Excellence, 25 and Still Counting!

About three days from now, if history is a teacher, coach Skip Kenney will chalk up his 26th (TWENTY-SIX!) consecutive Pac 10 swimming championship. When he won #14, legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden made the presentation—Kenney had broken coach Wooden's Pac 10 consecutive championship record. At 25 in a row, Kenney's feat stands alone in the annals of NCAA records—and the Pac 10 is as competitive-tough a playground (pool) as exists.

The current issue of Stanford's alumni magazine, which tells us that Ronald Reagan was in his first term when the streak started, features Kenney in an article titled "Master Stroke." It more or less begins this way: "The first thing you need to know about Skip Kenney, the 63-year-old coach of the Stanford men's swim team, is that he never swam competitively. Since he arrived at Stanford in 1979, Kenney has won seven NCAA titles, coached 100 different All-Americans, served on three Olympic staffs and won an astonishing 25 Pac-10 titles in a row. A generation-spanning community of swimmers and former swimmers would all 'lie down in traffic for him,' according to one, Adam Messner, class of 2001. But he has never swum a 3000 for time, never churned out 100 kicks on 90-second intervals, never spent so much as an hour with his face in the water, staring at the black line. 'I can't even imagine,' he says."

Kenney's secret, if you must call it that, is turning an individualistic sport into a team sport—no mean feat. Every team member is evaluated first and foremost, the article says, on his special contribution to the team.

Hats off to a performance and a process that defines Excellence—and as a Stanford alum, good luck this weekend!

Tom Peters posted this on February 21, 2007, in Excellence.
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