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Bob Bowman uses Michael Phelps to explain how to achieve excellence

ASU swim coach: Development is imagination, challenge and high performance.
ASU swim coach Bob Bowman helped lead Michael Phelps to 28 Olympic medals.
January 30, 2017

ASU swim coach reveals success secrets of his most famous pupil to crowd of hundreds of students at First-Year Success Center talk

Michael Phelps had a dream of winning Olympic gold medals, so when he dove into the pool in one race in Beijing and his goggles filled with water, blinding him, he still managed to set a world record.

It happened because he spent years on the small details of training and learned to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, according to Bob Bowman, his coach.

“There can be no growth without discontent,” said Bowman, who now is the head coach of the Arizona State University swim and dive team.

“Michael learned skills so that under pressure, he could perform. Don’t try to make everything perfect for yourself — be tough on yourself.”

On Monday, Bowman addressed several hundred students on how they can work toward achieving excellence in a talk sponsored by ASU’s First-Year Success Center. He frequently used Phelps as an example of someone who embodied excellence through planning and hard work — plus talent. Phelps is the most decorated Olympian of all time, with 28 medals. Besides coaching Phelps, Bowman also was the men’s coach for the U.S. National swim team at the Rio Olympics in 2016, and was the assistant coach for the American men in the 2012 Olympics in London. He also has coached at the University of Michigan and the North Baltimore Aquatic Club.

“It isn’t a straight line to success,” Bowman said of his collaboration with Phelps, whom he coached since he was 10 years old. “We didn’t just have an idea, a dream, and then just go directly toward it. Success has a lot of ups and down, backward and forward. Over time, you move in the direction you want to be.”

Bowman said the three phases of personal development are imagination, challenge and high performance.

“Imagination is where you use your noggin and heart to come up with something that drives you,” he said.

Dreams are emotional and should be the catalyst for the hours of sometimes excruciating work that’s needed for success, he said. Then you set short-, medium- and long-term goals with clearly defined time frames.

“Write down your specific target. If you write something down, it’s more meaningful,” he said. “You don’t have to post it on Facebook. It can be very private.”

A crucial part of goal setting is visualizing success, in which you see yourself in a different place.

“You’re running a movie in your head of yourself attaining your goals,” he said. It’s a powerful tool he uses with his athletes.

“I want them to visualize in the most vivid way possible. I want them to smell the chlorine and see themselves swimming exactly the way they want to. Because the brain cannot distinguish between something that’s vividly imagined and something that is real.”

Phelps was so adept at visualization that he would have recurring dreams predicting his success, Bowman said.

The challenge phase is about the process — the daily practice and refinement of details.

In one Olympic race, Phelps was behind another swimmer, but ended up winning the gold medal by one-hundredth of a second because he had his palm outstretched and touched the wall before his opponent, whose hand was flexed. It was a detail that Phelps had practiced endlessly.

“Details matter. He went back to 12 years of me yelling at him about his finish,” Bowman said.

The high-performance phase is a natural outcome of the process that led up to it, Bowman said, and includes attitude and the ability to work through adversity, including the example of Phelps winning the gold with his eyes full of water, which he did by counting his strokes so he knew when to flip at the pool wall.

“You’ll have to adjust your plan,” he said, and that’s why coaches are important.

“The journey will be circuitous. It won’t be what you mapped out, but your coach is your GPS,” he said.

The freshmen and sophomores in the First-Year Success Center are assigned peer coaches to help them adjust to college life, excel in their classes, get involved in activities and clubs and find out about financial aid. Seventy-five upperclassmen and graduate students serve as the peer coaches.

Bowman told the peer coaches in the room to personalize their approaches.

“When I first started coaching, I only had a hammer so everything looked like a nail. That is incredibly effective, but it will wear you out. You cannot be other people’s motivation,” he said.

“I now have hammer, but I also have logic, I have a pat on the back, and I have empathy. So you want to add to your toolbox because it takes different tools to reach different people.”

Now in its fifth year, the free program works on all four campuses, according to Marisel Herrera, director of the First-Year Success Center.

“What we know from the coaching profession, whether it’s life coaching or athletic coaching, is that highly successful people in every walk of life employ coaches,” Herrera said. “It’s the smart thing to do. Celebrities do it, athletes do it, and we do it here at ASU.”


Top photo: Sun Devil Athletics head swimming coach Bob Bowman talks about how to achieve world-class excellence at a First-Year Success Center talk before more than 250 freshmen and sophomores at the Memorial Union on Monday. He gave insight into the mental game that gave his protégé Michael Phelps the ability to become the best Olympic swimmer. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now


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ASU campus harvest puts the squeeze on sustainability

Student and community volunteers sought for ASU sour orange harvest Feb. 3-5.
What to do with sour oranges? ASU prof shares a marinade recipe.
Oranges harvested in Tempe turned into drinks, dishes served on ASU campuses.
January 31, 2017

Learn more about the sour orange — including a recipe for the tart fruit — and volunteer for this week's annual harvest

Unsuspecting students who hope to snag a sweet snack off one of Arizona State University’s many orange trees are in for a tart surprise: The trees on the Tempe campus bear sour oranges, or Sevilles.

So what’s the point of a sour orange? It turns out they have a long history and a bright future.

Originating in Southeast Asia, the oranges made their way into Arabia in the ninth century and eventually to the Spanish region of Seville, which gave them their present-day nameOther names include naranja ácida, naranji, melangolo, khatta and soap orange. To the English Tudors the oranges were “golden apples,” a luxury in British winters.

For 500 years the Seville orange — which is used in savory dishes (see recipe below) and marmalades — was the only orange found in Europe, and it was the first one introduced to the New World by the Spanish. It can still be found in Everglade hammocks today.

Eventually the sour orange made its way to Arizona and to the Tempe campus.

“We don’t know exactly when they were planted,” said ASU ground services program coordinator Deborah Thirkhill. “They were very popular in the ’50s and ’60s when they were planted all around the city of Phoenix and on campus.” 

Today, the tart fruit is part of a sustainability initiative. Each year, Thirkhill and a small army of students and community volunteers take part in a harvest of 5 to 6 tons of oranges from all the trees on the Tempe campus. The harvest is a partnership between ASU Grounds Services, Aramark and Sun Orchard, which donates juicing of the sour oranges.

This year’s event is Feb. 3–5, and volunteers can sign up here.

The harvested oranges are turned into 400 gallons of juice, which Aramark chefs turn into innovative dishes and desserts available at Engrained at the Memorial Union.

Some of that juice is turned into DevilAde, a unique juice blend served in all ASU residence halls.

DevilAde “is really good, and we mix it with an agave nectar and other sweeteners,” said Krista Hicks, sustainability manager for Aramark ASU. “Then we make some delicious treats, kind of like a lemon bar — you can make a Seville orange bar, or we do Seville orange whoopie pies as well, which are my favorite.”

As a Sun Devil student herself, Hicks was one of those unsuspecting snackers when she mistook the bright orange for a sweet variety. She said the flavor reminded her of a lemon or a Sour Patch Kid.

For years the oranges were harvested by a Sunkist broker, and until 2008 they were used for marmalade and exported as far as Canada and the East Coast before the market bottomed out. The fruit spent two years being dumped into landfills before ASU sustainability practices found a new life for the unloved sour fruit. The Seville sour orange campus harvest eventually earned the 2015 President’s Award for Sustainability.

Thirkhill says she often fields questions from foreign students about why Americans don’t pick the valuable fruit. 

“Every country seems to have a signature dish,” said Thirkhill. “That kind of dropped out of our culinary repertoire, but it’s coming back big time.” 


For those who cannot make the spring harvest, there’s a fall date harvest open to volunteers. For more information or to volunteer for either harvest, contact Deborah Thirkhill at 480-268-4165. Follow the ASU Arboretum on Facebook and Twitter


Top photo: Sustainability graduate student David Fought inspects oranges, deciding which can be collected and which will be composted, during last year's sour orange harvest on the Tempe campus. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Deanna Dent

Photographer , ASU Now