PHOENIX, Arizona, June 18. STU Kukla is taking a trio of swimmers to the U.S. Olympic Trials next week, including a promising 14-year-old, and he talks about his journey to this moment on today's edition of The Morning Swim Show.
Kukla has been head coach for the Central Bucks Swim Team in Pennsylvania since 2005, bringing a USA Swimming team to an area that only had summer league teams in existence. Prior to that, he worked as assistant coach under Dick Shoulberg at Germantown Academy. He talks about the experience of working with Shoulberg, and what lessons he's taken from GA to his new team. He also discusses the swimmers he's taking to Trials, including 14-year-old Allie Szekely. Be sure to visit SwimmingWorld.TV for more video interviews.
Special Thanks to Finis for sponsoring the Morning Swim Show's interview segments in the Finis Monitor.
Download The FINIS Custom Suit Catalog
Download The FINIS 2012 Product Catalog
Visit Finis to learn more about their innovative products for aquatic athletes.
Sponsored by Competitor Swim Products
(Note: This is an automated service where some typos and grammatical errors may occur.)
Tiffany Elias: This is the Morning Swim Show for Monday, June 18th, 2012. I am your host Tiffany Elias and today in the FINIS Monitor is Central Bucks Swim Team Head Coach Stu Kukla joining us out from Pennsylvania. Hi Stu, glad we can have you on the show today.
Stu Kukla: Hello. Thank you very much.
Tiffany Elias: All right so Central Bucks is doing some great things lately, but you have a very special coaching position here as you are the one who started up this program.
Stu Kukla: Correct, we started 7 years ago.
Tiffany Elias: Seven years ago. So walk us to — how did the program get started?
Stu Kukla: Well I was coaching under Dick Shoulberg with Germantown Academy and Central Bucks, which is the third largest school district in Pennsylvania, had a need for a third high school so they filled brand new facilities with a 40-yard 8-lane pool with a movable bulkhead and they decided they wanted to start a U.S. program and they reached out to me and asked me if I would like to interview for the position. When they offered me the job and I started it from scratch, there was nothing there whatsoever and we have developed every year and build up to where we are right now with about 160 athletes, about 70 in the senior program and about 90 age groupers in the program.
Tiffany Elias: So a good sized program, so what are some key things you did in the beginning to really get that program started especially for coaches or parents that want to start a program similar?
Stu Kukla: Well there was a preexisting kind of an age group dual meet with each team that was being run out of the high school pool in the area so we written a pack then with fliers and meetings and information trying to introduce the U.S.A Swimming to them because it was devoid of any U.S.A Swimming presence prior to our existence so not many people really even knew what U.S.A Swimming was and what they had available and what the meets were for so we did a lot of that. We really started putting a lot of fliers at some of the schools and talking to the kids there and also there was probably about 5 or 6 or summer clubs running, so I made a point of putting my face out there. I talk to other coaches and athletes and those areas so that they would get to know that we existed. When we started out small, but first year we are thinking about 15 athletes going full time swimming that it was and every year started getting larger and larger.
Tiffany Elias: Well you have done an amazing job really building this program and we will touch on some recent successes you have over the last couple of years, but first of all going back to coaching under Dick Shoulberg at Germantown Academy, legendary coach here in the swimming community and he is known for his high training, high volume. Has that curbed your philosophies at all?
Stu Kukla: Well, it definitely was an eye-opener. When I first started coaching with him. Prior to that done high school coach and age group coaching but never at the level that Germantown Academy is at, so the reason I went and started coaching, I gave up some of my coaching job my higher-end jobs with being a head coach of a couple different programs to go work with them because I thought I needed to go and learn what an elite level of programming coach was doing because I didn't want to just be stuck in the local area and walking in and seeing the program, what they were doing was just amazing to me. It went by the concept of what an excellent swimmer was really changed because of what he was doing and what how he designed his program and his practices. I remember specifically the very first day I was there coaching with him, he sat all the athletes down and said — and it really stuck with me over the years — as next year our goal is to have 5 more people make national cuts and we are going to have a couple more people make Olympic Trials cuts. And to my young innocent mind I thought that was unheard of. How do you expect that to have that many people really make those cuts in the next year, and we did it so I was like, you know what, I learned that he sits there and attacks the program and shoot for the highest level and you are going attain it. Don't sit there and be okay with moderate level of success and push people to start at the high levels and like you said his training regimen is very high and intensity, high yardage. I really did see that you could push athletes to a higher level in a practice and I was using that in my coaching experience.
Tiffany Elias: So has that carried over to your philosophies essential books or how would you describe your training over there?
Stu Kukla: Well you know what again I didn't want to make just I mean sit there and paint it like I walk out and just say, “No, what Shoulberg is doing is wrong,” but I wanted to put my own personal touch on how I was going to run my program and I don't use as much yardage as he does. We definitely have higher yardage and probably the average programs definitely runs so we don't get to — where he was getting 10 to 12,000 a day for his athletes, we are probably a good about 8,000. And this morning my distance group just did about 9000 in that 2-1/2 hour session, but again it was, again he really developed what I think I could put into a program and how I could really push my athletes to strive to a higher level, so he definitely had a huge influence on what I am as a coach and how I run my program.
Tiffany Elias: Yeah and there is a lot of crossovers as well from Shoulberg having a program where he doesn't have a lot of pool space, doesn't have a lot of tools to work with, so he has got to be creative. That has to be very instrumental in starting a new program.
Stu Kukla: It was. It was huge. I mean while we are blessed with a better facility than his at GA where he has got a 6 lane, 25 yard pool. We do have some other obstacles we have to run into because being in the school district we have some time allotments when we are not allowed to have the pool and also when high school season begins we don't get to have the facility till 6:30 at night so we have to make a lot of adjustments, and one thing I definitely learned from Shoulberg is he sat there and said, “You know what I have created Olympians and I have long success in a 25 yard pool. I have made it work. Don't look at the negatives, look at what you had and figure out how you could really have your athletes succeed.” So I said, “All right this is, we don't have that, let's look at what we have and how we can make it work.”
Tiffany Elias: Well Stu, you are definitely making it work so now let's touch on some of your swimmers that you have got headed out to trials as we approach for the Olympic season so Ali Szekely exactly starting off, she was 13 when she qualified. Now I think she is 14 so she is going to be one of the youngest out in Omaha and she has got a pretty good lineup headed into the meet.
Stu Kukla: Yeah she is going to be fairly busy. She has three events that she is going to be doing and she just missed out on that 200 back, but she is very excited. One of the things that I really saw was in Michigan and she got a first cut at the Grand Prix meet there. She was up on the blocks with a bunch of other accomplished athletes and it was made fun among all of her friends that when they panned over all of the athletes in the A finals, they had to move down a couple of feet with the camera angle so they can hit her and she wasn't intimidated at all. She walks up on those blocks she doesn't care who is next to her and I think that is one of the reasons she succeeds at the highest level and sometimes a young athlete may shrink, she doesn't care. She was starstruck when we first walked in. She noticed Phelps, Lochte, and Allison Schmidt and she is really pointed out who is there, but about 20 minutes before her event she shuts it down and this is what I need to do so, I am pretty excited her chances at succeeding at that meet.
Tiffany Elias: Yeah, watching her race at juniors you can tell she is just a true competitor. Now there is a lot of debates that happen though when we talk about these young swimmers whether it is when dry land training can come into play, high yardage versus how much their bodies can handle. What is a typical week or work load look like for Allie who is a 13-14 superstar if you will?
Stu Kukla: Well Allie has a different special, she really packs herself with a lot of activities. She is actually a very good track star. She is better in the cross country aspect and the longer runs as opposed to a short spring track season, so during a spring season she would actually run in track while practicing with us so she would usually come out of school, get over to practice, swim with us for 2 hours, skip the dry land aspect of our practice because then she went to track practice and ran for 2 hours, got home, have dinner and did her homework and then started again, went to bed. So I really like all the hard work she has done in her running to the reason that she is phenomenal in the pool with her kick. We do kick sets and she normally, well not normally, she is the fastest person on our team with her legs. We do kick sets and she beats my 18 year old senior guys routinely with her kicks. So with that dry land-wise right now with track season ended we do an ab set typically every single day, 15 minutes along with half hour of cardio and muscle strengthening dry land routines that she will participate in. But workout wise she will average — she will probably do about 7, seven and a half thousand a day. Leading into trials because she is primarily doing breast stroke, we are putting in about 3 to 4,000 yards a day you know either breast stroke and/or IM work because we are focusing so much on these couple of events for next week.
Tiffany Elias: So that is a pretty decent work load for her there.
Stu Kukla: Yeah.
Tiffany Elias: Now this past week we really zoned in on the younger swimmers. We have had other 14-year-old swimmers on the show and discussing their successes heading into trials. Now it is typically company policy that we shy away from bringing this type of recognition to our younger swimmers, the 13-14-year-olds, just because they are so young and in your opinion does this type of attention at this stage in the game when they are this young, do you think it is going to have any affects on their years to come as they continue to progress whether it is pressure involved or getting to their head anything like that?
Stu Kukla: I think that it depends on the individual. Allie, since we are sort of discussing her, it won't affect her in the leat. She actually still has no idea of the level that she has attained. For example we will go to the Tom Dolan meet in December and she before the meet she made a comment, “Do you think I will final on all my events?” and that is where she still na?ve about how good she is even though she had finaled at the Grand Prix meet a few months prior and she still worried that she wasn't going to final at the Tom Dolan Invitational. So no for her I don't think it is, but I have had athletes who had success at a young age that I always worry because we would watch them at practice and they will cease to try to make adjustments to their strokes because they say, “Hey, I am having success with what I am doing, why should I change it” and that is why I know that we are really going to hit a wall with that athlete.
Tiffany Elias: Yeah, that is a good point right there. So now she is not your only swimmer heading out to trials. You have a few other — some older kids that are headed out there. Why don't we touch on them? They are both in college is that correct?
Stu Kukla: That is correct. I have two athletes who are training. One is training with us primarily, the other one has left and trained at the University of Maryland for the rest of –the last couple of weeks. David Speese is the first one and he just finished his freshman year at Maryland. Unfortunately with the dropping of the program, he is transferring to University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Not unfortunately obviously, it is such a great opportunity for him to move to that program but when school ended he started training with us. He is swimming the 100 and 200 breaststroke and his goal is to at least make semifinals in the 200, which is his primary event. And the other swimmer is Megan Lafferty, she is finishing her junior year at the University of Maryland and she is also transferring because of the unfortunate events there, and she is going to be going to Arizona in the fall. She is swimming the 50 and 100 free along with 100 fly.
Tiffany Elias: Now is that just a coincidence you have two Maryland swimmers that have qualified for trials?
Stu Kukla: You know what obviously it is speaks volumes to the Maryland program and what they were doing there and what Shawn was doing in Maryland. I mean because it was a great program. It is a travesty obviously that we could speak volumes about the NCAA and its issue and swimming in that area, but I think he did a great job with it of the athletes that I have sent there and because of that I was more inclined to push Maryland to all my athletes when they were looking at schools because of the success that I have had, I think it was 6 athletes over the years go to Maryland and they have enjoyed the academic level of the university along with the swimming and the beautiful facility they have there. So again, I don't think it was a mistake at all.
Tiffany Elias: Well it is great to see that those athletes have continued to reach this level of success given their unfortunate situation so it is good that they have that support on your side. All right so heading into trials, anything special for your athletes as they get prepped?
Stu Kukla: Well we are starting to really– I am a big believer of that taper is 99% mental. Obviously the physical comes into play in the months leading into the taper, but once you get in a taper it is all about feeling good and feeling happy, so we start doing a lot more fun kind of things prior and after practice, joking around, relaxing and not being tense about the actual practice itself. So I think that is the one thing I really try to do, getting our athletes ready for any kind of meet. Obviously Trials as the pinnacle of our nation's swimming meets so this is a big time and they should enjoy every moment they have leading up to it and while they are there.
Tiffany Elias: All right Stu, we look forward to seeing how your Central Bucks swimmers do out in Omaha. Thanks for sharing your info and experiences with us, we are really pleased with what you are doing with that program.
Stu Kukla: Thank you and thank you for your time.
Tiffany Elias: Great thanks Stu
.Stu Kukla: Bye.
Tiffany Elias: Well that is it for today's Morning Swim Show. Please we urge you to join our conversations on the Morning Swim Show on our Facebook page or Tweet us your comments at Swimming World. That is it for today's show. Join us again tomorrow.
To purchase this or previous episodes of The Morning Swim Show, to send comments or show suggestions, click here to send an email.
To purchase copies of our Ready Room interviews, click here.