Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Number ONE Job of Any Youth Sports Coach

Today I attended my 2nd grade son's youth football game. He plays for his school team and it is the first year he has ever played. I watched in disbelief today as one of the coaches from the opposing team screamed and yelled and berated his players (2nd GRADERS!!) for missing a tackle, or not lining up in the correct spot or not putting in enough "effort." He would send them out of the game immediately and bring in somebody else. This guy would give Bob Knight a run for his money and frankly I was stunned that the parents of these kids put up with this type of "coaching."

Having coached diving for more than 24 years, I have seen my share of yellers and screamers and while I do believe there is a time and a place for such "motivation" it certainly is not with 2nd graders who are just learning the sport!! This is the age where you teach kids the fundamentals of the sport. You get them excited to come out and play football or to dive or dance or do whatever. The NUMBER ONE JOB of any youth sports coach (in my humble opinion) is to make whatever sport it is you are coaching FUN so the kids want to come back again tomorrow, next week, next month or next season. You make them feel good about themselves and be proud of their accomplishments. Not only do the parents appreciate this, but the kids do too.

After the game was over, I went up and thanked all six of my son's coaches -- they really do a great job and he is lucky to have coaches who know the sport; teach the sport AND most importantly, make the game FUN AND ENJOYABLE. All the while, they are learning new skills and some valuable lessons about team work, hard work and life in general. I hope that all you diving coaches out there keep this in mind when you start your programs this Fall!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

What Happened to TEAM USA in Beijing?

I must confess that I had high hopes for TEAM USA in Beijing but I watched the 2008 Olympic Games with a heavy heart and a somewhat perplexed eye. After judging the Olympic Trials and witnessing some spectacular diving up close and personal throughout that entire event, I felt very confidant that the 2008 U.S. Olympic Diving Team would come away from Beijing with at least one medal if not a few. I looked very favorably upon the team that was selected to represent the United States at these Olympic Games. The divers looked to be in great shape; appeared to be injury-free and were diving very well both nationally and internationally. In addition, the coaches had worked so hard over these past four years getting their divers ready for "The Big Dance" and the administrative support that many felt was lacking in the past seemed to be in place. Based on all this and more, I really felt that USA Diving had turned a huge corner in their comeback from a very drastic free-fall in the world standing of the diving community.

Then Beijing -- no medals once again! Granted, our overall placing was much-improved from Athens but in the past THREE Olympic Games, the United States has won only ONE medal. To put that in perspective: Out of a possible 72 Olympic Diving Medals given during the last three Olympic Games (eight events x three medals per event x three Olympic Games), the US has a record of 1-72. OUCH!

What is the answer? Is it coaching? Is it lack of knowledge? Is it training (too much or not enough)? Is it lack of competitive fire? Is it facilities or lack thereof? Is it "delusions of grandeur" on the part of the athletes and / or the coaches? Are we missing "swagger"? Do we need to recruit and / or find better athletes? Is it experience or inexperience? Is it the age of our divers? Did the Chinese get over-scored at their home pool? Do our divers wilt under pressure at big meets? Were our divers simply tired from the travel and drastic time change? Did our divers peak too soon (i.e. Olympic Trials)? I do not know the answer but I look forward to talking with our Olympic Coaches as well as the athletes to get their take on what needs to be done.

I certainly am not giving up and I hope the coaches, divers and administrators are not giving up either. I think USA Diving has made HUGE strides in the past four years and I think we will continue to improve and continue to chip away and slowly but surely make our way back to the top. GO USA!

Monday, August 25, 2008

What We Can Learn From Mathew Mitcham

The diving world was shocked to see a non-Chinese diver standing atop the medal podium at the completion of the Men's 10 Meter Platform Event at the 2008 Olympic Games. Australian diver Mathew Mitcham put together the meet of his life in Beijing and will forever be known as "Olympic Champion."

What can we learn from this most unexpected result? Many things including:

1) NO DIVING EVENT IS OVER UNTIL THE LAST DIVER ENTERS THE WATER. Even with what seemed like an insurmountable lead going into the last round and the fact that Chinese diver and current leader Zhou Luxin had his usually very good 307C remaining for his final dive -- strange things can occur -- especially in the finals of the Olympic Games in front of your home crowd. Zhou inexplicably broke position on his kick out AND left his dive short -- scoring a meager 76 points and opening the door for Mitcham who needed a near perfect dive with high degree of difficulty in order to complete the upset. As most coaches know, getting 9.5's and 10's on a 3.8 DD dive does wonders for a diver's final score and that fact held true for Mitcham who earned over 112 points on his final dive to leap past Zhou and win the Gold Medal by four points.
2) LEARNING TO SPOT IS SO VERY IMPORTANT. Mitcham, a former World Champion on Double Mini-Tramp, is an excellent "spotter" (He uses visual references to see and know exactly where he is in the air at all times).
3) GOOD KICK OUTS, COME OUTS AND LINEUPS ARE EQUALLY AS IMPORTANT. It does not matter if you know how to "spot" as well as Matthew Mitcham does if you do not know how to properly kick out, come out and line up a dive. I loved watching the slow motion replays of Mitcham's dives where you could see him "spot" the dive, kick flat and tight, line-up and disappear when he hit the water.
4) GOOD FORM NEVER GOES OUT OF STYLE. Mitcham has a great toe and foot point, long legs and excellent body lines. He used all of these elements to wow the judges and put together a most memorable list of dives on the world's biggest stage. CONGRATULATIONS, MATHEW!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

What We Can Learn From Michael Phelps

The world has watched with great interest and enthusiasm the exploits of Michael Phelps at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. In his quest to tie and break Mark Spitz' record of SEVEN Gold Medals in one Olympic Games, we have witnessed some incredible athletic achievement as well as a little bit of luck. The outcome of the 400 Medley Relay looked in question until Phelps' teammate Jason Lezak turned on the after-burners to narrowly beat the big-mouthed Frenchman. Then again in the 100 Meter Butterfly -- Phelps appeared to have lost the race but miraculously, he touched the wall ahead of the the 2nd place finisher by the slimmest of margins -- 1/100ths of a second.

How can one guy have so much luck? Well consider the old saying "The harder I work, the luckier I get." Nobody works harder than Phelps does inside or outside of the pool. His "will to win" is legendary and he is a vicious competitor. He makes his own breaks and he reaps the benefits. Along the way, he has had great coaching, great support from family and friends and has been pushed to the max by great teammates.

All divers and coaches should take a few notes from Michael Phelps. Work really, really hard and surround yourself with a great supporting cast and you too can enjoy some successes on the boards and eventually outside of the pool when your career is over.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Get Yourself a Crockpot!

I know all too well the time involved with being a Professional Diving Coach and especially the difficulty of eating well (read healthy). Diving coaches are always on the run -- going from dry land to water practice or to another pool for another practice. The temptation to stop and get a fast food meal 2-3 times per day is too great and it is not a good one. Too many diving coaches today are overweight and out of shape and in my mind, it is almost hypocritical for coaches to demand that their divers be "in shape" yet they themselves are far from it.

My suggestion is to get a Crockpot and a Crockpot recipe book. The meals are easy to prepare -- just cut up the ingredients; place them in the crock pot; put on the lid; turn it on and 4-10 hours later, PRESTO you have an incredibly good, healthy, home-cooked meal AND you will always have leftovers for another day. (Plus, think of all the money you will save) You could even get a Thermos and bring a hot home-cooked meal to the pool!

Don't forget -- skip the soda -- drink lots of water and do some exercise (perhaps workout with your divers) -- you will be glad you did.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Learn From The Judges?

One of the best young diving coaches in the United States is Loren "Buck" Smith -- the very accomplished coach at Eastern Michigan University. I had the honor and pleasure of judging the Olympic Diving Trials with Buck. Before and after each event at the Olympic Trials, the judges had a briefing and de-briefing -- where we discussed things we saw or wanted to review or discuss -- it was very informative for all and really seemed to help "fine tune" the judging.

During one of our de-briefings (which occurred after each event) Buck mentioned what I think is a GREAT IDEA -- that is, the JUDGES should write reports TO THE COACHES at the completion of certain big meets -- to tell them what they feel would improve their divers and ultimately improve their position in the standings. If the coaches could be handed a sheet at the end of the meet that told them WHY the judges scored certain dives in certain ways, as well as a list of things that the judges liked AND disliked about their divers and the dives they did -- Buck (and the rest of the Olympic Trials Judges -- including me) think this could be very beneficial to the continued improvement and progress of diving in the USA.

Only time will tell if the coaches will embrace such a cutting edge idea.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Living The Dream!

"The Position of 'Diving Coach' is an Honorable One." These are the words of Dr. Rick Schavone PhD -- the highly respected and very accomplished diving coach at Stanford University. His words should resonate to all diving coaches at all levels of our sport.

Diving coaches are TEACHERS to many kids. Diving Coaches are "Father-Figures" or "Mother-Figures" to many divers. Diving Coaches hold much influence over impressionable youths. Diving Coaches are MENTORS. Diving Coaches are HEROES. Diving Coaches instill HARD WORK and DISCIPLINE in their athletes. Diving Coaches form lasting bonds with their divers and their families. Diving Coaches are INSPIRATIONS to many kids as well as POSITIVE ROLE MODELS and LEADERS. These things should not be taken for granted.

Diving Coaches also have the opportunity to travel to all corners of our great country and sometimes the world. Diving Coaches have the opportunity to watch first-hand (and in some cases coach) divers who have reached the pinnacle of our sport -- that of Olympian.

The diving community around the world is small and close knit. Diving Coaches -- especially those who have reached the international scene have formed friendships with other coaches and divers from around the world. Many coaches have formed life-long friendships with their peers around the country. There are not many other career paths that can claim all these perks.

Of course, there are downsides to coaching diving. They include long hours, very hard work, the sometimes difficult family and limited social life -- but in the grand scheme of things, if you choose to make your vocation that of "Professional Diving Coach" -- know that you are embracing a lifestyle that is the envy of many. Know that to many people. you are "LIVING THE DREAM"!