Ken McKinnon has been one of Canada’s best swim coaches for almost 50 years. In September, he was officially recognized as such by the Fédération de natation du Québec, who chose him as one of the nine coaches inducted into its Hall of Fame since 1991.
McKinnon’s passion for swimming started in the late 1960s, when his family joined the Beaurepaire Swim Club in Beaconsfield. He swam in the summer league from 13 to 16, and competed in the 100-m butterfly event at the 1972 Olympic Trials. His love for swimming grew, and coaching being a good summer job for a student, he decided to try it and developed a true passion. After being the Beaurepaire Swim Club head coach for 2 years, he worked with Pointe-Claire Swim Club from 1974 to 1984, before filling the same position with CAMO for nine years. He then moved to British Columbia, where he coached a few teams, including the provincial team, until 2008. He briefly coached the Barracuda Swim Club in Nassau, Bahamas, from 2003 to 2005. Since 2009, McKinnon has been the National Development Coach for Swimming Canada. He has been the coach of eight Olympians: Jennifer Boulianne, Anne Jardin, Nathalie Gingras, Karen Ward and Julie Daigneault for Canada, as well as David Leblanc (France), Nikia Deveaux (Bahamas) and Christal Clashing (Antigua).
“I work as a swim coach because that’s what I wake up thinking about,” he says. “Plus, of course, I’m currently working in one of the best roles available in the professional swim coaching community in Canada, which is very motivating.”
Ken is described by fellow coaches as a passionate and patient man, who listens to what others have to say to make sure he fully understands the situation before offering advice. His approach earned him the respect of many on the pool deck over the years.
“I think it’s important to make an honest and strong personal connection with my swimmers. I believe in them, and they trust me,” McKinnon says.
When asked what is the greatest moment of his career, McKinnon replies there are too many to choose from.
“All great moments are a result of good detailed planning, commitment, hard work, overcoming challenges, and performing when it counts. There have been many examples of hard work, but one thing that stays is that commitment equals improvement over the years,” he says.
According to him, the best measure of the quality of the National Development Team Program is the ability to prepare young talented Canadian swimmers for success at the senior international level. Knowing Canada has won numerous medals in international events under his direction, it’s safe to say he fulfils his role.
“Ken is seen as a very positive model as a coach, and to know the beginning of his career happened in Quebec, and that he was then able to use his knowledge on the national and international scene, is a testament to the talent we find in the province. We are very proud of what he has become,” said Nicolas Zazzeri, Technical Director at the Fédération de natation du Québec.
Jean-Pierre Laforêt, who worked with him for many years at CAMO, added that Ken “was very demanding for his athletes, but he was also giving a lot of his time and energy. He has always been great with them; he knew how to motivate his kids and get the best out of them during meets. He’s also very passionate, as are the great swimming coaches. He’s done great things in the past and continues to do so today.”
Being a humble man, McKinnon was surprised when he first heard he was chosen as an inductee.
“I wasn’t expecting to receive such an honour in my career,” he said about his induction. “It was very motivating to attend ceremonies at conferences through the years, but I never really connected that to my own career. Now that I did get it though, recognition is always positive and appreciated, and it is a great honour to be acknowledged in such a way in the final chapter of my career.”