Commentary: 5 Keys to Recruiting

Commentary by Jim Lutz

This is not about recruiting club swimmers from other clubs. I am adamantly against such behavior. This article is about recruiting to college programs, and even building corporations, just substitute employee and swimmer.

THROUGHOUT the years, I have heard, on more than one occasion, people wishing away the current years to get to the point where their life will be great. “If I could have this…” “If I could do that…” “If I was… (You fill in the blank)”…my life would be great.

You get the idea of wanting something you do not currently have, thinking that will take care of your problems. It plays easy on TV, but plays hard in reality. The problems in life are not solved like a 30-minute sitcom…24 minutes with commercials. The Brady Bunch approach to life has not progressed since the mid-70s and is nowhere near the 21st century.

The real key to making your situation better is very simple; “Use what you’ve got, to get what you want.”

So, what are the five keys to recruiting and how can each of us benefit by following these points? Make decisions that allow you to sleep and everything will fall into place, just as it should.

I would love to say that that we all possess a magic eye to see the potential of each athlete. At best, we use instinct and experience to pass judgment but ultimately our “gut instinct” should decide if we want to coach an athlete or not. Talent will catch our eye. However, what you need to ask yourself, do they truly have “The Goods” to excel?

As I look at teams who have been successful, I see smiles, laughter, care, and love for their teammates. They do not smile because they win. They win because they smile.

I love to play golf. I have been on a course and see people who just look the part of a great golfer. They have the right clothes. They have the right club. They wear the right shoes. They began their rounds, and I witnessed some errant shots. My first instinct, they are having an off day. After a few holes I realized, they are not having a bad round, they have a bad game of golf. They looked the part but did not have the skills. A challenging golf course will expose flaws, just like a weak breaststroke leg of the 400 IM, because you have nowhere to hide.

Talent is often a God-given gift that can be honed but seldom does it allow to go beyond what the top-end limits that hold someone at a lower level. No matter how fast the donkeys run, the thoroughbreds win the derby. Pedigree is vital and knowing an athlete’s background will help in the evaluation process. You will need to decide what the needs happen to be for your situation and how to find those who fit.

Talent may catch your eye but it is character that you will want to build your team. Character is what separates those individuals who do whatever they can to help the team versus those who are content with doing the minimum and expecting others to notice they did anything.

I remember a number of years ago, a college men’s team has T-shirts that said, “Cheat on your girlfriend, not your practice.” Needless to say that did not sit well with the women’s team. So a few days later the women wore shirts that said, “Cheat on your boyfriend, not your practice.” My reaction was simple, “Just don’t cheat.” I do not believe you can separate your personal, athletic, and professional life. They are all intertwined and adversity will bring the worst characteristic.

When recruiting college swimmers, I would watch how swimmers reacted after their swims. Did they throw caps and goggle if they swam slow? Did they respond as a coachable swimmer to their coach or were they self-absorbed in their misery and taking it out on anyone within the same area code? Were they good teammates only when it fit their agenda? “It is not my job, so I’m not gonna do it” is often their mantra. Ultimately, what do they do, when no one is watching?

When I was a senior/head club coach, I would tell college coaches exactly how a swimmer was on a day–to-day basis. Why should I wreck my reputation and credibility on a swimmer who was a pain in my backside? I had college coaches tell me a year or two down the road, “I wish I would have listened to your advice, but I thought I could change the kid because I really needed a swimmer of that caliber.” Short-term fix versus long-term headache…it is not worth changing what you believe is the foundation of your program. What the swimmers discovered, I was their biggest supporter but I would not risk my reputation or credibility.

In the sport of swimming we deal with two devices that couldn’t care less about emotions: a stopwatch and a scale. They are both a matter of fact. The numbers say what you are with no remorse, regret, or sympathy. We need emotion when we deal with people, not just numbers.

Finding those swimmers who are willing to give the extra effort are those who will lead by example and not by title. My grandfather said, “The longer the title, the less they do.” Team Captains need to make decisions for the sake of the team, and they must become servant leaders.

Those going the extra mile will outwork a more-talented swimmer. They will arrive early to make sure things are in place and they haven’t forgotten anything. They will stay late and clean up after others who don’t care the same. Quite often, they may be walk-on athletes who are grateful for the opportunity. They ask to watch film to correct their stroke or will offer help to a teammate with something that will not directly benefit them. They continue to give until others tell them to stop giving…that never happens.

If a teammate tells them that others are taking advantage of them, they may respond, “Well, I’m sure they have their reasons and if I can do a little more, maybe it will lighten their troubles.” Yes I have heard that from a swimmer I had the pleasure of coaching. Limited skills, limitless heart.

During the years, I was blessed to swim for Frank Busch, Frank would allow an optional practice on Sundays. Frank had an apartment at the pool and would unlock the door, post a workout, and we would complete what he had written. This took place in the mid to late 70s and this situation would no longer happen due to liabilities of swimming alone.

I would go the church early, go swim for 1 ½ to 2 hours, go to work at a shoe store for five hours and then go home to do homework so I could be ready for 5 a.m. practice on Monday. This wasn’t anything special or exceptional. It was expected of you by you. Frank never took attendance on these days but most of the swimmers did practice. I was not blessed with much talent, so I felt I needed to outwork others just to try to make up some of the gap. My shortcomings were no one’s fault, and it was my responsibility to make my abilities better.

Do the people in your everyday life take the extra step? Do the athletes ask you to watch their stroke after practice? Do the athletes look for little things to improve? Do we challenge them and ourselves, to be better?

I have a sign in my work area that says, “Train your talents” with an arrow pointing downward meaning, right here, right now and a second line that reads, “Trust your talents” with an arrow point at the door. If you perfect practice your talents on a daily basis, you can trust your talents in any situation.

I challenge those people I train at my office and jokingly say that I will be a bigger jerk than anyone they face in the real world. Now it is never as bad as I just made it sound, however, I will pick at the littlest details so they are not disrupted when doing their job if things go differently than they may have planned.

In most situations when we are working with “newbies,” the highs and lows are more pronounced and impactful to them. They will improve over time to create a less-turbulent ride. Early on, they will focus on the lows and think the highs should happen, and do not enjoy them to the same degree as they beat themselves up over the bad days.

One story I love to share about committing and trusting talents happened during my days at the University of Arizona. Chad Carvin had just completed his very successful freshman year. We were about 20-25 minutes into a training run, I came up next to Chad and wanted to pick his brain a little bit.

I said, “Chad, what goes through your mind during the mile when you are about 1100 to 1300 yards into the race, in a battle with other talented athletes and the pain starts to increase…how do you break through that and what do you tell yourself?”

Without breaking stride or even turning his head, Chad said, “In my mind, pain does not exist.”…And he kept on running. I love that guy and that story.

When an athlete struggles, work on their head as much as their body. They need reminding that they never lose their ability, just the confidence in their ability. If you have done it once, you can do it again. Focus on taking care of what you CAN control.

During the 1996 Olympic trials, I was standing at the warm up watching my swimmer warm up. I overheard a coach giving advice to his swimmer every time the swimmer stopped at the wall. After five or six lengthy comments, the swimmer looked up at the coach and said, “Did I suck this bad last week or are you just nervous?” The athlete trusted his training while the coach was showing doubt in himself.

Tennis great Jimmy Connors said, “The reason I’m a great tennis player is I hate to lose more than I love to win.” When we are building a team or organization, we look for those special individuals who will always rise to the occasion. The thought of not achieving is much worse than the temporary pain or inconvenience of doing the job correctly.

We all possess wonderful gifts of intelligence, wisdom, and rational thought. If we are not careful, rational thought can be a detriment. We need to find out what their passion is, and how deep it runs. When we see and understand what truly drives them, that is what we must focus to get them to excel.

What sacrifice are they willing to make to achieve something great? It is not what you are willing to do, but rather what are you willing to sacrifice. Are we willing to train the skills they have to afford them the opportunity to achieve something greater? Are they willing to use their skills and talents, to help someone else be better? If they can answer “Yes” that is the person to recruit.

See you on the podium,

Coach Jim

Jim Lutz is the Head Age Group Coach for Viper Aquatics in Westfield, Ind. Lutz has coached at the club and college levels for more than 30 years, with stints as head coach at Illinois and Michigan State as well as serving as an assistant at Arizona. He’s also served as a head coach for several club teams. Lutz also is a published author with several books available on Amazon.

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Author: Jason Marsteller

Jason Marsteller is the general manager of digital properties at Swimming World. He joined Swimming World in June 2006 as the managing editor after previous stints as a media relations professional at Indiana University, the University of Tennessee, Southern Utah University and the Utah Summer Games.

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