’ve hung up the suit or continue the journey, your teammates and the experiences you’ve shared will last a lifetime.

2) Sunrises While the rest of the world sleeps, we swim. Over the course of our lifetime, we’ll experience hundreds if not thousands more sunrises than the average person. Mesmerizing sunrises are one our planet’s most beautiful gifts to swimmers.

3) Food Swimmers know how to eat. The calories we burn in the pool allow us to consume what our non-swimming friends wouldn’t consider an appropriate amount of food after working out. Enjoy!

4) Swim Coaches Swim coaches rock. Thank your coach for the countless early mornings, thousands of workouts, and continuous devotion to making the sport a truly great experience.

5) Equipment Swimming wouldn’t be nearly as much fun if it weren’t for all the toys that make sets challenging and engaging. Fins, paddles, pull buoys, snorkels— these tools of the trade keep our workouts fresh.

6) Workout and Shower in One Out of the pool, into the shower. Land-based sports require an additional step. And swimming is the least smelly sport there is.

7) Post-Swim Endorphins That feeling of total euphoria—right after a race or hard workout. Despite the crazy emotions that swimming can trigger, it’s moments like these when you break through barriers and know that you’ll keep coming back to the pool for more.

8) The Meditative Escape of Water The feeling of weightlessness and freedom that swimming offers us is priceless. The pool is an escape from our over-digitized lives. We can leave the chaos of our day and return after a swim, ready to tackle the world with a fresh perspective.

9) Confidence Swimmers push their limits everyday. Whether you’ve been swimming your whole life or just started, if you can conquer a challenging set in a workout, you can do anything.

10) Access to Water Swimming is a privilege. It’s the only sport that’s also a lifesaving skill. Lessons are expensive and access to clean water is something many people around the world don’t have. Pay your good fortune forward by teaching others how to swim and enjoy the water safely.

11) Good Health Swimming is a life-long sport that helps us lead healthy and fulfilling lives. In addition to hearts of gold, swimmers have lungs of steel. Swimming engages literally every single muscle in the body. It’s no wonder it’s considered to be the best form of exercise for people of all ages.

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November 23, 2015

“There’s always room for a story that can
transport people to another place.”
 - J.K. Rowling

Mary and I received more positive feedback about the 'Memories with Matt' KOW last week than anything else this year. It seems the simpler life stories we've shared are more impacting than the swimming columns. So, let me distract you for another moment and tell you four short stories.

These are old stories – familiar stories.  The people and the circumstances differ slightly for everyone who tells them, but the core lessons remain the same. I hope the twist we’ve put on them here inspires you to think differently…

Story #1:  All the Difference in The World

Every Sunday morning I take a light jog around a park near my home.  There’s a lake located in one corner of the park.  Each time I jog by this lake, I see the same elderly woman sitting at the water’s edge with a small metal cage sitting beside her. This past Sunday my curiosity got the best of me, so I stopped jogging and walked over to her.  As I got closer, I realized that the metal cage was in fact a small trap.  There were three turtles, unharmed, slowly walking around the base of the trap.  She had a fourth turtle in her lap that she was carefully scrubbing with a spongy brush.

“Hello,” I said.  “I see you here every Sunday morning.  If you don’t mind my nosiness, I’d love to know what you’re doing with these turtles.”

She smiled.  “I’m cleaning off their shells,” she replied.  “Anything on a turtle’s shell, like algae or scum, reduces the turtle’s ability to absorb heat and impedes its ability to swim.  It can also corrode and weaken the shell over time.”

“Wow!  That’s really nice of you!” I exclaimed.

She went on: “I spend a couple of hours each Sunday morning, relaxing by this lake and helping these little guys out.  It’s my own strange way of making a difference.”

“But don’t most freshwater turtles live their whole lives with algae and scum hanging from their shells?” I asked.

“Yep, sadly, they do,” she replied.

I scratched my head.  “Well then, don’t you think your time could be better spent?  I mean, I think your efforts are kind and all, but there are fresh water turtles living in lakes all around the world.  And 99% of these turtles don’t have kind people like you to help them clean off their shells.  So, no offense… but how exactly are your localized efforts here truly making a difference?”

The woman giggled aloud.  She then looked down at the turtle in her lap, scrubbed off the last piece of algae from its shell, and said, “Sweetie, if this little guy could talk, he’d tell you I just made all the difference in the world.”

The moral:  You can change the world – maybe not all at once, but one person, one animal, and one good deed at a time.  Wake up every morning and pretend like what you do makes a difference.  It does.  

Story #2:  The Weight of the Glass

Once upon a time a psychology professor walked around on a stage while teaching stress management principles to an auditorium filled with students.  As she raised a glass of water, everyone expected they’d be asked the typical “glass half empty or glass half full” question.  Instead, with a smile on her face, the professor asked, “How heavy is this glass of water I’m holding?”

Students shouted out answers ranging from eight ounces to a couple pounds.

She replied, “From my perspective, the absolute weight of this glass doesn’t matter.  It all depends on how long I hold it.  If I hold it for a minute or two, it’s fairly light.  If I hold it for an hour straight, its weight might make my arm ache a little.  If I hold it for a day straight, my arm will likely cramp up and feel completely numb and paralyzed, forcing me to drop the glass to the floor.  In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it feels to me.”

As the class shook their heads in agreement, she continued, “Your stresses and worries in life are very much like this glass of water.  Think about them for a while and nothing happens.  Think about them a bit longer and you begin to ache a little.  Think about them all day long, and you will feel completely numb and paralyzed – incapable of doing anything else until you drop them.”

The moral:  It’s important to remember to let go of your stresses and worries.  No matter what happens during the day, as early in the evening as you can, put all your burdens down.  Don’t carry them through the night and into the next day with you.  If you still feel the weight of yesterday’s stress, it’s a strong sign that it’s time to put the glass down.  

Story #3:  Shark Bait

During a research experiment a marine biologist placed a shark into a large holding tank and then released several small bait fish into the tank.

As you would expect, the shark quickly swam around the tank, attacked and ate the smaller fish.

The marine biologist then inserted a strong piece of clear fiberglass into the tank, creating two separate partitions. She then put the shark on one side of the fiberglass and a new set of bait fish on the other.

Again, the shark quickly attacked.  This time, however, the shark slammed into the fiberglass divider and bounced off.  Undeterred, the shark kept repeating this behavior every few minutes to no avail.  Meanwhile, the bait fish swam around unharmed in the second partition.  Eventually, about an hour into the experiment, the shark gave up.

This experiment was repeated several dozen times over the next few weeks.  Each time, the shark got less aggressive and made fewer attempts to attack the bait fish, until eventually the shark got tired of hitting the fiberglass divider and simply stopped attacking altogether.

The marine biologist then removed the fiberglass divider, but the shark didn’t attack.  The shark was trained to believe a barrier existed between it and the bait fish, so the bait fish swam wherever they wished, free from harm.

The moral:  Many of us, after experiencing setbacks and failures, emotionally give up and stop trying. Like the shark in the story, we believe that because we were unsuccessful in the past, we will always be unsuccessful. In other words, we continue to see a barrier in our heads, even when no ‘real’ barrier exists between where we are and where we want to go.  

Story #4:  Being and Breathing

One warm evening many years ago…

After spending nearly every waking minute with Angel for eight straight days, I knew that I had to tell her just one thing.  So late at night, just before she fell asleep, I whispered it in her ear.  She smiled – the kind of smile that makes me smile back –and she said, “When I’m seventy-five and I think about my life and what it was like to be young, I hope that I can remember this very moment.”

A few seconds later she closed her eyes and fell asleep.  The room was peaceful – almost silent.  All I could hear was the soft purr of her breathing.  I stayed awake thinking about the time we’d spent together and all the choices in our lives that made this moment possible.  And at some point, I realized that it didn’t matter what we’d done or where we’d gone.  Nor did the future hold any significance.

All that mattered was the serenity of the moment.

Just being with her and breathing with her.

The moral:  We must not allow the clock, the calendar, and external pressures to rule our lives and blind us to the fact that each individual moment of our lives is a beautiful mystery and a miracle – especially those moments we spend in the presence of a loved one.

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November 16, 2015
Memories with Matt

It was late August 1976 and ten year old Matt Biondi was making his way across the pool deck to the front of the crowd. It was the annual awards night for Moraga Valley Pool and, after listing all of his other honors that season, I’d just announced his name as our team’s Most Valuable Swimmer. Placing the trophy in his hands I then predicted that just like Peter Rocca, a fellow Moragan who’d just won a silver medal at Montreal in the 100m backstroke, Matt also had the talent to be an Olympian. Now, he’d only been swimming four years and I’d only been coaching four years but, together, at that moment, we both knew something magical lay ahead.

From that Saturday evening forward, Matt’s career took a new trajectory, swimming with new-found confidence now knowing that someone else believed in him.

Fast forward twelve years. Sports Illustrated is previewing the 1988 Seoul Olympics with a cover photo and lead story about Matt. Leading into the Games, he’s the most talked about athlete and has the formidable challenge of equaling the seven gold medals of the legendary Mark Spitz. The final quote in the SI piece is from me, his high school coach, saying: “I believe that if Matt believes, then he can do it”.

Later, Biondi alluded to the pressure—and tried to temper expectations—in a journal he kept for Sports Illustrated during the '88 Olympiad. "Everyone will be counting the medals and the times and the world records, and making this big judgment: Is Matt a success or a failure?" Biondi wrote. "It seems there's so much emphasis put on that stuff and so little on how a person grows as he works his way toward the Olympics. To me, it's the path getting there that counts, not the cheese at the end of the maze…. People don't seem to realize that I'm coming here with only one world record, in the 100 free. Spitz had world records in all of his individual events going into the 1972 Olympics. And mostly he was swimming against just Americans. Nowadays you've got East and West Germans, Swedes, Australians, Soviets—and they're all great. Times have changed."

Yes, they had. And along his journey, Matt changed, and learned, and grew. Here are some of my recollections of our friendship, along with three memorable stories that illustrate his growth.

At the start of each summer season at Moraga Valley Pool, we held time trials to determine who our ‘A’ swimmers were for the Saturday morning meets and who the ‘B’ swimmers were for Wednesday nights. It was 1979, Matt was 13 and had finished the previous summer with the same series of accolades. He was starting to think that success might not take much effort after all. In the first Time Trial event, the 50 free, Matt didn’t push himself as hard as he could and wound up taking 5th place. He’d turned in a decent time, but he’d not noticed that the bar he’d raised had now been met by his teammates.

They’d become faster, too. By not finishing in the top 4, he was designated a ‘B’ swimmer and would have to swim in the first Weds night meet of the season. He did. He swam that one event and turned in a lifetime best. Afterwards, he came right over and said, “Ok, I get it.  I’ve learned my lesson. From now on, I will only give my best”. Pretty astute observation. Over the next twelve years, Matt went on to earn a reputation as the world’s most dependable, formidable, and meet-ready male swimmer.

That following year, Mary and I faced a minor dilemma. We were to marry on August 16 right at the end of the summer and right at the end of the swim season. It was my fifth year at Moraga Valley Pool and Mary’s first, and those kids loved us as much as we loved them. Prior to my arrival the club was last in the eight team league. In my first year, we improved to third and the next year we were the All-Orinda Champions. For the next two seasons we were one of the top five teams in Contra Costa County, arguably the greatest hotbed of summer recreational swimming in America. How in the world were we to recognize all those kids as part of our special ceremony? Simple – we chose one girl and one boy from the team to be part of our wedding party and represent all the other swimmers on the team.


The boy we chose was Matt. That’s him second from the right.

The next month, Matt was a freshman at Campolindo HS in Moraga. His high school career continued to shape, mold and direct his future. His first-year growth spurt made him so gangly and uncoordinated that he wasn’t even able to qualify for the North Coast Section CIF meet. For the first time ever, he was an ‘also-swam’. After Mary and I married, we quit the summer coaching scene and, along with two high school chums, stated a window washing/custodial company. They were marketing and finance, and we were the labor force. One year later, the high school swim coach position opened at my alma mater, Campolindo. We were able to adjust our work schedule so I could get back on the pool deck and because I had an in with the out-going coach, I was Matt’s coach once again.

He’d regained his confidence and skill but still lacked strength. He was so tall and skinny, the upperclassmen nicknamed him ‘stick-boy’.  At the end of that sophomore season he qualified in the 200y and 500y freestyles for the NCS meet. His six-beat kick along with his incredibly long arms, convinced me he was the perfect candidate for distance swimming. The very next year he proved me wrong. Prior to the championship, he had swum some shorter races and earned a coveted spot as the fourth man on the 400 free relay. In that second year, he’d dropped his 100 free to a 50. 8, good enough for the relay but way off the times of his three teammates. Two were seniors, including the reigning 100 free champion who had already been a 45.8. The other two legs were 48 and 49. Matt was the weakest link. The team qualified in first for the finals, but the favored, second-seeded team, had sandbagged. Scenarios like this called for a ‘chase-the-rabbit’ strategy, so we went fastest to slowest, making Matt the anchor.

‘Campo’ had a one second lead when Matt dove in, which normally would have been safe but the other team saved their fastest swimmer for last. He was about to split a 47, passing Matt on the final stroke, at the wall, by .07 seconds. Matt dropped three full seconds to a 48. 5 and nearly won the race. But he didn’t and appeared devastated. It was the final event and final race of the meet. It was all over, except for climbing out of the pool. Which he didn’t. Not for a long time. I left him alone and waited. When he finally climbed out and came over, I realized he hadn’t been sulking; he’d been making mental preparations for next time. Without reservations, he looked me straight in the eye and said, “That’s the last time that happens. I’ll never lose a relay again”. And he didn’t. By the end of his career, he’d swum mind-boggling, come-from-behind, anchor splits of 40.9 in yards and 47.8 in meters. Times that, thirty years later, by today’s standards, are still among the best in the world.

The next year, everything happened so fast. Especially to him. Suddenly, as a junior, he was a sprinter again and he began showing glimpses of skills and power that most of us had never seen before. By the time the season-ending meet arrived, we believed that our swim team was about to do something no other sports team in the history of Campolindo HS had ever done – win a California North Coast Section title. In addition, no team from our league had ever even won a swimming title. We were ready. And we won. When it was over, the boys had turned in 22 of 24 lifetime best swims and the trophy was theirs.

It was an incredible, nearly perfect team effort. In the picture on the left, that’s Matt with the other hat on. The only real downside came in the finals of the 50 free. In addition to the 100 free and 400 free relay, Matt would have also won that event but he had trouble on his turn. He was decidedly ahead going into the wall, but he had water in his goggles and failed to touch the wall, so he had to go back and retouch. Miraculously, though, Matt rebounded and in the space of 25 yards, finished fourth with a 21.85. Here again, was another lost chance at doing his best.  Because it was the time during the meet for the 20 minute diving break, Matt stayed alone in the pool, head and hands in the gutter. And, again, he was using that moment to learn and grow and control his attitude. When he came out and came over, he said, “Not fixing my goggles ahead of time was a mistake. I’ll never be beaten on a turn again.” Because of his will power, his wingspan and/or his strength, Matt became one of the most feared short-course swimmers of all time. From that day on, if you weren’t ahead of Matt going into a turn, you wouldn’t be ahead of him coming out.

During our eight years together, Matt and I developed a special bond that exists to this day. Sometimes I wasn’t sure who the teacher was and who was the pupil. His presence of mind and attitude-control at such a young age taught me much about how I saw myself.  Much of that connection was obviously strengthened when Mary came into my life.  She and Matt began sharing a very similar, mutual fondness for each other that has steadied him during some of his life challenges. Twelve years after I stopped coaching him, the tables were turned and Mary and I were in Hawaii as members of Matt’s wedding.

Matt turned 50 years last month, so that twelve year age gap between us when we first met is virtually non-existent. I’m pleased that he accepted our DAM invitation to be our guest speaker next month and I’m excited that those of you attending get a rare glimpse into a uniquely, gifted athlete and one of my closest friends.

Here are four Matt Biondi videos from YouTube.

Capital City Speakers Bureau

1984 Los Angeles Olympics 4 x 100 Free Relay

1988 Seoul Olympics 4 x 100 Free relay

1988 USA Olympic Trials

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NOVEMBER 9, 2015

As we enter the the final week of our inaugural Grand Prix challenge, Mary and I are impressed and humbled by the number of DAM swimmers participating in the event. Late last fall, when it was first envisioned, we never imagined this type of year-long commitment or end-of-year results. The previous KOW spoke to the benefits of activities like this with group support and participation. This week, we'd like to recognize the personal advantages of individual accomplishments.

Sports provide many examples of this and the story of Roger Bannister is a particularly inspirational one. For many years it was widely believed to be impossible for a human to run a mile (1609 meters) in under four minutes . In fact, for many years, it was believed that the 'four minute mile' was a physical barrier that no man could break without causing significant damage to the runners health. The achievement of a four minute mile seemed beyond human possibility, like climbing Mount Everest or walking on the moon.

It was a windy spring day, on the 6th of May 1954, during an athletic meeting between the British AAA and Oxford University, that Roger Bannister crossed the finish line with a time of 3 minutes, 59.4 seconds, and broke through the "four minute mile" psychological barrier. John Landy, a great runner of that day, had never run faster than within 1.5 seconds of the four minute barrier. Then 56 days after Roger Bannister's breakthrough, John Landy ran the four minute mile in 3 minutes and 57.9 seconds in Finland. Later Bannister and Landy raced in the Mile of the Century where Bannister won in 3 minutes and 58.8 seconds. What made this event so significant is that once the four minute barrier was broken by Roger Bannister, five more runners went sub 4:00 the next year and the year after that another ten. In what had stood as an impassable barrier for decades, had, in the space of less than three years, been beaten down by seventeen men.

Roger Bannister breaks FOUR-minute mile, 6 May 1954

The breaking of the four minute mile was so significant, that is was named by Forbes as one of the greatest athletic achievements of all time. Describing the psychological impact of the four minute barrier in an interview with Forbes , Sir Roger Bannister, who was knighted in 1975, related that: 

The world record then was four minutes, 1.4 seconds, held by Sweden's Gunder Haegg. It had been stuck there for nine years, since 1945. It didn't seem logical to me, as a physiologist/doctor, that if you could run a mile in four minutes, one and a bit seconds, you couldn't break four minutes. But it had become a psychological as well as a physical barrier. In fact the Australian, John Landy, having done four minutes, two seconds, three times, is reported to have commented, "It's like a wall." I couldn't see the psychological side."

So what happened to the physical barrier that prevented humans from running the four minute mile? Was there a sudden leap in human evolution? No. It was the change in thinking that made the difference, Bannister had shown that breaking four minute mile was possible. Often the barriers we perceived are only barriers in our own minds. Previous runners had been held back by their beliefs and mindsets. When the barrier was broken other runners saw that is was possible and then 16 runners went on to do they same.

Our beliefs and mindsets limit or expand our world. Beliefs have power over us because we treat them as though they're true. Beliefs influence what you attempt or choose not to attempt in life. They determine what you pay attention to, how you react to difficult situations and ultimately your attitude. Success and failure begin and end in what the mind believes is possible.

The first step anyone can take in influencing the world around them is to change how they think about it. If Roger Bannister accepted that the four minute mile was a physical limitation, he would never had tried to break it. Just like the runners of time past, many of the barriers that hold us back today exist only in our minds.

  • What are the four minute miles that are holding you back in your personal and professional life?
  • Are their any role models who are challenging existing limits that you can learn from?

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November 2 2015

Every fall thousands of geese fly from Canada to the southern part of the United States to escape the bitterly cold Canadian winter. As soon as a flock of geese take flight from Canadian waters they quickly form a v-shape flying pattern, with one rotating goose in the center lead and all the other geese trailing behind in two close lines. They fly at speeds of 60 miles per hour, honking constantly. They can fly for 16 hours without resting. Wildlife scientists have conducted extensive studies to determine why geese and other migratory birds always fly in a distinctive v-formation.  They found some fascinating results:

1. When geese fly together, each goose provides additional lift and reduces air resistance for the goose flying behind it.  Consequently, by flying together in a v-formation, scientists estimate that the whole flock can fly about 70% farther with the same amount of energy than if each goose flew alone.  Geese have discovered that they can reach their destination more quickly and with less energy expended when they fly together in formation. When people work together harmoniously on teams, sharing common values and a common destination, they all arrive at the destination quicker and easier, because they are lifted up by the energy and enthusiasm of one another.

2. When a goose drops out of the v-formation it quickly discovers that it requires a great deal more effort and energy to fly.  Consequently, that goose will quickly return to the formation to take advantage of the lifting power that comes from flying together. Sometimes people playing on teams will drop out of the group and try to accomplish goals on their own.  However, like the geese, they usually discover that they miss the synergy and energy that comes when they are an active part of a cohesive team moving toward their destination, and want to return to the group.

3. Geese rotate leadership. When the goose flying in the front of the formation has to expend the most energy because it is the first to break up the flow of air that provides the additional lift for all of the geese who follow behind the leader.  Consequently, when the lead goose gets tired, it drops out of the front position and moves to the rear of the formation, where the resistance is lightest, and another goose moves to the leadership position.  This rotation of position happens many times in the course of the long journey to warmer climates.  When a team is functioning well, various members of the team may take the leadership role for a while because of a particular expertise or experience.  Consequently, on good teams, everyone has the opportunity to serve as a leader as well as a follower.

4. Geese honk at each other. They also frequently make loud honking sounds as they fly together.  Scientists speculate that this honking is their way of communicating with each other during their long flight. Similarly, when working on teams, it is exceedingly important for each team member to communicate regularly with all the other team members.  Teams frequently fall apart because of the lack of adequate communication among the various members of the team.  Perhaps human teams can learn from flying flocks of geese that constant communication among members is exceedingly important in moving effectively towards a common destination.

5. Geese help each other. Scientists also discovered that when one goose becomes ill, is shot or injured, and drops out of the formation, two other geese will fall out of formation and remain with the weakened goose.  They will stay with and protect the injured goose from predators until it is able to fly again or dies. Likewise, human teams work best when they do more than just work together, but care for the well being of each other. 

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October 26 2015


In this final week of our Stroke Month, the focus finally falls on butterfly. We've often said that the beauty of this stroke is only offset by it's ugly twin; the Butterstruggle. Fly stroke done well is a graceful and beautiful movement. Fly stroke done poorly is a DAM pain in the neck.

Our bearded model is American Tyler Clary, an accomplished flyer, IM'er and backstroker. He was the 2012 Olympic Champion in the 200m back. The full video of his butterfly can be found at Speedo-Swim Technique.

We'll take a close look at six different elements of Tyler's butterfly.


The first is his body position on hand entry at the start of his cycle. Notice how his chest and chin are at the same depth well below his hips and thighs. This is the start of the dolphin motion that, when executed properly, provides continued forward progress even in between stroke cycles. Most technique mistakes start here.

1 3  

From the entry in image 1, out to the 'Catch' in image 3, these three motions are nearly identical to those of breaststroke. But it's after the 'Catch', that the real fly power begins.


Tyler creates increasing propulsive forces by angling water backwards with his palms, forearms and even upper arms. This phase is known as the 'PULL'.                                                 


His hold on the water continues until his fingers are nearly touching each other. Notice how his elbows are bent here at nearly 90 degrees, the same as in the power phase of freestyle. But because both arms (shoulders) are moving at the same time, they do their work underneath the torso instead of outside it. Here he is changing the pitch of his hands from pull to push. This phase is the 'HOLD'.


Finally, he is extending his triceps, still maintaining backwards facing palms, and finishing the motion. This is the 'PUSH'. Together the above three sequences demonstrate the correct and powerful motions of the arms. Combined with the downbeat of his legs, he is producing an amount of forward thrust that is the greatest of any of the four strokes. Now let's take a closer look at the kick.


There are two kicks (downbeats) for each one arm cycle. The first kick, shown above, is more of a stabilzing motion and is complete at the extension of the arms on entry. 

The second kick is more propulsive. In the following sequences, see how the knees forcibly straighten just as the hands are moving from the HOLD to the PUSH.

1a  1b 

2a  2b 

3a  3b   

Lastly, let's look at the timing of Tyler's head lift for inhalation.


Here we see he's lifted his head and shoulders out and over the water and is already inhaling before his hands actually exit the pool. Unlike 'Late Breathing' in breaststroke, butterfly requires an 'Early Breath' so that the head can be dropped back into the water before the arms come around.


The head should be fully submerged when the fingers finally make soft contact with the water.


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October 19 2015


Breaststroke is the oldest of the four strokes and the least fastest. Though nowadays some of the top men and women are turning in breaststroke times that used to be good enough for fly or back. This KOW will focus on creating propulsive forces and simultaneously minimizing resistance.

The model for the video is American swimmer Jessica Hardy, a ten-year veteran of international swimming, with over 25 medals in relays, sprint free and breaststroke. The full video can be found at this link.

We're just going to let her technique speak for itself as we compare side and front images throughout one full stroke cycle.














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October 12 2015

Backstroke ought to be the easiest stroke to learn. Unlike the other three disciplines, it has no stroke variations, i.e., catch-up, gliding, arm dominated, breath holding. In its simplest form, backstroke has a continuous kick, alternating arms and constant breathing. In fact, once a swimmer learns how to float on their back they're almost ready to start swimming. It's that easy.

Except for, just as in the other strokes, maximizing propulsion. So that's the gist of this KOW. How to move forwards by discovering the best way to angle water backwards.

This week's Go Swim video is of Aaron Piersol. The full video is located here and it's entirely shot with a focus on his perpendicular palms. 

For today's still shots we've chosen just a three second snipet from the video (1:35 to 1:38) and isolated one of his right arm sequences. Here is an excellent view of outstanding swimming.

Aaron enters the water with a locked elbow, straight arm, pinky first with his palm pointed away from the body. The direction of the little finger should be in 'scooping' motion down and out simultaneously.

The upper arm should point no lower than about 45 degrees and the forearm should stop at horizontal. The fingers and hand keep moving to 'round off' the entry and start the hand back upwards.

The upper arm remains stationary, the bicep muscle is at work as the hand starts following the thumb and the palm initiates it's backward facing pressure.

The elbow bends to nearly 90 degrees, the palm, forearm and upper arm combine for maximum surface area as the entire limb creates forces perpindicular to his direction of travel. The fingers are closest to the surface at this point.

This view shows the beginning of the change from pulling to pushing water. Actually, in Aaron's case, his hand is staying still in the water and his entire body is moving past that anchored point. His palm is still pointed backwards, his wrist is beginning to hyper-extend and his thumb is point upwards. A common mistake at this point is to begin rolling the thumb towards the feet and prematurely releasing pressure.

Just as in freestyle, completing the backwards facing motion by holding onto the water as long as possible is the key to maximizing forwards propulsion. Even at racing speeds Aaron maintains a perpendicular palm by switching to tricep strength, extending his elbow and continuing to direct water backwards.


His final position underwater is identical to his first; straigthening the arm at the elbow before exiting upwards.

Besides the perpendicular palm,the other key takeaway here is the elbow sequence of straight-bent-straight. Only with that motion can backwards forces be maximized and maintained. Straight arm swimming doesn't work for freestyle and it's not so good for backstroke, either.

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October 5 2015


Our model for this stroke is Kara Lynn Williamson (Joyce), a three-time Olympian ('04, '08 and '12) and five-time NCAA Champion. While a junior at the Univ. of Georgia, she became the first-ever woman to win the 50, 100 and 200 yard freestyles at a single NCAA Championships. Her ability to successfully compete over three different distances is a true testament to the technical skill and stroke mastery.

She recently crafted an underwater video detailing the elbow angles she uses while swimming. The full four minute video of her stroke can be seen at this GoSwim site.

I've taken the following images from that video to highlight many of skills we're emphasizing this week.

Starting with body position (or Aquatic Posture as it's becoming known) you can see at mid-inhalation she keeps her head low in the water, directly in line with her spine. We teach this postion using the 'Tophat' drill. It's a great way to lead with the crown of the head, while practicing quick, minimal chin rotations. Notice also that she's swimming with about a 60% Catch-Up stroke here. Her right arm is still fully extended at this point as she waits for her recovering arm to extend forwards.

In this photo, her left arm has entered the water and moved forward in a line straight out from her shoulder. This extension minimizes splash and keeps water resistance to a minimum. Crossing over in front of the skull is a common error at this point.

From the front, you can see her recovering left arm is passing just beyond her head as her right hand drifts slightly outward towards her pinky. This sets her up for a better catch on the water by allowing the shoulder and back muscles to play a  more functional role. 

This opposite view of the left hand is taken just a little farther along the recovery cycle. 

Under the water we now see where Kara Lynn's strength really lies. As much as any other swimmer we've ever looked at, she creates a powerful underwater pull pattern utilizing a very high elbow. In fact throughout the video, you'll see her elbow stay within inches of the surface during her entire pull/push combination. This view shows her in the Early Vertical Forearmpostion. Also known as 'the catch', it is a much emphazsized position in our sport, deserving of all the attention it gets. But from all of the evidence we've gathered it is not as propulsive as the next two stages.

Her right elbow also bends to nearly 90 degrees creating a maximum amount of backwards facing surface area. It is surface area plus acceleration plus length of motion that combine for the greatest amounts of forward propulsion.

In these images, we see her continuing her backwards pressure with what we've termed the Late Vertical Forearm (LVF). She then hyper-extends her wrist and positions her hand into what we've named the Even Later Vertical Palm (ELVF).

This image is from a velocity study done with swimmers wearing force sensors on their palms. The peak forces are greatest in the LVF position (the photo is synchronized with the grey line in the upper graph) and then decrease through the ELVP but even then remain higher than when in the catch or EVF.

Our last series shows a different swimmer demonstrating not only the same arm positions as Kara Lynn but also another very important concept about our sport. In terms of creating maximum forward propulsion it is possibly the most difficult notion to grasp. Here it is..when technique is done well, the hand stays still in water and the body moves past the hand. Notice the arrows in the above sequence referencing the entry and exit positions relative to the lane line.

Counting strokes is the simplest and best way to determine swimming efficiency. If you're count is in the mid-teens, then you're anchoring your hands effectively. If your stroke count is in the mid to-upper twenties, then your hands are moving backwards and slipping, meaning your body is staying still. 

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July 6 2015 -September 28 2015

April 6 2015 - June 29 2015

March 30, 2015 -January 5 2015