Friday, March 22, 2013

On Trials. Podcasts. NCAA. Timing. "Truth". Trivia?

I made an appearance on the #coachmikepodcast today.  To be honest, my contribution was not all that much.  I try to come loaded with strong opinions for Mike's pods but in this case, I just did not have any outrage for the issue at hand and I was not going to fake outrage for entertainment value.  Instead, I was given a short opportunity to say very little and then not given the opportunity to explain my position in further depth (I don't blame Mike for this, I probably would not have let me continue on if I were in Mike's shoes) so I'm supplementing my appearance with this post. 

The issue at hand was the timing of the World Championships Trials and their relation to the NCAA Swimming Championships taking place for women as we speak and throughout the weekend and then for men next week just 1 week out of Trials.

The issue of discussion was whether it is fair to some of Canada's best young swimmers (especially female) to place Trials in such proximity to their focus Varsity meets.  As I said in the pod, I'm not the resource to really be discussing this matter, I don't have a swimmer impacted by this situation but on paper I find this to be a non-issue.

The timing of these Trials has been published for the better part of 3 years on the Swimming Canada website.  Love or hate the Swimming Canada website, at least they pro-actively post competition dates well in advance.

World Trials as we have discussed is April 2013
Pan Pacific & Commonwealth Games Trials are April 2014
World Championships & Pan AM Games Trials are April 2015
Olympic Trials are April 2016

Well there you go.  Someone will always have some gripe surrounding the timing of a Trials, but I applaud Swimming Canada for being remarkably consistent.  Every season, Swimming Canada is demanding their best swimmers be prepared for Trials-level urgency at the beginning of every April.  This is conditioning that would make Ivan Pavlov proud.

For a Canadian swimmer with National team aspirations, you have options...  good options.

The CIS swimming scene is decent.  The CIS would be even stronger if the 18 or so female Canadians swimming at the NCAA championships right now would be on CIS rosters... the backstroke events would clearly be made much stronger.  The meters racing is far more relevant to long course success then the silly short course yards racing that goes on south of the 49th.  Performance carding money is available for the top achievers.  Swimming Canada has a variety of well-established and emerging high performance centers tied to many of the major universities with well-compensated coaches.  And from a purely academic perspective, a degree from Canadian universities tend to carry more weight from future employers then a degree from a sports factory in the US with questionable academics.

Plus... every CIS school has a clear interest participating at Swimming Canada Trials events and will prioritize those meets, the same can not be said for NCAA programs where the success of the program is often solely measure on Conference performance and NCAA Championships performance and little else.

So what's the deal?

On paper, I would think that the problem of Swimming Canada "turning their back" on swimmers competing in the NCAA as Mike insisted on the pod is the exact opposite issue.  Rather, why are Canadian swimmers turning down opportunities with the CIS swimming scene in favour of the opportunities presented by the NCAA?  More crudely, why are many of the elite Canadian swimmers turning their back on Swimming Canada?

This is the point where feelings get sore because this issue starts to get really speculative and subjective.  I think it unfairly covers a lot of the following sentiments...

The CIS swim scene is significantly weaker then the NCAA.

The coaches in the CIS are not good.... especially compared to NCAA coaches.

The athletic departments in the NCAA are committed to athletic excellence to a great degree.

Money, money, money... scholarships outweigh carding or athletic bursaries

Facilities are that much more appealing in the US, including the ability to train outdoors everyday if you choose a southern school.

The result... animosity.  An unfortunate possibility of a strained relationship between Swimming Canada and swimmers who chose the NCAA because of the timing of Trials meets.

The real problem?  It lies in the grey.  I think that there is a lot of "the grass is greener on the other side" kind of thinking when it comes to the NCAA, and in some cases it is because there are some really fantastic swimming programs in the NCAA but I also believe some are too fast to marginalize how good some of the programs in the CIS happen to be as well.

Who are those "some"?  Under-informed parents, club coaches, and swimmers.

Until the point that "WE" coaches, institutional advisors to young up-and-coming swimmers that will come to face the choice of going south or staying north arm ourselves with a greater understanding of the true strengths of CIS system.

Need a blunter truth?  Here you go...

Can you name the last Canadian Olympic swimming medalist that swam for an NCAA program??

I can...  here's your hint.  HE attended the University of Florida and it's been OVER 20 years.  That's a long time.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Canadian Coaches & Twitter... Why Twitter?

Phase 2.

If phase 1 was to call coaches to action, then phase 2 is simple...  show them how.  If the objective is greater collaboration and beginning the process of evolving with technology and Twitter is the identified first step given it's simplicity, it's time to educate.

As of July 2012, Twitter reported over 500 000 000 users, that's 500 million for the mathematically illiterate.  That's a large potential market.

It's good over the web and on your smart phone.

Why Twitter?

In this age, people want their information in an immediate answer.  Cardinals in the Vatican selected a new Pope today, my phone alerted me via Twitter well before I got home, well before I had access to a TV, well before I visited a news website on my computer, well before I read a newspaper, and well before a newsletter could be issued.  Information moves faster and the cheetah of information transfer is Twitter.

There is a distinct reason that low-level newspapers are dying... there are only two reasons to read a printed newspaper today... 1) high quality editorials from the best available journalistic analysts or 2) you're a metaphorical dinosaur who is the equivalent of a old person who won't use a computer because you can hand write faster.  Life is priming to leave those dinosaurs behind, knowledge via information is traveling too fast for you to keep up.  The only use I have for a newspaper is to line my guinea pigs' cage.

When it comes to the swimming community, so many clubs publish newsletters, which are slower versions of newspapers and I believe I've made my feelings about newspapers are well established.  The information in Newsletters is dated pretty much on date of publishing.  On the next level, clubs have websites but in Canada the vast majority of swim club websites are utter garbage but that is another issue for another time.  Information on a website is completely dependent upon people coming to the website, that kind of information does not push out information (barring an ancient RSS feed), it's good but people are moving towards a model where information comes to them.. that is Twitter.

Twitter pushes out posts on websites and blogs.  Twitter sends out pictures in real time, so if your club is anywhere, ANYWHERE, one can post photos on Twitter so followers feel like they are with you, with the club, without having to be there.  It increases identification with the community of your club, increases brand loyalty, and if you're a club with other local clubs where finicky families float from club-to-club based upon who is coaching their child year-to-year then brand loyalty is a very important attribute to build.

In the immortal words of the O'Jays (with a significant h/t to Jalen Rose)...

Give the people what they want... information.  Now.  Push it to them, make them take notice, and it is that information and understanding of and from one another that leads to strong bonds and an amazing foundation from which to build better everythings.

Get out there, sign up for Twitter on the web.  Download the app on your smart phone.

Then the next question, phase 3 is... Twitter How?  That is to come...

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The State Of Women's Swim Coaching In Canada

Posted this on Twitter but had to share it more visually...

Surfing through the Swimming Canada website, taking a look at 'Women in Coaching' because... why not?  My sister-in-law coaches, I work with good female coaches, I was coached by who I would argue as the best female coach in all of Canada (Linda Kiefer = the best)

Click on the 'more information' link...


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Canadian Coaches & Twitter

Here we go...  Time to point out some disappointment.  It's easy when something disappoints you to point the finger and drop a thumb.  Instead, let's actually call this observation a call to action...

The simplest of all "technology" is Twitter.  Web and/or mobile based micro-blog service that allows users to share just about anything in a 140 characters or less.

The roots of Twitter point to the technology really taking off in 2010 (as recognized by TIME magazine), so everyone should be familiar with from a branding perspective.  Thus I find that a troubling trend emerges when so few "high profile" Canadian coaches can be found on one of the most widely used social networks on the planet.

Let's do the run down...

John Atkinson... new High Performance Director... no Twitter
Pierre Lafontaine... recently departed CEO... no Twitter

Randy Bennett... Head Coach, Victoria Academy of Swimming... no Twitter
Benoit Lebrun... Head Coach, National Swim Centre - Montreal... no Twitter
Ben Titley...  Head Coach, National Swim Centre - Toronto... no Twitter
Tom Johnson... Head Coach, National Swim Centre - Vancouver... no Twitter
Joszef Nagy...  Breaststroke Tsar, National Swim Centre - Vancouver... no Twitter
Craig McCord... National Coach, Para-Swimming... no Twitter

OK... I'll give some love to Tom Rushton, assistant coach at the National Swim Centre in Montreal.  Tom uses Twitter, he Vines, he can be found on the Coach Mike Podcast... he shares and is one of few bright young stars in Canadian swim coaching.

But what about the Canadian Varsity coaches, who could use Twitter as a great communication tool for recruiting with the athletes they want in their programs...

Byron MacDonald... UofT (men's National Champions)... no Twitter
Linda Kiefer... UofT... no Twitter
Steve Price... UBC (women's National Champions)... no Twitter
Mike Blondal... Calgary...  Twitter! ... unused since Jan 20th, 2011 :(
Peter Vizsolyi... Victoria... no Twitter
Bill Humby...  Alberta... no Twitter
Paul Midgley... Western... no Twitter
Ken Fitzpatrick... Western... no Twitter
Andrew Cole... McMaster... no Twitter
Peter Carpenter... McGill... no Twitter
Lance Cansdale... Dalhousie... TWITTER!!
Nicholas Perron... Laval... no Twitter

Those are the top 10ish programs in the CIS... 1 real Twitter user (well done Lance).

But credit where credit is due, University of Guelph coach Don Burton and University of Waterloo coach Jeff Slater both can be easily found on Twitter, as too can be a few others.

I think all of this information illustrates the disturbing trend that much of the old guard of Canadian coaches are not evolving with technology.  If one can not find the time to grasp the ease of Twitter it makes one worry that more nuanced technology that can really add to a program.

Compare this to high profile coaches from our neighbour to the south...

Bob Bowman... NBAC... found time to coach Phelps, Schmitt, and be a Twitter regular
Dave Salo... USC... posts workouts and is very active on Twitter
Mike Bottom... Michigan...  Twitter weaves seamlessly through his program
Jackson Roach... USA Swimming National Jr. Team Head Coach
Jon Urbanchek... Head Coach at FAST, ex-Michigan Wolverines iconic coach
David Marsh... CEO/Director of Coaching SwimMAC Carolina is all over Twitter
Dave Denniston... Coach US Paralympics Swimming
Brett Hawke... Head Coach Auburn Swimming
Sergio Lopez Miro... Head Coach at The Bolles School is a fantastic follow
Todd Schmitz... Colorado Stars... has raised Missy Franklin to superstardom

.... and there are many, many, many other coaches, communicating, collaborating, and sharing on Twitter on a daily basis.

Why is it so hard for Canadian coaches to try and collaborate on a popular platform?  Is it that they are too high profile or busier then coaches such as Bowman, Salo, Bottom, or Marsh?  No.  It's an unwillingness to evolve and learn on the simplest of levels, which is an issue that is a deep-rooted flaw in Canadian swimming.  Canada, at it's highest level of leadership in swimming, is showing signs of not leading.

So it's not about Twitter (it would be absurd to think it is), it's about the trend.  The Americans are leading, they are collaborating, and their bonds are deepening as illustrated by their performances in London last summer and highlighted by being capable of putting together a YouTube video with over 11 million views.  Canada... well... we're here always willing to point a quick finger to our successes without taking a long look at where we fall sadly short systemically.

So that's the problem, what's the solution?  I think it starts with someone in the leadership of swimming in this country stepping up and recognizing the value of collaboration and how it can all start with a tool as simple as Twitter.

Swimming Canada could even be accused of trying a little social media experiment, they have a YouTube channel... horribly under-utilized (not updated since Fall 2012)... but at least an attempt is there.  A YouTube channel could be EXTREMELY useful, get some thought leaders to share.  All we need to do is copy of the USA Swimming model (regularly updated), their YouTube channel is pretty darn amazing.  The difference is pretty obvious.... Swim Canada has 477 222 views 849 videos posted (562 views per video) where as USA swimming has 14+ million views over 3560 uploads (4000 views per video).

Swimming Canada also has a Twitter account... 5851 followers, decently put together, regularly updated.  Someone at Swimming Canada has some sort of finger pressed to the pulse of social media... but it needs to be better.  The next step has to be identified and taken.

For now in Canadian swimming it's a culture of those who get it.... and those who refuse to get it and go to the level of mocking or even criticizing those who do make a next level effort.  This is not the way to go.

For those who have read this deep, well done.  Follow me @coachdling.

Friday, March 8, 2013

March Break Re-Launch

I haven't been very active on here since the London Olympics last summer... although I'm starting to realize with the turning of the seasons that Summer was a long time ago.

Time to move on and start tending to this space a little more.

I completed a post I started a while ago, following up on an appearance on the Coach Mike Podcast and the top 10 swimming moments of 2012.

Moving forward I'll brainstorm during this March Break and hopefully have some more fun stuff to write about and actually use this space.

Thanks for visiting.