We sit down with Wayne Goldsmith as he talks about putting emphasis on soft skills when coaching.
01:50 Working On Soft Skills
02:44 It Comes Down To The Way They Do What They Do
03:58 Vibe And Connection Among People
05:23 Building A Team Culture
07:10 What Does Your Values Look Like?
09:00 Identifying The Actual Behaviors That Will Say “This Is Who We Are”
10:05 Responsibility Is About Me, Accountability Is About Me
12:26 Love, Care, And Consideration Are Important Words Too
17:35 What Can You Do Better?
20:42 Problem Solving Is An Incredible Learning Tool
26:23 Asking The Right Questions
27:54 Stop Being So Obsessed With The Physiology
31:38 Training Is From The Neck Down But Coaching Is From The Neck Up
32:41 It’s All Mental At The Top Level
38:33 You Don’t Want To Burn All Your Matches Straight Away
41:05 Watching People Grow
41:45 Developing The ” I Can” Attitude
46:41 Online Course For Coaching
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Brenton: Well, thanks very much for being on the podcast, you’re probably a regular guest at least once a year. I like to have you on because there’s always so much that I learn, and I know that the people listening get so much out of it as well, especially those that are coaching, but even if you’re not a coach, I think the stuff that you teach is great as an athlete, especially if you’re training as a squad or with a club, there’s a lot that people can get from the stuff that you teach. We were talking just earlier that it’s not necessarily the technical stuff that you like to focus on, it’s the stuff around that, the soft skills and what have you been working with athletes and squads on lately over the last three to six months since we last spoke?
Wayne: Well, so it’s always great to be on the show, and congratulations on the great work you continue to do on technique. Whenever I see your stuff, it’s just so practical and applied, and works universally with swimmers everywhere. Like anyone in any business, you’re looking for a point of difference, and when I look at people like you, there’s so many brilliant technicians in swimming, and there’s a lot of people talking about technique and skill development and so on. I’ve got some background in swimming, and I’ve got some ideas around technique and skill, but the more I was out there I think, “Well, what can I actually do that’s going to add value to what great technicians like yourself and other coaches are doing,” and increasingly I thought, “Well, once we get swimmers understanding the what of technique and they understand about pressure on the water, and feel, and the importance of rhythm and balance, and all that, once they’ve got an understanding of that, what do we do to build on that?”
Wayne: Increasingly, when I talk to coaches and swimmers around the world and athletes in a lot of sports, it comes down to the way they do what they do in training day to day. The most exciting thing I’ve been doing in the last few months since we last chatted, is really around talking to coaches and directly to swimmers, about what words like excellence actually look like in the pool, and what does it look like to have a winning workout, or what does it look like to have a team focused swimming program? That’s where I think the breakthrough for me is coming. I’m really enjoying talking to people about those things.
Brenton: You’ve worked with so many different clubs, and across so many different sports as well, and I’m assuming that those things really stand out with the successful clubs and teams that you work with. Is that something that you feel and that you notice when you go into those organizations?
Wayne: Yeah, you do. It’s funny, the word you’ve just used there is right, it’s feel. You walk in, and I think within five or 10 minutes, it’s almost an energy. It’s almost a passion, or an enthusiasm. You feel a connection between the people. There is something there that is almost tangible, and even earlier this year I was in the UK and I got to spend a little bit of time with Eddie Jones, with English Rugby, I did a little work of workout with Irish Rugby, and with some swimming teams in different countries. You get a vibe. You get something that actually says, “Look, there’s an energy going on here. There’s something special about this environment,” and then when you try to pinpoint it, what keeps coming out is things like they’re encouraging each other, the communication between each other, doing the little things right. Training’s supposed to start at 8:00 AM, and you see them arrive at 7:15, and not just getting ready themselves, but helping other teammates to get ready. You can feel that. It’s almost electric and yet applies to every sport, and absolutely in swimming.
Brenton: I guess the question there is how does someone go about creating that sort of atmosphere, and that feel in environment, in a team that doesn’t have that at all? Is it something that can be turned around, and if it can be turned around, what sort of timeframe are people looking at?
Wayne: Yeah, two excellent questions and the process that I use, and it’s on my website and I’m happy to share it with you and the listeners, but basically when I start, I sit down with the coach and say, obviously, “What are you trying to do,” and there could be a coach who says, “Well, I just want to have more kids coming, and swimming, and having a great time.” Well, then what they’re saying is I want to create a culture. I want to build an environment based on fun, friendships, family enjoyment, engagement, and that’s a really valid culture, because I think quite often, when we start talking about the culture of a team, immediately assume, “Well, that’s about excellence, and winning, and drive, and determination and glory.”
Wayne: It doesn’t have to be, you could be a coach who says, “I want my culture of my team to be based on friendships, family, team development, connection between people, positivity,” all those great things, and you’ll set out to build that, or of course, if you decide that you’re about excellence, and exceptional performance, and being the best that you can be, that’s also very valid as well.
Wayne: So, I ask the coach, “What is it you’re actually trying to come up with,” then bringing the athletes in, sometimes all the athletes, but if it’s a football team, always all the players come in, but it might only just be the leaders, or the older athletes if you’re talking about a swim team, an athletics team, or something. We start talking about that concept, about either passion, performance, winning, success, or whatever it might be, and we try to nail it down to some clear values, and most commonly you’ll hear words like, “We want to be known by our trademark should be. We want other people to think about these words or these things when they see us words like professional, or hardworking, or committed, or dedicated, or honest, or respectful,” or whatever, but the words are not that critically important, and everybody goes through that. I’m sure a lot of people listening in the corporate world have even had to go in and do those days where they come up with mission statements and all those things, but the critical thing is, Brendan, is whatever the values are, is inside coaches.
Wayne: All right, what does your values look like? What do they look like when you’re training in the pool, when you’re doing drilling and training, on meet day, and then what I group as self management and social situation. So, what do your values, what does it actually look like? What are the behaviors that bring those values to life around diet, and sleep, and recovery? It’s critical to do this step, and it’s because so much of what we do is measurable. So, we measure heart rate, we measure laps, we measure strokes, we measure speed, and it’s easy then to say, “Guys, we’re going to go faster,” or, “We’re going to change the time cycle,” or, “We’re going to do another workout,” and what gets measured gets done, because you can see it and the swimmers go, “Yes, I understand. Stroke count needs to be 42, strokes for this lap, I get it. I get it. I get it.”
Wayne: The biggest challenge for us when we’re doing this stuff is to say, “I need to bring a theme like honesty into the real world,” so that the behaviors that bring honesty to life are so real and so tangible that it’s as real as speed, and power, and endurance, and sets, and reps, and so on. So, what we do is the team they’ve come up with the values, and we’ve come up, we’ve said, “All right. One of your values might be the word team. We’re about team and working together. All right. What are the behaviors that would show me that you’re a team when you’re in the pool? What are the behaviors that you will live? What are the sort of behaviors that you will live when you’re in the gym that would say to me, we are a team?” So, I get the athletes to identify the actual behaviors that to them will say, “This is who we are, this is what we’re about.”
Wayne: The two reasons I do that is, first of all, if you can feel, you can do it. So, if it becomes real, individual swimmers can then take responsibility for their own living of those behaviors, and the other swimmers in the team can keep them accountable for those behaviors. That responsibilities about me. Accountability is about we and by bringing those seemingly unmeasurable, intangible things to life so they can be seen, and they can be lived, and swimmers take responsibility for their own behaviors, and the team keep them accountable to those behaviors, then the culture turns around.
Brenton: I think I was very lucky to grow up, and swim in a squad where we had a lot of these things in place. So, as you know, my dad was my coach and he was really, really good at developing a great team culture, and just some of those, I guess tangible values, or the way that you apply those values, he did very well. So, some of those things was, just in a main set, encouraging the swimmers in your lane, or the swimmers next you, and working together as a team, that way it’s not just about the times that you’re doing, you want to encourage your teammates to do well on that set.
Brenton: Other ones are at different meets, like country championships, everyone was encouraged to go and watch everyone else swimming when you’re not racing, and if you’re not warming up or cooling down, be there in the stands cheering for everyone else, and that created a really good environment because if you’re there racing, you’re behind the blocks, they announce your name, and you’ve got 30 of your teammates there cheering you on, you really want to do well. That’s so much better than if there’s 30 months who aren’t there, they don’t care that you’re competing, it just means a whole lot more. So, even those things that might not necessarily be all about performance, team building and good culture, they lead to good performance.
Brenton: You can be an Andre Agassi, you can completely hate the sport, and hate what you’re doing, and still do well, but that’s not going to keep people around in the sport, and that’s not going to have those swimmers who might be B or C level swimmers, that’s not going to make them rise up through the ranks, because they don’t want to be a part of it. So, I think all these things that you’re talking about, they do lead to better performance, and I’m sure that’s something that you see day in, day out.
Wayne: I mean, that’s a great point about being in a culture where people care about each other. I was talking to a high performance team earlier in the year, and the coach asked me to a professional rugby team, and they asked me to talk to the players about some of the key themes of success in high performance, and I said, “Well guys, words like determination, will to win, all those things, yeah, sure, we’re familiar with that, ruthless execution, hard work, I mean all those things that routinely people will talk about, the cornerstones of high performance and dedication, commitment, perseverance, resilience, there all important words. Just as important, are words like love, and care, and consideration.”
Wayne: Honestly, I’ll tell you what, they go together. So, that if I say for example, “We’re going to be the greatest swimming team, triathlon team, that’s ever walked the earth, and we have all these values, these hard values, if you like, around commitment, and dedication, and all those things. When we’re actually swimming, when we’re running, riding, when we’re training as a team, we need to back that up with not just saying, Well done, high five, hey man, keep it up, great work. I need to be able to look at my teammate in the eyes and say, man, that’s not good enough. You need to do that again because I’m not letting you fail,” and to have a conversation about performance, but based on caring, respectful, but still a compromising an honest way. Doing things.
Wayne: The teams, Brendan, that I see are exceptional, are able to do that, because normally if I came up to you and say, “Brendan, it’s no good. Do it again,” and we have no relationship, you go, “Well, who they bloody hell are you to tell me that. I’m not going to listen to you. How dare you say those things to me.” If you’re in a team though where there’s a genuine spirit of caring for each other, where I desperately want you to succeed as much as you do, and you feel the same about me, then I can say, “Man, you didn’t finish on the wall. That’s not good enough. We’re going to national champs. We need to do every lap as if it’s a perfect lap. Now you and I are going to stay back.”
Wayne: So, that’s the accountability thing, “You and I going to stay back, and we’re going to do 20 finishes perfectly, because man, I will not let you fail because I need to see you succeed. I want to see you succeed because man, you’re a friend to me.” Once teams have broken down the barriers to real honesty, then their leading the standard of the workout from the water. If you’re a couch, and you’re still walking around a group of swimmers who say, “Yes coach, I want to get a state champs. I want to go to nationals. I want to finish an Iron Man,” whatever it is, if you’re still walking around the pool and saying, “Finish on the wall. Don’t breathe inside the flags. Don’t breathe first stroke. Kick your legs under water,” if you’re still walking around saying things, hundreds and thousands of times a year, you have to rethink, because all of those things in a functioning team need to be driven from the water by the swimmers.
Wayne: I think there’s a bit of a misprint in that we’ve handed over ownership of swimming to the swimmers and it’s somehow where we’re giving them permission, or we’re allowing them the right, well, that’s not right. What’s actually happening in the swimming teams that are making a huge difference is the swimmers get this importance of culture, and they get this importance of the integration of commitment and honesty, and their combination of relentless desperation to win with caring, and love, and kindness to each other, and they’re getting it, and all they’re doing is leading the standards from the water. They’re saying, “This is the standard that we expect if you want to be part of this team.”
Wayne: If coaches can build that, they become unstoppable. They combine the stuff that you do so well, the technical feel of the water, connection with the water, understanding how to move through water, if they combine that technical and skill side with this ownership, this responsibility model, of how the swimmers live that in the water, the team becomes unstoppable. You can’t have one without the other. You can’t just be brilliant technically, but have a terrible culture, and awful standards, and a team that’s constantly fighting, and being selfish. You just can’t have a culture without the technique and the technical side. You’re still going to work, and you’re still going to train, and you’ve got to do kick work, you’ve still got to do the technical, tactical, strategic stuff. It’s critically important, but if you can combine what I call those hard elements of swimming with those soft skills, you become an unstoppable force.
Brenton: One of the articles that I think you said to me that you’d written, it was probably a year ago, 18 months ago, was about Bill Sweetenham. Bill Sweetenham is still the same coach that he was 20 years ago, and you went and attended a workout, or maybe a couple of workouts, with Bill when he was coaching recently, and you wrote this article about your experience, and what Bill was doing, and for those listening, Bill Sweetenham’s just basically a legendary coach over the last, I don’t know how many years. 20, 30 years? I attended… What’s that, sorry?
Wayne: A hundred years.
Brenton: A hundred years, that’s probably closer to it. I’ve probably done two or three sessions with him when I was, I don’t know, 9, 12, and then maybe 15? He came in and coached our group back when I was younger, and this article that you had written, really changed the way that I coached.
Brenton: The biggest thing I got out of it, was that to be a good coach, yes, you’ve got to direct the sessions, all of that, but if you’re just there yelling at the swimmers, drilling them the whole time, that’s not having them take responsibility, and ownership, and learning what they actually need to do, and getting them to think for themselves. So, what you wrote really well and described really well in this article was that Bill’s asking them the questions to get them to come up with the answers for how they can get better. For example, in a set, let’s say the swimmer goes a second slower than where they need to be for a 50, and he’s not saying, “You need to go faster. Get it under 32 seconds.”
Brenton: No, he’s saying, “What can you do to take a second off this time? What can you do better? What can you change,” and just putting the ownership on them and having them need to think about what it is that they can change. All these series of questions, asking better questions to the athlete, gets them to take that on. I think that’s something that I’ve seen a huge difference in my coaching, and I’ve sort of done that a little bit in the past, but that really just showed it in a way that made it really clear. The reason for that too, was that it was told in a story, you were basically just explaining what Bill was doing. It wasn’t you saying, “This is what you need to do as a coach.” Brenton: Brendan: No, he’s saying, “What can you do to take a second off this time? What can you do better? What can you change,” and just putting the ownership on them and having them need to think about what it is that they can change. All these series of questions, asking better questions to the athlete, gets them to take that on. I think that’s something that I’ve seen a huge difference in my coaching, and I’ve sort of done that a little bit in the past, but that really just showed it in a way that made it really clear. The reason for that too, was that it was told in a story, you were basically just explaining what Bill was doing. It wasn’t you saying, “This is what you need to do as a coach.”
Brenton: No, you showed it in a story, and that’s a really good way for people to take on lessons. I think the same goes as a coach, if you can just share examples, or share stories of other swimmers, other people, maybe someone who did a great breakout in their last turn in a 200 butterfly at the Olympics and that won them race, that’s how someone’s going to go be going through a training session and they’re going to go, “Yeah, maybe if I can do that last turn in my 200 butterfly really well, that might get me up there towards the front.” So, I learned a lot from that just one article and it was really well written. So, I want thank you for writing that article, and with that article, or spending time with Bill, what was it for you that that sort of stood out, and what had changed for Bill over the last say, 20 or 30 years, with his coaching?
Wayne: Well, Bill’s been a mentor of mine for, I don’t know, 30 years or so and just always challenges me. Just when I think I’ve got him nailed and I understand him, he’ll throw a curve ball because he’s been working with motor racing, or something, and he’s learned something and he’s a phenomenal learner, Brendan, but a couple of things that I’ve got from Bill, and one is that problem solving is an incredibly powerful learning tool. So, even if you’re learning something simple like maths, is you can go, “Two plus two is four. Four plus four is eight. Eight plus eight is 16,” and you can learn it by [inaudible 00:20:22], which is basically what we’ve tried to do in swimming for a long time. We just do more, and more, and more, and more and the swimmers sooner or later will pick it up.
Wayne: If you look at what happened to you after you learn basic arithmetic, the teacher said, “All right. If you had two apples and someone bought you another two apples, how many apples would you,” so this thing of getting your brain to go from just data, two pictures of apples, “Oh, okay, I can see that now,” and then the teacher evolves further and says, “All right, if you had a bag of apples and you wanted four, how could you get them out of the bag?” So, you start going, “Oh, how would I actually do that?” You start that inquiring mindset, and what I noticed a lot with Sweetenham, he’s moved to that, and I’ve thought about it when I’m doing my clinics and things, I talk about you want to have swimmers not asking what but what if, so not saying, “What are we doing next, coach? What’s next? What’s the next session, coach? What’s the next set, coach?” You want them saying, “What if,” and it’s a subtle difference.
Wayne: So, what I mean is that you present that instead of saying, “Okay guys, today we’re going to do a fifteen 100s on 215, and I want everybody to hold 10 seconds off their best time,” well that’s a what. What you want the swimmers doing, is going, “What if I count my strikes down by two per lap? What if I breathe every four? What if I didn’t breathe on my first three strokes? What if I didn’t breathe the last five? What about if I finished left hand forward, ear on shoulder, looking at the bottom of the pool? What if, as I get to the last 25, I start building my kick and kick to the wall?”
Wayne: You want that to happen, Brendan, because as they evolve, whatever set they do, you can shift them from a, “What,” as in, “What do I do? Just tell me I don’t care. I’m just going to do it,” to being a thinking swimmer. A thinking athletic going, “What if I only breathed on my right side? What if I?” If they get to that stage where they’re almost setting workouts within workouts, their setting their own run little workout standards within your coaching environment, where they’re asking more of themself than you asked of them. If they get that, mate, it’s so powerful, and that’s the lesson I got from Bill, is that you got to the end of a set of hundreds near the old Bill, what I used to call the walrus, Bill would stand up and say, “Is that what you call swimming? If you want to be any bloody good, you’ll do this. I can’t believe. Get out and do another five,” and that was Bill probably 1970s, 1980s even, and even to the 1990s to a degree, but you could start to see some subtle changes.
Wayne: He was doing a lot of reading, had spent time in Hong Kong, he was exposed to a lot of confusion, no confusion as well, but Confucius philosophy, and Sun Tzu philosophy, and his mind had broadened from just this relentless commitment to hard work, to understanding human beings. I know he was a different guy after that period, but he continues to evolve. He was in this situation where he walked to the side of the pool and a young athlete, a talented young athlete, had done a great job, but then instead of Bill giving them the fight and die for the flag routine, which was what I call old Bill, Bill said, “I’ve got a question for you. Rate your workout.”
Wayne: Katie Ledecky we know who does this regularly, certainly with a previous coach, is that they would just talk about, “If you had the rate your workout now, or rate your training set right now, what would you do?” The athletes said, “Oh, it’s about a seven out of 10,” and then Bill would say, “Well, if you wanted the workout to be eight or nine out of 10 what do you think you’d do differently?” She said, “Oh, well, what I would have done, I would’ve gone a little bit faster. I would’ve done this,” and Bill said, “Great idea. Why don’t you give that a try?”
Wayne: So, the coach and the swimmer become partners in the performance and through their relationship, they become a pair of people trying [inaudible 00:24:41]. It’s a different kinship. I’m going to tell you there’s a lot of swimming coaches don’t make the jump and maybe can’t make the jump, because it’s easier just to say, “Do another five and a faster time cycle,” than it is to go up and spend a minute with a swimmer [inaudible 00:24:59] and say, “What do you think you can do? How do you think you could do that? If you would change anything, what would you?” It’s hard to do that, mate, and it takes more time, but it’s a much, much more powerful coaching tool.
Brenton: Having sort of changed the way I coached over the last 18 months or so, after reading that it, it takes a bit of time to get your head around what are the right questions to ask, and also, obviously, you’re going to work differently with different swimmers, but once I started to get a better sense of what questions I could ask them to get them to think differently about the way they’re training, and get them to come up with those answers on their own, it’s a much more enjoyable way to coach, because you’re not going there and operating at a nine out of 10 in terms of your aggression and being a hard ass coach.
Brenton: No, I feel that when I’m coaching, and this is probably more just my personality, but I can be calm the whole session, and just be in kind of a good place working with the swimmers, trying to get them to get the most out of themselves. It’s not just yell, yell, yell, go, go, go, because that’s not for me. I don’t enjoy that type of coaching. I bring it on when we need to, and I think there’s a time and place for it, but if you’re doing that 10 sessions a week, for two hours every time, you’re going to burn out as a coach and you’re probably going to come to resent the work that you’re doing, whereas when you’re operating from this place of you’re partners with the swimmer, I find that so much more enjoyable as a coach and then it’s a much better environment overall.
Wayne: It’s a wonderful progression in your coaching because it is a [inaudible 00:26:54] coaching is an energy sapping experience, if you do it the old way. If you do it this way, you’re walking off there going, “Well, Julie got that tonight. She understood that, and not only that, she did something that completely and surprised me.” You end up getting energy from the session, because you’ve walked away and going, “Well, I’ve made a difference today. I’ve actually made an impact on those swimmers,” and it takes time, but what I’m trying to talk to the coaches about more and more is to say, “Physiology is important. Sure. You’ve got to do the work. Would never debate that, but stop being so obsessed with the physiology,” is a great line.
Wayne: I actually got this from Laurie Lawrence, years and years ago, “Never put heart before heart rate.” It’s a great line, and the concept is that it’s easy to become slaves to the physiology and say, “Right guys, it’s twenty 100s, 145. Heart rate monitors on. Make sure your heart rate is between a range of 150 and 175,” and it’s easy to become slaves and blinded by the numbers, because it’s easy to see. I’m saying to coaches now, “Look, if you see an opportunity and a moment to change your heart, not heart rate. You see a coachable moment, an opportunity in the middle of a set, feel very comfortable pulling a swimmer out on deck for one minute, and having a quiet questioning conversation. Say man, how’s the working going? Yeah, great, coach.” What’s that, three seconds, to ask that question and get the answer?
Wayne: Say, “I’ve just been watching the way you’re coming off the wall the first 25 meters, what does that feel like? Oh, it doesn’t feel too bad. I’m looking at your kick, you’re taking about eight to 10 kicks under water, how do you think it would feel if you did eight kicks in three seconds? Well, do you think that’s worth having a crack at? What do you think? Yeah, that’d be good. I might try that on the next one, coach. Great idea. Get back in.” 30 seconds.
Wayne: In that time their heart rates dropped a little bit. Who cares, Brendan? Who cares? If you’re really that obsessed with the physiology, ask them to do another two at the end. We’ve been blindsided, and I’m a physiologist by training originally, so I can talk about my people, that we’ve become so obsessed with the numbers that the greatest crime you can commit as a swimming coach, is to allow their heart rate to drop below that zone, because once it’s there, there’s no training effect.
Wayne: What about training their heart, and their spirit, and their emotion, and their attitude, and their values, and their character? There’s so much more to training a human being, than just worrying that their heart rate stays in a particular zone. It’s not that accurate anyway. So, I implore coaches, if you see a moment, even if you’re doing an aerobics set, it doesn’t matter. If you see a critical coaching moment where you could make a difference to a human being, blow the heart rate. Who cares? Get them out, touch their heart, connect with them, listen to them, share with them, challenge them, get them to go, “Bang, what if I did this? What if it did that?” Then put them back in the pool. A little less than a minute, to maybe change the way they train for the rest of their life, over making sure they stay in a heart rate zone for another couple of minutes.
Wayne: There’s no comparison. It’s so different. One of the lines I’ve stolen from Bill, and I’m quite happy to credit Bill, he says, “Training is from the neck down, that’s arms, legs, body, but coaching is from the neck up.” If you’re just standing at the end of the pool, yelling time cycles, riding out workouts, giving them feedback on speed to the wall, or whatever it is, if you’re a trainer, you’ll go a long way as a coach, but you’ll get to a point where, because you’re not making that connection with them as human beings, you’re not understanding who they are, you’re not building those relationships, you’ll go no further. Once you understand that real coaching is from the neck up, training is neck down. Once you get that coaching is from the neck up, and your focus is connecting with them as people, everything changes for you, and it makes the training more effective in any case.
Brenton: I had two guests on from Surf Life Saving, Harriet Brown and Josh [inaudible 00:31:38]. They’re both competing at the highest level of Surf Life Saving, and both of them mentioned similar things, which was basically, at the very top level, it’s pretty much all mental. They’re all pretty much just fit one another, and so much of it is the mental side of things, and how you approach a race, and what you think about yourself. Especially when it comes down to crunch time, those decisions, like Harriet for example, she does the Molokai to Oahu paddle, which I think it’s a 40, 42 or 52 kilometer paddle, from island to island, and said with about two hours to go, her shoulder was hurting. She just wanted to give up, wanted to get back in the boat, and her mind was telling her, “No one will mind if you quit, if you give up. My shoulder’s hurting. It’s probably just going to do more damage and no one will care if I jump out.” That’s what my mind was telling her.
Brenton: It’s at that critical point where you can either get out, or you can keep pushing. Eventually, she kept pushing and she went on to win the event. I think that’s the accumulation of years, and years, and years of training your mind, making the right decisions, and having good coaches who can help steer you in that direction, because had she not had the right mental fortitude to be able to make that decision, and ignore what that little voice was saying, then she wouldn’t have kept going. Josh was the same thing and he’d had a lot of years and years of being successful, but never quite at the top.
Brenton: It was about seven years from when he first started to when he actually got a win in Surf Iron Man. It’s just that ability to sort of push through, and I think that it really just comes down to training the mind, and teaching people how to be better people and better to others, because as you said, the physical aspect of things, that’s going to come, but it’s ignoring, I think, the biggest and the most important part of it, which is the mental side of things.
Wayne: Isn’t it funny? What you say, I agree with completely, but I find it fascinating that for the majority of coaches they split the training of the mind and the training of the body. So, they’ll get the kids in the pool. They’ll do the physical work, and the skills, and drills, and so on, but then they’ll the mental stuff to, maybe team meetings, or to seminars, or getting someone in who’s been an athlete, or a sports psych, and they separate it. The reality is, everything physical has to have a mental component. Everything. What I’ve started saying to coaches is, “When you write your workout on the board,” say you’re going to go twenty 50s of fly on 130, you’ve got the volume, which is twenty 50s, you’ve got the intensity, which whatever speed you set, and you’ve got the frequency of the session, so we’re constantly looking at these physiological variables. Volume, intensity, frequency, next to that, you’ve seriously got to write the letter M about, “What’s the mental lesson I’m trying to teach here? Am I trying to teach relaxation? Am I trying to teach confidence? Am I trying to teach visualization? What am I trying?”
Wayne: Every time you’re write anything physical, in the next column you’ve really got a say, “I have this volume, intensity, frequency and relaxation. Volume, intensity, frequency and confidence. Volume, intensity, frequency and mental toughness.” Everything you do has got to have some sort of mental component. I know you and I did a recording a couple of years ago on speed, and I still use the same technique, that when I talk to people about speed, I say, “Guys, as fast as you can, but very smooth and relaxed. Guys, maximum speed. This needs to be race pace but easy, relaxed, comfortable, and effortless.” So, what you’re saying is I have to marry the physiology with the mental, emotional, psychological effects in everything we do.
Wayne: Say, “Guys, we’re going to do four, 400s. It’s aerobic work. Smooth, relaxed and flowing. Concentrating on deep, easy, relaxed. Inhale and exhale. Nice, soft hands. Guys, as smooth and easy.” So again, you’re saying physiologically, what is it, 60 65, 70% intensity. Volume is 400 meters, rest cycle, that’s critical, but then I’m saying, “Guys, but mentally and emotionally, the way to connect to the set, I want you to be thinking about and feeling smooth, breathing, and relaxing, or practicing some mindfulness techniques,” or whatever it is. I think if coaches do something as simple as that, everything physical I write down, the next column, write down what is the mental thing. Volume, intensity, frequency, mind. What am I going to do mentally with this? At all ages. Start as young as you can to break this physiology-only thinking cycle that we’re so locked into.
Brenton: Yeah. I’ve noticed a big difference with that when I’ve introduced it to sessions. So, two examples. There’s this two local kids that I’ve been coaching once or twice a week, and we were doing some 25s at 100 meter pace. First set was 16 25s, I think they’re say 35 seconds, and the aim is to hit 100 meter pace with each of them. At the start of that set, I said, “Look, after eight, nine 25s, you’re going to start to feel a bit heavy. You’re going to start to feel the burn a bit, but your challenge is, what we want to do here is, try and make every single lap, every single 25, exactly the same. Same amount of kicks off the wall. Same amount of strokes. Same time. Do that when you start to fatigue, because that’s what you’re going to experience, that’s what you’re probably going to feel when you’re racing. If you can keep your technique, and that stroke count, if you can keep it all the same in the last six, seven 25s, then that’s the purpose of this workout. That’s what’s going to help you when it comes to the race.”
Brenton: So, explaining that when they got to that point, when they started to feel like, “Oh, all right, I’m starting to get heavy and I don’t know if I can hold it.” they knew that coming, and then they know what the purpose of what we’re doing is. So, they held those 25s really well. Another example was when we were at Hell Week over in Thailand, the last set that we do on the last day is, it’s a Dennis Cotterell set, it’s forty 50s, where we go 16 every fourth fast, 12 every third, eight every second, and then the last four are all fast. Those of us who hadn’t done it before, every time when someone does that, the first time they go too fast at the start. So, those easy 50s, they tend to just put too much into it, and the fast ones they go too fast.
Brenton: So, what we preface those workouts with is, “Make sure that those easy ones are just steady. You’re relaxed. You’re meant to be getting your rest there, and then those initial fast 50s, you don’t want to burn all of your matches straightaway. You’ll still find you can go fast, by still sitting at an eight out of 10, instead of a 10 out of 10.” So, just letting them know upfront how it will feel early on, and then that’s going to help you just maintain that speed. That was probably the best set of that, that we’ve done, over the course of the last five years. I think a big part of that was just prefacing what to expect and then having them know the mental side of things, or the mental outcome that we’re looking to achieve there.
Brenton: I’ve always loved coaching, but I love learning the stuff that you teach, because it really gives me something else to think about, rather than just the workout, rather than just the set, because yes, that’s important, and it’s fun, it’s enjoyable to come up with good and interesting sets and different ways to train them, but really the most enjoyable thing is watching people grow and become more confident and to become better people as a result of hopefully what they can learn in a workout, or what they can learn from training.
Wayne: Yeah, mate, that’s so critical, and listen, like you said Brendan, it’s rewarding. I think we have an opportunity in those moments where they then walk away from the pool, I strongly believe then there is a carry on to other parts of their life. An athlete that can do that forty, fifty set in the way that that’s really intended, and they buy into it, and they show the discipline, and the commitment, and the ability to deal with pain and discomfort, what is there in their life that’s going to be an obstacle to them? If they’re a student, they’re going to study a little bit longer, or there’s nothing else that they’ve got to face that they didn’t know before. It’s like people who climb mountains, or achieve anything in life, is that I think that then builds.
Wayne: So, they go, “Yeah. Okay, what did I learn? Well, I sure learned how to swim a bit, but I learned that I can do anything I set my mind to, that I can overcome adversity, that I can deal with pain, that I can overcome discomfort” They start developing, what I call that core of developing confidence, which is like, “Can I? Can I? Can I? I can.” I often say to swimmers, we talk a lot about confidence in the work that I do, I say, “Confidence comes from can’s. I can. I can. I can. I can,” that like everybody, we’ve all got those two voices going on in our heads all the time. You’ve got the voice saying, “I can. I can. I can, and I can,” and the other voice saying, “No, you can’t. This is national champs. You’ve never done a half Iron Man before,” whatever it might be.
Wayne: Those two voices are battling in their head and it’s exactly the same way, “Yes, I can do this exam. No, it can’t be this exam. Yes, I can achieve this dollar amount,” and every one in the planet has got those little voices competing, and it’s the sum of the experiences where you go, “I can. I can. I can,” this little voice over here says, “I can. I can,” and this other side says, “Well, hang on a minute. I was in Hell Week. I did forty 50s, and I did that, and I go to the gym every day, and I watch my diet, and I get a bit early. I can. I can. I can.” This voice over here the, “I can’t,” voice becomes very soft. It becomes a whisper, because through your behaviors, and through your actions, and the things that you’ve learnt, you become effectively bulletproof. You become someone, that every time you face what’s seemingly a difficult obstacle the, “I can,” voice is shouting, while the, “I can’t,” voice is just whispering. You start to believe that anything is possible.
Wayne: A lot of work I do now with swimmers, and swim teams, is around things like how do you coach confidence? Well, you can coach confidence by giving swimmers experiences in and out of the water that build on that, “Yes I can. Yes I can. Yes I can.” So, they go to their first meet. Well, they’ve got a big target, mate, and the other voice starts to creeping, “No you can’t. No you can’t. No you can’t,” but the overwhelming can of evidence, success comes in cans, “I can,” that the overwhelming can of evidence is full of those experiences that have just reinforced to the athlete that there’s nothing they can’t do. Again, that comes back to giving ostensibly a physical set of physiological challenge of forty 50s, but what is the mental and emotional purpose behind me doing that? How does that then help the swimmer take some giant strides forward?
Brenton: Yeah, I had a parent contact me a couple of weeks ago of a girl who I’ve done a little bit of coaching with, and she basically said every time this girl goes behind the blocks, she just starts to doubt herself, and it’s that, “I can’t. I can’t,” voice gets in the way and it’s impacting her racing. She said, “Look, can we do a session, or could you have a talk to her?” There’s nothing that I could say that’s going to get her to have that, “I can,” behind the blocks. It’s that accumulation of experiences, and those little successes built up in the water, out of the water, that’s going to have her feel that confidence behind the blocks. So, it’s not like I could say the magic word and she’s going to have that confidence.
Brenton: You need to get that experience and that belief through all these different sessions, and all these different times, so it’s good to hear you say that, because that was my thinking behind it. As much as I’d love to be able to say the magic words and she would immediately just be confident and know that she could do it as she’s standing there behind the blocks, it’s just not how those things work. So, what I said to the parent was, “Look, come along to these sessions and we’ll work on that with her. We’ll work on that in training, because that’s where she’s going to go and get it.”
Brenton: Now, for anyone who’s a coach who’s listening to this, you’ve got a course that’s online. I think, it’s probably your first course that you’ve put online, that I’d recommend to any coach that wants to learn more about this stuff. So, it’s called Soft Skills: High Impact and A Holistic Approach to Coaching Swimmers. Can you talk a bit about that course? What people will learn in that course, and who it’s designed for?
Wayne: Yeah, thanks Brendan. This is something I’ve been, obviously, thinking about for a long time and see it as a critically important set of skills for coaches to have, because it’s interesting that like you, I get emails and texts and people will say, “How do I change this,” or, “I’m coaching age group squad in Rockhampton, how do I help them build confidence,” or, “I’m coaching a team in Western Australia. They would all like to go to state championships, but I don’t think they understand what commitment looks like,” or, “I’ve got a really talented 15 year old going to his first national championships. How do I help him with mental toughness and resilience to deal with the challenges?” I thought, I get so many of those questions in seminars and on the phone, laptop, so instead of just writing an article about it, I want to actually do something more. I want to get in front of people and say, “Confidence, commitment, mental toughness, leadership, team development, you can coach all those things.”
Wayne: You go online to the course, and so there’s actually an intro. The first lesson is around confidence, for example. They go on and the video shows me at a pool talking with some swimmers, working with some swimmers, and talking about how to build confidence. Even in the theme of confidence, I have a very simple model for coaches to follow, which is this, “Confidence is belief, how the athlete feels about themselves, the way they love, value, and accept themselves as human beings, times evidence.” Confidence is belief times evidence. The evidence is what we’ve just spoken about, all the things they do in training, their diet, their flexibility, work, their drive, their trainings, their previous competitions. That’s accumulating in that, “I can” and that they can. The other side is how they look at themselves as human beings, and largely that comes from the way mom and dad love them, and accept them, up to about ages eight to ten years of age.
Wayne: So, then I talk to the coaches in the video and I say, “This is why it’s critically important when you’re trying to build the confidence of the young swimmer, that you’re doing a great job in the pool with outstanding coaching, building relationships, inspiring the athletes to do the training to the full extent of their potential, but you’ve got a relationship with the parents to talk to them about their role in reinforcing love, value, and acceptance of their child, and how they react after win and loss,” and some of those things and the coaches work through the videos. Each video goes for about five minutes, then there’s an article, which will cover this confidence is belief times evidence with a downloadable chart on the same content, and then there’s some self reflection questions about how they can then apply that learning to their own team.
Wayne: I really write a list down, Brendan, of what are the key soft skills that coaches are always asking me about, or are working on. Definitely confidence. Certainly commitment is one. I remember having a talk to David Marsh, the great US coach about if you could recruit swimmers on any one non-physical quality, what would it be? Say you couldn’t recruit on solid strength, swimming speed, what would you recruit on, and he said commitment. I said, “That’s a great, great line, mate, but the issue, again, we’ll have is can I measure commitment? Can I see commitment and can I coach commitment?” Marsh’s line was fantastic and I still use it. He said, “If a swimmer is committed, when you give them a choice between doing things the easy way or the hard way, they choose to do it the hard way, and of course the hard way is really the right way.”
Wayne: So, his example was looking at someone like Ryan Lochte, he said, “He has a choice approaching a wall. Do I breathe at the flags? Do I breathe two minutes past the flags? Do I breathe before I turn? If he’s a committed swimmer, he will choose, not me enforcing, or making, or insisting, but he as a committed athlete, he will choose to do things the hard way, the difficult way. He will deliberately choose a higher standard and training because that’s where he wants to go.” So, we watched Lochte and watched him go in the pool and he made that decision and not surprisingly, the best underwater, and probably best wall swimmer we’ve seen for a long, long time.
Wayne: So, from that I say to coaches, “All right. Well, if that’s what commitment looks like, easy way, hard way, you coach commitment by showing swimmers the power of choice. You say choice, easy, choice [inaudible 00:50:53] they get better, is the to take four breaths inside the flags. The choice that’s going to make you exceptional and the choice that will help you become the swimmer you want to be, is this one: don’t breathe inside the flags.” Then I say to the swimmer something that’s simple, Brendan, “What choice will you make? What’s your choice? You make the choice about the swimmer that you want to be,” and you show them the power of their choices. Once I get that, and I sort of talk about in the commitment video to the coaches, “If you can show them the power of choice, show them what those choices look like, then you’ve coached commitment, because you’ve shown them what commitment actually looks like in a day to day workout.” So, the course is all about that, showing coaches what it looks like to coach the soft skills of swimming that makes such a powerful impact on the program.
Brenton: Every coach has had a swimmer, at least a swimmer, like that, that’s committed, chooses the hard option, and it is just such a joy to coach those swimmers, because you look at what they’re doing, you look at them making those decisions, and it’s a real joy to coach those athletes compared to swimmers who always take the easy option, push off the wall, they breathe first stroke, and they’re not doing the things that you know will make them a better swimmer. That can be very frustrating if you’re doing that day in day out, so by being able to have more swimmers make that commitment and make those tough choices, and they do it on their own without having to yell at the kids, or to be telling them no. They make those choices.
Brenton: I think it is so important. So, that soft skills course, it’s on your website at wjcoaching.com, and I’ll put a link in our show notes as well, for any coaches who would like to get their hands on it. I think it’s so worthwhile, and I’ll make sure that it’s on our website. So, Wayne, thanks again for being on the podcast. I really enjoyed chatting to you and I always learn so much, and it makes me want to go out there and get coaching every time that I speak to you. So, mate, I appreciate you being on the podcast again.
Wayne: It’s an absolute pleasure and I’ll make sure I’ll send you a special discount coupon code just for your listeners, and really to say thank you to you and to your listeners for your ongoing support over many years. I’ll send that through to you. You can put that up on your website and that’ll give all your listeners a discount on the course if they’d like to try, but I thank you and I wish you a Merry Christmas, and mate, keep up the outstanding work. I don’t think even you realize the difference you making of the sport and the impact you’re having to the sport around the world.
Brenton: I appreciate it very much, mate. I’m very lucky that I get to learn from people like yourself, and speak with great coaches, and great athletes. I’ve learned so much over the last 12 years of coaching, but probably more so in the last six years since I started the podcast. So, get to speak to a lot of very smart people, a lot smarter than me, and it makes a big difference. So, I appreciate that very much.