By Jim Morris
It was at the 2015 FINA World Championships in Kazan, Russia, that Jeremy Bagshaw first began to appreciate the importance of leadership.
Bagshaw was competing in his first major international swim meet. Everything was new and different but he was lucky enough to room with Ryan Cochrane, his teammate at the High Performance Centre – Victoria. Cochrane, who would finish his career with two Olympic medals, won a pair of bronze at Kazan. Bagshaw had a front row seat watching how Cochrane conducted himself and helped the other swimmers, especially the younger ones. “It’s good to see what he did and how he always controlled his environment throughout the day and set himself up for great performances,” said Bagshaw. “It was great to see what he did and try to emulate that.”
Besides Cochrane, Bagshaw remembers how some of the other veterans took him under their wing. “It was important to have older guys that were there guiding me along and showing me how to do things so I wasn’t nervous about how things run at big meets,” said Bagshaw. “It makes you more at ease and you swim a lot faster when your only focus is swimming.”
Fast forward to this year’s Pan Pacific Swimming Championships which begin Aug. 9 in Tokyo. Of the 14 men on the 32-member team, eight are 21 years old or younger.
Ryan Mallette, head coach of the Victoria high performance centre, said the 26-year-old Bagshaw adds stability and guidance to the young team. “He’s a day-to-day leader in my program, sets a great example,” said Mallette. “He always encourages the young athletes and mentors them. He leads by example but he’s also pretty encouraging. He talks to the young athletes and mentors them along when they are doing the right thing. When they are doing the wrong thing (he) moves them in the right direction.”
Swimming is mostly an individual sport but building a team atmosphere can contribute to overall success. It can start in the staging camp, by offering an encouraging word to a young swimmer or lending some support to a veteran. “If you set a good tone starting the meet as a good leader everybody will follow along,” said Bagshaw. “You can guide the team to a better performance. I think it’s important to have people that can show, especially the younger people because we have a lot of new faces on the team, not to be thrown off by a big international competition.”
Becoming distracted by different food, accommodation or travel issues can cause some swimmers to lose a race even before they reach the pool.
“You can’t control stuff like food, the environment, the weather,” said Bagshaw. “Take care of things you can take care of. You can’t complain about it. Just roll with the punches.”
The large crowds and sheer number of competitors at a major championships can force some swimmers out of their comfort zone. “I just try to tell them to keep their routine,” said Bagshaw. “Don’t be looking at what other people are doing and try to focus on what (you) are doing. Really focus on what you have been practising and doing day in and day out.”
Sharing the ready rooms with Olympic and world champions can be unnerving. “Just the level of competition is so much higher,” said Bagshaw. “You are racing against everyone else in the world. You have people in your same heat that could be breaking world records. It’s a very different environment.”
Before making a national team some swimmers spend years racing against familiar faces in Canada and the U.S. “You know their racing patterns and habits,” said Bagshaw. “When you go to an international meet there are people you may see once every two years. You don’t know what to expect from them. Sometimes that can throw off your race plan.”
Bagshaw offers reassurance and instills confidence. He reminds swimmers to think about what got them to this level and to concentrate on what they must do to succeed. “When we are in the pit area I try to make sure everybody is in a good mood and really positive,” he said. “If anybody is having a bad race I just tell them to keep their head up, not to worry about it, and move on to the next race.”
Bagshaw plans to swim the 200-metre, 400-m and 800-m freestyle in Tokyo. He knows he can’t let his own emotions affect the team.
“If I’ve had a bad race I’ll take my time, five minutes outside of the pit area,” he said. “Once that five minutes is up I’m back to my normal self. I know how much it can influence the team if one person has a negative attitude.”
Martyn Wilby, Swimming Canada’s senior coach for the Olympic program, said a person’s value to a team can’t always be measured in the medals they win. “Just because you are a great swimmer, one of the best swimmers, doesn’t mean you have those leadership qualities,” said Wilby. “Jeremy does have them. He has the maturity. He understands the team concept. He’s able to guide (teammates) into being able to do the right things. You can’t learn those qualities, but he instinctively has those qualities as a person. It just translates to the team.”