Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Swimming with Randy

On The Pool Deck – Swimming with Randy
By Jeff Grace

It was a morning after a night rain fell cooling the normally hot and humid Austin air that I arrived at the Circle C Ranch Community Pool. I walked on deck at 5:45 am to find a man staring intensely down that pool. This is exactly how I pictured Randy Reese from the descriptions I had read in previous years and from his past swimmers and friends, a man extremely confident and extremely focused. I introduced myself to him, he said a quick “Hi,” and continued to stare down the pool completely concentrated on how he was going to orchestrate the morning’s events.

The swimmers began to come into the pool, walking out in the dark morning gathering their equipment and their practice on single sheets of paper which they soaked and placed on the deck behind their respective lanes. As soon as Randy began to describe the first set the focus of the athletes turned directly to their coach for they knew the displeasure that they would experience if they didn’t. Randy gave his instructions and quickly shouted “We are going on the 45 minutes,” which was 2 minutes from the time on the clock. Each swimmer entered the water on time for once again it was an obvious expectation that no one was going to challenge.

This was my introduction to the Circle C Swim Club, which has grown from a seven member team to a team of 175 and one of the premier clubs in the world coached by one of the premier coaches in the world. I spent the next week with Randy on deck for 8 hours each day (Randy stayed on deck 9¼ hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays) in the hot Austin sun.

At the end of the week I spent with Randy, we traveled to a meet at SMU in Dallas where we watched a great deal of swimming and a prize fight on TV that Saturday evening, Gatti vs Ward III. Watching the fight with Randy can sum up the time and what I learned about his views on swimming and life.

As we were watching one of the warm-up bouts between two heavy weights, Randy articulated how he felt about boxers and boxing in general, “I’ll tell ya something, this is the toughest sport there is. No sport tougher. These guys are the toughest SOBs in sport. Don’t ya think?”

“No argument from me, Randy.”

“Head to head, they have to kick the crap out of each other. It’s not like swimming if they let up they will hurt more. If a swimmer backs down they will only hurt less, there is no sport tougher, these guys are big time.”

This would sum up how Randy feels people need to approach things in their life and swimming if they are to be successful: plain and simple they need to be “tough SOBs.”
“Matt Cetlinski, now there was one tough swimmer, he left his heart in the lane after every set, gave you everything off of every wall; he was big time.” Randy has a simple philosophy when it comes to swimming fast and achieving athletic potential: you have to learn how to be tough.

The practices and the way that Randy plans, are based on the premise that you can teach people to be tough. One of the most consistent pieces of equipment that Randy uses in his training is kicking and swimming with shoes. His philosophy of perseverance and toughness comes out when he describes why he does this training, “The shoes just kicks the crap out of them, you really have to bust your butt, get the feet kicking large and fast to get going. Everyone can make one minute per fifty that is about perseverance and toughness; they just need to learn to get it out of themselves.”

He not only sells this philosophy to the athletes but he is up front with the parents in the club that this is something that each athlete needs if they are going to reach their potential in the sport. Randy is extremely upfront with the parents and they respect that. As his brother Eddie expresses, “When you get old you can say what you want to parents as long as you say it nicely. Randy is at a point where he can say what he wants however he wants.” In a discussion with one of the parents of an athlete whose attitude he described to the boy in the morning as “Your attitude is as bad as I think I have ever seen anyone’s,” he expressed. “He just needs to bust his butt for three weeks, go through a lot of pain and once he gets through it he will feel the same paces that he thought were hard as easy; he just needs to be tougher.”

Back to the main event now where ESPN is showing highlights from Gatti vs Ward I and II. “These little guys have skill. This is the toughest sport in the world. You have to be an athlete to do this. “Absolutely these guys need to be quick and are so skilled. I love watching the little guys fight (maybe because I’m little),” I responded. “I’ll tell you something - these guys are big time.”

Skill and technical efficiency are two things that are at the core of Randy’s philosophy of swimming. He believes that the best performers will most often be the best technically as well. Through his personal experience he has seen that the best pick up on technique the quickest, which is a huge sign of their potential. “Tracy Caulkins was just amazing with it. You would tell her to put her hand in this way or that way and it would be done the first time. She would stay with the change consistently until we figured out if it worked.”

The major aspect of Circle Cs’ technical training is the use of stroke drills. Randy believes that you must change technique through drills and that there must be a large focus put on specific drills. “To truly teach technique you must use drills a lot and consistently.” Randy will most often use a variation of drills in all of his workouts. The most common way that he uses these drills is to mix them with swims so that the athletes take the time to implement the changes that he is trying to make through each drill.
As Gatti and Ward were battling in the first half of the fight using creativity and skill, my mind switched to some of the creative thoughts on teaching technique Randy shared with me through the time I had spent with him. “Do you think if you were able to turn the lights off in the pool and use glow sticks so the swimmers could see the wall but nothing else, that their feel for the water would improve?” When it comes to teaching technique this is only one example of how Randy has a large tendency to think outside the box and do what ever it will take to make sure that the swimmers are going to learn how to do things right.

It is now in the seventh round of the fight. Gatti is continuing to dominate, despite hitting Ward in the hip with a right hook during the third round re-breaking his hand. Randy inquires, “What do you think, is it age or fitness that is not allowing this guy to take advantage of Gatti’s broken hand and win the fight?”

“Hard to say, Randy. To me it looks like the fitness is the major factor, but his age might have something to do with it.”

“Yeah, probably fitness. These guys are the toughest athletes out there. You have to be fit to be in this sport, a real athlete.”

One of the things you realize when spending any amount of time with the group of Circle C athletes during their training is that they are one fit group. Randy believes in working hard and being fit, including endurance, speed and strength.

When you ask him how he plans practices, his response is “I usually write out a whole bunch of stuff and than realize how hard it is and tone it down. It usually comes out to a point where they still think it is really hard.” It is incredible to see the intensity that the athletes train with day in and out. Randy judges the training by its’ intensity, since he feels volume can be looked at in many different ways, dependent on what components a coach feels important (kick, drill, swim etc...). Since he feels that the amount of rest in a practice is a better indicator of volume, intensity is what he uses to determine the training overload each day. Randy uses this sustained intensity to build the endurance base which he believes is required in all swimming events.

To develop strength and speed Randy uses a lot of creativity in his planning. One example of this is how he uses pulleys and shoes. Power workouts using this equipment are done two to three times a week in a short course yards pool set up. He uses both shoes and pulleys to develop both strength endurance and raw power by covering distances from 25s to 200s.

Dryland training at Circle C is limited by their lack of facilities such as a weight room and storage for equipment. For this reason the dryland is based on simple muscular endurance that has a mix of weights, abs, medicine balls and jumps. By having his dryland set up this way Randy also avoids one of the problems he sees with lifting heavy more than once a week. “When you lift heavy more than once a week, they start getting too big and too sore to swim properly.” These endurance based dryland workouts take between 40-45 minutes and are performed before each afternoon practice.

Once the fight concluded, Gatti had beaten Ward by a unanimous decision in a fight that the announcers felt would go down as another great showdown in the history books.
“What did you think of the fight?” I asked Randy.

“I didn’t think it was that good. I don’t know what the announcers are talking about. It wasn’t that good, but man this is the toughest sport there is.”

Expectations are always high when you are around Randy. From doing sets correctly and taking pride in one’s work to expecting himself to get off his butt and get in better shape, Randy expects the highest level of effort from everyone around him day in and day out. Communicating these expectations in a formal way through team meetings is the best way that Randy feels you can get your point across, “I need to get back to having meetings again to explain my expectations and let them know where we are going. We need to do this at least once every two weeks so that the team can create an environment where everyone is buying in.”

One of the things that many great coaches have been able to do is to convey high expectations on a daily basis and be extremely hard on their athletes, while at the same time letting the athletes know how much they care. “Once a swimmer swims with Randy for 6 months they will lay on the railroad tracks for him. They will complain about him and his ways, but they will understand how much he cares and go to the wall for him. ”This is how his brother Eddie describes the relationships Randy forms with his athletes. He does not smile much and very rarely, if ever, is he satisfied with performance, but it is evident in his interactions with the athletes that they know how much he cares.

Upon leaving Austin, I came to the pool once again at 5:45 am to thank Randy for taking the time to share his thoughts and experiences with me. Once we said our good-byes he went back to the same spot where I had first seen him at the end of the deck on a dark and hot Austin morning, staring down the pool, contemplating how to make the group of swimmers in the water the most fit, most skilled and toughest athletes in the world.

Randy’s Favorite Stroke Drills:
Fly - Three kicks to each pull
Back - Double arm
- One arm
- Spin Drill
Breast - No breathing
- Two up one down
- Br pull with free kick
Free - One arm
- Catch up with stick

Power Workout Example:
a) Pulleys
6 x (4 x 50 @ 1:10 #4 max weight)
1) Kick
2) Kick with fins
3) Swim
4) Swim with paddles
5) Swim with fins
6) Swim with fins + paddles
b) Shoes
3 x 4 x 25 Kick Fly or Back @ 40
2 x 50 Kick @ 1:00 Free)
4 x 100 @ 2:00 as fast as possible

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