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Swim team finding motivation in a simple board

Chase McFadden

Chase McFadden

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Hard hats are replaced with swim caps, but make no mistake: when the Sheridan (Wyo.) Lady Broncs set up shop, prepare to enter a construction zone. They travel with hammer, nails and a single stick of lumber, and when the starter’s signal sounds, they go to work.

What they’re building is a tradition of solidarity, sacrifice and relentless effort, one nail at a time…

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Any swimmer knows the grind of the season can become monotonous: lengths are followed by more lengths which are then — wait for it — followed by more lengths. Divers toe the end of the board again and again. Goals and purpose can begin to waver as hours, days and weeks of training blur together.
Lady Broncs head coach Brent Moore, however, envisioned a motivational tool that would break the monotony and drive his athletes — literally and figuratively — to push through.
A 4-foot by 1-foot pine plank accompanies the team to each meet. When an athlete swims or scores a PR, she pounds a brass nail somewhere on the outer edges of the board and initials it. A state qualifier? Those nails are hammered in the middle around a Bronc decal, visually reminding the athletes that both personal bests and qualifying times and scores ultimately contribute to one overarching goal: team success.
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It all started with a simple mantra.
“After listening to Coach Sam Freas at a clinic and his theory of ‘hammer down,’ I realized the things we can do with that theme are endless,” explained Moore. “It reinforces us asking them for a best effort every practice.”
Swimmer Molly Green said those two words have established a mindset for the team. “When we are told to “hammer down,” we know what’s coming,” the Lady Bronc junior said. “There is a special song that gets played over the speakers at practice, and when we hear it, we know it’s time to go fast and swim hard until you finish. Just like when you swing the hammer: you swing it hard until you’ve driven the nail in.”
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The board is the literal manifestation of the team’s philosophy. Moore believes the physical act of hammer striking nail is both an individual reward and a team unifier.
“We tell them to hammer down all the time, so it’s fulfilling for them to actually get to do it at a meet,” explained Moore. “Every time I hear the thwack of that hammer, I know we’re doing good things. So does our entire team, even if they didn’t see the swim itself.”
Green agreed. “The board is a really good incentive. Every race that you finish you look at the time and hope you get to ‘hammer down.’”
“As usual, when we first talked about the board none of the girls said much,” explained assistant coach Jory Turk of the team’s initial reaction to the idea, “but I have a feeling they were thinking, ‘We are going to carry a board and hammer to a swim meet?’ Until the first hammer went down, and then the next. Heads were turning and people were talking.”
Turk said the team quickly embraced “hammering down” after their initial reluctance. “The girls pack it to every meet, and it has become a code of honor who carries the board and hammer in,” he said.
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So this board sounds good (pun intended), but is it actually affecting performance and team morale? Absolutely.
“I know this sounds weird, but now we each have a goal on the same level,” Greene said of the team’s connection to the motivational tool. “For some it might be a new personal best or state qualifying time, but either way, we all want to drive a nail into that board.”
Moore agreed. “Regardless of skill level, every girl on our team has nails in the board,” he said. “And it really helps to celebrate and cheer for our team victories and not cheer against our opponents.”
“I have felt it has brought these girls into an even tighter group,” Turk said. “This group of girls works extremely hard in and out of the pool; everything they do is ‘hammer down.’”
The gutsiness of the girls’ swims has led to a total number of brass tacks that has pleasantly surprised the coaches, particularly with the mid-season training load being placed on the team.
“I thought after our first couple meets we may not hear it as much, especially when we’re training hard and not really expecting PR performances,” Moore said of the consistent pounding taking place at meets, “but we’re getting quality swims even when we’re fatigued.”
The board currently has 91 total nails, consisting of 42 qualifying times and 49 personal bests. Ten of 16 swimmers and divers on the team have Q times, which has the Lady Broncs slugging it out with teams that suit up three or four times more athletes. What the team lacks in quantity, it more than makes up for with quality.
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Sheridan, Wyoming, Lady Broncos. (Large, free crop)
   “It’s fun to watch other swimmers and coaches flinch at the sound of a nail being driven while we just sit there with a big grin,” Moore said of the Lady Broncs’ traveling construction carnival. “Lots of coaches have asked about the board and been really positive about it.
“We’ve gotten to where we search out the acoustic qualities of the most unstable set of metal bleachers,” Moore laughs. “The only thing we have to be more careful about is not pounding nails after the call for quiet at the start of races or during diving, which is a great problem to have.”
“There have definitely been some funny looks and a lot of chatter,” Green said of competitors’ reactions to the hammer and the board. “Before anyone knew what we were doing, they all thought someone hit the diving board or someone fell on the bleachers. But when they asked, and we told them, they thought it was a really cool idea.”
According to Green, the resounding echo of a pounded nail lets the other swimmers know that she and her teammates have come to work.
“Whenever they hear that thud, they know a Sheridan swimmer just had a great race.”
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Swim team finding motivation in a simple board