Coach Charlie's Story

Coach Charlie's Story

To all current and prospective CEA athletes and parents,
Because it is so difficult to get everyone together to discuss team goals and aspirations, I am writing down all of the information you will need to know. First of all, CEA is a competitive swim team. Our stated mission is to teach a love of swimming and the self-discipline and hard work that comes with it. Ultimately, we want to teach athletes to use their talents to the very best of their ability.
My personal experience was one of growing up and swimming in the age of massive distance! Throughout my third year of high school, I swam between 14,000 and 20,000 yards/day. When my shoulder finally gave out, I was devastated but I continued to swim through the pain… after my second operation I was told that I could not swim any longer. This was just two weeks before I left for college. I swam anyway, but could not swim any more than 500 yards/day. My season was the worst ever! I was a disappointment to my coaches and my team but not to myself.  I had a plan. I could no longer just bludgeon my way through a season. I had to pick my battles because every battle was possibly my last.
I went to my conference meet seeded last in every event. I won, set school records, and qualified for Nationals in every event that year. That was when I realized the secret to success, which we have all been told but few understand, is that swimming is 90% mental and 10% conditioning. The secret is that the 90% is derived from the 10%. It is easier to keep track of how many miles you have swum and take your confidence (or 90%) from the AMOUNT of work you have done. I could no longer do that so I had to find my confidence elsewhere. I did extensive dry land (jumped rope, thousands of sit-ups, etc.) with the same (or more) intensity that I used to attack my yardage.
After Nationals that year, I had my 3rd operation on my right shoulder and they put it back together but told me that I could no longer swim… But I knew the secret now… I swam for the next three years and improved every year and ended my career with 16 NCAA All Americas. I averaged 1,000 yards/day. My confidence came from knowing that while everyone else swam far more than I did, I swam far better. Every detail matters: every start, turn, stroke, finish… swimming more is NOT swimming better. Aerobic capacity is relatively easy to improve and is not the main factor in progressing. I knew back then that I was going to be a coach and my philosophy was formed by these experiences.
As a coach, I want to take healthy athletes and teach them how to find their 90% in a more efficient and sustainable way. There is a limit to how many yards an athlete can swim either by time constraints or physical ones. There is NO limit to how much you can improve… The distance model is still the prevalent one and it is a tried and true one. I believe that the USC method is better and more sustainable and every athlete can benefit, not just the athletes who can handle it. The hard part is finding the 90%. If an athlete or a parent believes that more is better and that what we do is “less than” what others do then this program will not help that athlete. In high school and before, I had supreme confidence that I could beat anyone because I knew that I worked much harder than everyone else. I had some but limited success. In college I had absolute confidence that I could beat anyone in the country because I worked better and smarter than everyone else.
The bottom line is that a team is only as great as the team members believe they are. I believe that USC has the formula for success; the formula to swim faster and longer.  However, it requires an effort by everyone, athletes, coaches, and parents, beyond the physical commitment. Those who are willing to make that commitment can find greatness here!
Charlie Lownes
Cleveland Elite Aquatics
Passion, Dedication, Motivation