CHATTANOOGA, Tennessee, February 20. AFTER an amazing TISCA Tennessee High School State Championship meet during which The Baylor School boys took down the 200-yard medley relay national high school record, head coach Dan Flack took time out to speak with Swimming World.
In this epic interview (made epic by just how open Flack proved to be in his responses), Flack not only gets into the psyche it takes to break an astonishing record like the 200-yard medley relay, but also goes deep into what it takes to produce a 4:16 500-yard freestyler like Tennessee-bound Sam McHugh.
After Bolles put together one of the most epic high school meets in the history of the sport in Nov. 2012, many thought their records would stand for a decade or longer. It took you all only two years to take down one of them. What type of motivation does Baylor find when a team does what Bolles did?
I ask myself the question all the time – “What is actually fast?” Fast/Slow, easy/Hard, to me they are all relative terms – I feel like I spent a big part of my time here pointing that out to kids – explaining that what they think is hard or fast is very different from what I think or what the reality is. We had a team meeting early in the year and I pointed out that 7 years ago going 45 in a 100 free was fast for a high school boy, then I showed the team the All-American list from the year before where there were 100 guys going 45 + or faster. All of a sudden 45 isn’t so fast any more.
When I saw those times from 2012, I vividly remember thinking “Dang, that’s moving!” But the cool thing is if you allow it, your mind opens up to the possibilities of what could be. I kind of enjoy exploratory things, especially in music and athletics. I did really start to push the importance of exploring and promoting the speed of traveling underwater with the team. We felt that was a real game changer and vigorously pursued that notion any way we could. So, any record simply opens up the possibility of what could be in the future to me.
Baylor most recently is known for its success on the girls side with several overall Swimming World national titles after both teams won the prep school category in 2009. Baylor’s boys had won a few prep titles in a row before that until Bolles School witnessed a significant rise under Sergio Lopez. First, what’s it been like to be on the type of roll that Baylor is on right now, and second, what are your thoughts about Sergio and Bolles? Is there a bit of a rivalry as the two top prep schools in the country?
I always tell the team that our true foe never changes and never discriminates. Sixty seconds is always a minute and Sixty point one seconds never will be a minute, it will be sixty point one seconds.
What I mean by that is the awesome thing about swimming is your team doesn’t have to be the champion to know you had an amazing season or meet. There hasn’t been a state championship meet yet where I haven’t been just blown away by the performances of kids on both girls and guys squads.
This year, it was the boys getting a lot of well-deserved accolades but I’m just as proud and psyched with the performance of our girls this year and for sure vice versa in years past. We just really focus on what we can do to get faster, because the Baylor name on the cap is far bigger than the individual name on the heat sheet.
Sergio is a good friend. We got to know each other coaching the United States Junior Team at Junior Worlds in Peru, but since our seasons are at different times of the year and we never actually go head-to-head in a high school meet I don’t consider it a rivalry, just a series of raising the bar.
Sam McHugh put up one of the fastest 500-yard frees ever in high school history (4:16.76). Can you talk specifically (and feel free to get into some serious swim geekery here if you are comfortable with divulging that information), about that 500 free? What was the strategy, and what went into it?
First of all, Sam is unique. He has simply worked his tail off at every task I have put in front of him since I started working with him the summer before his ninth grade year. He has bought in 100% to every concept that I have presented, whether it be training cycle, dryland work outside of the pool, event selection, whatever.
As to the specifics, I have talked over the mathematics of breaking our school record of 4:19.66 held by NCAA champion Martin Grodzki a lot with Sam over the last 18 months, pointing out the speed endurance pace he would have to repeat to break the record.
Sam put in some big boy work this fall, was doing great swims daily in practice and on a short rest and a shave we took him to Juniors in Greensboro and he went 4:20, so we thought on full rest big things could happen. It really helped though to have that record up on our board every day for both of us to see.
Specific sets that I put a lot of credence and belief in for the 500 free are:
8 x 125 Dive on 5:00 – we do it every other Tuesday usually after the first 6 weeks – never had a boy who could average under 1:04.8 not go 1:39 or faster in the 200 free. Sam was going 1:02’s a lot, the last time we did it before state was three weeks out, and he did 4 and 1:00.8-1:01.5
We did a pyramid on our traditional threshold days of a 75 race pace followed by a 25 easy – the interval was the same for both – for Sam it was :45 seconds – he built up to 24 rounds – so 24 x 1 x75 race pace + 1 x 25 pretty and perfect all on :45 his speed was usually always between 12.7-12.9 per 25 on those.
We worked on a set stroke and kick out count and that became “the sweet spot.” I talk to the kids all the time about getting to their sweet spot in training all the time, the easier they can get there as we taper, the better idea I have on the window of time they will go.
I told my assistant coach I think Sam could go a low 4:17, in the race he went 7 laps in a row that were 12.88 on my watch that set was always followed by a similar series of kicking mixing a 50 fast on :40 + a 25 easy on :40. The thought process was to really training the legs for the back half of the race
It’s tricky because doing a fast 50 fly, 200 IM, 500 free, and 100 free all in one meet is tough. We went with the approach of working on one stroke and then 30:00 of fish kicks against a power rack in the morning, and more 500 work at the afternoon practices.
Everyone is pretty knowledgeable about McHugh, but that 200 medley needed a strong foursome to overcome Bolles’ record that included some incredible splits. Can you talk specifically about each of the other three swimmers, and what they bring to the table? Luke Kaliszak, Dustin Tynes and Christian Selby.
With Luke it was fairly simple. In my mind, he progressed as a swimmer over the last four years, but really put it all together as a person this year. He always had a unique skill set with his ability to kick underwater.
I felt like this year, he developed into much more of a complete swimmer, not just a guy who could kick out fast then kind of pray. I also spent a lot of time putting him in situations to succeed, whether in the pool, in our strength and conditioning program, or in a relay situation. Success was no longer something he hoped would happen, it simply became his daily performance. I told him in early January – you are ready – and then kind of stayed out of the way.
Dustin gained a lot of confidence in Dubai at World Juniors this summer, and I saw a lot of that carry over this year. He became much better at being present in the moment, and the results showed.
Christian is just scratching the surface of what he is capable of doing. He really embraced the underwater concept and the longer he stayed under and fish kicked, the faster he went. He has tremendous upside
The really unique thing is I literally live with these three boys in a dorm, I serve as a dorm parent. It has allowed my relationship to really grow with each of them, and vice versa. It allowed us to be on the same page at such a different level and thus, the confidence of what we could accomplish was through the roof.
Is there anything else you wished would have been covered about states that you’d like to get out there?
Just that it was a great experience and thank you Swimming World for supporting it.