By Bob Schaller//Correspondent
Todd Schmitz had a more unique journey than many did to the elite coaching ranks. He is the coach of phenom Missy Franklin and has taken over coaching his good friend Jack Bauerle's former Georgia star, Kara Lynn Joyce. But he's got a lot more in his talented Colorado Stars team on the way, and he explains what makes him tick, and just how excited good stopwatch times can get him during a meet, in this week's 20 Question Tuesday.
1. How’d you become a swim coach?
Todd: Well, here’s the crazy thing. My first love was baseball. So when I was 16, I was playing American Legion baseball, and I started coaching little kids. I coached baseball and softball when I was 16, 17 and 18 before I went to college.
2. It just progressed from that point?
Todd: I figured out this was something I could do and enjoy doing, from just coaching mornings in the summer. When I went into school (college in 1997), finance was the No. 1 profession, especially personal financial planning, which is what I went into. I graduated in December of 2001 from Metro State in Denver – 9-11 happened my final semester. The finance industry was among those that changed.
3. So what did you do for work?
Todd: I waited tables and bartended. One of my buddies got me a job coaching a summer club. In the Fall of 2002, Stars called me up and I remember Nick, the head coach at the time, said, “Well, how do you feel about coaching 8 and unders?” I said, “I love them, but I don’t know if I can coach only that group the rest of my life.” Nick said, “Let’s do that and see how it goes.”
4. So Stars is where you headed?
Todd: Actually, I did have another offer at the time, but I would not have had my own group. Nick offered my own group, and that was the difference.
5. It’s gone well at Stars, hasn’t it?
Todd: My first year we won the 14-and-under championships and we’ve been winning since. I had my “regular” job (outside of Golden, Colorado) in the mountains, sitting at my desk, and I was thinking about life, and being happy. I was out of town, and when I met people and they asked what I did, I hated talking about my “real” job. I ended up flying back to Colorado, put in my two weeks, and decided I wanted to coach full-time. I figured worst-case scenario, I would have to bartend and wait tables to make ends meet. I just wanted to be happy and enjoy getting up each morning, and going to bed each night.
6. That was a brave step wasn’t it?
Todd: You know, I had my degree in finance, I was making more than $40,000 a year, and I was sitting behind a desk. I would have gotten a raise each year. But if you wake up and are miserable every morning, why do it?
7. Coaching isn’t that way for you, is it?
Todd: I love this life. Every day. You know, I was riding in a cab with Jack Bauerle in Shanghai, going to, of all things, a mall there. I kept thinking, “Who gets to do this? This is amazing to be right here, right now.” I’m sitting in a cab with one of the best swim coaches in the world and going to a mall (laughs) in Shanghai with him! Hey, that finance job wasn’t bad. But it wasn’t me. I was the community relations person, which basically meant I was second in charge, so if someone wanted to yell at somebody, they got to yell at me. They all let me know that they were vice president of such and such a company, and that I wasn’t. I knew I wanted to do something else, and I knew that was coaching.
8. How much did your previous jobs help you with coaching?
Todd: I look back at waiting tables, and I was a corporate trainer for California Pizza Kitchen, and that helped me develop one of my greatest strengths, managing people, relationships and crises. I knew getting into coaching, that if it didn’t work out, I could get another job.
9. How did you end up head coach the, after you quit your job?
Todd: In the fall of 2008, it was five days until the Stars were going to start, and I had a meeting with the head coach at the time. He said, “I’m going to drop a bombshell on you, I am done coaching.” So, literally with five days until the season started, I was told I was taking over. I remember being in shock. We had a coaching meeting in two hours, so I said, “Well, I’m going to head to Starbucks to think about things.”
10. Ah, a Coach Todd Starbucks story!
Todd: I read what Missy said in your story – that’s true, I need my coffee! I couldn’t get it in Shanghai; the line (laughs) was too long. I came back and Missy said, “Oh no, you’ll be grumpy today.”
11. You have to manage Missy’s time around all this hoopla, don’t you? – I remember a swim news website hyping a young female swimmer or two possibly turning pro a couple of years ago – you have to keep those distractions at arm’s length sometimes, don’t you?
Todd: I tell Missy all the time, “I’ll be the bad guy.” She gets inundated for autographs, to the point where she could stand and sign for three hours and not be done. I know for her and the other kids, and even those seeking autographs, we just can’t stay that long. So I will say, “Come on Missy, last one.” Being around Bob (Bowman) and Michael (Phelps) the last years, especially during a World Cup trip in 2009, really helped me learn how to handle it, and I was able to talk to Bob quite a bit.
12. Do people laugh when you tell them one of the best possible things that happened to your coaching career was waiting tables?
Todd: Yes! Here’s the crazy thing, and I said this at the National Team Coaching Seminar: “I’m not kidding you, bartending, waiting tables and managing a restaurant are some of the best training grounds for coaches.” You have to read people within a minute. I had to figure out, “What kind of mood is this table in” when I was a waiter. At the bar, I had to think, “How much does this person want to talk, and should I talk or just listen? What subjects should I avoid?” I got to where I could read body language so well that I would get a read on them before they said a word.
13. You bring that to swimming, too, don’t you?
Todd: Exactly. I have to know if they are happy with their swim before they say a word, just from watching them walk out of the water and gauge their demeanor. At Junior Nationals, we were scraping to get top 30s, and I had to tell our kids, “This year is the deepest Junior Nationals and Nationals ever.” That’s a good thing because it’s the reality of where swimming has moved as a sport. So what we had to do is not think, “Am I in the bad pool, or the good pool?” or about how everything else was going. We had to learn to swim a lifetime best in the morning in some cases. We had to make it the best experience we could and learn from it, whether that swimmer wanted to qualify for NCAAs, the Olympics, or make a small college team. You take that experience for what it is, and use it to make yourself better and to propel you closer to your goals. Those things that seem like steps backward actually throw you forward several steps if you glean what you can from it and use it to your advantage, rather than to justify slowing you down.
14. On a different note, how much have you enjoyed having Olympian and University of Georgia product Kara Lynn Joyce join Stars?
Todd: I tell you what, she honestly brings so much to the table. She is so nice to the whole team. She coaches 10-and-under for us one day per week. She is nice to everybody, it doesn’t matter what level they are at. She’s a great training partner for Missy. When she was thinking about moving here and I talked to Jon Urbanchek and Jack (Bauerle), they both said, “She will throw down, she is a workhorse.” That’s what I wanted. I told her when she came here, “You have to buy in, and it has to be 100 percent.” She said, “Well, of course, that’s what I’m here for.”
15. Changing up the workout and having nothing really set in stone, why does that work so well for your club?
Todd: In a season, we may do the same workout twice, at most. I know a lot of teams say Tuesday is distance day, or maybe Wednesday. The only thing we have set is that if we are not at a weekend meet, we will have a lactate day on Saturday, and the kids know coming in to expect an all out sprint set.
16. Does it make it challenging, to not write it out in advance?
Todd: I do write workouts ahead of time if I am traveling or out of town, but that’s really the only time I’ll write more than one or two workouts. I want to think about tomorrow’s workout after tonight in terms of, “What did we get done today? What have we gotten done the last week to 10 days? What are we not hitting now?” So I try to integrate that into the morning workout.
17. How important is it for the swimmers to have fun?
Todd: You know, Kara Lynn Joyce and Missy Franklin have earned a lot of attention, but we also have a lot of swimmers who are reaching their potential and beyond. I have a swimmer, John Mattern, who got his first sectional cuts in the last two months. So it is awesome to see Missy succeed, but even Missy will tell you she’s as happy for her teammates who are doing incredible things. They are all having a lot of fun, and I include Kara Lynn, Missy and John when I say that. Remember, it has got to be fun. We want to have a good atmosphere. We want each person to leave with a smile on their face. Maybe that’s from having a get-out swim, or maybe it’s from them doing an amazing set and hitting goals. That gives them a smile, too. People think it’s funny how I get all crazy jumping and cheering on my swimmers, but the thing is, I can’t help but be that proud and excited as I am when I see them do something I envisioned or they set as a goal and blew it away! That’s what this is all about. If you can’t get excited at a swim meet, you probably aren’t a very excitable (laughs) person.
18. London 2012 is coming up, and about the time of the last Olympics you were working a couple of jobs to make ends meet so you could support your “coaching habit” until you could land a full-time coaching gig – lots of things have changed?
Todd: The life lessons – and this is what I love about being almost 33, is that you think about things more – and they are just so meaningful. I just came back from my Dad’s cabin. I had the Jet Ski on the lake, and I saw this incredible sunset, so I killed the engine; I couldn’t help but think about how awesome my opportunity is to teach life lessons through swimming. I see these kids at a meet get overwhelmed, and we have to help them reach deep inside themselves and find something extra, maybe something they did not even know was there. They can’t withdraw if they have an upset stomach from nerves or are feeling a little tired, because you can’t withdraw in life. I talk a lot about making deposits into a mental toughness bank. You make those deposits every day. You have to build that up because at the big meet, you’re going to need to take something from that and use it to do something special. You see the kids who do well at the good meets – those are the ones who have made the most deposits.
19. How has Kara Lynn Joyce been as a teammate to Missy Franklin and the others, and as a person?
Todd: Kara Lynn is an awesome person. I tell a lot of people right now, the train is going by so I am going to jump on and enjoy the ride, and use it as an opportunity to make my team, my coaches, our club and myself better. Missy has just made us all better, and so has Kara Lynn.
20. You went to the Division II NCAA Swimming Championship in 1999 when you were at Metro State, qualifying in both backstrokes and the relays – can you believe you are at this place in time, at this moment?
Todd: I roomed with Dave Durden in Australia and at Worlds, and he is two years younger than me. We were by far the youngest guys on the staff with such legends as Eddie Reese, Jon Urbanchek and Jack Bauerle, though Jack’s still young and not even 60 yet. Everybody, to be sure, has their own path. But I was thinking when Russell Mark from USA Swimming (biomechanics coordinator) told me that Eddie had just turned 70, if I could see myself on deck in four more decades. I realize everyone has their own path in life. But if I’m as excited as I am now, and as those amazing legends are to this day when they walk out on the pool deck, then count me in – look at what this sport does for people, and look at the sport itself. It’s about getting all you can out of yourself, staying healthy, eating smart, having fun, meeting new people and going new places, being a good teammate, taking constructive criticism, developing and being better on a daily basis. And when you think about it, that’s what we should be striving for every single day in life.