By Jim Morris
Most people understand only a fraction of an iceberg is visible above the water.
It was during a National Development Team Program training camp last year that Kyla Leibel began to realize the work an athlete does in the water is only part of the formula that creates a successful swimmer.
“There is so much that goes on behind the scenes of swimming,” said Leibel, a 16-year-old sprint freestyler from Red Deer, Alta. “You can train hard in the pool and you can challenge yourself but there’s also what is going on in your head, what you are eating, dryland programs.
“All this stuff goes on behind the scenes of practising, stuff you are doing at home to better yourself, not just what you are doing in the pool.”
Providing a learning forum for the next generation of athletes and their coaches is why Leibel and 15 other swimmers are participating in a week-long National Development Team Program in Vancouver. When the camp wraps up the eight men and eight women will compete at the 55th annual Mel Zajac Jr. International Swim Meet being held Friday to Sunday at the University of British Columbia Aquatic Centre.
Ken McKinnon, Swimming Canada’s national development coach, said besides training and racing techniques, the camp will provide instruction on nutrition and mental performance. Living and working together will expose the swimmers to a national team experience and let them learn the protocols and expectations of being a high-performance athlete.
“It gives them an opportunity to come together before hand and make sure they are competing at a high level and training in preparation for the summer,” said McKinnon.
“This is a real unique opportunity because you know when you get good athletes and like-minded coaches together, they raise their game. The training we are going to get out of these athletes for six days before racing is going to be challenging for them.”
This year’s Mel Zajac meet will attract over 700 swimmers. Joining members of Canada’s national team will be 20 swimmers from the University of Florida program, including Olympic medallists Caeleb Dressel, Penny Oleksiak and Ryan Lochte. A U.S. junior national team will also be attending and looking at going head-to-head against the Canadian development swimmers.
“They are pretty competitive,” McKinnon said about the U.S. junior program. “Rubbing shoulders with them is always a really cool experience.”
For some of the swimmers it will be their first experience of heavy training leading into a competition.
“We are going to train quite hard in the six-day period before we race at the Zajac and still ask them for personal best times and race about their head,” said McKinnon.
The camp will also lay a foundation of training for those swimmers attending the Junior Pan Pacific Championships, Aug. 23-27 in Suva, Fiji, and the Youth Olympic Games Oct. 6-18 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
“We are trying to make sure we firmly establish the philosophy of training into the meet in season and not over preparing for different meets (leading) to the goal meet,” said McKinnon.
Finlay Knox of Okotoks, Alta., was part of a group of junior-aged swimmers who trained in Ouva, Trinidad and Tobago, earlier this year. Olympic champion Mark Tewksbury joined the group for the first three days to lead workshops on high performance and accountability.
Knox, who will be participate in the Vancouver camp, said the experience assisted in his training back home and performance.
“Just getting different viewpoints from different coaches and swimmers, how I can improve,” said the 18-year-old who swims the 200-metre individual medley and 200-breaststroke for the Foothills Stingrays Swim Club.
“More eyes on my stroke and technique and strategies is going to benefit my swimming.”
Leibel, who swims for the Red Deer Catalina Swim Club, likes that the camp leads into the Zajac meet.
“The meet is a very good high performance meet,” she said. “We get to work with the coaches and work on the race plans and implement the techniques that we learned the week before.”
McKinnon expects the development swimmers to contend at the meet.
“Some of them have the potential to medal,” he said. “Definitely to make the final.”
Before returning home, the athletes will be given a summary and technical details of what was targeted during the camp. Home coaches will be provided with a record of the training program and other pertinent information.
Knox liked the camaraderie he developed with other swimmers in Trinidad.
“We were all pushing each other, trying to get better,” he said. “During training, if the guy next to you, who you normally race, is faster than you, you want to push yourself to see how close you can get to him.
“As a team training together, it just makes one another better.”
McKinnon said the camps help breed leadership and teamwork.
“Every time we do this, bring different groups together, the dynamics are really neat to watch,” said McKinnon. “You see kids lift out of their comfort zone.
“Some of them get pulled, some of them are pushed and some of them are leading. It’s great to see the character that comes through.”