Using Reflection As A Key To Improvement In Performance

Written By: George Kennedy


Most of us have seen the graduation speech by Admiral McRaven (former Navy Seal) at the 2014 University of Texas Graduation. While he spoke to influencing others, most of us were inspired by the 10 concepts that he reflected on as a seal. #1 being Make Your Bed! He says, "Wake up and Make your Bed”! “Making your Bed begins the day with a simple task”. Below, in no particular order are 10 areas, components that our teams focused on to grow as people, team members, and athletes.


1) Begin each day with energy. Some days you shoot for a 9.9…..other days you simply skip numbers. Whatever the number you can ramp it up mentally and physically by waking up and hydrating (water will help kick start one’s metabolism up to a higher 33% within 90 minutes). Come to practice as a 6 or higher and shoot for the 9.9! None of us can do much with the athlete that comes in as a 2 or 3. So how do we expect the athlete to excel unless the coach creates an environment and athlete takes the responsibility to shoot for a 9.9


2) Be a Performance coach—The art of connecting what we do to performance results inspires the athletes to want to be there. The closer our preparation mirrors how we want to perform the more successful we will be in getting the results. Along the way relationships improve, the culture thrives and improvement is earned. We would race something each day at the end of practice (could have been a 200 or a 200 kick or a 100 or 100 I’m ) and we would announce the “pool record” that day for the swim we raced. When they knew the record for the day they got up and raced for it. This prepared the athlete to compete and to “get ahead of the curve” # 9 below.


3) Understand the Difference between a Problem and an Inconvenience….Educate your athletes to understand this. In Reader’s Digest from many years ago there was a story titled "Sigmund Wollman Reality Test”. I encourage all coaches and swimmers to read and use as a guide for the difference between an inconvenience and a problem. After reading, up to 95% so called “problems” could be looked at as inconveniences. One of the changes that occurred was that when the athletes had “problems” they got stuck and as an inconvenience or bump in the road actually enhanced resiliency.


4) Focus your first team meeting of the year on the topic of Change. The Life of a college athlete is so different from High school, yet we ignore helping them with this. Every new year brings change and we need provide strategies to welcome change and the newness it provides. Looking back, we struggled as a group until the athletes were “good with change”, "that I was their coach" and that their “favorite team was our current team.


5) Coaches educate the athletes on what makes me/us (the coach) tick. Authenticity, confidence and vulnerability begins at the top. Being Vulnerable takes courage and confidence. The athletes viewing a coach with courage and confidence creates an “all-in” mentality. View this as a strength and this will open a line of communication with the team.


6) The first 20-30 seconds of any discussion usually will dictate how the entire conversation goes. Connect within the first 20-30 seconds of any conversation through tone, body language and providing them that you care about what they have to say about the topic. This gets the athletes to see you care about them. According to Joseph Grenny the first 20-30 seconds dictates how the conversation goes 95% of the time (based on a 10,000 sample study) Joseph Grenny has a fantastic video that emphasizes this titled Classic Confrontations. I encourage everyone to take a look.


7) Look at Feedback and self-feedback (introspection) as a way to grow, not as an attack on one’s character. Upon reflection, the athletes who had a special relationship with coming to the pool each day and those who valued the feedback the coaches provided were the athletes who improved the most. Introspection (self-feedback) development was a key to the athletes accepting feedback from the coaches without taking it personal or defensively. if you want your athletes to value feedback help them find a way to be more introspective.


8) Coach from the Inside-Out. Create a team from Individual development at the core level. Much like a band full of trumpets, horns, trombones etc, with me as the band leader….our teams were most successful and made “better music together” when we honed the individual’s improvement first. Get the most out We became a team rather than just a group of individuals by getting each individual taking 100% responsibility for their own individual success, and then asking them what they will contribute to the team.


9) Get Ahead of the Curve. Whatever the curve is, be one step ahead. When the NCAA cuts were getting faster, we needed to find a way to get faster. When our team was limited with practice hours, we needed to find a way to get faster with less pool time. Whatever the curve, we need to find a way to get ahead of it. Ancient Greek Archilochus stated way back that “we do not rise to the level of our expectations, but fall to the level of our preparation”. So we must prepare in a way that leaves no doubts that we can get ahead of the curve. Prepare and know how the curve has changed, and develop in a way that gets ahead of it.


10) Play Swimming—we play other sports, we play the guitar, we play games—Let’s play swimming! One of the parts of a coaching philosophy can be to have fun. Why not enjoy what we are doing? Find creative ways to have purposeful fun!


Seven-time NCAA Division III Coach of the Year George Kennedy will step out of retirement and join Loyola University Maryland head coach Brian Loeffler on the Greyhounds' pool deck as an assistant coach, Loeffler announced today. Kennedy retired as the head coach at nearby Johns Hopkins after the 2015-2016 season after building and maintaining one of the most dominant Division III programs on the Homewood campus. "It is rare that you get the opportunity to add someone so talented and experienced to the coaching staff," Loeffler said. "George has been a friend and mentor to me for several years, and I cannot wait to share the pool deck with him this fall." At the end of his final year, he was honored with the Speedo College Swimming Coaches Association of American (CSCAA) Lifetime Achievement Award after winning 373 dual meets and 24 conference titles and coaching 31 national champions and nearly 1,500 All-Americans.

"Coaching collegiate student-athletes is in my blood, and I want to thank Brian and the Loyola administration for this wonderful opportunity," said Kennedy. "I cannot wait to begin the season on September 5." Kennedy's teams finished in the top-10 an impressive 48 times at the NCAA Championships, including 21 top-five finishes, but the excellence was not limited to the water. During his tenure at Johns Hopkins, Kennedy and the Blue Jays have recorded numerous awards for academic excellence from the CSCAA, 12 CoSIDA Academic All-America honors, eight NCAA Postgraduate Scholars, an NCAA Elite 89 Award winner and a Rhodes Scholarship.

He was inducted to the Johns Hopkins Athletics Hall of Fame, and in 2014, Fortune named Kennedy one of the "World's 50 Greatest Leaders." A 1977 graduate of the University of North Carolina, Kennedy was a four-year letter winner for the Tar Heels and an NCAA Division I qualifier in the 100-yard backstroke. After graduation, Kennedy remained at UNC to earn his master's degree in physical education and serve as an assistant on the Tar Heels' coaching staff.

In 1980-81 he became head coach of the men's and women's swimming teams at Gettysburg College, where he compiled an impressive 77-31-2 dual meet record in five seasons.

Kennedy currently resides in Towson, Maryland, with his wife, Helen. They have two daughters, Catherine, a graduate of the University of Mary Washington, and Sarah, a graduate of North Carolina.

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