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« Thoughts About Breaststroke Breathing | Main | Why Coaching? »
Wednesday
Jan192011

The Power of a Team

When I came to the States in 1987, I thought of swimming as an individual sport and even though I was going to be part of the Indiana University Swimming & Diving team, I had no clue what a team really was.  Back in Barcelona, Spain I was part of one of the top teams in the country, but by no means was the concept of a team the same.

From day one, what really fascinated me was the fact that everyone at the school identified with their team, their mascot and their fight songs.  I left a country where we did not want to look at the flag as a symbol of unity and our national anthem didn’t have very good connotations.  It was interesting to me to listen to the “Star Spangled Banner” right before every sporting event; there was no way that you could play our national anthem before a swim meet or any match in Spain when I was growing up.  I can honestly say that my experience with all this during my first year in Bloomington, Indiana made me appreciate my Spanish Flag, the Spanish National Anthem and, most importantly, it gave me a sense of pride for where I came from that will always stay with me.

Because of this, I was fascinated with the way coaches, athletes and fans believed in their teams, and I started observing some of the best college swim coaches on deck.  I had a great mentor right in front of me with “Doc” Counsilman, but I wanted to learn as much as I could.  I had always wanted to be a coach and I thought that if I could learn how to build a team and, most importantly, get a team to believe in that team and the coaches, and also have pride for the school, then the sky was the limit.  I had thought I would go back to Spain and try to share this concept so we could take the Spanish swimming to another level.  But I guess life works in funny ways and I am still here in the States.

As a coach, you know that when you plan the season there is no certainty that everything will go well and that everything that you have planned with the swim sets, conditioning, meets etc.. will help each swimmer to perform at their highest level.  I really believe that one of the variables that will always help the swimmer perform at the highest level at that moment in time is the “POWER & ENERGY” that a unified team can generate at all times.  I have no doubts that a strong and unified group of swimmers that believes in themselves, believes in the coach, believes in the school and has pride in what they do and what they represent will overcome a bad taper and will perform at a high level. I know that for a fact because it has happened to the teams I have coached.

When I became the head coach of West Virginia University (2004-07) I inherited a team that had no identity, no pride and honestly did not believe in themselves.  I told the school during my interview that if they gave me the job that we would win Big East and be a consistent top 20 team in a five year period.  Before my interview I did my research and I really thought it was possible, but when I saw the condition of the team, I got a little nervous. 

At one of the first home football games that I attended in Morgantown, WVU was playing Maryland.  I had no clue of how great of a rivalry that was until I was there at the game.  The game went to overtime and finally the Mountaineers won.  Well, let me tell you that what happened later was a defining moment for me.  I was in the stands with my son Cobi who, at the time, was 3 years old and when the game finished all of the sudden the stadium speakers went all out with the song “Country Road” while at the same time they were showing a guy climbing a mountain and everyone at the stadium was on their feet singing “Country Road”.  At that moment I felt goosebumps all over my body.  I was holding my son in my arms and I can assure you that there was no better place to be at that moment in time.  Right there I realize that if my team was able to identify with being a Mountaineer and with the “Country Road” song and the meaning it has for the school then we were going to be good.

I started talking with my swimmers about having pride and how important it is to be passionate about swimming and about being a Mountaineer.  I would send emails to the team about my thoughts and how much I believed in them and how, if we respect one another, work together, and believe in ourselves, that I had no doubt that at the end we would do very well.  It was amazing the transformation that the team had. Two and a half years after that day in the football stadium our team men’s team won the Big East, and the woman’s team placed third.  It was amazing! They had been singing “Country Road” and believing in the team and they defeated a deeper team which had beaten us by more than 300 points the year before.

Many people think that swimming is a very individual sport since you are the one swimming and nobody can help you while in the water.  I totally disagree.  If as a coach you can create a sense of pride, a sense of identity, and a sense of belonging, that energy will help the swimmer during the race and will help the swimmer overcome a taper that may not have gone well.

If you are a coach I encourage you to share with your athletes things that make you passionate and that give you the Goosebumps. They will appreciate your passion and will better understand who you are and what really motivates you to coach them.  I like using movies, books or quotes that I identify with to motivate the swimmers I coach.  Here is one of the emails I sent to my swimmers at WVU right before the Big East Championships.  I first used this at Northwestern University and I have used it now with my Bolles high school team. If you believe in what you share with them they will really feel it and take it to another level. Enjoy!

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Email from Coach Sergio to the WVU Swimming & Diving Team

 

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.

Your playing small does not serve the world.

There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that

other people won't feel insecure around you.

We were all meant to shine, as children do.

It is not just in some of us, it is in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine,

we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our fear,

our presence automatically liberates others."

                                                                (from the movie "Coach Carter")

You can have a lot of interpretations about what you just read.  I want to give you mine so you have some food for thought.

When we started swimming, we all did it for many different reasons; but one of the main reasons why swimming is still a big part of us is because it makes us feel very powerful and because we can feel our talent and, most importantly, we feel alive.

As we get more involved in the sport and in competition, we started to lose track of why we like swimming and why swimming makes us feel so good.  Trying to be good or the best at something can trigger a lot of insecurities and doubts because nobody has taught us to understand and cherish that power that our talent gives us.  Because of other people's expectations, we lose track of that power and feel "inadequate"; we know how good we can be and that brings "fear" of being successful.  Our talent ("light") works against us because we are too afraid to understand and embrace it. Sometimes it is easier to be mediocre than to put everything on the line and experience where our talent takes us (good or not so good).

I also believe that we are "all meant to shine" and that we all have a great talent.  We need to recognize that "light" (talent) and let it run free so we can see where it takes us, and where it takes the people around us.

I want to ask you to close your eyes and feel that talent, feel the Goosebumps that swimming gives you and let "your own light shine.”  Think about the great team that you have next to you and how your "light" is going to help your teammates’ "light" become stronger.  Liberate your fears and allow your teammates to feel your power and talent so we can all go to the Big East Championships and be the best team that West Virginia has ever had.

I know how talented and powerful you guys are and I don't see any other team in the Big East with the same energy, power and passion as this West Virginia Swimming & Diving team.  Don't worry about the outcome of the meet and make sure that YOU ARE NOT AFRAID of your TALENT and POWER.  Don't be afraid of being successful and let your own light shine so we can all shine together.  At the end of the day, we are having a great journey and we have become a great team.

Have a good rest of the day and I hope I did not confuse you too much with my interpretation of something that probably means something totally different, but you know my English! 

Take care and see you tomorrow.

Sincerely yours,

Sergio

------------------------------

This is an example of what I did and it may not work for everyone.  My thought is that you (coach) need to figure out what gives you Goosebumps and how you can share that feeling and passion you have for the sport and for your swimmers and share it with them.  Create a connection that is natural for you and share your honest energy.  You will see how your team will transform and will end up performing better.  Also this thought is not only for college teams, you can create a team with an identity anywhere as long as you believe in it.  Good Luck!

 

References (11)

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    sergio lopez miro olympic swimmer & olympic coach - my thoughts - the power of a team
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    Response: Edgard Romero Lazo
    Sergio Lopez Miro Olympic Swimmer & Olympic Coach - My Thoughts - The Power of a Team
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    Response: Edgard Romero Lazo
    Sergio Lopez Miro Olympic Swimmer & Olympic Coach - My Thoughts - The Power of a Team
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    Response: Edgard Romero Lazo
    Sergio Lopez Miro Olympic Swimmer & Olympic Coach - My Thoughts - The Power of a Team
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    Response: Curtis Debord
    Sergio Lopez Miro Olympic Swimmer & Olympic Coach - My Thoughts - The Power of a Team
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    Response: ace parking
    Sergio Lopez Miro Olympic Swimmer & Olympic Coach - My Thoughts - The Power of a Team
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    Response: ace parking
    Sergio Lopez Miro Olympic Swimmer & Olympic Coach - My Thoughts - The Power of a Team
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    Response: Ace Parking
    Sergio Lopez Miro Olympic Swimmer & Olympic Coach - My Thoughts - The Power of a Team
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    Sergio Lopez Miro Olympic Swimmer & Olympic Coach - My Thoughts - The Power of a Team
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    Sergio Lopez Miro Olympic Swimmer & Olympic Coach - My Thoughts - The Power of a Team

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