A Coach’s Reflections From ASCA World Clinic in New Orleans

Guest commentary by Jim Lutz

Having attended the 2013 ASCA World Clinic in New Orleans, I came away with a sense of optimism, professionalism, and a feeling that focus is on a sensible progress from “Here’s how you blow bubbles” to “Congratulations on winning a gold medal and breaking a world record.”

The coaching scene has moved from the iconic figures of Peter Daland, George Haines, Jack Nelson, Mark Schubert, Richard Shoulberg, Don Gambril and Doc Counsilman. To those driving the continued success of USA Swimming Gregg Troy, Frank Busch, Jack Bauerle, David Marsh, Bob Bowman, Steve Bultman, Matt Kredich, David Salo, and Teri McKeever.

A heady task that has not only been welcomed with open arms but rather grabbed, hugged and elevated to greater heights. Greater should not be perceived as the former coaches underachieving, but with an ever-increasing standard, all must raise their expectations either by choice or competition.

The young professionals walking the deck with less than 10-15 years have taken the knowledge of their predecessors, the communication methods of effectiveness, and dealing with attention span that have been reduced and expanded and tied them into the technology to take the results in a new, yet productive direction.

This clinic probably provided fewer “sets” and “this is what we do”, but went deeper to the heart of “why we do” and showed what we get from the technical point, and the greater need to connect on the emotional side. A good trend that can be achieved without sacrificing excellence.

I have always loved the fact that ASCA and USA Swimming have allowed every coach to direct a program to the coaches liking. ASCA and USA Swimming supplied and offered resources without over-reaching that would have reduced individual thought process. The young coaches are providing a look into a very bright future.

As I sat in many of the Age Group Track lectures shoulder-to-shoulder and standing room only, I realized these coaches were not only concerned about “doing it right,” there were a number of senior coaches making sure the focus and emphasis was on their young swimmers.

Again, there was a top-to-bottom focus to develop the overall complete person who happens to be a swimmer. Not a swimmer who happens to also be a human. Their identity and self-worth is not about the stopwatch but they value that we coaches can nurture and develop. Responsibility, yes. Accountability, yes. Unattainable task, absolutely not. We have the skills, the technology, the passion and yes, the love.

At the ASCA banquet three great coaches and even better people were welcomed into the elite group known as Hall of Fame coaches. Bob Groseth, Don Schwartz and Penny Taylor were respectfully recognized for their contributions in a way that only each of them could have done.

From the guidance of Doc Counsilman, to the sheepish volunteering to coach a group of summer league to creating the concept of negative splitting or sharing the experience from an Olympic athlete perspective, each of these classy and respected coaches have earned the title that complements their career. Often imitated but never duplicated and always willing to share their talents to anyone and everyone who had a desire for excellence.

I attended my first ASCA clinic 28 years ago in a tropical downpour in Ft. Lauderdale. Throughout the next three decades, ideas have been shared, dissected, refuted and recycled only to come full-circle to remind us that the only certainty is the uncertainty for an absolute, single approach for success.

The discussions over meals or in the social setting did not fail to supply a wealth of information and some user-friendly “nuts and bolts” of how to make something work in the facility or setting in which we function on a daily basis.

Ironic in some ways that the setting was in the “Big Easy.” We are challenged every day to train and develop athletes through their formative to the world stage and for the faint of heart, an undesirable task. However, the resources available through written text or spoken word are boundless to attain these tasks.

We exist in the greatest country in the world that has always been a melting pot for all walks of life and it has also been a setting to welcome alternative ideas to challenge our thoughts and beliefs. The top coaches and technicians once again assembled to share their methods and ideas for each of us to decide if they will work in our situation. Some may work while others may just be an interesting thought.

Since, my current situation is not my full-time employment, I treat it as a wonderful opportunity and a hobby in which I make a few bucks. I use personal vacation days to attend the ASCA clinic each year. I find that spending a few days with great coaches and dear friends in an awesome way for me to recharge my batteries and approach my employment with enthusiasm and encouragement.

I can use my new found knowledge to better coach people to be the best that they can be. I am truly blessed to be involved with swimming and even more honored to be called a coach. For it is my peers who I respect and value on multiple levels. Whether it is the firm handshake or the best hug, you know you are among friends who also share the title of coach.

See you in Jacksonville!

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.

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