Coach Banister has been head Aquatics coach at Ramona High since 2005. In that time, the team has grown immensely and has managed to earn 7 league titles: 5 in Boys Water Polo, 2 Boys Swim, including the first in school history. Banister coached the boys polo teams to undefeated league championships in fall of 2011, 2012, and 2013 along with undefeated league championships in boys swim in 2011 and 2012 as well, additionally maintaining a top 10 position in their division of CIF for both boys and girls water polo teams. Coach Banister is a Ramona grad, and an alumnus of Ramona Aquatics. Banister’s main focus for his athletes is on a mind frame of self reflection and analysis. He teaches that even at the highest of levels, there is always room for improvement and that realizing one’s maximum potential is the driving goal of the Ramona Aquatic Athlete.
Coach Benninger has been involved in the sport of swimming for over 17 years, both as a swimmer and as coach. During his time as a Ramona student athlete, he broke 5 school records and in his senior year became the first Ramona swimmer to qualify for the CIF SS Masters Meet. In his collegiate career he swam for California Baptist University and Riverside Community College, achieving two-time All American status in the 200 backstroke and 400 IM. Previously, Coach Benninger has coached with Ramona HS, RCSC at CBU, and Woodcrest Christian swim teams, gaining a detailed understanding of the development of champion swimmers at several different levels. As Ramona’s head swim coach, he brings his enthusiastic and motivational style of coaching to help each and every one of Ramona’s swimmers to reach their full potential, both in the water and in the classroom.

Yin, Yang, and the Balance of Everything

One of the many many things we discuss during the spring swim seasons at Ramona is the idea of balance. I’ve always taken a shine to the Daoist symbol of Yin and Yang and its ability to remind us about the idea of balance; so much so that I made it our team logo.  Now, aside form the fact that I think it looks really cool, the Yin-Yang symbol really makes visual the backing ideas for everything we practice during swim season.

A quick primer of the Yin-Yang symbol:

In this symbol we see the light and the dark perpetually encircling each other. Where one ends, the other begins, and in both the light and the dark, there is an element of the other (the dots). Together they form a perfect circle, each side serving as a complement to the other.

The most important aspect of this symbol is that it represents and reminds of the fact that life is about maintaining balance. When we think of opposites, like black and white, good and evil, daytime and night time, the magic of Fridays and the weight of Mondays, we have this tendancy to view them as seperate things rather than simply different and essential aspects of the same experience.

There are seemingly infinite dualities that we experience everyday. The more you think about it, the more they appear:

Work vs.  Play

School vs.  Sports

Team Work vs.  Individual Work

Family Obligations vs.  Team Obligation

(swimmers) Air vs.  Water

Mind vs.  Body

Stroke vs.  Glide

Legs vs.  Arms

Breathing in vs.  Breathing Out

Here’s the thing though: You can’t just breath IN; even if we don’t want to, our nature will force us to get rid of that air so the cycle can start again. In the same way, you can’t maximize the benefits of a healthy body without a healthy mind, and without individual drive an athlete can never be a valuable part of a team.

The main problem of all these opposing aspects is that in our minds we tend to see “VS” instead of “&.” But when we make a slight adjustment in perspective, we find ourselves with Air & Water, School & Sports, Mind & Body, Work & Play. Now we can start seeing how all the different parts of our lives work together, and how each are given meaning and balanced by the presence of the other. Just like the dark and light aspects of the Yin-Yang symbol, each of these seeming opposites are really just parts of a larger whole.

As student athletes and coaches, people either actively developing themselves or working to assist others in their development, we need to be reminded of the fact that a happy and fulfilled life is one of balance. We can’t create conflict by pitting practice against homework, family against team if we want to be truly successful. What we have to do is figure out how all the elements can work together in balance so that strength and independence develops in our teams  and ultimately makes life WAY cooler to live.

The next time you see the Yin-Yang symbol on some of our team gear (or anywhere), try to think of the different things you have going on and remind yourself how they are not really opposites, but smaller parts of the larger whole. You’ll like what happens next 🙂

See you at the pool,

Coach Banister

At least…

Sometimes we all get into a funk. I’m not talking about the big-hair, bell-bottomed, kung-fu-kicks in the air kind of funk either. This is the funk where we look at what we are doing to reach our goals, determine that we are not as far along as we’d like to be, and then say, “Well, AT LEAST I’m not as bad as _____” or “At least I do what I need to some of the time…”

Why are we consoling ourselves and how we feel about a lack of progress by saying “at least”? It’s one thing to acknowledge the effort you’ve put into something, and then use that to move forward and put MORE effort into it, but when we tell ourselves, “At least I did this much” it’s like we are pardoning ourselves and saying, “You didn’t reach that goal you set for yourself, but good job for trying at all.”

Now, effort SHOULD be rewarded. But it needs to be proportionate to what that effort accomplished.

Let’s draw a parallel: You start to mow your lawn (good) and it’s a hot day out so you decide to take a water break mid-mow.  You’re standing there, drinking your water, looking at the half-mowed lawn and you decide that you don’t wanna mow anymore today. Do you say, “At least I mowed half the lawn”? Heck no; now your lawn looks even worse than it did before you started the job. Good job for starting something that needs to get done, but it didn’t get done… now what?

Here’s another one: You decide you are going to get fit and take the 100 pushups challenge. So you print out the schedule, start doing your workouts, feelin’ the burn, and day-by-day you get stronger. Awesome! Then, the inevitable: life hands you lemons, and while you are trying to make lemonade, you got the juice in that paper-cut from the office and now your left hand is in crazy pain! No pushups today 🙁 Following a series of unfortunate events, you look back and it’s been 2 weeks since you did your daily workout… “Well, at least…” you begin to tell yourself.

The problem with “At least” is that we are focusing on a level of effort we KNOW we could have done better than.  In order to say “at least,” our mind has to acknowledge that we could most definitely have done more to have gotten closer to our goal/s. When we say “at least” we have to wonder, “What could I have done at most?” The problem is: now you’ll NEVER know! The past is unchangeable, and when we stick ourselves with “at least” we are stuck reflecting on our shortcomings and justifying them to ourselves just so we can sleep at night.

While the past will always remain the same, the future is absolutely whatever we want it to be! When we say “at least” we are settling for the unchangeable past, but when we imagine “at most, we challenge ourselves to explore our limits and to push past them. These are the incredible times when we even surprise ourselves with our accomplishments. After pushing our imaginations, and our capabilities, and our accomplishments, when the future turns into the present, and present to past, we get to look back and say, “that was me at my best.” Now, There is a magical thing that happens here that is light-years away from where we are when we say, “at least.” After doing our absolute best, we aren’t always satisfied with the result, BUT we also aren’t stuck with the regret that comes with knowing we could have done more. Even better still is the opportunity that is then put before us where we have the chance to try again and make our “most” even  more, and our best even better!

So here’s the challenge: don’t let yourself get away with any “at least” moments. Set high goals and push yourself to them so that instead of dodging guilt, you can enjoy pride:)

See you at the pool,

Coach Sean Banister


Every high school coach winds up talking to their athletes about commitment. Sometimes we have students in our program who join the team and show up only once a week, and the coach wonders why they would join a team at all; another student joins the team fully committed, never missing a meeting, practice or team event. Like several other of my articles here, this article is born out of a need to explore the idea of commitment.

When I have a student on my swim or polo team who shows up only to a fraction of the practices, at first I am insulted that they would disregard the effort I put into the program, but then I realize that they are still kids (big kids) and I let it go. My next feeling is pity because I know, if they stick around long enough, that they are going to hit the wall in their progress and that they’ll realize that by being half-committed, it was they who built the wall that’s now holding them back.

What is commitment? Why is commitment important?

Having a commitment, or being committed takes a lot of forms, but really it’s putting value on something and showing that value through your actions. When we lack commitment, we are showing that we really don’t value that thing we are not really committed to. Simple! Nobody is truly committed to something they don’t care about. Parents know this, boyfriends and girlfriends know this, bosses know this, teammates know this, and coaches know this.

The thing is then, why do we do things we don’t care about? The answer is, we don’t. Ultimately, there is nothing we do that we do not hold some interest in. If you work a boring job, while you are not committed to the job, you are committed to the paycheck. Some people stay in failing relationships, and while they may no longer be committed to the relationship, they are committed to the sense of security that the relationship offers them.  With sports teams, while someone may have lost interest in really participating, they might still value, and therefore  remain somewhat committed to the idea of belonging to the team.

What about being committed to ourselves? There are lines of philosophy that say that everything we do is self-motivated, and that all action we take is result of a view that in some way we feel that action is going to benefit us. So along those lines, some say that we are unconditionally committed to ourselves. Interesting, but how true is this?

The flip-side of this appears when we look at the outcomes of half-commitments as compared to real commitments. Do they really benefit us? Most half-committed athletes are really only concerned about their own development and show up just enough to say they are involved and to be able to compete. The committed athlete is at every practice, working to improve themselves so they can be their best at competitions. Additionally, the committed athlete, by pushing themselves to improve at every practice, is also pushing their teammates to improve at every practice. In being fully committed to the team, this athlete is truthfully committed  to themselves. Everyone benefits from these types of commitments!

When we look back at the athlete who is only half-committed to the team, we see that while they are not pushing themselves at each practice, the team’s growth also suffers. So the quality of experience drops for everyone as a result of the lack of commitment. In their half-commitment, this athlete is robbing themselves and their team of the best experience possible. Nobody benefits from the half-commitment, and if this athlete is acting in their own best interest, they do not truly have a grasp of the bigger picture.

When we get involved with things and only allow ourselves to be half-committed, what we are ultimately doing is showing a lack of commitment to ourselves, and to the quality of experiences we have in life. When we get involved with things in our lives, we should be fully committed to ourselves and to the quality of our experiences. If life is important, so should be the quality and intensity of our commitments.

Stay Committed

& See you at the pool,

Coach Sean Banister



During swim season, a word I throw around a lot is FLOW.

Water flows; “Go with the flow” is something people say; while doing work, one might achieve a “flow”; off a weekend, or vacation, or after an event that takes us out of our daily routine we might talk about getting back into the “flow” of things.

So what is this flow we talk about? Presumably, what we are referring to when we say flow is what water does. Bruce Lee talks about the properties of water and advises us to “be water (click for clip).” When water flows, it is doing what it naturally does. It is being itself. It is adaptable and it is effortless.

When we practice, really at anything, but specifically at water polo and swim, not only are we practicing in the water, but what we are working for is to attain a flow. We are trying to make it so that when we are in a performance situation (a game or meet) we can just be smooth and natural and at the same time be amazingly fast. Do-able, but not easy. Easy would be pressing a button and there is no button that will get this job done. Getting ourselves to a point in whatever we do where our actions flow effortlessly like water is something that takes concentrated work for long periods of time. The bright side is that long periods of time break into short periods of time, and these are much more manageable.

The more I think about it though, the more I feel like flow extends beyond just athletic performance. There are many world religions that talk about how we are tempted in life to chaos and misery (by a lot of different things) and how we must work to sort things out and essentially achieve a flow where we can be at peace with ourselves and our surroundings. But let’s not forget about water! If water is suddenly forced to flow a new direction, it doesn’t matter what the terrain is like, water will still do what it does: it flows. Another cool aspect of water is that as it flows, it actively changes the environment to make that flow quicker and easier. Water that doesn’t flow becomes stagnant, but once it is allowed to be itself and do what it does best, it can sculpt entire countrysides and indeed fuels all life on Earth (whoa).

When something comes across our path, a competition, a homework assignment, really any problem, if we are in a state of “flow” we know where we are going and this new obstacle is no big deal; we simply flow right around it and keep on going. A new swimmer gets in the pool and tries to fight the water and become the water’s master, a seasoned swimmer knows not to fight the water, but to try to be one with the water and to flow. With each length, it’s this coach’s hope that our swimmers are trying to develop that flow for themselves, and by doing so in the water they learn to develop that flow in their day-to-day as well.

“Be Water My Friends” and see you at the pool,

Coach Sean Banister

Short Term vs Long Term

There is something that is endlessly fascinating about people and how they find motivation to do things.

Dealing with students on a daily basis, I get to see young people in a constant life-experiment, where they are forever testing new ideas to see what works and what doesn’t, what makes them happy and what doesn’t, what gets them what they want and what doesn’t, etc. What is also fascinating to me is watching these young people define and re-define for themselves, over and over again what it is they want. Freshmen are pumped when they get to the lunch-line first, and seniors are pumped when they get accepted to a choice college.

What I’ve learned from the experiment that is day-to-day high school seems common sense enough: as we get older, we are more able to connect long term goals to short term practices. Grades and the classes that aren’t our favorites are the easy example. We do our daily work to get the better grade at the quarter and semester, so we can get the higher GPA, so we can get to a better school, so we can have a more comfortable adult life.

How does this play into high school sports? How does this play into Aquatics?

With both Water Polo and Swim, @ both the high school teams I’ve coached and the club polo teams, it is clear that every kid has some kind of goal in mind in regards to why they do it. “I wanna get chicks,” “I wanna try something new,” “I wanna be Varsity,” “I wanna be league champion,” “I wanna take CIF,” “I wanna play/swim in college.” I have even heard, “I wanna be in the Olympics!”

I have seen MANY of these kids reach their goals, and I have seen just as many not even come close. The main difference I have observed between the (label time) successful athlete, and the failed athlete is their ability to break the long term goals into short term practices. Any kind of successful person can tell us that their victory was not a one-time shot, but millions of little choices along the way.

Dan Ariely gives a very insightful talk about Self Control and why people make decisions that lead them AWAY from their long-term desires. In Water Polo, there are a million passes that happen in practice before that game winning assist takes you and your team to the top; in swimming, there are millions of swim strokes in your career that lead you to that record breaking race in which you surprise even yourself at what you are capable of.

With each pass at practice, do we think about that moment where we’re going to need to flawlessly move the ball without thought or effort, in what seems almost a reflex or even a product of our sheer willpower to the hand of our team-mate, just at the perfect moment where they are poised to SLAM the ball in that one unprotected square foot of the cage?

With each arm recovery in our swim sets, do we think about the BIG RACE, in that last 25yds where we are less than an an arms-length out from the head of the race and we just dig into that reserve of guts and fire deep inside to tear up that last 10yds and take sweet victory from our worthy opponent?

Process over Product

Where did that reserve come from? How did that pass happen? These moments of glory are products of COUNTLESS daily decisions these athletes made in their practice. The decision to enjoy practicing well, not to reach glory, but just to practice the best they could, and with all they could at that moment. This everyday decision is what builds ALL greatness.

When this is realized, the great high-school experiment is successful. What keeps me coming back season after season to coaching is those young people who come to this realization and get to reap the amazing benefits of their work in their time at Ramona, along with the  belief that any given day, at any time, any one of our athletes can decide to adopt this mindset and become something amazing.

See you at the pool,

Coach Sean Banister


I had a conversation at the end of the fall polo season with a coach I hold a lot of respect for, and what seemed to be an old adage at the time has stuck with me: “Luck is when readiness meets opportunity.”  This “luck” had helped him lead 5 different teams to C.I.F. Championships during his time as coach. Luck? I don’t think so. It was clear that this coach had put in the time and was in fact simply ready to take advantage of opportunities as they arose with his team and their games.

In Water Polo and in life, the idea of readiness is a fascinating one. How do we become ready? How do we know what we need to be ready for? How do we know when we ARE ready? Let’s pin it down a little bit though

From an athlete’s perspective:

[Novice] “I want to try Water Polo, but I don’t think I’m ready.”- While actually a thought of new players year after year, the response comes easily: if you are willing to work hard and improve yourself, then you are ready to jump in and start. The sooner the better!

[Returning Player] “I want to be on the varsity team, but Coach doesn’t think I’m ready.”- Coaches have a million different ways of telling if an athlete is ready for a situation or a level of play. As an athlete, how do you know when you are being assessed? It’s not like a math test where you sit down and you have 20 questions to answer. Every time you show up to practice, it is a test of readiness. EVERY coach looks for that readiness in their athletes, but each coach has their own ways of assessing. What are they looking for? Some coaches can break it down nicely, others can’t. The easiest way to figure it out is look at varsity players. What do they exhibit that the coach finds them to be ready? As an athlete, you can take matters into your own hands by making sure that every possible moment your coach could be assessing your readiness for that higher level, you are showing yourself at all times to be on-par or above -par with the varsity players on your team.

[New Varsity Player] “I was good at the JV level, but I don’t know if I’m ready for this higher level.” A lot of players get nervous when they get moved up. You were comfortable being successful at the lower level and were good at what you did, but then lost confidence and lowered performance when you got moved up, thinking you are not ready for that level. You need to remember what it was like to start water polo in the beginning, when you didn’t know anything. Remembering how you moved from where you used to be to where you are can help inform how you can move from where you are to where you want to be. At some point you made yourself ready, and your coach saw it. If for some reason you don’t FEEL ready, then revisit that process that made you ready before and apply it to your new situation. Getting excited about growth is a large part of being ready for that next level.

[Varsity Player] “We’re coming up against the most challenging team we are going to meet all season, and I don’t know if we are ready.” This is the thought that plagues players and coaches alike. “What if” questions abound and often serve to break us down in these moments of doubt. There are an infinite number of moments in a water polo game that will test your readiness and decide the victor. The key is this: game-time is not the time to worry about how ready you are. Nothing about your game is going to change for the positive by your last-minute reflection. You are only going to get nervous and mess up things you would otherwise have downpat.

PRACTICE is when you need to worry about you readiness for the big game, whoever it may be against. Practice is where you need to be exploring the game, your game, your team’s game to find out all the ways you are ready and not-ready for that heightened competition. Everytime you pass the ball in a lax way, every shot you take that is not being summoned up from your entire being, every time you don’t swim counter like your life depends on it you are ROBBING yourself of that true readiness that allows you to go into a game confident and READY. Practice for readiness and you will turn those situations from a team testing you, to you testing yourselves on another team; this is the ideal mentality.

Truly we are just exploring the tip of the iceberg in this discussion, as the idea of readiness flows out from players and coaches, to family and schools as well. When we ask ourselves if we are “ready,” we need to be able to make a list of the things we have done to prepare, so that we can celebrate our accomplishments but also so that we can sort out what we have done already and what we can still do to step up to that next level of readiness.

See you at the Pool,

Coach Sean Banister