Monday, March 7, 2011

Indianapolis Grand Prix Tour Team

When I found out that I would be travelling with Team Ontario to the 2011 Indianapolis Grand Prix, I was very excited. When I saw the team and coaches list, I was apprehensive. Would I be welcome on this trip, or would I be more of a liability? Would the coaches and athletes welcome to me hanging around with them, or be annoyed by my presence? I really wasn't sure what to expect.

I returned from SC Provincials in Ottawa@ 12:16am on Monday morning, February 28th. This was my third 4 day meet in 4 weeks and I was going to have to repack and leave for Indianapolis on Tuesday. I was tired and fearing looking like "the new guy" on this trip. I was VERY self aware, even before I left. On Tuesday morning, again I kissed my wife and kids good bye, and headed for the airport for another adventure.

I met Team Manager, Stu McLean at check-in and slowly started introducing myself to the athletes (some of whom I already knew). I sat by myself in the back of the cramped little airplane and waited to arrive in Indianapolis. Upon arrival, I learned that I would be staying with Don Burton of GMAC, who I knew reasonably well. I felt some comfort in that. Shortly after, we walked to the Natatorium together and talked about our current coaching situations as well as Don's current coaching plans with Andrew Ford. I found it a very interesting and valuable conversation.

After a short workout at the pool, the coaches walked to a restaurant for dinner where I was able to learn more about the coaches individually. I found this one of the most valuable parts of the trip. I sat watching sports on the bar tvs with JR of the National Training Center in Toronto (JR commenting on the general movement and explosiveness of the athletes in the NFL Combine). Kevin Thorburn and Derrick Schoof were surprisingly candid about their history and aspirations in coaching. I was blown away, as this was not only eliminating my fear of what these coaches would think of me, but also... I am so used to coaches guarding their "secrets" and excluding younger coaches that they see as threatening. "These guys are not only interested in their own performances," I thought, "They want to make ME a better coach". This was a very foreign concept to me. I was being accepted by this group.

Wednesday I spent more time with Derrick Schoof and Don Burton at the pool trying to find out more about what their objectives were for their athletes and how they planned on preparing the day before the meet (there were 2 workouts on Wednesday). Don shared his workout plans with me, while Derrick allowed me to spend some time with him while he rolled more with how his athlete, Matt Hawes was feeling.

"He's been on the road for 4 weeks, really," said Derrick. "He's very tired, so I want to make sure that he's feeling fast, above all. Lots of pull, lots of drill."

In the afternoon, Don worked with Andrew Ford on his start. Andrew wanted to try a new style, but Don was not sure if it really fit.

After the afternoon workout, the entire team went to an Italian restaurant for a team diner, where I spent more time picking coaches brains and getting to know them better. After that, bed time. The meet started on Thursday.

Thursday morning was an odd experience for me, but very cool! A week ago, I was in Ottawa working with Age Group kids. Now, I was sitting about 15 feet away from some of the fastest athletes in the world; Millionaires, being hounded for autographs and interviews. Some of them would even strike up conversations with me(I talked with Olympic Gold Medalist, Ouss Mellouli, I believe, because he was bored). Bizarre!

On the first day of the meet, I spent a lot of time with the team's sports scientist, Elton Fernandez, who was specifically working on recovery and warm down. Elton was to make sure that the athletes were warming down properly, clearing their lactates (by taking blood lactate samples before and after warm down). Occasionally, he would make someone get back in to warm down more if they had not cleared enough lactate. I was very surprised by the amount of athletes who refused to warm down properly, even though they were shown that their lactate levels were still very high. Although the rate of refusals diminished over the weekend, it was still very surprising to see that athletes like Ryan Lochte, Michael Phelps and Jason Lezak were warming down for about 30-40min, while some of Ontario's best athletes (Canada's best athletes in some cases) didn't take this protocol seriously enough. This definitely had an impact on Friday's morning performances in some cases. I feel that I learned quite a bit about warm down and lactate clearance on this trip; much of it can be applied to my program!

A couple of medals on Thursday night (Andrew Ford was 3rd in 400IM) and an all Canadian Podium in the women's 4x100FR relay.

On Friday, I made a point of spending more time with Derrick Schoof and Matt Hawes to learn more about Matt's preparation for 100 and 200BK. Derrick allowed me to shadow him and to ask as many questions as I wanted. He was quite open with his preparation for the meet and what need to be tweaked and changed from prelims to finals. Quite simply, the under water work on his start, the catch with his left hand and his head position on his turn. I watched Derrick tweak and change during the warm up. He wrote the time that he really wanted Matt to hit in the final of the 100. Matt ended up about .04 faster than he wanted so both were pleased with the performance (video below... sorry about the quality).

Saturday, I spent some time with Kevin Thorburn while he was getting his swimmers ready for finals. I was also able to spend more time with Derrick and Matt, and as a special treat, got to spend time with JR while he was warming up American Swimmer, Kate Ziegler. I also watched JR teach Mike Blondell how to coach a change in Erica Morningstar's Freestyle. JR put Mike on a bench and kenesthetically showed him how to better her catch in FR. Very simple, but also very different that what I had ideologically understood a.) how coaches teach each other and b.) how I understood the catch portion of FR.

Results aside, it was a great meet for both Swim Ontario and for me. I felt that I learned a lot from each coach individually and from being around with that group (we had diner with Ben Lebrun and Mike Blondell who asked me questions about my program and chatted with me about their experiences in coaching).

JR: JR taught me silently, in that he would let me hang around with him and ask other coaches a lot of questions, so that I would benefit from the answers. He would never dodged a question or avoided giving an answer, but I had to figure out what to ask him in order to get the answer I was looking for.

Kevin Thorburn: Kevin surprised me the most because he seems very quiet. I did not expect that we would bond at all, but we spent much of the weekend chatting about ways to make a small program great and ways that he wants to make his big program better. He also has an unparalleled knowledge of music and movie trivia. He is a very smart man.

Derrick Schoof: Derrick was the most open and unguarded of the coaches and between him and Kevin, I felt that this group wanted to make ME a better coach. Derrick's insight into cause and effect (both in swimming and in social aspects) really opened my eyes to another way of thinking.

Don Burton: Don Burton knows a lot! I really enjoyed staying with him because we often got to talking privately and was able to bounce ideas off of him and get his honest opinion. I learned a lot from Don and really enjoyed my time with him.

Paul Midgley: Paul was the only coach that I didn't get to spend that much time with, only because he likes to do his own thing and isn't much for small talk. We did have several conversations about stroke technique and which American clubs had the most efficient swimmers. I respect Paul very much as a coach and enjoyed the opportunity to work on the same team with him.

Dean Boles: I had the pleasure to swim and work for Dean Boles in the past so I know what his expectations were for this camp. I'll let Dean explain, himself:

For me, the experience was extremely rewarding. I got to work with high level coaches and athletes. I got to build relationships and network with those coaches and athletes. I got to see some VERY high level swimmers and races:

I spent some time with Cynthia Pammett, as her coach was not able to make the trip. I think I was able to help her with her races, and allowed some other coaches to see what I was able to do.

This was a very eye opening experience for me and I think that I bring a wealth of knowledge back to my program as a result. I also feel that it was good exposure for the team that I have worked so hard to support and promote. Thank you so much, OSCC, for sending me on this trip. I find significant value in these trips for all coaches. I hope that others can have as positive experience as I had!

Mike Thompson
Head Coach