Deryk’s Team Talks

It was sad news to hear the passing of Deryk Snelling. I was one of lucky swimmers who called him ‘Coach’. Deryk had a timelessness about him, so it is sad in an unbelievable sort of way, but an inevitable eventuality, we all sadly reach.

I would like to share some of my experiences with Deryk to maybe give you a flavour of his ability to inspire a team and hopefully share how he is known as a distinguished coach. He was an amazing ringmaster at getting a training group together, then allowing its organic development, continually improving it until it was a powerhouse.

My place on the pecking-order in Calgary was somewhat low on the totem when I arrived in 1983, since some swimmers already had Olympic medals, but I was happy to observe and climb my way up, eventually earning my Olympic ring. It gave me a unique perspective to observe and absorb.

Deryk on the cover of Swim June 1976 after his announcement as Canadian Olympic Swim Team Head Coach

As a wide-eyed teen I had huge respect for Deryk. His track record enticed me to his program. His coaching team in Calgary included Dr Monika Schloder who is a warm generous coach who helped the fledglings adapt to life away from home and also Graham Smith who was a gruff, tobacco chewing, fastback mustang driving cowboy, who seemed like he was in a constant bad mood but strangely caring, in a nickname-for-everyone sort of way.

Some of Deryk’s senior swimmers at the inaugural Western Canada Games spoke to me about what being on their team was like and I was more convinced by swimmers talking to me than coaches. Deryk had a long track record and a team of young and old swimmers who all seemed to gel together. I was looking for a team, not just a coach. Deryk knew how to build a team.

That ‘senior’ status was a respected role within the team dynamic that Deryk encouraged. The team that Deryk developed had a leadership hierarchy within the ranks. He engendered a family of swimmers who worked together, travelled together and who won together.

Go on…name them all.

The ‘Team Talk’ started every season and was the mental glue he poured from day one. His talks were legendary. During the season, from time to time, he’d very often get his swimmers together to have a ‘team meeting’ and boost our morale. In this regard he coached intuitively. Every national finals (and heats) he would lay out the evenings races. We were primed before we even got to the pool.

Deryk lived in Olympic cycles. Saying he ate, slept and breathed Olympism would not be an exaggeration. In his own swimming career he had been denied a spot on the British team, by team selectors, despite owning the British record in 200m breaststroke, so I think this inspired in him to dominate the sport in Canada. The team talks in the lead up to ‘84, ‘88 and ‘92 were pivotal in my career and I’m sure there are swimmers who could attest to this in ‘72, ‘76, ‘80s talks. He made us all want to get on the team and experience representing Canada!

Those talks were highlighted with an audiovisual counterpoint of some herculean Olympic event. It was always a goosebump moment. Deryk had a impressive library and found something to get us thinking.

Training through huge sets after those team talks made it seem possible; we were in it together.

His military background wasn’t lost on me and, for me, wasn’t too far from home. I grew up with an understanding that a job well done was one done thoroughly. Deryk insisted on it too. We were all striving for an Olympic berth (many striving for more than just a spot on the team) and cutting corners was discouraged. He had a way of getting the most out of everyone.

For example, arriving in Calgary , just freshly an 18yr old, I was not yet a convert to early mornings. First year university students generally are not. In Uni residences, I got up for morning training and students were still up from the night’s revelry. Deryk was aware of this and in his typical old-school style, to discourage late arrivals to training, …as I meekly arrived on deck as the warm up finished… (I had no excuse since the residences were literally across the road from the pool), he loudly asked if I was late because I was ‘up all night masterbating’. This caused me a red face and no reply, since I wasn’t sure, and a big laugh from the team. Deryk was like that and I wasn’t late ever again.

Looking back at those years is not bittersweet. I relish those days training with my friends and learning from a master. Winning or not winning, our team-mates were behind us. Deryk created a team spirit that cheered for everyone, not just our superstars. We cheered till the last race was done. We made up cheers constantly and some I still hear on deck today.

Deryk made training a team event and often put more thought into relays than anything else.

He created that sportsmanship and comradeship that was infectious. I will miss him. I will miss his mentoring, his exceptionally sharp eye for talent and for his love of sunny weather. He had a predilection for sunshine and he tanned quickly in team-issue speedos. He was his own man, never happier than on poolside in scorching hot mid-day Hawaiian heat, in Speedos with a stopwatch in hand.

Goodbye Deryk, you were the closest thing to a father I had after my own father. Thank you for everything you did for me and for instilling in me an ability to arrive to morning training on time. ❤️

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What’s in your coaching bag?

We all have our critical items in our coaching bag: a phone, a stopwatch, likely a ledger with your plan, some flip-flops, and then various highlighters, pens and paraphernalia. (And a face mask!) There is one more thing you need at every session.

Before I reveal the last item, follow this hypothetical story;

You have been exceptionally busy in your working day and now you rush to the pool, probably a little late due to slow traffic.

In the back of your mind you have a good idea of the drills you want to do based on your plan but you are considering options as you arrive late.

As you barge past people in the pool entrance, who are slowing your route to poolside to try to ask you an inane question, purposefully ignoring some them, and finally you rummage through your bag looking for your stopwatch and whiteboard markers. You’re still thinking about some things you’d like to get done at this session.

Your start to the training session is by shouting at the stragglers who didn’t get in the water on your first command. Finally everyone is swimming except for the one or two having swim cap or goggle issues.

What did you not bring out to make this training session productive?

You’ve already lost your coaching productivity. You’ve got everything you need but because your sour face, (or more eloquently; your resting bitch face) switched off every child. Your body language and frown says: ‘I’m angry’!

What needs to be in your coaching bag of tricks? A smile. Bring a smile to your sessions.

If you set up a feeling of negativity around you, swimmers won’t like you. They won’t want to impress you to get praise or want to talk to you. Your coaching bag is empty without a smile. If your face and body language says; I’m unapproachable then you will get nothing back.

Success will be achieved more easily with swimmers who love being at the pool because you are fun to be around.

For those with a face-covering a big hurdle to try to overcome is smiling with a face covering. But you can always say things that are positive and saying your are happy to see the team.

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Teen Depression

Teenage suicide is not a topic of my choice but one I now can’t stop thinking of.

A young man I knew decided this world was too… lonely? scary? uncertain? He has left everyone behind now.

His broken-hearted Mum said “Encourage them to talk…” in a hope that other families are not torn like theirs. And I certainly agree. I know there are other interesting young people in our world like him so maybe I can help those families with young swimmers experiencing depression.

Engagement in conversation with teens is a bit tricky at times. My coaching experience leads me to regularly speak to teens. I hope my experience can help someone.

Teens who were, in pre-COVID days, very busy individuals, have a big hole in their lives now. All that energy without a vent can spiral down. COVID has brought us to a very strange crossroads. Teenage life is tough enough but imagine going through this COVID situation as a teen! As adults we have coping mechanisms due to our experiences but we must pause and have some empathy for the teens around us. Adults cope by keeping things going with friends and family. By getting into their hobbies. But teens might not have that.

Anyone can begin to spiral into a dark place if they are left alone with their own thoughts. It is why solitary confinement is so evil. Talking with a friend will be a great joy; we all know it’s great to be around friends.

Engagement is the trick, and it’s tricky. To engage in conversation a question should be asked. For example…How was your day? A rubbish question like that will not engage because it can be answered with one word. ‘good’ or ‘fine’. And it is a stupid generic question with no thought anyways; stupid question…stupid answer.

Engagement in conversation creates a sounding board and is what friends do. Friends are interested in you. COVID has narrowed the number of sounding boards in our lives. Maybe down to none! As parents we must be included as a sounding board for our kids and in particular teens.

To get engagement you should ask a specific meaningful question. (Yes you must think about this question). Then…(the important bit).listen carefully.

Now you have the power in your hands to have a conversation with a teenager! Based on the answer, ask another question to begin a discussion. Just talking is enough. The important thing is to show you care enough to listen.

Teens will need a more intellectual and relevant question from you to be taken seriously. You will have to be able to ask a good question.

In our COVID-world our social space has shrunk. So parents may be one of the very few true interactions experienced every day by teens. Emotionally immature teens might not know how to initiate conversations. They are often too shy or get treated like small children (which they are not).

This young man loved coming to my swim camps in Perthshire. He quickly made friends and often had his lane laughing. He was integral to all of our games-hall games out of the pool, involved in every challenge, but mostly he really loved to swim!

He was always keen to learn and he was a sponge for new ideas to train or race faster. He was easy to coach and happy. If he wasn’t laughing he was smiling.

Anyone can get depressed, watch for warning signs. As parents, in particular Mothers, can tell if there is something amiss but only if we are engaged.

Corey, I was looking forward to seeing you at our next swim camp. You have made me sad and I wish this wasn’t happening too. Goodbye wee man, you are missed by all your friends.

Miss you.
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Why it is right to be wrong

Most people hate being wrong. But being wrong is what we do rather often.

So we block out the memory of what we did incorrectly and only remember the good bits.

However, you’re already good at the good bits.

Think about the possibility that maybe you are not improving at all right now and so possibly you are at an interesting place; the waiting place. Dr Suess’ genius captures it perfectly.


And what are people doing there:


I hope you can read that….if not, the text goes like this:

...for people just waiting

Waiting for a train to go

or a bus to come, or a place to go

or the mail to come, or the rain to go

or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow

or waiting around for a Yes or a No

or waiting for their hair to grow

Everyone is just waiting

Waiting for the fish to bite

or waiting for wind to fly a kite

or waiting around for Friday night

or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake

or a pot to boil, or a Better Break

or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants

or a wig with curls, or Another Chance

Everyone is just waiting

So are you waiting for the future or are you trying to live in the present?

So what is left after we are good at what we are already good at? The things we are missing.

In quarantine there are many things we are probably not good at. Assessing them by keeping track will show you them. Keep a log or diary.

Racing mistakes can be changed but there are other areas to improve . Your body weaknesses can be changed.

You must observe yourself by reflection and try to figure out what you are good at and what you’re not. Address them!

Taking the time to reflect on any race or training session is valuable because it helps to improve faster by fixing errors, but now, in our unique situation, you have an opportunity. So don’t make the same mistakes twice, make a plan based on your reflection, and enjoy the journey.

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Pickle Rick Wins!

The prize is the thing. For young swimmers, for a prize, they will go to the end of the earth.

It is all it is; just a simple tangible award. Almost any prize will do. It can come in almost any shape or size. The exclusivity of the reward gives it it’s worth and the coach can decide that (or the parent). Pickle Rick did fine.

Pickle Rick, if you don’t know, is an animated character in a tv programme. Space travel, time travel, multiple universes. That kind of thing. My teen boys enjoy that show and in one season Pickle Rick keeps showing up in the episodes.

In a gift shop there was a large pillow size Pickle Rick. Of course everyone wanted it so my Wife said whoever wins a gold medal tonight can get a Pickle Rick.

From that moment on it was the chat. ‘I’m getting Pickle Rick…no I am…’ etc. …and how did the night’s races go? From our three boys in finals; two got silver and one gold. We bought him the Pickle Rick.

Another great prize was when my group of swimmers stayed in a university dorm. At many universities there is a large rock in the middle of a communal green space. Uni students paint on it, graffiti it, and sometimes even use it to communicate events; party at Randell Halls flr 4!

For that competition the group was strong and we would have a good three or four swimmers medalling and also relays each day. So each night we went out and anyone who won a medal got to put their name on the rock. It turned out to be one of my best ideas for prize giving motivation ever!

Mr Potato Head was a close second or third place in the good prize category. I would peruse a charity shop (second hand store) and found, in great condition, in-the-box, Mr Potato Head. I gave that to the biggest improvement in a finals for the entire meet. (I did think long and hard about keeping it for my own collectibles). I showed the swim group at our first competition day, pre-finals meeting, and everyone wanted it. How did it go; let’s just say ‘outside smoke’ became a regular occurrence! I even got inspired to draw a pencil drawing later on;

I even stoop to the level of candy. I have a warm up called ‘snakes & ladders’ which is an easy fun warm up. The winner (or winning lane) gets a sweetie (that’s a candy for north american folks). The sweetie prize never fails to get swimmers in early and meaningful prizes rarely fail to improve performance.

I do draw the line at cash for PB’s. I think that cash does work but it takes a bit of the magic away from a prize. Cash is not a prize but rather a payment for a job. But that’s just me.

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