Glenn Mills: Why I love my Endless Pool
Glenn Mills was a competitive swimmer and U.S. Olympic qualifier. He founded the educational website GoSwim.tv. He shared this essay about his home Endless Pool.
For as long as I can remember (and even before that) swimming has been part of my life. My Mom (who at age 70 still has a beautiful swim stroke) took me to my first swim class when I was 9 months old. When I was 5, she let me join the swim team. My two older brothers were already swimmers and there was no way I wasn't going to be a swimmer, too. I wasn't very fast, but I was determined. And I slowly worked my way from country-club meets, to age-group swimming, to high school swimming, to Division I swimming (I became NCAA champion in the 200 breast in 1983), to winning the US Olympic Trials in 1980 (the year Jimmy Carter decided we should boycott the Moscow Olympic Games). So I've experienced almost everything there is to experience in the sport of swimming—from struggle to victory, disappointment to incredible elation, and back again.
When my time as a competitor ended, my love for the sport led me in to coaching, and from there, teaching. For the past five years, I've been a swimming teacher, working with people of all ages and abilities--from absolute beginners, to a current member of the 2003 US World Championship Team. I've taught swimming technique to swimmers and coaches all across the United States and around the world, and loved every minute of it. The only problem was the extensive travel. As the father of 10-year-old twins, I didn't enjoy being on the road, but I loved my job. Thus, the dilemma: How to continue teaching, but stay closer to home.
I'd film them and record their heart rates at a set water speed. We'd then watch their video, make some thoughtful adjustments to their strokes, and put them through the test again. This proved to them that simply by thinking about what they were doing, they could make quick improvements. I knew that a friend of mine—a builder—had just installed an Endless Pool in someone's home. There was no way I could ever afford an indoor pool, but I was so intrigued by the idea of teaching in one, that I asked my friend to arrange a visit for me and my wife, Wendy. It was one of those life-changing experiences.
The little pool was sunken into the floor in a fancy patio. I put on my swimsuit and climbed in. Wendy got the whole thing on videotape, including the HUGE smile on my face every time I came up for air. After only an hour, I was sold. I knew this was the answer to my prayers. The process of planning, purchasing, and installing my Endless Pool had begun.
Swim Practice with an Endless Pool
I won't put you through the entire process, but the end result was a new pool IN my home. I started teaching lessons in the afternoons when I returned from the office. My first students were competitive swimmers.
And from the very first lesson, I realized that the Endless Pool was a coach's and a teacher's dream come true. The environment was comfortable. The water was warm. And I could give IMMEDIATE correction, AT ANY TIME, just by turning off the flow. In a standard pool, I would typically walk next to a swimmer for 25 yards, give him a correction at the wall, and have him swim another lap.
How much progress we made in 30 minutes (the typical time for a private lesson) depended a lot on how fast the swimmer was. I can generally tell whether a swimmer is "getting it" or not in just one stroke cycle. It might take 15 or 20 stroke cycles to complete a lap of the pool. This means a lot of valuable teaching time is lost in a standard pool – and – the swimmer is often practicing incorrectly for an entire lap. Not so with the Endless Pool.
If a student was doing something incorrectly – or if they were doing something right and it was time to move on to the next set of instructions – I simply hit the button, turned off the water flow, reminded or instructed the swimmer, then restarted the water. I could deliver a HUGE amount of instruction in 30 minutes, and as a result, the swimmers made huge advancements. It often got to the point that when I stopped the motor, the swimmer would immediately stand up, smile, and say, "I know, I know…" even before I was able to give them a correction. They were learning how to swim better because there were so few distractions. This was RAW swimming – just them and the flow of water. Their parents, sitting in the room and watching the progress, would smile, too.
Then they started to tell their friends. It wasn't long before my after-work teaching schedule was full. I was smiling because the pool was starting to pay for itself.
Another great thing about the Endless Pool for teaching is that it allows you to track progress. With each competitive student, we kept track of water speed, stroke rate, and heart rate. With each lesson they learned to swim faster, with less effort. These are things that CAN NOT be measured easily in a regular pool, because there are so many factors involved – factors as simple as 'Did I get a better push-off on this lap or the last lap?' Push-offs are important, of course, but my point is that the Endless Pool lets you focus JUST on your swimming.
My first students were competitive swimmers, but my lesson book soon filled up with non-swimmers of all ages. Some had a tremendous fear of the water. Others were too intimidated to take regular lessons because the pools were cold, the classes were too large, or because they had a physical or learning disability. There was something about a 3-foot pool in a small room, with warm, relaxing water that allowed non-swimmers to be comfortable enough to learn to interact with the water. For them, the Endless Pool was a big warm tub, with places to sit and to hang on. A place where the teacher was always right there to hold them up and make sure they were doing things the right way.
Everything about the Endless Pool was inviting to them. Their "graduation" was for me to turn on the motor, and to let them experience what it's like to move in the water. These non-swimmers (now swimmers) were my greatest victory, and they've provided some of the most rewarding teaching experiences I've ever had. The Endless Pool provided a fantastic opportunity to open up an entire world of water to people who never thought they would enjoy it.
The Endless Pool provides something for every level of swimmer (and non-swimmer). It also provides an outstanding environment for teaching and coaching. I've had students in my pool who were once afraid to put their face in the water. I've had three former World Record Holders in my pool, and they've all completely enjoyed the experience. One of them became so engrossed that he stayed in the pool for hours at a time, fine tuning his technique. It was simply a pleasure to watch.
I've had so many people in my Endless Pool that I've lost count. And they all leave feeling good about themselves and their swimming. Everyone leaves with a single thought – the same one I had after my first swim in an Endless Pool: I have to get one of these.