GoSwim! Interview with Glenn Mills


Athlete Approved had the unique opportunity to interview swim-entrepreneur and GoSwim founder Glenn Mills. This 1980 US Olympian and Congressional Gold Medal Recipient teaches swimming through videos and the you-see-it philosophy. GoSwim is one of a kind and is certified by Athlete Approved. After personally touring the GoSwim headquarters in Manhattan, it was easy for us to see how Glenn’s passion for swimming transfers into his work (even though he does not call it work).

We understand you have made the move away from GoSwim DVDs and towards online videos. You also feature an iPhone App that we love. How important is it for GoSwim to stay current with everything technology has to offer today?


We’re still selling DVDs.  We have customers in markets that aren’t quite up to speed on bandwidth and the capacity to stream videos.  We want to
make sure everyone has the opportunity to access our material so we will continue to sell DVDs, even as we explore new ways to serve our content.  We keep a close watch on new technologies and new servers that could speed up access in regions that have limited bandwidth.

I’m a daily reader of technology information news.  Staying current in the tech sphere is as important to GoSwim as the content itself.  If we create new content but release it in old formats that people no longer watch, what’s the point of creating the content in the first place?  We have to offer the entire package — fresh content delivered in ways that speak to today’s high-tech consumer. 

What are some of GoSwim’s newest innovations to spread swimming knowledge around the world?

We’re very close to rolling out a new feature that gives coaches the ability to share our content with their swimmers before they come to the pool.  It’s a form of pre-teaching, a proven way to maximize the learning process.  GoSwim’s new feature will allow coaches to choose a specific video clip (it could be a turn drill or a clip of Jason Lezak’s catch, for example) and schedule when a link for the video clip will be emailed to their swimmers.  The swimmers SEE technique content prior to practice.  If the swimmers come to practice with a drill, or technique concept, already visualized and understood, the coach can spend pool time fine tuning rather than teaching the basics.  The goal is to maximize water time, and not waste time explaining the basics of the technique during practice.  When swimmers get it, they get it… when they don’t get it, that’s when the coach can step in and help the specific swimmers who are having a harder time.

We’re also working on some exciting new features that will continue to personalize the experience on the site.  We want to make it easy for coaches and swimmers to find the content that means something for them…and create ways for them to get feedback and answers to their technique questions…from some very interesting people.

Technology is constantly evolving.  Is swimming similar?  How much has stroke technique evolved over the last decade?


There’s a series of videos in which I appear as an athlete.  When I watch it, it’s like watching and old Tarzan movie.  Over the past 20-30 years since I’ve been doing this, technique has evolved and training has evolved.  Race specificity is much more important today than it was years ago.  The application of force, and the focus on limiting resistance has also become much more scientific and more important to explain to swimmers at a very young age.  It’s not the hammer any more.  It’s about slicing, finessing, and working with the water as a substance, and an environment that you can harness rather than try to muscle through.  Like everything else in the world, systems and ways to accomplish goals have changed.  If you haven’t progressed with the changes in the sport, you may be working harder than most physically, but if the focus on HOW TO hasn’t shifted, the hard work won’t matter nearly as much as it did years ago.  Hopefully, we’re all smarter through study and understanding.  It’s not to say we didn’t think back then… we just thought differently.

How have you developed such a strong passion for swimming and spreading knowledge of our sport?


 

Like most every other athlete, when I got out of the sport, I wanted to get away from it.  I tried a few other jobs, but was making the transition away from swimming slowly.  I did a few clinics, took a volunteer coaching job for after work, to slowly ween myself off the sport.  As it turned out, working with swimmers, even the inspiration-during-training part, was the most enjoyable part of my day.  While I loved coaching, it turned out I loved teaching even more. 

It takes a while to find what you really love to do, and you have to come to an understanding that when you make a certain decision, you have to follow it, no matter if you feel you’re missing out on another part.  I found that for me to be the best teacher I could be, I couldn’t be coaching full time.  When I started sharing thoughts, and information with others, the work became so overwhelming in it’s demands, I wouldn’t be able to give what the swimmers needed as a coach.  I envy coaches who can look at a group and manage the group.  I’ve found I’m too detail oriented to manage a group, and get drawn to very specific details about someone’s stroke.

Because of that, my coaching now is moving from group to group with my wife, Rachel’s, team at Asphalt Green.  I help a different group each day, working with the other coaches and many different swimmers as a nit picker.  The coaches do a great job managing the group, and I do my best to make the kids nervous that I’m going to call them out on a bad turn, bad finish, or on a countless number of technique fixes that we may have already tried to cover.

How that ties in to GoSwim is that by collecting all these nit-picking items, and sharing them on the web, my focus on the individual may end up reaching more people overall, than if I coached one team.  Again… it’s picking your path, and hoping you make an impact, but it’s more important to pick the path, and try to be the absolute best at it.  If you’re true to that… you’ll be happy.

You have had the opportunity to film many Olympians including Aaron Peirsol, Amanda Beard, Brendan Hansen, Kara Lynn Joyce, and our own Athlete Approved Consultants Matt Patton, Barry Murphy, Bobby Savulich, and Wu Peng. Do you think technique comes naturally to these athletes or do they need to work at it just as hard as everyone else?

Hate to say this… but in all my years in the sport, the athletes, like the ones you’ve named, typically work HARDER on technique than most swimmers.  They are ABSOLUTELY gifted, and possibly that gift got them a bit of a leg-up in the beginning of the sport, which encouraged them to focus even more.  It’s almost like natural talent gets you some momentum during the formative years as an athlete, and those successes that happen naturally give you incentive to learn more, to accelerate that success momentum.  There are many things that make these athletes great, and it’s that built-in desire to be the absolute best they can be… so they focus.

Ask any of them why they do something specific with their stroke, and they’ll tell you why.  These athletes RARELY make it to this level without constant focus on
the form, the technique, the shape they carry through the water.  Then focusing on how they harness the water with their arms and legs.

Simply put, everyone works hard, but it’s your definition of work that separates many athletes.  Too many athletes think “work” is physical.  “Work” at the top level is MUCH more complex than that.  It’s, to borrow the standard catch phrase these days… 24 / 7 / 365, and should never be tossed out as mere “talent.”  That’s a cop-out to those who didn’t work as hard.

Again, not everyone is that talented, and not everyone can be an Olympian or Olympic Champion.  However… EVERYONE has the opportunity to live the EXACT same life for a while.  We all went through age-group, club, and college swimming and, at some point, we all had the same pressures and time demands.  Just because your potential in a 100-yard breast was 1:00, while someone like Brendan goes :51… doesn’t mean you couldn’t live the same way Brendan did through college, and REACH that 1:00 potential.

How have you prevented your career from becoming “work”?


Lame answer, but I enjoy helping people and I want to make a contribution.  I upload drills to YouTube, and with nearly 450 drills on there, every day I see posts that basically call me an idiot.  Typically, those comments have come from some random drill that I’d post for a masters swimmer or learner, and the viewer only cares about the Olympians.  We don’t post technique from sitting at the desk day dreaming.  We create content based on practical application of technique that was used, or played with, while helping someone.  The swimmer could have been a 70-year old with limited mobility or an 8-year old afraid of water.  The technique might have helped them, and made sense for them, but it might not make sense for other swimmers.  You never know what one thing will help that one swimmer out there.  The range of who can be helped is so great.  I see what we do as an incomplete library of content because of all the holes.  I don’t see it as work as much as I see it as our responsibility to fill those holes with content.  I think we’ve got about 30% of the content that I’d ultimately like to see on the site, and that took 10 years.  We’re either going to have to work MUCH faster, or define what we’re doing better.  I know in my head that all we’re doing is uploading swimming video, but to so many people, swimming is important, and can change their lives if they do something well, or better.

It’s NEVER work if your life is a QUEST.

Swimming is such a small world and it quickly became apparent to us that Glenn knows just about everyone in swimming! How have you been able to remain so connected and keep such a great reputation? (Young coaches and athletes should take note!)


Swimming is a very small family, globally.  Everyone will have a reputation one way or another.  I enjoy that family, and always look forward to seeing my friends all over the world.  If I’ve been able to maintain a good reputation over time, it would probably be because people who really know me, know my goal IS to provide something positive to the sport.  Honesty is absolutely paramount in your relationships as well.  In business, good contracts prior to entering in to work arrangements.  If everyone involved in an opportunity knows where they stand, everyone will be happier in the end, and feel less like they’ve been taken advantage of.  That sometimes it the problem with having friends for so long.   When business comes up, you have to be mature enough to understand that a contract doesn’t mean a lack of trust, it means the definition of THAT particular part of your relationship, and everyone has an understanding of what will be expected in the long run. 

Good internal working relationships are also very important, Go Swim would have never survived without Barbara Hummel.  Her vision on those business relationships has been the rock.  If it wasn’t for her, there would be 50 Drills of the Week floating around the Internet, and very few DVDs, or premium vids.  Certainly there would be no subscription site.

Explain to us what it meant to you to attend the Olympic Games for the first time in 2012.

Yeah, pretty wild.  It’s been 32 years since I won Olympic Trials, and I get to go to the Olympics for the first time.  I didn’t even go to Trials this year because Lia Neal had a REAL shot at making the team, and I thought her coach, my wife Rachel, should experience the lows and highs of Trials on her own.  The incredible pressure and incredibly slim hope that there WOULD be a high at the end.  It’s not that I didn’t have faith in the work that Rachel and Lia had done, or in Lia as an athlete.  It’s just that 98% of all the swimmers who go to Trials go home afterward.  It’s a heartbreaking meet for so many (I had one like that in ’84).  When Lia made the team, I was standing in my living room SCREAMING at the TV, so proud.

When Rachel came home, Asphalt Green said they’d be sending her to London, and one of the board members said, we can’t send Rachel without her husband.  Long story short, how in the heck can you turn down a trip to the Olympics.

It was an incredible time, and watching Lia win a medal, and watching Rachel reach the dream of so many coaches, made it so much more about them than me. I was the observer and it was fine.  Only Rachel and my family knew this was my first Olympics until I got back and wrote about it.  I didn’t want to make a big deal about it, but ultimately, my first Olympics came with a ton of gratefulness to Lia, Rachel, and Asphalt Green.

Is it true that your grandmother may have influenced President Carter to boycott the 1980 Olympic Games?

Hilarious question.  So, watching the ’76 Games with my Grandma, I saw David Wilke and John Hencken racing in the 200 breast, and I turned to my Grandma and said, “I’m going to do that someday.”  To which she responded, “You do that, and I’ll buy you a Ferrari.”

Forward 4 years, and Indoor Nationals 3 months before Olympic Trials.  I win my first National Championship, and break David Wilke’s National Meet Record, set at the Indoor Nationals in ’76, same time before the Olympics. 

I tell the story that my Grandmother, seeing this, panicked, got on the phone to the President begging for the boycott because she didn’t have the money for the Ferrari!

The Ferrari promise was absolutely true… the call to the President was absolutely not true.  Just makes for a better story than the way Carter pulled it off.

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