Ali Jafarian

3 Powerful Questions with Matt Sprang

Episode Number 013
Duration 50 min

I’m beyond excited to share this new episode with good friend and FRD band mate, Matt Sprang!  Matt is a father, husband, coach, and overall amazing human being.

We focus this discussion on Matt’s swimming journey from athlete to coach, the impact sports can have on family legacy, and how it helped shape his perspective of leadership.  We also discuss Matt’s powerful 3 question framework for coaching your children through just about any activity.

This episode really resonates with me as I start to coach my young children in organized athletics.  As Matt shares, the world needs leadership now more than ever, which starts at home.  I appreciate and find inspiration from his commitment to leadership 🙂

The 3 Questions:

1. Did you have fun today?
2. Did you learn something new?
3. Do you want to go back?

Guest details
Matthew Sprang - Coach and Entrepreneur
Matthew Sprang

https://www.linkedin.com/in/matthew-sprang-a811108/

Links
Transcript

[00:00:00] Ali: Welcome back folks Ali here with another episode today, I have a special guest, Mr. Matt Sprang. He is a good friend. He's also someone that I met through my Front Row Dad's community and he is one of my 'band' members. 'Bands' in Front Row Dads are a very tight knit group, generally three to four, where we're just essentially like homies, brothers.

Matt and I spend time weekly on zoom, if not more than that. So I've gotten to know him very well. He's also pushed me in new areas of fatherhood, which have yielded massive value in my life. And so I'm honored for you to be here, brother. How would you like to introduce yourself?

[00:00:43] Matt: Thanks Ali. I am honored to be here as well. I appreciate the invitation and the chance to talk a little bit, wherever this may go. My name's Matt Sprang. I live in Southern New Jersey, about 20 minutes outside of the city of Philadelphia. So I guess when people ask me, where are you from? The easiest answer for us is Philadelphia, even though it's a completely different state from where we live. My wife, Tjitske and I have been married for 13 years now. We've been blessed with two radically different children. My son Keegan is 11 years old and our daughter Marley is eight years old.

Professionally, when it all boils down to it, I own and operate a swim team and swim lesson program here in New Jersey. I've been involved with the sport of swimming my whole life and, uh, it was kind of a natural progression in some ways. Fueled by luck and being in the right place at the right time, but also it's just something I've enjoyed my whole life is the sport of swimming. And fortunate enough to be able to be involved doing it at the local level and at times at the national level.

[00:01:57] Ali: Let's start there. When you say you've been fortunate and sort of blessed, what are the origins of swimming? Did you start swimming when you were young?

[00:02:07] Matt: Yeah. My parents, when we moved to the house that they currently still live in, there was a neighborhood community club that had a swimming pool that a bunch of the different neighbors joined. And my brother and I had not taken formal swim lessons. My mom would frequently take us on our own to the pool.

My dad would be working. My mom would be home during the day. There was a baby pool and there were two other pools that were definitely much deeper than a five-year-old and a three-year-old could handle. So the natural thing was for us to get swim lessons. And it just kind of progressed from swim lessons to being a member of the summer league swim team.

And the idea from there was, well, if you want to get better for your summer league team, then you should probably try swimming year round in the winter. Which he and I did it kind of off and on until I was 10 and he was eight and then it kind of became even more of a, a year round thing at that point.

So yeah, the progression just was learn to swim. Okay, you've learned to swim. You should join the local rec club swim team. And then from there, it was, well, if you want to get better for your summer club team, you should really refine your skills in the winter. And that's where it kind of grew from there.

And I guess it also helped that we had success in it. We had success with our, our rec club teams and that turned into success at broader local level, swimming in the winter. And when you have success with something naturally, I guess you're inclined to keep doing it.

[00:03:45] Ali: Was this your primary sport? You and your brother?

[00:03:48] Matt: Yes, it was. We both played soccer. I have and I say my brother, because I have a brother who is less than two years younger than me. And then it's a, three-year jump from him to our middle brother. And then another jumped down to our youngest brother. I'm nine years older than my youngest brother.

So, my parents had two sets of two kids very close together. I see. So when I talk about my brother, I do have three brothers that all participated in different sports. Funny thing is my youngest brother who was drug to different sporting events and especially swimming meets when we were kids turned out to be the best swimmer at the bunch, as the scholarship summer at the University of Michigan NCAA qualifier, two time Olympic trial, qualifier, USA swimming junior national team member.

Wow. He figured out how to do things the right way. But to answer your question, I played soccer until I was a sophomore in high school and I played baseball until about eighth grade.

[00:04:49] Ali: Very cool. So athletics run in the Sprang genes and you put a lot of time and energy into that as a child. Then give us the fast track of how this transitioned professionally. Did sports just carry and you immediately started coaching early in your career, or did you do other things before starting to really invest in more of like a swim team coaching, more, a broader business?

[00:05:19] Matt: I think in my professional life, I have had a non swimming job for three months. I did have a full-time job working for an online company doing sales and marketing, but at the same time, I was also really ramping up my coaching career.

When I was, I guess, 15, 16 years old, so one of the older swimmers on our summer league team had some success with the sport. So parents would come up to me and say, hey, can you work with Owen for a little while, and that's actually a kid's name that I've worked with, for a little while on his starts before the meet this Saturday. I get some, you know, some pocket change to do that.

But the biggest influence for me was growing up, I had a swim coach, Tony Lisa, who coached our summer league team. Our families became very good friends. His son, Brian and I were very close friends for a great period of time. And then Tony was also the head coach of Rowan University, where, when I decided to transfer from the University of Connecticut, I eventually landed at Rowan so that I could finish my swimming career with Tony.

And he was as big of a mentor in my life as anybody I ever had. He's the one who got me into coaching. He was coaching the summer league team again when I was 18, 19 years old and brought me in as an assistant coach, gave me a lot of encouragement, a lot of, I guess, helping me map out the road to what a coaching career could be. And I owe a lot of where I am now to Tony, because Tony was also not someone who was just a swim coach. He did own his own swimming program, not as big as the program that I run, but he had his main job of coaching the men and women at Rowan University. He was also the assistant athletic director at Rowan.

So he did help me understand that a swim coach could be more than just someone who teaches swimming, who coaches swimming, who fills out a swim meet lineup. You can be an entrepreneur, you can be a business owner and get something more out of the sport than just being a swim coach. So yeah, I definitely owe a lot to Tony.

I started helping kids out. Then I became an assistant coach in the summer, and then it became a way of earning money in college, coaching with the winter swimming club, the USA swimming affiliated swimming club in the area. That started in 1998. 2001 I got a full-time job with that club team and I was the head age group coach. Left for a year, 2003, 2004 school year to be the assistant coach at State University of New York at Binghamton.

Then I was able to get the head coaching job with the club team in 2004. So I was back into the Gloucester County, New Jersey area and after four years, I was able to convince the school district that owned the club team that they should get out of the swim team business. They ceased operation of their team, and I started a business in its place and just kind of picked up from there.

[00:08:27] Ali: Interesting. So you applied some of Tony's teachings right there, huh?

[00:08:32] Matt: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. He's he's always with me.

[00:08:35] Ali: Very cool, man. Okay. So we talked a little bit about your story. There's some deep roots of coaching in there. I have to pause and reflect that not only is part of your story interesting as it relates to my life, because when my brother and I, who's three years younger than me, we have very similar history as to your brother and you, where we were introduced to the pool at a young age, and like in parallel with other sports, it was a big thing, especially in the summers.

We learned to swim quickly. My mom signed us up for lessons. And then actually by, I would say by force, my mom signed us up for the swim team and we did that. I don't think we became anywhere near as, as good of swimmers as you and your brother, but we were competitive. We did the local things and a funny story, my brother and I were the only two kids I think were like eight and five, maybe nine and six, that rejected the Speedos. So the entire team had Speedos and we were the two brothers that were like, no, we're going to wear our swim shorts. It's probably why we didn't win every race amongst other reasons.

But man, those were some fun days and we didn't pursue it beyond that. So heading into middle school, high school we went into other sports, more competitively, but there was this act of learning how to swim, which I remember was it was one of those moments where it's like, oh, this is how you do this. And my instructor there was not someone that was super influential in my life. I didn't have a Tony in that regard, but there was something about learning to swim that just clicked and it was this amazing experience.

And then fast forward today, my kids are learning to swim as we speak. I just took them last night to one of their swim lessons. And I'm watching them interact with their instructor. I'm watching how focused they are on the water and learning. I'm watching the fear, right. And them to start to overcome the fear. Cause I think that's one of the, the really interesting and beautiful things about swimming and learning to swim is it's not like other sports where you're kind of already in safe mode and you just see a ball or a racket or a bat, and then you have to kind of acquire the skill.

There's this whole fear, new experience of getting into water and learning to use your body in a new environment. Does that mean anything to you? Like in terms of, not just, if you can go back to those first moments in the water, but also watching Keegan and Marley do the same in their own worlds?

[00:11:18] Matt: Yeah. It's something that I never, swimming can be a very tough sport. If you're taking it very seriously, especially as you get into high school, it's a huge time commitment. And I knew I was never going to push swimming on my kids. My kids were always going to learn to swim, learn to be safe around water. I think it's, it's the only sport that can also save your life. And it's also something that I hope can always stay with them. But it was never going to be something that I was going to insist that you're going to be on the swim team. In fact, a story in 2019, my son was eight years old and he had just been swimming in the summer. He wasn't doing winter swimming at all, and he wasn't happy at the beginning of the summer season, which for us starts around Memorial Day.

He wasn't happy at all. Wasn't enjoying going to practice. And I said to him, what's wrong. Why, why are you fighting us? You weren't fighting us last year. Let's talk about this. And he said, I'm only swimming because it's what the family does. Now at the time, if you go to my parents' house and I'll just finish this up in a second. You walk into their kitchen, there's a sign that says life, liberty, and swimming.

Their uncle's weightlifting partner when he got to the University of Michigan was Michael Phelps. And swam with one of the best collection of postgraduate swimming athletes in American history at the University of Michigan with Michael Phelps and countless other members of the 2004 and 2008 Olympic team with Bob Bowman, who was not just Michael Phelps's coach, but was the head coach for the University of Michigan men's team.

His, his uncle, my brother Ryan, is a full-time swim coach. And he's now the full-time swim coach for, for the team that I own. His dad owns a swim team. It's all around. Oh, his grandfather covered swimming for the local newspaper for 25 years. It's all around him. And I immediately was, it was like exactly where I didn't want to be with him.

It was the exact reason why I didn't want to pursue swimming because I didn't want it to be an obligation. And here at eight years old, he was already seeing it as that obligation. And I just flat out said, stop. Listen, if you want to be a part of the swim team, because your friends are there because you have a lot of fun at swim practice because every Tuesday is donut day. That's great. That's what you should focus on. But if you don't want to do this, then we're not going to do it. And that's okay. But I just want you to do something because you're enjoying it, not because you feel like you have to do it.

There are certain things in life we have to do. We're not having that conversation when it comes to school, but as far as swimming goes, I want them to do it because they're enjoying it because it's fun because they like being there. And even to this day, just last night, he was in a horrible mood because he had to do a race question for school and he never likes doing them because it requires a little bit more thinking and a lot more writing. And I said, do you want to skip swim practice and go? And he wasn't sure. I said, why don't you just go to practice.

And he came home and he was in the greatest mood because he got that workout in. He got to be with his friends and that meant a lot to him. So that to me is the most important thing. Now my daughter, on the other hand, doesn't swim anymore. She's not a part of the swim team. She wants to be. But it's like pulling teeth to get her to go to practice.

She dives, she does gymnastics. It was very easy for us. When I say us, I mean, Tjitske my wife and I, to say no Marley, you don't have to do this. This isn't fun for you. You don't enjoy it. You know how to swim. You're safe around water. That's okay.

[00:15:26] Ali: That's awesome. Not only do I love that, you've lived this, which segues right into another thing I wanted to talk to you about, which is your three question framework. This is something I have bragged at large about. I'm going to let you describe it. And then we'll talk about how that applies to what you just said and how it applies to other things.

[00:15:48] Matt: So I'm sure, I've been there. My kids are in fifth grade and third grade. They come home from school. And you say, how was school today? Fine. And that's the end of it. And the same thing, you know, how was soccer practice, fine. How was swim practice. Fine. How is cello lesson? Fine. You don't get much out of it. It's not a generative question that can at least lead to something else. So the three questions. It goes to gauging progress, but it also goes to gauging enjoyment and it's something that it doesn't have to be sports.

It can be school. It can be any kind of activity that your kids are involved in that requires a little bit of time and money for them to be a part of. It's just three questions you can ask them after practice or after whatever the activity may be. First question is, DID YOU HAVE FUN TODAY? Second question, DID YOU LEARN SOMETHING NEW OR DO YOU UNDERSTAND SOMETHING A LITTLE BIT BETTER? And the third question, DO YOU WANT TO GO BACK? And if you can get yeses to two out of those three questions, then you can say to yourself, it was a good day. If you're getting three yeses, that's even better. But if you're only getting one yes or no yeses, once or twice, it's not time to set off any alarms, but if you're noticing a pattern of getting only one or zero yeses over a course of a period of time, then it's time to maybe have a conversation with the instructor and just come and say, they're not having fun.

They don't feel like they're learning anything. They don't want to go back on a regular basis. What can we do? And maybe the instructor will come up and say, I would hope that the instructor would come up and think of the swimmer first and say, or the, I always go back to swimming, but it's anything go back to the child and say, you know, this might not be the activity for them. But you can at least gauge how the progress day to day is going that way.

And then hopefully that can open up the opportunity to have a better conversation, even if it's just in the car on the way home. Rather than somebody in the back seat, looking at their phone and fumbling through the radio for something decent to listen, to, to pass the time on the drive home. So it's pretty simple. If you can get two out of three yeses to those questions, then you can say to yourself, this was worthwhile, they got something out of it and we're on the right track.

[00:18:26] Ali: I love that man. And I deployed that. After you, I think you first told me about this several months ago. It happened just at a perfect time when Everest had started playing basketball, his first formal sport. And dude, I deployed it immediately. And going back to what you said we still have situations as he starts to close up the season, but we've seen lots of situations where he's just like, ah, I don't think I want to go to practice dad.

There's not this fierce like you have to go because I said so, there's more of like, all right, well, let's discuss this. Let's talk about how you're feeling. Just like you shared. There's typically something in the day may have drained him a bit. But then he goes, he runs around, he plays with his friends and then he's like this new reborn self with all this, great energy afterwards. And then I asked the questions, right.

And I'm getting a lot of two and even three out of threes for something that you wouldn't have guessed prior to . That's the beauty of those questions. We've yet to get a zero out of three with this, or Sepia takes dance. But if those zero out of three scores come, I think what you said is imperative.

I think it's also an indication to pause. And if you have resistance as a parent to say, is this about me or them now? Right. Because if they just said they didn't have fun, they didn't learn anything, they don't want to go back again. And there's some proof or at least some evidence that, well, the instructions pretty good and fair. Then now we start to have to really ask ourselves, like, why are we even doing this?

This relates to a couple of things that just happened that I want to share, like, my wife is reading this book about Scandinavian parents and how they value sports. It relates to what we just heard as the Olympics were closing where the Norwegians who dominate winter Olympics have certain rules for the country.

And one of them was that they don't track or allow their children skiers to race competitively until they're 13, meaning it's just about fun and it's a cultural thing in Norway. That's why they're so good at it. Right? The other thing that came to mind that I learned a while ago as it relates to one of the more phenomenal athletes of our time is Roger Federer. He didn't pick up a tennis racket until he was 17. He tried all these other things. He had parents just like you, they probably asked the thoughtful questions and were like, what do you want to do? Was it fun? Did you learn something? And it's very likely that he had this diversified approach to trying things, picking them up. I don't want to butcher his actual bio because there are books and stuff around this.

But what I took away from learning about that is that unlike what we call the forced model, where the parent comes in and says, you need to learn to play soccer, we're going to put you in a private club. You're going to play like, that's the force model. A lot of families do this. And what does it create? It can create some good, if not even great athletes, but it's very unlikely that they chose that. And that's part of their dream. It's part of their like, true craft and want to show up every day.

And so I thought Roger Federer was such an interesting example because he defied the norm. You see all these children athletes that get thrown into it early on and you think maybe they love it. And maybe they even say that because they'd take on this identity. Just like your son is like yo, I'm surrounded by swimming talent and there's some pressure there. But then ultimately if they don't make that choice, which I think your three questions lend to, then we're kind of setting them up for failure.

[00:22:09] Matt: And it's really tough because it's not as simple, especially for a young child as do you want to go to practice today? No. Okay. Because there's so much more that goes into it. You have to give them a little bit of a push for them to understand if that activity is really something that they want to keep going with and a couple of practices.

And that's why it's really important. On the inside, I was bursting when you were talking about their swim lessons. Because I can tell that the instructor that your two have is really doing a fantastic job, making them love coming to the pool, making them love being around the water, hopefully showing the respect for the water that it deserves.

But if you don't have somebody, that is making them see how much enjoyment they can get out of it, whatever the activity may be, they're not going to stay in that activity for a very long time. Right? That entry level person that entry-level coach or instructor, whatever it may be, really needs to pull out all the stops to make it fun on a regular basis. And it's hard. It's really hard because you want to see results and you can't play water polo every day and see results in swimming. There has to be technical work done.

So how do you stick the medicine in the cheese to make it fun? And with my coaching staff, we have spent countless hours over the last couple of months, discussing how we can incorporate fun into practices on a regular basis, into our meets, outside of the pool, because the market share is diluted. There's so many more activities that kids can participate in. If we want to keep them in the sport of swimming, then we really need to make it more fun than it was five years ago, 10 years ago. I don't remember having fun at swim practices on a regular basis. I remember every once in awhile we do relays or play water polo or something like that, but it was work most of the time. It can't be like that anymore.

[00:24:37] Ali: I'm with you, man. I think fun is arguably the most important word there. That's come up when I've talked with other coaches on this topic.

Let's pivot over to quitting because this is a part of it. How do we embrace quitting? What are the signs? And then when we're faced with, I don't want to do this, and we sense some conviction and it's not just one of those quick more reactionary thoughts from our children. How do we handle this? Because this is something that is inevitable at some point. It goes back to the Roger Federer story, even giving the freedom of choice of agency to be like, I'm going to pick something up, play with it, have fun with it, and then put it down perhaps. Or maybe I'm going to hold something like you did for years, and then evolve into this master coach now, after being immersed in swimming your whole life. So what are your thoughts on that? It's a dynamic question. I'm very curious about when do we allow our kids to quit?

[00:25:36] Matt: You're right. It is very dynamic because it's going to be, I think it really boils down to being able to communicate with your child, having an open line of communication, where they aren't afraid to come to you and tell you something that they think is going to disappoint you. And a lot of sports, a lot of activities, but more so sports, the parents are really vested in.

They got to put out money. They have to schedule time. It's not just something where you go out and do it. There's travel involved, even if it's just to wherever the, the practices take place, but then you increase it to going locally for competitions and things like that. Sports and a lot of extracurricular activities, I can very easily flip music into this because my wife has come from a background where her family was as into music instruction as my family was into swimming.

So it's really hard. And I think that you got to start with being able to have that open line of communication. And to me, those three questions, really, at least for the parent can give you a little bit of a window into how things are going if you can't be there the whole time. And even if you're there watching, you're not going to be able to see inside of their head and what's really going on. So that's where it's, it's got to start and you know, there's a lot of factors that can go into it. I think to me, there's two important things.

Number one, I don't want to say to my kids, I paid this money for it. You're going to do it. But for some people that is a consideration. There are some families that financially they're putting a significant portion of their family's finances towards activities, towards this very specific activity. And that might be a value for them. But for me, I don't want to bring financials into it. At the same time, I don't want to force them to do something that they don't want to do. So there's a balance there, and that's where I think it's going to be different for everybody.

The other thing that is important to me is when you're playing a team sport, I think you owe it to the team to at least finish out the season. And let's say you're on a soccer team that has 10 players, 12 players, and seven, eight, depending on the age, up to 11 on the field at any time. If you quit in the middle of the season, well, that's more of a burden on the other players because now at the very least, they might not be able to get as much of a rest and might not matter for some of the kids, but getting a break is important during a game. So if we're going to be a part of a team, we're going to finish out that season and we're going to do what we need to do to finish out that season and then have a conversation at the end of the season about, are we really going to sign up for the next season? And is it quitting or is it a break?

Soccer in New Jersey really is a two season sport, fall break for winter and then spring break for summer. And we have on multiple occasions with both kids said, all right, we're not going to play in the spring. You've got too much going on. You weren't really happy at the end of the soccer season in the fall. Let's take a little break and come back to it and see if we want to come back to it in the fall. Both kids have come back to it to the point where they're now playing fall and spring this coming year.

[00:29:37] Ali: Because they've chosen?

[00:29:38] Matt: Because they've chosen. Yeah. They were able to, I think, really take a little bit of a break, see how much they've missed it and realize that it is something that they want to pursue a little bit further.

But you know, sometimes I see kids that stay in the sport far longer than they want to. And, now they're coming to swim practice on a semi-regular basis. They're not seeing improvement and it's hard because for some reason they get can't have that conversation or even have that conversation with themselves that this is not any longer what they want to do. And when I see a kid either step back a little bit from the amount of intensity, the amount of practices they're attending and can be honest about it and say, look, I just want to try some other things, but I still want to be involved in swimming. To me, that's incredibly brave. And I make sure I tell that swimmer or whatever it may be, but swimmer for what I deal with, how brave I think they are for being able to do that for being able to say that.

[00:30:55] Ali: Totally, man. Yeah, that goes back to what you said. So what I captured there, the key concepts are communication, accountability and then also considering that there is an investment here for everybody. There's an investment for the parents in terms of time, there can be an investment financially, which is a factor like you mentioned.

Talking about the communication though, one of the things I've been playing with is helping our children understand potential consequences. Cause that's one of the things I don't think they have any insight into. I don't think they can rationalize that. I also think that's a healthy way for us as parents, as guides, to give them a little bit of information that gets more unbiased and it goes into what you mentioned about accountability.

So for example, Everest, if you quit the basketball team, here are some of the consequences. Like you said, you're not going to get to go to practice or games anymore, your team members might be let down because they've lost a team member and you're important part of that team. And you may not get to do some of the fun things, like remember how energized you were after the last game and how excited.

And I think that at least the lessons I've been learning there are that it's easy for kids to act on emotions and impulses. And sometimes that is really their heart speaking. But other times it's just this temporary thing where it flares up and as adults we've learned to kind of control that better. Do you have similar views or do you have a different take on how to communicate potential consequences of quitting?

[00:32:33] Matt: I think that's great. I wish there was a better word than consequence.

[00:32:38] Ali: Yeah. That's a hard word.

[00:32:40] Matt: It is a hard word for a young child to understand, but there is a cause and effect to it. And maybe that's the wrong phrase too, but I love the way that you've said that. If you no longer play basketball, especially you hit the nail on the head with it. If you're not going to be on the team anymore, you can't go to the games anymore because the games are the fun part.

[00:33:02] Ali: You got it.

[00:33:03] Matt: Even swimming, the swim meets are longer. It can be four hours long and you're sitting around a lot. But the beauty of swimming to me is that comradery that you build with your friends. I don't remember the times I did at swim meets when I was a kid, but I remember playing card games in the team area between races.

[00:33:27] Ali: Or pizza after the meets or the games with everyone, dude.

[00:33:31] Matt: Yeah. You know, I, I remember, going to a swim meet, an away swim meet and we had to get hotel rooms with our families and everybody go into one room to watch a movie. I remember we watched Under Siege, Steven Seagal, but I don't remember at all what meet that was, what the name of the meet was, what my times were at the meet, what place I finished at the meet, but I remember having a great time at the meet.

And you're right. If you don't play, you don't get that reward for participating. And to me the competition is the reward. It's not the result of the competition. It's going to the competition. It's being a part of the team. It's cheering for your teammates. It's your teammates, cheering for you. That to me, is the reward for participation.

[00:34:20] Ali: I'm with you, man. Well said. I think that there's a lot more wrapped up in the activity and relationship of being on a team. Solo sports a little bit different, you know, like tennis or golf, or even, you know, swimming to a degree where there's different pressures and there's a different dynamic there, but there is something special about a team.

I have such similar memories, man, and I'm just getting some nostalgia as we talk about this, of like the fun that happened before and after the actual thing. Of course the games are great. Especially if you're competitive, but then there's this before and after. And these, these beautiful side effects, good consequences in a way of being part of the team, right?

It took us a while to get here, but what I always want to honor as part of this show is what's currently in focus for you. What are you pursuing right now, Mr. Sprang?

[00:35:15] Matt: I guess I have a lot of things floating around. A lot is an understatement, a lot of things floating around in my head. But the thing that I keep coming back to, and it starts at home, and then from there at home, it goes to the swim team that I own. I see a need in this world for better leadership. That's the understatement of the century right now. There's a great documentary called Undefeated. It won the Oscar for best documentary. I don't know, 2012, 13, something like that.

It's a story of Bill Courtney, who was a volunteer head coach of a football team in Memphis, Tennessee. And their high school football team was the team that other schools scheduled for homecoming because it was a guaranteed win. And he took them over a period, it wasn't a long period of time, I think it was about four or five years. Took them from being the doormat for every other high school football team in the area to being a playoff team. But on top of that, it's a team that is coming from a lower income section of Memphis, a lot of problems with crime and, and whatnot with his players. So him acting as a mentor and father figure for these players, that's part of the story as well.

Anyway, when I was a member of the USA swimming national coaches program, we heard coach Courtney talk. And one of the things that really struck me that he said was this world is suffering from an abstract lack of leadership. This was in 2015. It hasn't gotten any better since then over the last seven years. In fact, I think it's worse. So what are we going to do? We need leaders now, but it's not really working because the people that have been tasked with leading us are not doing their job.

So to me, I'm looking towards the future and I see the opportunity to mold leaders in the way that this world needs them for the future. So that when I'm 65, 75 years old, the people that have come through after me can take up the mantle of being leaders. So how do we do that? Well, it starts at home. Everything starts at home. I have to model that for my children and hoping without actually teaching that through that osmosis process, they're picking up on this stuff and that they can be leaders in their peer groups and some of their peers can pick up those things. And doing the same thing with developing a leadership program within our swim team and also for our swim team parents.

We do a monthly workshop with our swim team parents where we talk just different aspects of parenting. We talked about being intentional with parenting in our last one. Tomorrow, we're going to be talking a little bit more technical aspects of swimming, but in March we have our fellow band mate, Matt Drinkhahn, coming in to talk about having a positive atmosphere and how that can lead to peak performances. Just different things away from the pool that parents can then take home and hopefully work with their children on being the leaders that our world is going to desperately need that we need now, but we're going to need even more in the future. So that's what I'm working on. How can we create better leaders for the future.

[00:38:57] Ali: Wow. I love it. I agree with your statement that the world lacks leadership, or could certainly at least use more of it. You and I have a leg up because we've joined a fatherhood community where leadership is a core principle. It comes out all over the place. And we've both studied leadership in different ways. And I got some goosebumps when you started talking about this, as it relates to parents because one of the things that happened recently, which relates to the the parenting side, cause I agree 100% it starts at home in terms of molding our youth to feel confident being leaders in their own right.

Gabrielle came home after having an opportunity to go to Everest's school and spend some time volunteering. And when she's on the playground, she's like, you won't believe what happened today. The boys were playing and they're having this game of football on the playground and Everest was on one of the other teams. And then one of the more like alpha classmates is leading things and deciding who should play on which team, which happens in all social circles.

And there was one kid that was left out. A more soft-spoken kid who is just, you know, on the sidelines. And she could tell he really wanted to play and he even made a comment finally. Probably took him a lot of courage to muster up like, hey guys, can I be on a team?

And immediately the alpha boy was like, nope, teams are already set. You can go sit over there. We're playing the game blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Right. And our son Everest decided to take a step out and be like, hey, you can be on my team. And these moments dude, this is where you see leadership. It's not about scoring baskets in the game. It's not about being the fastest swimmer. It's about how do you show up in those moments to your point where leadership is actually needed?

There's always going to be sports stars. There's always going to be competition, but where we lack leadership is in these social dynamics and it starts at a young age, which is why I shared that story. Right. All the way up to adults and our peers. And like, how are they showing up? How are they leading their teams, their businesses, their organization. So, I think it's an amazing thing to focus on that definitely needs people like you.

[00:41:17] Matt: And well, people like me, people like you and Gabrielle. Because Everest that doesn't happen if he doesn't know to do that. Sure, sure. And, I've known you for a while and it just brings tears to my eyes, hearing that and thinking about it. At six, six, right. Just six. Yep. Yeah. I mean, and it's something that I recently started thinking about. I haven't had the chance to really study and dive into, but just the brain development of a human being. And when do things become, what's the word I'm looking for? What, when do things become expected based on brain development. And when are we putting too much on a child to do something before their brain is even ready to comprehend it? And I believe Everest doing that at this age. It's amazing. It's amazing. So I just congratulations to you and I hope you and Gabrielle gave each other a nice hug.

[00:42:15] Ali: Oh dude, yeah. Thank you. No, I appreciate those, those words, brother, but yeah, that was a parent highlight for sure. Like just the same emotions overcome. So, all right. Let's wrap with some fun questions. Shall we?

[00:42:29] Matt: Yes, we could go hours.

[00:42:32] Ali: I know. That's what I was thinking. I was like, if we start talking about leadership, this is going to be a three hour podcast.

So that will be something that jam on in the future, but for now, I've got some quick fire. What's the best book you've read lately?

[00:42:45] Matt: On our vacation, we just got back from a nice little family vacation to Florida, and I finished, Casino Royale, Ian Fleming. It's the very first Bond book that he wrote. And what I loved about it is because it gave us such a different picture of James Bond. The James Bond that I was exposed to was the Sean Connery. He had no vulnerability. None. I'm a huge James Bond fan. The Daniel Craig James Bond was more vulnerable, was more wounded. And really, you got to see more of his character and that's the Bond you read about in Casino Royale. I loved it.

[00:43:24] Ali: Interesting. I'll have to check that out. Yeah. I'm trying to find more non-serious literature to read. And I like the idea of reading into a vulnerable James Bond because you're right. He's the tough, strong leader in his own right. My dad grew up with Sean Connery and yeah, I don't think there's a lot of vulnerability in those stories.

[00:43:44] Matt: And, unfortunately not the best treatment of women in that. Right. And you know, we find a Bond who falls in love. The Connery Bond did not fall, did not really fall in love. To me, it's important to include fiction in my reading. I typically read fiction at night before I go to bed because it just helps me fall asleep a little bit better. And I love the opportunity to dive into that a little bit more. I always love recommendations. Good fiction. I'll take it.

[00:44:16] Ali: Sweet. Next question. What animal are you most scared of?

[00:44:21] Matt: Man. That's a tough question. It really depends on the situation, but I think in the end, I just don't like snakes at all. Even if they're harmless, even if they're good snakes, we have black rat snakes around our neighborhood that keep the mice away. But yeah, I'm not a snake fan.

[00:44:40] Ali: You're not alone. And what's interesting to me about snakes is that so many of us humans are deathly scared of snakes. Yet they have no limbs, they don't even have legs or feet or arms or hands. It's just, they're so agile in the lack of those body elements that they're fast, they're sneaky and of course they can bite. So that caught me off guard though. When I was thinking about the other day, it's like, they don't even have arms and legs. And so many of us are scared of them.

[00:45:16] Matt: But they can climb faster than most things climb faster than us. And many of them can swim faster than us.

[00:45:22] Ali: Totally. Great points. Who is your favorite superhero?

[00:45:28] Matt: Batman. And I'm more of a Marvel guy than a DC guy, but Batman, I love because he didn't have super powers. Right. When it comes down to a Batman was a man with incredible means to buy incredible things, to protect him. But, yeah, just love the fact that he did not possess superpowers. I guess the same thing could be said about Ironman.

[00:45:52] Ali: Yes. Both to your point are very inspirational because of that, that they were basically humans that figured out how to become superheroes.

[00:46:02] Matt: Yeah. Both born into incredible wealth, which certainly helped them a lot too.

[00:46:06] Ali: That's a good point. That's a good point.

[00:46:08] Matt: At least they put it to something decent rather than, and I guess that could be debated the, the situation and the storyline, but, yeah, at least they put it to fighting some kind of crime.

[00:46:21] Ali: Agreed. Where would you live if you could choose anywhere in the world?

[00:46:29] Matt: There would have to be a dual living situation because I need to be able to get out into the wilderness and I don't get it as much as I would like to in Southern New Jersey, which is why we, we plan on vacations to national parks and things like that. But I also love being near the beach. Where I live now, I'm 90 minute drive and I have sand in my toes, which is great.

I don't like it when it's crowded. I don't like it when there's traffic, but maybe the situation would be six months on the coast and six months in the mountains of Wyoming or Colorado or Tennessee, something like that.

[00:47:12] Ali: I like it. I have similar dreams actually, or intentions of designing that type of lifestyle. So totally with you there, brother. Last question. How would you spend $10 million if you couldn't use it on yourself or anyone you loved?

[00:47:32] Matt: I think what I would want to do is set up a program where kids who otherwise would not have the means, could learn how to swim. And this is a USA swimming has a grant program that's absolutely fantastic. Gave out $900,000 in grants last year to local Make a Splash partners for this reason. But I would really want to get into underserved communities. Communities that are close to bodies of water, close to lakes or rivers. But might not have pools or might have pools that have been shut down because of municipal or state budget cuts. But in the summer, when it gets hot, those kids are finding places to cool off and don't know how to swim. That's so dangerous. I said it before, swimming is the only sport that can save your life.

And there are too many places where swim instruction is not available either because it's not accessible or because it's just not prevailing at all. That's what I would want to do with it. I would want to make sure more kids that needed it learned how to swim.

[00:48:49] Ali: Beautiful. Lends right into where your focus is right now, creating some leadership in the world, and combining your talents. So I think that's a perfect place to end, man. I appreciate you. Anything left unsaid before we jump.

[00:49:05] Matt: There's a lot left unsaid. That's going to be another, I'm going to have to be another addition.

[00:49:10] Ali: Indeed. Well, thank you Mr. Sprang, my brother. This has been awesome. Appreciate you spending time with me. And I know we'll connect again soon.

[00:49:20] Matt: I thoroughly enjoyed it, Ali. Thank you so much for having me on loved the conversation.

[00:49:25] Ali: Cool. See ya brother.


Ali Jafarian

Ali is a father, husband and serial entrepreneur with a deep drive to create. He writes, records, codes and builds things to inspire the artist in all of us.


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