Swimmers get to see their name in lights up on the scoreboard and stand on the podium when they win races.
But behind every great swimmer there’s a good coach – often more than one. That’s why Swimming Canada is focused on developing not only the next generation of world-class swimmers, but also the coaches who help them get there.
Swimming Canada has offered development opportunities to more than 60 Canadian coaches from clubs and university programs since 2014. These initiatives include apprenticeships, conferences, programs and personalized development for coaches from nine Canadian provinces and the Yukon territory. And it’s not just about rewarding a coach with recognition or a free trip to a nice location.
“These are educational development experiences to upskill our coaches so our pool of coaching talent is ready to step into that national team environment,” says Iain McDonald, Swimming Canada’s Senior Manager, NextGen High Performance Pathway. “We’re looking to develop coaches with the potential to impact our national teams.”
“Placing a swimmer on a team is the first step, then doing what is necessary to get the best results at the international level is very important,” High Performance Director John Atkinson added. “The days of having August at home waiting for things to start up again in mid-September are long gone. Coaches need to adapt their planning for this level of success – it takes commitment and our coaches are adapting to do what it takes.”
This includes mentorship opportunities such as the one Tina Hoeben of Penticton, B.C.’s KISU Swim Club recently participated in. Hoeben was an apprentice coach as part of the Team Canada staff at Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia. She spent each day working with a different experienced coach, learning a variety of aspects of how the senior national team operates at a high-level meet. Recently, Swimming Canada partnered with the Canadian Swim Coaches and Teachers Association to offer five more of these mentorship opportunities at upcoming international events this summer.
Swimming Canada has held four editions of the Select Coaches Group initiative, an annual professional development program for developing high performance coaches in Canada. Patrick Paradis of the Vancouver-area Chena Swim Club has participated in three of the first four groups.
“Being in the inaugural group when they first launched it, it was a great idea but they were still figuring out what it would look like, how to support us, and the best time of year to do it,” Paradis says. “They got it really right this year. We went for a week down to the American Swim Coaches Association Conference, and the debriefs we did at the end of the day with Swimming Canada staff, keeping us an extra day for a full workshop, we had tremendous access to guys like (Senior Coach, Olympic Program) Martyn Wilby, (National Development Coach) Ken McKinnon and (Distance/Open Water Coach) Mark Perry.”
The same can be said in the Para-swimming program with Senior Coach Vince Mikuska, NextGen Coach Michel Berube and Development Coach Janet Dunn also very busy working with coaches and clubs.
We now have more opportunities for camps and competitions for coaches than at any other time…
“We now have more opportunities for camps and competitions for coaches than at any other time since I joined Swimming Canada in 2013,” Atkinson said. “Within the last two weeks we’ve had a development team in Vancouver, a junior open water team in Mallorca, an open water team in a FINA event in Seychelles and a Paralympic team over at the World Series in Europe. Each team had coaches from club programs across Canada. We are able to conduct these programs thanks to support and funding from Own The Podium, the Government of Canada through Sport Canada, Canadian Olympic Committee, Canadian Paralympic Committee and Coaching Association of Canada ”
Through initiatives such as these Paradis has had opportunities to spend time with several experienced coaches around the world, including Ben Titley at the Swimming Canada High Performance Centre – Ontario, Dave Salo at the University of Southern California, and Jon Rudd in Plymouth, U.K.
“My trip to Plymouth in the fall of 2015, it was the Olympic year when I went to visit and he had (Lithuanian Olympic champion and world record holder) Rūta Meilutytė, (British world champion) Ben Proud and some other really good swimmers. One of the biggest things we discussed was, when he started with Ruta at 14, 15, she was a child. At that point she was 19 and Ben was 22, and he talked about allowing your style with athletes to morph as they age. It becomes less coach-swimmer and evolves into a working partnership,” Paradis recalls. “I thought that was fascinating. I’ve noticed after that other top coaches have that, like the rapport (High Performance Centre – Victoria Head Coach) Ryan Mallette has with Hilary Caldwell or Jeremy Bagshaw. You’re dealing with adults now.”
Paradis’ swimmers include 2015 Pan Am Games team member James Dergousoff, 21, and 17-year-old Raben Dommann, who will represent Canada at the World Junior Open Water Swimming Championships later this year. He’s also looking ahead to how he can help his even younger swimmers get to the next level.
“That’s why I wanted to pick Ben Titley’s brain because I’ve got a really good crop of girls coming through at 10, 11, 12. I kind of wanted to reverse engineer and ask him, ‘If you’ve got Taylor Ruck at 17, go back five, six, seven years, what kind of things would you do?’ ”
In addition to coach-specific initiatives, Swimming Canada is including opportunities for coaches in its targeted development camps for swimmers. For example, Marta Belsh of the Fredericton Aquanauts Swim Team recently attended a training camp for males aged 14-17 in Trinidad as apprentice coach. McKinnon and Wilby led the camp, which included mentorship from Canadian Olympic legend Mark Tewksbury. Belsh says she took as much away from the camp as her swimmer, 16-year-old Jacob Gallant, did.
“It was a really interesting opportunity to be part of that and involved, not just as a bystander but actually involved in doing the practices and coaching,” Belsh says. “There’s always some new little things you can bring back and tweak your program. For me it was really good in the sense it reassured me what I was doing was going well.”
Belsh was also part of the 2017-18 Select Coaches Group, and received NextGen Sport Science Sport Medicine funding to work with Swimming Canada High Performance Centre integrated support team staff.
“I’m just grateful I had (these opportunities) and I think they’re really helping me to be a better coach and have a better program for the swimmers,” she says.
“We ask all coaches to have an open mind to what needs to be done to be world-class when coaching, challenging the coaches to learn and take things back to their home program,” Atkinson says. “We show them what commitment is required, both in the sets to be delivered, to the required time to coach the athletes.”