76-year-old Eddie Reese stands amongst a jubilant group of young men creating the ‘hook ‘em horns’ hand gesture while embracing the NCAA
Division One Championship trophy.
The photo from this year’s competition in Minneapolis is unique, but Reese has been part of a similar one 13 times before.
In March he capped off his 40th season at the helm of the University of Texas men’s program by winning the NCAA Division One title for the 14th time.
On top of that accomplishment he has been the United States Men’s Olympic Team Head Coach three times (1992, 2004 and 2008) and coached 29 Olympians who have earned 39 gold, 16 silver and eight bronze.
The accolades are not something that he has looked for. For him it has always been about one thing – fast swimming, “It was never about me,” says Reese. “I didn’t ever want anything out of this. I never talked about winning the NCAAs, I never wanted to be an Olympic team coach. I just had a passion for finding a way to get people to go faster.”
Many feel that a good coach must be a master of motivation, a thought that Reese does not agree with, “Everyone wants me to talk about motivation. I don’t know anything about it. Nobody can be motivated to work hard everyday. You cannot be motivated everyday to do that. You have to raise your level of living, your average, your work level.”
“You raise it and you have to live there.”
Reese believes that takes a lot of hard work to achieve, which is one reason he ensures fun is part of the process, “On deck I am a three letter word wizard,” explains Reese. “Fun is my favourite word. It is a boring sport. You dive into lane six and two hours later you get out at the same place you dove in and you are a lot more tired.”
“There has got to be laughter along the way. Before practice, after, in between repeats that kind of stuff. I am good at that.”
He accomplishes this in many simple ways with one of his favourites being a children’s game the team has adopted as their own, “My guys get to the pool 40 minutes early to play six square, which is a modified four square elementary school game. We have our own rules and there will be 20 guys playing before practice starts.”
“It is about whatever fun you can have.”
It Happens Everyday
Australian sports psychologist Wayne Goldsmith has captured Reese’s attention and is one of the people he listens to most. On a visit to UT Goldsmith spent twenty minutes on deck and was stunned by what he saw, “He told me, ‘I have 10 things to talk to your team about.’ I said we are doing fast stuff long course with a lot of rest. Walk around, introduce yourself and talk to them.”
“Twenty minutes later he says, ‘Do you hear what is happening in here?’ I said it happens all the time so it is no big deal to me. Tell me what it is.”
“He said, ‘They are helping each other with strokes, with strategy and they are encouraging each other. I have been on the deck of 500 pools and have never seen that.”
This is not an accident. It is something Reese works at consistently teaching the athletes to care about one and other as much as he does.
“Every two weeks I talk to them about being positive and encouraging each other,” explains Reese. “On Fridays they come straight into the locker room sit down and each person talks about the good things they have done in school and the good things they have done in the water. And everybody does one clap for that.”
It is All About Engagement
Athletes want to know their coach cares about them and their pursuits. Reese does not hide his devotion to their goals, “I am going to care more about their swimming than they do. No matter who they are.”
Professing how much you care and showing it are two different things. When a coach is passionate and fully engaged they walk the talk. This is something that Goldsmith stressed to Reese who takes his words seriously, “He said to stay engaged,” says Reese “I felt I was the best at it, but I got better.”
“I try to make it a point to talk to them in practice. When I was at Auburn and had 22 guys I would say something to everybody at practice three to five times.”
His moment-to-moment focus on the pool is evident to anyone watching him walk the deck. Recently a visiting Japanese coach made an observation, which he took as an enormous compliment, “He said, ‘You are looking at the pool all the time. You don’t ever turn your back on it. Even when you are doing pushups or squats or old man dips, you are always watching the pool.’’”
“I took that as one of my highest compliments.”
“I want to see everything that is happening. I am a perfectionist that has learned to dial that back, because I know how long it took me to become perfect.”
(When he finished the sentence above you could almost see the wink on his face through his words and he received the laugh from the interviewer he was looking for.)
In the process of teaching athletes to move through the water at a quicker pace Eddie Reese has built a culture that is second to none. The goal is fast swimming, but the result is developing a group of young men who work together as a team to lift their level of performance in all facets of their lives.