The 10 Secrets of Success by Bob Bowman (2008)


[Introduction by Mark Schubert] Tonight’s keynote speaker is a great coach. I always like to talk about a great coach. I like to put him in perspective. Many of us think that being a great coach means that you fall into a great job. Not tonight. This guy has paid his dues. He was the head age group coach at the Cincinnati Marlins. He was the senior assistant coach for the Las Vegas Gold swim team. He was the head coach for the Birmingham Swim League. He was the head coach for the Napa Valley swim team. Then he went to the North Baltimore Aquatic Club and worked as the head senior coach there under Coach Murray Stevens. He met a young athlete there in whom he saw a lot of talent: Michael Phelps. I think that the best thing, and the thing that I respect the most about Bob, ever since I had an opportunity to work with him after Michael made the 2000 Olympic team at the age of 14, is that Bob always had a vision that he instilled in Michael. They were not necessarily Bob’s goals, but the vision was Bob’s vision, and Bob helped Michael set his goals and he helped Michael believe in his goals. When Bob went from North Baltimore to the University of Michigan, Michael followed him to train. We all know what happened there! One of the best things that happened recently is that Bob has purchased and will become the CEO and head coach of the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, the place where he met Michael. Going back to his roots, and going into business with Michael to continue the dream at North Baltimore Aquatic Club is an awesome thing for Unites States Swimming – especially considering all of the work that Murray Stevens has put into that dream in the NBAC culture. Ladies and Gentlemen, here is probably the best coach of our generation: Coach Bob Bowman.

[Bob Bowman]: Thank you very much, Mark. Before I get started… since Mark mentioned a little bit about 2000 when I really got to know him pretty well, and just to let you know what a thrill tonight is for me …I remember the day – maybe not the date, but I certainly remember the day — when I first realized that Mark Schubert actually knew my name. I was at one of those National’s in Ft. Lauderdale in the 90’s and I was outside just jogging along one morning by myself. Mark was coming the other way. When he passed by me, he said: “Hi Bob.” I basically fell over right after I passed him because I was so excited. One of the things that I would like all of us to recognize is the unbelievable job Mark Schubert has done as our National Team Head Coach leading us through these Olympic Games. [audience applauds.]

In about 1996, Murray Stevens came in one day and he said: “You really should read this paper,” handing me a copy of Investor’s Business Daily. I don’t know if you read it, but it is the best newspaper in the United States as far as I am concerned. The thing that I like the most about it is that it has a section titled “Leaders and Success.” There, it lists 10 secrets for success. They are not really secrets, but we have posted these for years for our swimmers at North Baltimore. I used some of them at Michigan too. So, when I was thinking about what I could do for this talk that would not absolutely bore you to death, I thought maybe I could use those “secrets” as a framework within which to discuss some ideas about how we run our programs: just some thinking about what makes somebody excel in their field. This talk is going to be based on the “10 Secrets to Success from Investors Business Daily.” [note: first published in 2002, “IBD’s 10 Secrets to Success” is based on its years of analyzing successful people in all walks of life. Each issue highlights one of the ten qualities].


Number one is the most important: HOW YOU THINK IS EVERYTHING. Always be positive. Think success as opposed to failure. You know. Everybody knows that, right? But — it is pretty hard to do sometimes. I know that for myself, I am a perpetual worrier. I am always worried about what could go wrong. On one of the first nights of our Olympic team training camp in Palo Alto, we heard a fantastic talk from very smart man named Lou Tyson, and another guy, Pete Carroll, who is a pretty good coach himself (a football coach for you Brits, not your football, but real football). When they spoke to us, Lou Tyson said: “worrying is negative goal setting.”

The point is: you have got to be able to get a picture in your head of where you want to go. That [picture] should be your focus. In my experience in coaching and life, the people who are most successful are the ones who do that [keeping focused on the picture] the best. Several people come to mind when I think of this, especially a guy named Michael Phelps. Michael is maybe the best person at keeping his focus that I have ever seen. Contrary to popular belief, Michael’s career has not been a fairy tale, where he comes into the pool every day motivated, dives into the pool and does everything I ask him to do perfectly.

There are plenty of times when things don’t and haven’t gone perfectly. But, the thing that has helped Michael continue to improve is that he never takes his sight off his goal. I have [taken my eyes off the goal] many times. This is what happens, right? Let’s say Michael comes in to workout, a morning workout, and he is late. I know John Urbanchek will tell you that never happened, but it happened, maybe once, okay? Let’s say Michael comes in late. Everybody is swimming, and Michael comes in. I am faced with the decision of what to do. Probably for the first ten years I would just go NUTS; now, I just say: “Just get in. Let’s go.”

In my head, however, I am saying: “Michael is late to workout. He is not going to get this whole thing done. He is not taking this seriously. He is probably going to do it again, if he did it one time; and if he does this a hundred more times, he is not going to be able to do what I want him to do in the next meet, and that will carry over — and just forget what is going to happen in Beijing.” I can do that in about two seconds.

Michael’s mind, however, is: “I am here at practice; I am getting something out of it; I am going 1:51 in the 200 fly.” A lot of our conflict comes about because sometimes I am holding him back with negative thinking. So that is one of the things that I think all of us could do better.

Who is the best at this in coaching? Mark Schubert. Arguably, of living coaches, Mark is the best out there, and the reason that he is the best is because he never gives up on an athlete. He always sees the best in each athlete, and that is why they have achieved such remarkable performances over and over again. Over the last several years, I have actually had the honor of coaching a couple of athletes who had trained with Coach Schubert previously. Erik Vent and Kaitlin Sandeno are two. Just interacting with Mark about these swimmers and their possibilities changed my coaching forever. I learned from Mark never to give up on anybody, never to write somebody off. You know, Erik Vent should have retired after the last Olympics, right? I know things did not go perfectly at our Trials and I am never going to get over that, but for Erik to have gone the times he did just shows that anything is possible.

Jon Urbanchek is really good that [never giving up on anyone] too. One reason why I think our team was so successful over the last four years is that I have been able to learn from Jon. Maybe every practice that we have is not the most important thing happening in my life at that time (because that is how I used to approach it). There will be another one this afternoon; there will be another one tomorrow. We want them all to be good, but the most important thing is that they are good over the long haul. Jon has taught me how to let some things go, not always an easy lesson for me.

I had an assistant coach named Fernando Canales. When I hired him, he would do things like send me an email or leave me a phone message and the last thing he would always say was: “Have a glorious day.” Of course, the first thing that I thought was: “What the hell is wrong with you? ‘Have a glorious day??’” But, after he had been around our team for a couple of months, I noticed that we were different. The guys were different, and I was different. I had started thinking about things a little differently. I started appreciating things a little bit more — because that is what Fernando always did. He was another one of those positive guys, who, when I started to get down on something, would say: “Well, you know, you could always look. Maybe there is a good side to this.” There always was too. So I thank him for helping me learn to do that.

How you think about what you are doing is going to determine everything that happens in your program. That is what the athletes are going to pick up on, because they are watching and listening to everything that you say — whether you believe it or not.

I do not have this in my speech, but I am going to throw it in, because everybody loves Michael stories. Believe it or not, when Michael was young, we deliberately would not let him swim the 200 fly. This was when he was 12-13 years old. I think Michael swam the 200 fly one time in the summer of his 13 year old year. He made the Junior National cut, and we took him to the Junior Nationals, where he swam it for the second time. Before he went to that Junior meet, I was thinking: “You know, he only swam the event once (well, he had swum it twice: a prelim and a final)… so maybe I should give him a set where he does some 200 flys before this meet.” So six weeks before that meet, we did three 200 flys from a dive, on… I don’t know… 15 minutes, with easy swimming in between. On the last one, he swam 2:14. For a 13 year old kid, that’s not too bad. He ended up going 2:04 at the meet.

Well, when we went into the next season, which was the year 2000, the Olympic year, Michael was going to swim at the Nationals in the Spring of 2000, so I said: “Let’s do this thing again. We will do it six weeks before again, okay?” By that point, Michael had really made progress. He had grown a lot, and he was training quite well, so I had some high expectations for this set. He ended up going 2:09 on the last one, when I thought he would go 2:05. I was so disappointed, but I was trying to hide it. I was thinking: “I’ll just deal with it, but I have got to come up with something to say to Michael.” We were kind of talking after the set, and I said: “Well, you know, Michael, last summer when you did this set and you went 2:14, you ended up at 2:04. Now, this is 2:09, so you should go 1:59.”

I said that, but I was thinking: “There is no way he is going a 1:59, he is going 2:01. But I will say 1:59 because I have to say something, right?” Then we went to the Meet. You have to understand that Michael had broken the National Age Group record for 13-14 year olds by going 2:04.68 in August, and that was a 20 year old record, so we were happy about that. And now as a 14 year old, he is swimming in the Prelims of the Nationals. It is funny what you will remember about these things. It was the last event of the first day of Prelims. There was nobody in the building. There were about 3 people in the stands. John Leonard was one of them. I still remember that to this day. John was sitting up in the stands. Michael dives in for these Prelims and goes 1:59.6! This not only broke the 13-14 record, it also broke the 15-16 record. The kid was 14, right? When he came back that night with a 1:59 flat, we thought: “Wow, this guy is pretty good.” That is where this whole thing kind of started. The bottom line is that when Michael came out of the water, he did the first interview he had ever done with anybody. The first question they asked was: “Michael, when did you first think you could break 2 minutes in the 200 fly?” And he said: “Well…we did this set about 6 weeks ago, and my coach told me after the set that based on that set, I could break two minutes.”

I started thinking at that time: “He really is listening.” So — you have to be careful with what you say and how you think, because they [the swimmers] are really going to follow you.


Everybody knows that too, but have you really thought about it? I mean, what do you really want to do? I think you have to write goals down. There is something about that process commits you to them and makes you think more about them. I have done that, and I do that every season: just some goals for our group and a plan of where we would like to go.

I think it has been publicized enough now that Michael does that [writes his goals down] every season. This is a process that he has done for a long time. Michael’s goals are very specific, and they [his times] almost always end up being what is written on the paper. We never really like to share what is written, and we never did. After the Olympics, however, when they asked what his goals were, Michael said: “All my goals were reached.” I can tell you right now: on the paper is 4:03 in the 400 IM.

At the time he wrote these goals, Michael’s best time was 4:06. The best part about that goal is that it was such a real and specific goal for him that he not only had the end point written down, he also knew how he was going to get there. He knew how he wanted to swim it. Before the Olympic Trials, Michael came to me, and he said: “I keep having this dream. I just keep seeing the time – 3:07.” I said: “what? He said: “Yeah, just 3:07. I don’t know what that means.” I said: “It is probably your 300 split in the 400 IM.” Of course, I was joking, right? I was thinking: “Yeah right, okay, it is going to be 3:07 (maybe, more like 3:09…)” BUT — look at the splits from Beijing. I looked up at that scoreboard during the race, and it said 3:07 flat, and I thought: “Whoa, here we go.” I knew something special was going to happen.

I don’t think you are able to do stuff like that, and I don’t think you are able to really get into your goals, unless you have specific goals that really mean something to you. Specific meaningful goals like that are what carry you through the ups and downs. You know, when Michael broke his wrist in the fall, he could have very easily just chucked it. It would be too hard; there would be no way to come back. Instead… he came in the next morning, and he started biking for hours at a time. That really improves your wrist by the way. It really makes you want to get better in a hurry, when you bike an hour and a half in the morning, and another hour and a half at night, and you haven’t been doing any biking all.

I think the most important thing that you have got to have is a plan of where you want to go. You know your long-term plans are general. They are kind of your exciting goals. They are the things that make you get out of bed in the morning. They are things like: I want to be an Olympic coach; I want to coach an Olympian; I want to have the best club program in America. Everybody has got something they want to do like that. Then you start working backwards, and as you get closer to where you are today, your goals are more and more specific. When you finally get to the one right in front of your nose, then that one is the most important one — because what you are going to do today is going to determine all the rest of them.

We have a saying that we talk about, which I took from Lou Holtz, a football coach. He has an acronym that is: WIN. It means: “What’s Important Now.” You know, if Michael exhibits one thing, it is his “What’s Important Now” focus. He can forget about everything else, what happened behind him and what is coming up. He just focuses on what is happening right here. I think we could all learn from that.


After you get your plan in place, the hardest thing to do sometimes is to take action. We all like to sit around and talk about what we would like to do. We love to sit around and think about it. I am a big thinker. I think some things to death sometimes. I really learned from Murray Stevens and Mark Schubert again [how to take action]. If we ever talk about an idea or something with these guys, the next thing I know they are on the phone making something happen. I mean: Right then! Meanwhile, I am thinking: “We haven’t thought out about all these things, what we might do, and what is plan A, and what is plan B.” They say: “No, let’s just get going.” There is a lot of value to that. The more I have done that [taken action right away], the better my athletes have performed, the better our program has been, the more successful I have been as a coach. Just start doing it. If you are not sure where it is going to end up, get started anyway. You will figure it out. If you sit on your rear end thinking about it forever, it won’t happen most of the time. So, do not be afraid to take action and get going.


Number 4, if you are counting, sorry, is “never stop Learning.” I think the thing that I love most about the Olympic Games is the opportunity to really be around the best coaches in the world and the best athletes, just to learn. There is such a great spirit of cooperation. Everybody is willing to share things, and you always pick up something else that you can use. I remember riding on the bus to the PAN-PACS about two years ago. I was talking with Frank Busch, and I was really disappointed because, while our club team had had a lot of success in the last couple of years, my college team was terrible. My first two years at Michigan were pretty dismal with the college team because I had pretty much killed them in training. I was talking with Frank and I said: “I have got to come up with something; I have got to come up with a better plan; I have got to come up with something that fits with the school; I have got to come up with something that fits with the meets.” We started talking about stuff, and Frank said: “Here is what we do.” I took some ideas from that conversation and implemented. I didn’t take the whole thing, but I took a lot of it. I put those ideas into what we were doing with the college team — and the next thing you know, we were taking off. Frank’s willingness to share is something that really helped our program. I think it helped United States Swimming too.

Sharing ideas, I think, makes swimming fun. So, go to somebody better than you and ask them questions. That is the best way to get better. I know that a lot of people are out there who have ideas, and you have ideas, and you want to think about things. There are people who have made a lot of mistakes; they are the ones that have learned the most about what is happening. Go ask them.

Go outside of swimming. I like to look at other disciplines, in other sports, and in other ways of life. I am the kind of person who… well, I like to submerge…you know, kind of immerse myself in what is happening: just know everything there is to know about a subject. I like to know about several things — and one of the things that I like is horseracing. People are always asking me: what are the similarities between horseracing, training horses, and training swimmers? I always say there are none, because if you trained the horses the way you train swimmers, you would kill them. That is partly true — but there are some things that I have taken from horseracing that have helped me in training my swimmers.

When horses prepare for major races, like the Kentucky Derby, the way that they are trained includes some base level of work that they do, which we would equate to aerobic work. For them, it is galloping. They do that, and then maybe every 5th day, they do something that is called “a work.” And “a work” is a race at speed. It would be our MAX VO2. When the very good trainers are pointing a horse towards a race, there is a pattern to that, and each of the “works” is different. Each one leads to the next one in intensity or duration. They vary it a certain way. Invariably, about one week before the race, the very best trainers that I have seen have what they call “super serious work.” That means the horse is going to go out and he is going to run as hard as he can run. That is something horses do that you do not do very often. It is always done very carefully because there is a danger that the horses will hurt themselves.

I do the same thing with my swimmers one week before a major competition starts. We either do a broken swim, or we do a set of three 100’s descended. This is something that we have worked with often enough now that we know there is something to it. One week before a major competition, our swimmers know that they are going to do something that is a little risky. Quite frankly, it needs to go well – because, psychologically, they have done it enough now that they know it needs to be good also. So, I always try to set it up to make it good.

This time, before the Olympic Games, during the training camp in Singapore, I decided to do 3 x 100 fly — which is what Michael typically does. He goes a 100 fly from a push, and then he does 200 easy, and, whenever he is ready, he does another one. We do three of those — and they are descended from where ever he wants to start to as fast as he can go on #3. I did not do it prior to the Olympic Trials. I did a broken 400 IM then; I wanted to save the 100’s to do before the Olympic Games. He did the 100’s with the “Suit” on. Before Melbourne, Michael had done this set without a suit, and he had gotten down to 53.8 on the last 100 fly from a push. We thought that was really good – probably the best thing he had ever done — and he thought that was really important. (I was actually at the NCAA’s when he was in Melbourne in the training camp and did the 53.8. He texted me, and I could tell that to him that set was really important). Michael wanted to do the same Set again a week before the Olympics this year. I put the Suit on him to make it different. Just in case things didn’t go well, I could say: Well, you had the Suit on …” or maybe, the Suit would help him go a little faster. On his first one, he went 55; and then he was 53.1 on number 2; and the last one was 51.6 — all from a push. So, my “super serious work” went pretty well. Then, we “just walked a shed row” for the rest of the time and he was ready to race. He would just walk.

So, I think that you can look outside the sport of swimming and be creative with what you are doing. It [looking outside the sport] just helps you think about things in a different way. The most important people who you can learn from are the great athletes. Watch video tapes. Get all the tape you can – underwater, hopefully, and above. Have your kids watch the tapes. You watch them too. That is the best way that you can learn about swimming, and I think it is the most important way to improve.


Be persistent and work hard. Success is a marathon; never give up. That is very motivating, and we all know that, right? When I think about persistence … well, I will tell you a little story, and it will be weird because I think about weird things, but you just have to go along with me.

I want you to visualize to yourself that all of us are going back in time. We are going back to 1824, and we are going to be in Vienna, Austria, where we are going to be present at the premiere of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. This was an eagerly awaited event. People were really anticipating it. (Now, if you don’t know anything about Beethoven, he pretty much revolutionized music over the course of his career — taking it from the Classical Period and basically being the forefather of the Romantic Period. A pretty big job, but somebody had to do it. And here is, arguably, the best musician ever, certainly the best of his day, and his 9th Symphony was very much anticipated because it was supposed to be something really special).

So, here we are in a packed house. And Beethoven himself is actually going to be here too – his first public appearance in 12 years. Nobody had seen him. The orchestra is on the stage. We are watching. The music starts, and oddly, Beethoven is sitting in a chair just in front of the conductor. He has his own score and he is beating time with his hands and his feet, kind of following along… but there is a conductor behind him who is actually leading the orchestra. The music starts — and it is un-believable! It is an incredibly thought-out piece … it is so hard to describe… It is a miracle, okay? If you hear it, you are changed.

After the fourth movement, we are looking down. When we see Beethoven, we start to notice something strange. The people had stopped playing; the Movement is over; the Presto [name of the 4th movement] is over; yet, Beethoven is still turning through his pages and still beating time. We are wondering if the guy is crazy. We have heard that rumor forever, so we decide not to pay attention to him. The Symphony continues — and it ends with a Finale. The Finale, if you do not know this work, ends with a chorus. It is Schiller’s “Ode to Joy,” and it is unbelievable. You have got to hear it. If you haven’t, go out and get the CD and listen to it. The Symphony comes to its big finish. (If you have ever heard Beethoven, you always know when it is over because Beethoven always had a big finish. He always beats the tonic chord right into your head for about 16 bars). So we are going through and Beethoven is still going through like this [turning pages, and conducting] — and the orchestra has this unbelievable finish to the Movement and the applause is incredible. Only… Beethoven is still going like this [same conducting motion]… and all of a sudden, we in the audience realize that the rumors are true: He couldn’t hear the music. Arguably the greatest piece of music ever written was written by a guy who never heard it! He was deaf. Then, the really incredible part: the soloist comes over and asks Beethoven to stand up and turn around, because he couldn’t hear the applause. The applause, by the way, was so great that the police were called in fearing that people were rioting.

Do you think there was some problem solving involved in Beethoven’s life? Maybe, some frustration? Some dealing with frustration? Whenever I get to the end of my rope, and I feel like I can’t take any more, and I am just fed up, and I can’t do any more… I go in and I put on that symphony. And then I realize that I haven’t even scratched the surface of what is possible. I invite every one of you to get that CD and listen to it. You will be changed.

WOW… That was kind of heavy. Sorry. I will move on.


Learn to analyze details. The higher up you go, the more the little things matter. The little things are very, very important: Get all the facts. One of the little sayings that I like to tell my swimmers or parents – when I deal with them – I am back in that business these days – is that everybody is entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts. They love that. It’s my favorite. The facts are the things upon which you can make a good decision. I think knowing all of those facts is very important. Knowing how to deal with your mistakes and learn from them is also important.

Neils Bohr, a physicist, said: “An expert is someone who has made every mistake that can be made in a very narrow field.” I do not know if I have made every one, but I am pretty darn close. That is how we learn. You can learn from other people’s mistakes, and you can learn from your own mistakes. I like to tell my swimmers that good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment. So, don’t be afraid to go for it. As a coach, don’t be afraid to try something, BUT try to learn as much as you can while you are doing it.

I am going to bore you with one more story about another thing that I am interested in: architecture. Anybody care about architecture? I am a big fan of Frank Lloyd Wright, at least of his work. You have to understand that, as a young man, Frank Lloyd Wright started out as the hottest architect in America – or at least one of them. Then, through a lot of circumstances of his own doing, he became completely ridiculed and forgotten. Written off. By the time he was in his 70’s, the only way that he could make money was through this thing called a “Taliesien Fellowship.” [note:“Taliesien” was the name of Frank Lloyd Wright’s summer home in Wisconsin. The Fellowships still exist]. Young aspiring architects came there to live and study with him, and he charged them. That is the way he made money, because he wasn’t getting any clients. He couldn’t get anybody to commission him to do anything.

Finally, someone came to him and said: “We have this property in Pennsylvania. There is this stream running through it. We really love to go there and picnic. We would like to have a vacation home there. Could you come up with something for us?” Frank Lloyd Wright was excited to have a client, so he said: “Of course, we can do it.”

Immediately, he took all his fellows down to Pennsylvania to this place called Bear Run, and he had them do a very detailed map of the site: every rock; every tree; every elevation; everything there was to know about it. They did the detailed plan — and when he had it exactly the way he wanted it, they went back to Wisconsin, where they were based. For three months, Wright did absolutely nothing. The fellows sat around twiddling their thumbs, saying: “We have this job, and the old man is not doing anything. He really is crazy.”

Well, after three months, the client called one day. Mr. Wright walked into the studio, where he picked up the phone, and just said: “Oh.” The client was then two hours away from where they were. The Client wanted to stop by and see the plans for his house. This was the only client they had! Mr. Wright said: “E.J. [note: Edgar J. Kauffman commissioned the work]. It is so good to hear from you. We would love to have you. Come on down.” And he hung up the phone. The students were saying: “Are you nuts? He is two hours away from here, and you haven’t done anything.”

Mr. Wright sat down at his drafting table and he started to draw. His assistants sat there and handed him sharp pencils. That is what they did. Frank Lloyd Wright started doing his thing. He did a first floor plan; and he did a second floor plan. It wasn’t just a plan. It was a plan that had every tree and every rock that were on that property. And he did it from his head! While they thought he hadn’t been doing anything, he had been memorizing every detail of that site for three months. In two hour’s time, he had “Falling Water” written [drawn] on the paper. The minute that he finished with the final elevation, the owner walked in. “Mr. Wright,” said his secretary: “Mr. Kauffman is here to see you.” Frank Lloyd Wright got up and said: “E.J. – it is so good to see you. We have been waiting on you. Come, check out your summer cottage”.

Now, if you don’t know anything about this house, look it up. “Falling Water” is the greatest piece of modern architecture EVER! Seeing this place is like listening to Beethoven’s music. Do it, and you will be changed. If you listen to Beethoven, you will be changed. If you go to Falling Water [in Pennsylvania, not far from Pittsburgh], you will be changed by being there.

But — the inspiration didn’t happen before the perspiration. I notice today, particularly with a lot of young coaches, that they want to get to the end. They want to have the thing that is exciting and inspiring and makes us all want to get up out of bed in the morning to see and be part of. What they don’t realize is that the road to get there is much longer, and much more tedious, and much more frustrating than it appears from the outside. So, I think that it is very important to know your facts, to know the details, and to have a plan to get there, and a way to get there.


Focus your time and money. Don’t let other people or things distract you. If you know where you want to go, then put your resources there. Michael Phelps never, not one time ever, has come to me and said: “I want to win 7 Gold Medals. I want to win 8 Gold Medals.” He has not said he wants to win anything, except for one Gold Medal the last time. Michael’s only goal – his overriding goal, other than the times — is to push himself as far as he can, and to change the sport in this country. To those ends he focuses all his energy. I am so proud of him because the million dollar bonus he just got from Speedo for winning 7 Gold Medals… he just put into a Foundation, a charitable foundation that is going to go to help spread grass root swimming programs all over this country. And — because Michael has chosen to take a risk and do those kinds of things, we are all going to benefit, not just him, but a lot of people.

There is a whole team of people who have kind of believed and worked and dreamed. I think that is what you have to do. Once you decide where you are going, focus your time on it. The most important things you can give are your attention and your time.


Don’t be afraid to innovate. Following the herd is a sure way to mediocrity. You are supposed to breathe every other stroke on butterfly, right? Of course you are. There are people in here today who believe that to the bottom of their heart. I am here to tell you: “No you don’t.” And I have got a few reasons why I believe that. But I did not always believe as I do now. When I came up, that [breathing every other stroke] is what I thought too, and I said: “You have to breathe every other stroke on butterfly” When I coached Michael Phelps when he was 11, I spent most of my time in practice, whenever he was doing butterfly, making him breathe every other stroke. He didn’t want to do it, but he did it because I said: “We will start over if you don’t.” After a year, I realized that if I was going to keep that up, I would probably just die. It was so distracting, so exhausting. Here we had this kid who was so talented… so I thought: You know, I’ve got a lot more battles to fight. I’m just letting this one go. There was a reason he wanted to breathe every stroke: he had a better rhythm. After some years of analysis, I can see that his stroke is better when he breathes every stroke. His kick is more efficient when he breathes every stroke because of the way his body is built. So, you cannot be afraid to go with something that everyone else says is wrong.

We like to train short course. About 8 years ago, we were told we were absolutely nuts if we ever thought there would be a short course warm-up pool at the Olympic Trials — because we were swimming long course and the only way to success is long course, long course, long course. Well, I went to North Baltimore, and I watched Anita Nall break two world records in the 200 breaststroke in one day. For a whole year before that, she only swam one long course 100, two days before she got into a long course pool at the Trials. She pushed 1 x 100, and that was it. I thought there were benefits to swimming short course. Now, because we have had some success, if you go to any of our training camps, you have to fight for time in the short course pool. Long course is always open. At the time, it [swimming short course] was just something that we did in our program — and we believed really strongly in it.

There are people out here who really are good innovators. You should talk to them and learn from them. I think Sean Hutchinson is one of the best innovators in our sport. He is one of our best thinkers. I had the good fortune to be his roommate through the Olympics. It was one of the best opportunities I have ever had to expand what I am doing mentally. I think you should look for those people and you should start learning. Sean also introduced me to South Park and Flight of the Conchords [a musical group from New Zealand]. That is the only way that I maintained my sanity through the whole thing. Every night, after the Olympics, we would go back and watch an episode of South Park – which I had never seen before.


Deal and Communicate with People Effectively. One of the things I try to tell coaches is that as you become more experienced, you have to add to your tool box things that you can use to motivate and communicate with athletes, parents and people in general. I know that when I started my career, I had one tool, and that was a hammer. When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. With just hammers, we all run around beating people into submission. While that was very effective in many cases, it also became exhausting. It kind of kills your relationships with those people too. So, you have to start using other tools. You have to use pats on the back. You have to use logic. You have to use some emotional connection with what you are doing. You have to build a relationship of trust. None of the things that I have mentioned before work if you cannot get people to believe in what you are doing. You have to sell it to them. They are not just going to do it because the coach says do it. I guess the 10 year olds will, but the college guys will not. Right, Jon [Urbanchek]? The college guys have to be kind of brought along.

I think that one of the great honors that I have had in my career was the opportunity to coach Club Wolverine. There was such a wide variety of unbelievably talented athletes, all at different places. I mean: we had the college team which was at a certain place in their lives, and all kind of the same age, and all kind of going for the same goals. It was very easy to motivate them with team goals. We had our post-graduates, ten people who were all kind of at very different places and all sort of self – centered. I don’t mean that in a bad way. I think one of the things that you need to understand is that people who break world records are different from everybody else. That is why they do things that are different from everybody else. If you want to get into that business, if you want to get into the business of dealing with those people, then you have got to learn how to deal with them on an individual basis.

I know that there was so much written on the websites and in the magazines about the incredible training environment at Club Wolverine. Those post-grads must just be like the Olympics every day. A couple of days were like that, right, Jon? Maybe two days, right? During the taper, we would joke that we had an 8 cylinder engine, but we never had all 8 cylinders firing on one day. NEVER! There would be 7. On a lot of days there would be 7, or it would be 6, but typically, there would be one or two cylinders that were either not there so they were not operating, OR Jon and I were trying to figure out some way to deal with their problems. So, you have got to learn how to do that. AND you have got to learn how to not let it affect you. It is not going to be your fairy tale (“Man, isn’t this great?”) every day. A lot of times, and not just some times, it is going to be: “I want to pull my hair out and never come back here again.” So, you have to learn. You have to grow up.

I think, in general, the more patient you are, and the more you are able to build a long-term relationship with your athletes, the better you are going to be. I will go back to the hammer, and I will explain another thing for you. I used to use a technique that was unbelievably effective in getting behavior changes; that is, as I coached my group, I would kind of notice things that certain swimmers did or all the swimmers. I would keep a little tally in my head of each one. [These were] things they did that annoyed me, or that I thought were wrong. I couldn’t just jump on them every day, so I would save those up. Then, when they really did something that got me, I would just unload every one of them on their heads. Right there! And it wouldn’t be a calm “let’s sit down and talk about your things.” It would be: “Alright. See here. Remember when you did this, and that, and that, and that? And that is what is going on right now.”

You know what? They would have a huge emotional reaction. And that is what I was trying to get. [This technique was] tremendously effective at getting a short term behavior change, to get what I wanted. People loved me at swim meets because they swam really fast. The rest of the time? Not so much[love for me]. I started to really think: “What am I doing here?” I thought to myself: “You know, they put up these times, but, in the long run, does it really matter that this kid went 1:50 in the 200 free, and if I hadn’t gone through all that he would have gone 1:52? But, he kind of hated his experience because it was just a struggle to come in every day because I was on him every second? Surely, there is a better way.”

And then I changed. I think that during my time at Michigan is when I really changed. The thing that I am most proud of about this summer … – (well, the Beijing Olympic Games are something that I cannot even really process or describe to you what my feelings are about that)… The best thing that happened to me this summer was our Olympic Trials with our team at Club Wolverine. We had 35 people at that Meet. I thought back to 2004. In 2004, I had 13 people at the Meet. Two people swam amazing; eleven people swam horrible. I started thinking: “You know, Michael is going to swim well no matter what, so you can’t really count that as good coaching. Katie Hoff probably going to do that too. What about all these other people?”

So I made it my goal for these four years that whatever happened at these Olympic Trials, the whole group is going to swim well. Of those 35 people, I would say we had five people who swam unbelievably well. We had probably 25 people who swam really well; and we had five people who swam okay. We had about one terrible, and there were reasons [for that]. So that is what makes me feel good. My job is to make the worst person on the team improve. Anybody can make the best person on the team improve. It doesn’t mean you gear your practices to the bottom. You don’t. You gear them to the top, but you have to find ways to motivate everybody on your team. You have to do the same thing with your staff. You have to do the same thing with your parent group. You have to do the same thing with any group people that you are working with. If you are going to be most effective, that is what you have to do. You have got to reach them on some level and learn how to communicate.


The final thing – I know you are anxious – here we are: be honest and dependable and take responsibility. If you do not have #10, then all the others don’t work either. It doesn’t matter how good your plan is. It doesn’t matter how exciting your goals are. It doesn’t matter what a good thinker you are… If you are not responsible and honest, forget it.

I think the thing that is most important to realize is that we all make the decisions which determine our futures. WE make the decisions. Whenever I hear somebody sitting around talking about: “Well, if only somebody would have done this…or, I can’t do this because somebody else… we don’t have this… we don’t have a 50 meter pool… we don’t have the resources you have at Michigan… We don’t have that…, etc.” Everybody has limitations. Everybody looks and thinks the grass is greener [somewhere else]. It almost never is.

You have everything that you need right here. I think that you are in charge of your attitude, which is the most important thing that you will ever have. I hope that as you leave here tonight and you start this Clinic (which I think is always a great time to try some new ideas and get excited about what is coming up in this upcoming season)… I hope that you will take this with you: You can achieve anything you want to achieve, if you are willing to learn, and learn to work with people, and if you are willing to communicate effectively. I hope that this Clinic will be the start of something special for all of you. Thank you very much. it has been a pleasure.