Coaches Corner: Q&A with Mark Bernett
with Mark Bernett, Bend Swim Club Head Coach
Six time winner of Oregon Swimming Inc. Coach of the Year
Each month, we're highlighting a new coach, someone who is innovative and noteworthy in the swimming world. To kick things off in our new Coaches Corner series, we're featuring Mark Bernett, a veteran head coach at the Bend Swim Club in Bend, Oregon.
For the past 32 years, Mark has brought this USA Swimming Rated Bronze Medal Team to the forefront of Oregon Swimming. A lifelong Oregonian, Mark grew up swimming in Portland and later swam for The University of Oregon.
Q: What do you think sets Bend Swim Club apart from other programs?
Mark Bernett: The staff has been together for 10 plus years from our novice group, up. With the longevity in our staff, parents know what to expect from group to group and that’s important. Teams that have a high turnover kind of struggle maintaining continuity. As a staff, you must agree on the core objectives and teach kids good strokes at an early age, not throw the kitchen sink at them when they’re 10 and under. We believe in adding a little more with each group. Our groups are designed to add a little more yardage per group, not training time, just a slight uptick in the distance. It keeps it fresh for our kids. The biggest part of our program is there is no empty yardage.
Q: How do you incorporate swimming into a community like Bend?
Mark Bernett: We use the local media from time to time. I try and pick some results to send to them and they did announce when we reached Bronze Medal Status again. We are also working on becoming more involved with assistance programs. For example, over the winter the kids went out and shoveled snow at the Senior Centers.
Q: How do you stay innovative in your coaching?
Mark Bernett: We have to keep it entertaining. With cell phones, computers and IPads, kids today need constant stimulation. I think the days of doing 10x400 are kind of over. We do it from time to time, but you can’t build a program on that. You must constantly keep their minds activated and keep the swimmers’ attention. I think as coaches, this is our biggest challenge. You’re giving me a black line at the bottom of the pool to work with, and I have to keep the swimmers engaged. I always ask coaches at meets “give me the best endurance set you’ve done or the best sprint set you’ve done recently”. I’m trying to pick other coaches brains and incorporate some of that into our training. I do the same thing with swimmers that come back from college in the summer. The other thing is the kids love when the TV and Video Equipment is on deck. They can get instant feedback on their strokes.
Q: What is the biggest change you’ve seen in athletes?
Mark Bernett: They are a generation of athletes that needs to be entertained. They need their minds constantly working. I do think more athletes are short term driven. 30 years ago, people would train September to March and maybe you would see some racing suits in December and in March. Now you see racing suits at every meet. I think there are a lot of kids that are uncomfortable swimming tired. They want to be on their game every meet. We focus on what is going to be your “it” that you’re going to work on this year. Even the best guys out there, Ledecky, Phelps, they all have stuff they work on getting better at.
Q: What is the biggest value do you see in adding the video technology?
Mark Bernett: I would say the underwater filming has the biggest benefit. We have a GoPro that we can use. The swimmers can see their under waters and the propulsion. Most of the kids see issues before we do and they can make that correction immediately.
Q: How are you incorporating the video coaching into your program?
Mark Bernett: We have it out 2-3 times per week. We have an ipad that we put on a 10 second delay and a big screen TV at the end of the lane. As the kids come into the wall, they can look up at the screen and work on the corrections that we point out. It’s really engaging and the swimmers love it. We use it with kids 11 and up. We also use it for starts, turns and we have an ipad that is running continuously so they can always see and get instant feedback. Seeing is believing. I think most people are visual learners. You can tell me to correct something, but if I see it, I’ll learn better from that.
Q: After 32 years, what do you feel is your greatest accomplishment as a coach?
Mark Bernett: Well, we’ve had someone at Olympic Trials every year since 1992. We’ve also had someone qualify for Nationals in every stroke and distance. We take a lot of pride in that.
In addition, Coach Mark also commented on Cassandra Shaffer, a 2015 US-Paralympic Team Member. We really feel she has a shot to make a run at Tokyo. When she returned from her last travel meet, she and Coach Shane saw that she needed to swim more and add more dryland. She now comes in and trains on her own, she’s very dedicated and focused on making it to Tokyo.
Q: Lastly, what is your favorite set right now?
Mark Bernett: I like the one we did the other day, Beat Your Split. 1x800, 2x600, 3x400, 4x200, 5x100. For each swim, you have to beat your split from the previous longer swim. It really teaches kids about pacing and how to build into a set. Ultimately, you are trying to teach kids to finish better than they started. It helps kids to know their best times in practice, to keep track of their markers and it builds confidence.
Interview by Team Division Sales Rep Amy Johnson. Amy is a former Kansas University swimmer and coach, and continues her passion for swimming as a member of Central Oregon Masters Team!
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