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Coach believes developing a relationship with swimmers a key to success

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Photo credit: Leigh Trusler

By Jim Morris

Coaches have different philosophies about the best way to grow and nurture an athlete’s skill so they can accomplish their goals.

Some are successful and other fail.

Tina Hoeben has been a swim coach for 20 years. She believes developing a strong relationship with a swimmer is the first step toward producing a champion.

“I think to an outsider it appears coaching is a lot about technique and planning the training,” said Hoeben, head coach at the KISU Swim Club in Penticton, B.C. “I believe that the relationship between a swimmer and coach is really important and possibility even bigger than the technique and training.

“The better the relationship between a coach and a swimmer, and the more honest and genuine that is, that only transfers to how well the technique is applied and how hard the swimmer works during training sessions.”

Located in a city of about 34,000, the KISU Club has a membership of about 200, with 90 competitive swimmers.

“Tina has done a great job developing her club into the top performing age group program in B.C., despite being a smaller program,” said Iain McDonald, Swimming Canada’s Senior Manager, NextGen High Performance Pathway.

“In the last four years her swimmers have produced 19 On Track events, including eight in 2019.”

Several swimmers from KISU are currently competing on varsity programs across the country. This summer, KISU swimmers Ashley McMillan and Tyler Wall were part of the Swimming Canada team that competed at the FINA World Junior Swimming Championships in Budapest, Jaren Lafrance swam at the Universiade in Naples, Italy, and Jacob Brayshaw made the team for the Parapan Games in Lima, Peru.

For Hoeben, being a coach isn’t a static profession. It’s a constant search for knowledge and innovative ideas.

“My progress in the last several years has definitely been accelerated by my thirst for education and quest to become a better coach by being open to other ideas,” she said. “Not thinking I have the right answer to everything, and possibly there is more than one right answer in a lot of situations.”

Earlier this month Hoeben attended the American Swimming Coaches Association world clinic in Dallas, Texas. She was one of 10 coaches from seven provinces chosen to this year’s Swimming Canada Select Coaches Group.

The conference attracted coaches from around the world. Hoeben found the gathering informative and educational, but for her the interaction with the other Canadian coaches was particularly beneficial.

“It’s always a privilege to be selected for something like that and to be considered within the group of 10 coaches,” she said. “I like going to conferences for that educational part, but it was equally important to have that time with the Swimming Canada group and to just network with the coaches. Coaching in a small community you don’t get that interaction very often.”

During the conference, Swimming Canada provided dedicated speakers to the Select Coaches Group to discuss annual training plans and weekly templates.

“We had lots of discussion and education regarding making our season plans stronger,” said Hoeben.

From the overall conference, Hoeben said she gleaned “all kinds of gems” ranging from inspiring team captains to using technology. She hopes to introduce many of those ideas to her coaching staff and integrate them into the KISU program.

“My staff is very open minded and willing to try out new ideas,” she said. “They don’t always work but they are willing at least to give it a go.”

Over the last several years Hoeben has participated in several development opportunities provided by Swimming Canada.

Besides coaching at events like the 2017 FINA World Junior Championships, she’s had mentorship visits and attended workshops. She also was an apprentice coach at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia.

In Australia, Hoeben 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.

It was Hoeben’s first experience at a major, multi-sport competition and she “stole a ton of ideas” she would later incorporate when taking her swimmers to meets.

“One that has stood out is just to take more time in making sure the details are taken care of for what my swimmers do when they are actually at a swim meet,” she said. “I think Swimming Canada does an excellent job of making sure the environment stays positive.”

Passing on what she has learned to her coaching staff so they can develop is important to Hoeben.

“I actually seek out professional development for them,” she said. “I really, truly believe it’s a never ending learning experience. I believe you try to share some of the knowledge I have gained with them when I go away.”

In the future, Hoeben would like to see more women in senior coaching roles.

“I would love to see more female head coaches in Canada,” she said.

“I do think women might approach things in a different way and might have different relationships with different swimmers in a different way.”

As for herself, Hoeben is in no hurry to leave her current job.

“I am quite happy where I am,” she said. “I work with teenagers who are always presenting me with different challenges. I’m certainly not bored.”