Open/Close Menu Integrating practical and scientific information for elite performance

1.  Please introduce yourself to the readers. Include how you got started in the profession, education, credentials, experience, etc

I started coaching right when I got out of college.  I didn’t really even want to coach, so I got a job in the business world, but I guess I needed something to ground me… so I volunteered with Cleveland State University and just hung out with the guys.  I ended up proving that I wasn’t any good in the business world, and actually, wasn’t a very good coach either, but figured I had a better chance of making an impact in something I already had a head start in… so I got in to coaching more deeply.  

At this point, we’ve produced over 35 swimming DVDs, over 400 drills for free distribution through YouTube, our app, and various distribution sources.  My business partner, Barbara Hummel, and I have done what we can to contribute something to the swimming community, and we hope we have.

I’m as ASCA Level 5 Coach based on Education and Contribution, not on my work in coaching… I’ve served as a volunteer mainly since starting Go Swim, which is 10 years ago. I’ve had the honor of working with Dave Durden, while he was at Maryland, and Bill Roberts at Navy.  They’ve allowed me to help and work alongside them.

2. How do you go about learning new information? Do you read websites, magazines, research journals, talk to colleagues, etc.?

A lot of networking, teaching, coaching, working with great athletes, and a constant researching of anything online dealing with swimming.  I’ve been involved with swimming for 45 years now, and have made a lot of friends who have accomplished great things.  These friends are very generous with their knowledge and I hope people feel the same about me.

3. What aspect of coaching do you feel swim coaches don’t do particularly well?

That’s a tough one.  We all know there are good coaches, and not so good coaches.  We’re all afraid to say that poor coaches exist, but you can’t have good without the bad.  Good coaches do everything in their power to help their athletes succeed, no matter if the athlete thinks it’s in their best interest or not.  Poor coaches give workouts… that’s it.
It’s the attention to the details that’s needed in this sport, and trying to match the Tyler Clary, or Robert Margalis type of workouts prior to the athlete’s knowledge of why they’re doing it, and how to apply specific techniques, is prematurely training someone for what they’re just not ready to do.

If anything, I’d say we seek performance prior to developing skills that can lead to ultimate performance for that specific athlete.  It’s a patience thing, and this is NOT exclusively a swimming coach issue, it’s a life issue.

4. What do you think is the biggest benefit of underwater filming?

If it’s watching the greats, it’s imprinting mental images on what you’re trying to accomplish.  If it’s evaluation a swimmer’s stroke, it’s the realization of how far away you are from those great athletes.

That’s said a bit tongue in cheek, because we have to realize, what the great swimmers are doing is good for them.  While it may be right for many people, it may not be right for that one specific swimmer you’re working with.  That’s our goal with why we have so many various swimmers… the goal is to grow your own individual knowledge base as a coach or a swimmer, so you have the tool, or answer for anything you see or experience.  It’s not and never can be about learning one set of drills, it’s about understanding as many variables as possible so you have a potential solution to a situation you’re presented with as a teacher, coach, or athlete.

5. What are the most common flaws you note in elite swimmers?

Man… that’s something I try to never look at.  Since every human is constructed differently, and since I’m not a doctor, I don’t know what their physiological make up is that makes them do the things they do the way they do it.  Who am I to say any elite athlete is doing something wrong?  Especially these days when the majority of the “elite” swimmers are doing this for a living.  Once real $$ is on the line, wouldn’t you do everything in your power you could to get better?  

Also, these elite swimmers we work with are also working with some of the most accomplished coaches.  The elite athletes are typically in a partnership relationship with their coach (not a business sense, but a working partnership).  There needs to be feedback between the athlete and coach, and what the public, you and I, see, is the final result of a work that has that athlete where they are when they’re performing.
As outsiders to the elite of the elite, our job should be to look at the pros and say, “why did they get to that result?” rather than saying, “I’d change that”.  Unless you’re involved in the work, you don’t know why they’ve come to the conclusion that we see.  We just don’t have the full story, and this ain’t football… where on Monday morning, we can sit back and say… WHY DID HE RUN UP THE MIDDLE ON 3RD AND 8?!?!?!

6. What corrections do you use to correct these flaws?

So, let’s say when working with a great swimmer, I see something very questionable.  Like I said previously, I’m not there to correct these people, I’m there to learn why they do what they do, and how they got to that point.  If it’s something they didn’t know they did, then I’ll only try to make them aware of it and see how they react.  They have coaches, and I’m merely someone visiting and getting a very close up look at what they do.

7. What types of cueing do you use to cause a correction?

As above, if it’s one of the Olympians I work with, it’s only making them aware of what they do.  Chances are very good, that by the time I’m working with them, they’ve seen themselves swim so many times, they know exactly what they do, and they know why they do it.  There are very few surprises at the top level.  It’s the kids on the lower levels that I film, show, and try to get them to understand why whatever it is that they’re doing… they probably don’t want to do.  It’s from watching so many great swimmers, that I can help a younger swimmer understand why something they’re doing is probably just wasting energy, or creating excessive movements to get to their desired result.

8. What projects are you working on now or should we anticipate in the future?

Our subscription site just went live a couple months ago, and we’re very pleased with the acceptance.  For just a few bucks a month, coaches, swimmers, parents can get access to everything we’ve ever done.  Over 1,000 videos, fully searchable, most of which feature Olympic athletes.  

Now that the basic premise of the site has been put together, we’re now expanding other features.  We have a lot of plans on how coaches, swimmers and parents will be able to use the content to help prepare athletes for practice, or to teach, from the comfort of their home, or on their phone.  All the videos can be played on iOS and Android devices, as well as web browsers of course.

We’re in production on probably 5 new projects this year, featuring a few more Olympic swimmers, plus masters content, learn-to-swim content, progression for teaching and learning… just more content.

We’re just doing what we hope we can to contribute to the swimming community in a useful way.  It’s our tenth year, so we’re proud of what we’ve done, especially since we started with two people, and through the tough times, having only two people have made it possible for us to continue.  I think we’ve stuck around long enough that people expect us to be here, and are supporting us in a very good way.

Dr. John Mullen, DPT, CSCS world-renowned physical therapist and strength coach.
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