Padecky: For Dan Greaves, proof is in the pool

BOB PADECKY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

PETALUMA
The answer appeared obvious to the question asked of Amanda Sims.

“What are your expectations going into the Olympic Trials?”
Sims is the former Montgomery star who is a nine-time NCAA All-American swimmer for Cal, winner of two NCAA titles in the 100 butterfly, represented the U.S. at the World University Games in 2009 and is headed to her third Olympic Trials. In other words, Amanda is no floating buoy.

So when it came to expectations, the answer was assumed: Make the U.S. Olympic Team. Instead, this is what Sims said.

“I’m really looking forward to enjoying myself and my teammates, to say hello to Dan, to really enjoy people.”

Where is the obsession in that statement, the steely-eyed will that we have come to expect from elite athletes, that all-encompassing tunnel-view that discards everything else along the way?

Amanda Sims is a Dan Greaves-swimmer, one of seven Greaves swimmers headed to the 2012 Trials. All seven have been trained or are being trained by Greaves. A Dan Greaves swimmer is not a fun-killing robot, with no personality, no voice and no free will. A Dan Greaves swimmer finds a life that extends beyond the water, a voice that is heard and a way to practice that doesn’t wear out motivation.

“It is not my job to impose my will on a swimmer,” said Greaves, head coach and president of the Santa Rosa Neptunes.
“If a swimmer comes up to me and says he doesn’t need my help, that he’s got it all figured out, I tell him fine, go ahead and swim. I’m patient enough to wait until they fail. Look, kids have people telling them what to do all the time. I understand that. I was a kid once, too.”

Loosen the leash that can so often be tempting to tighten in youth sports. Swimming, especially swimming, has to be conducted in a free-exchange environment. Bob Knight, one of the best basketball coaches in history, wouldn’t make a good swimming coach. A good swim coach has to keep his ego locked up.

“If a kid is swimming for me,” said Greaves, 35, “that’s not sustainable. If he is swimming for his parents, that’s definitely not sustainable. If he’s swimming for a PR (personal record), he’s swimming for the wrong reason.”

He or she has to be swimming because it’s fun, and that seems like an oxymoron considering swimming for many people is thought of more as survival than a sport.

“Dan is really fun to be around,” said Sims, 23, who will compete in the 100 butterfly in Omaha. “He just attracts people to him. People want to be around him. He genuinely cares about people.”

The other day, a Neptune swimmer certainly wasn’t having fun. Greaves told the swimmer to take the day off.

If the brain isn’t there, the body won’t be. The swimmer had missed breakfast. Here, Greaves said, here’s my car keys and my wallet. Go buy yourself some breakfast and then go home. The swimmer, old enough to drive by the way, returned, full of food and ready to go back to practice.

“You’re missing the point if you’re out there to try to shave two-hundredths of a second off your PR,” said Greaves, who went to Santa Rosa High, SRJC and the University of Washington.
“Amanda went three years without improving her time in the fly. So when kids say they have plateaued, they know nothing about plateauing.”

Sims kept at it for the same reason the 270 Neptunes kids keep at it.
Swimming is healthy, lasts a lifetime, forms relationships (two of Greaves’ five groomsmen at his wedding were swimmers) and appeals to the independent soul.

For example, a pitcher can lose a baseball game if his shortstop drops a pop-up. No such finger-pointing exists in swimming.
“You don’t swim against competition,” Greaves said. “You swim against yourself. That appeals to kids who understand all they can control is themselves.
“They think while they are swimming, on whatever they need to work on. They could swim the fastest they ever have but still lose, and that’s OK, because they realize they just got better.”

It helps that Greaves has spent countless hours at national meets, sitting just off the shoulder of successful coaches, like Cal’s Teri McKeever, listening for better ways to communicate, apply a technique or simply learn more efficient ways to understand the complex nature of human personality. Greaves has been listening for 15 years and has found that trust is the first building block between coach and kid.

“If they don’t want to listen,” Greaves said, “I wait until the next meet. If they do poorly, I’ll ask, ‘Are you going to be satisfied with those results?’”

And if they said yes, what does Greaves do?
“I’ll say that’s fine,” said the Healdsburg resident. “In the summer, we swim 20.5 hours a week.
“You can’t swim that much unless you are having fun, unless you feel you are being listened to.”

For a small club like the Neptunes to have seven current or former swimmers at the Olympic Trials is a significant achievement. The Neptunes have swimmers from 10 Empire high schools. The word has gotten out, in his eighth year Greaves has developed a reputation of coaching with a firm but still compassionate hand, extending through his chief assistant Tony Scott, all the way down to Hannah DeRousseau, a retired middle school teacher who instructs kids as young as 3 years old.

“After my first national meet when I was 13,” Sims said, “we didn’t talk about swimming on our way home from Minnesota. We talked about everything else.”

Why would he do that? Especially after a national meet?
Why not, Dan Greaves would say.
Swimmers are human beings. If you treat them like chess pieces to be used …

“Eventually they’ll tune you out,” said Greaves, choking out that sentence, like there was a sand spur in his throat.

For more North Bay sports go to Bob Padecky’s blog at padecky.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@
pressdemocrat.com.