Indiana University swimmers are sleek, high-spirited and passionate about swimming to the point of exhaustion. Next week, if they win the NCAA championships at Yale, as they probably will, the Indiana swimmers will raise up their coach—a bland, balding, sleepy-eyed, slightly paunchy man named Dr. James Counsilman—and chuck him in the pool. It is a wetting that Dr. Counsilman has long been waiting for. Although his team has dominated American swimming for the past several years, it has not been allowed to compete in the NCAA meet since 1960 because of sins committed by the school in football recruiting. Winning the NCAA title would be topping for Dr. Counsilman's cake: he has been selected to coach the 1964 U.S. Olympic swimming team, and for nearly a decade he has enjoyed a reputation as a physiologist, a swimming technician and a sly fellow who bamboozles swimmers into thinking that two or three workouts a day are fun.
For much of his bamboozling, Dr. Counsilman uses a very simple formula: he dilutes the toughest doses of work with a good bit of foolishness. At a typical workout a few weeks ago at Indiana's lush, lovingly planned half-million-dollar pool, the tough, lung-searing sprints through the water were well mixed with shenanigans. In the middle of the workout Dr. Counsilman, dressed in what he calls his Bozo suit—Indiana-red bell-bottom pants and shirt to match, red shoes, red socks—summoned all except one of his swimmers out of the water. For sly psychological reasons, he had breaststroker Pete Anderson continue plowing through the ripples, frog-kicking his kickboard. This was an important, high-pressure workout, and Dr. Counsilman wanted Anderson to set a new 440-yard frog-kick record. It would be a breakthrough, he felt, that would fire up all his swimmers to work harder and go faster. While breaststroker Anderson frog-kicked his way to glory, one swimmer seized a microphone and began imitating airplane noises over the stereophonic P.A. system. Others flung rubber pulling tubes at each other. (These are like giant black doughnuts and support a swimmer's feet while he pulls through the water using only his arms.)
Dr. Counsilman addressed the group in a mild, reproachful voice. "Let's put a little oomph into this workout," he said. "A little enthusiasm." Then, perhaps because he felt he might have sounded too stern, he added, "I hear Michigan has a midget that does the 100 in 49 flat. He has big feet and he walks on the bottom of the pool."
Laughter drowned out the rock 'n' roll music that had mysteriously started, and a shout drew the attention of most swimmers to the giant pace clock at the end of the pool. (The pace clock is a Counsilman invention that enables swimmers to check their times at the end of each lap.) Kicking mightily, Anderson crossed the 440-yard mark amid the cheers of his teammates. Dr. Counsilman allowed himself a smile, summoned the manager and sent him off to fetch a huge bag of jellybeans. The jellybeans are red and white (the Indiana colors) and are distributed as rewards to swimmers who burn themselves up in practice.
To the accompaniment of agonized groans and mock cries of betrayal, Anderson's time was announced. It was 5:58, a new Indiana frog-kick record—nothing the press would record, but ideal for Dr. Counsilman's purposes. The jellybeans were distributed, and the time was chalked up on a vast blackboard filled with names and numbers.
The airplane noises stopped. At Dr. Counsilman's wave, nine swimmers poised themselves on starting blocks or made ready to push off from the end of the pool for a 440-yard sprint. No friend of long, leisurely swims, Dr. Counsilman punched his watch as he set them off with a piercing whistle. When they were done, he unerringly told each man his time and by a glance indicated if the time was better or worse than he expected. "Not knowing the complete history of a swimmer's time," he says, "is a personal affront. Like not knowing his name."
When the swimmers had pulled themselves out of the pool, Counsilman strolled to the record player, ripped off the record and scaled it into the water. He prefers Puccini to rock 'n' roll The swimmers throw his Puccini records into the pool, so he throws in their rock 'n' roll.
The bamboozling Counsilman does is a vital adjunct to his swimming program. He believes that severe stress is the key to improved swimming times. A typical high-pressure workout consists of half an hour's struggle with weights, immovable bars and elastic pulleys, a warmup in the pool, 16 50-yard sprints, 18 laps with the kickboard, kicking 100 yards four times at high speed, sprinting 440 yards four times and swimming 50 yards 16 times. Under the interval training system developed by Dr. Counsilman, rest periods are timed as carefully as work periods, so that a swimmer adapts to the necessity of recovering his wind quickly. If he completes his assigned distance in quicker time than expected, he is rewarded with a few seconds' more rest.
High-pressure workouts alternate with low-pressure ones. These permit slower sprints and more tomfoolery. The theory behind low-pressure workouts and complex, closely timed, high-pressure workouts is to keep swimmers keenly interested in racing up and down a pool. The theory behind the program as a whole is the "overload principle." That is, extreme stress is placed on the body, which learns to adapt to it. The heart becomes more efficient, the lungs work better, the hemoglobin content of the blood rises and the muscles tire less easily. At certain levels of stress, Dr. Counsilman has discovered, the swimmer is no longer aware of his agony and can go faster than he ever did before. For Dr. Counsilman the objective is clear. "The best-quality protoplasm is going to win," he says simply.
The protoplasm of the Indiana men is top quality: they have won every dual meet since 1959 and the Big Ten championship for the past four years, and, swimming under the flag of the Indianapolis AC, have also won every National Outdoor title for the past seven years.