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Junior male training camp improves skills in and out of the water

News –

By Jim Morris

For Kiet Kong it was the simple things that made the biggest difference.

Learning how to clear his mind of distractions to better focus on his training was one tool Kong added to his collection during a recent Swimming Canada Junior Male Development Camp held in Vancouver.

“I learned about mindset,” said the 16-year-old, who trains with coach Sean Baker at the Markham (Ont.) Aquatic Club. “That I need to be in the right spot in my mind, just focus on the set. Think what you are going to do.”

Tuja Dreyer, a 16-year-old who was born in Whitehorse, Yukon, and now trains with Island Swimming in Victoria, received advice on improving his strokes from Martin Gingras, Swimming Canada’s national coach, programming and coach development.

“Throughout the camp he reminded me, worked with me,” said Dreyer, who trains with coach Lucien Zucchi. “It’s something I am working on right now.”

The camp drew 11 junior-age swimmers from across Canada to the University of British Columbia Aquatic Centre. It was part of a Swimming Canada initiative to develop more male swimmers to compete on senior national teams.

Ken McKinnon, Swimming Canada’s national development coach, said for many of those attending it was the first time they could train and learn from athletes of equal skill.

“That helps when you get like-minded swimmers doing something together,” said McKinnon. “It’s more fun for them. They can push each other harder. We get a little bit more of a directed focus.

“The message can be more common across the board. They also are playing some gamesmanship with each other. They race each other at meets, now they get to see each other in training.”

Kong, who swims the 100 and 200-metre breaststroke, liked being challenged in the training sessions.

“It was nice being able to swim next to people that are at my speed,” he said. “At home training, I don’t really get that opportunity.

“It pushed me. I did stuff at that camp that I haven’t really done before at my home training.”

Besides training sessions in the water, the swimmers were taught proper activation before practices, how to cool down after training and good lifestyle choices.

“We’re trying to push that kind of development and preparation, an athlete’s lifestyle,” said McKinnon. “Your wellness outside of the pool, your flexibility, mobility and injury prevention work is as important as your pool training.”

Robert Pettifer of the Richmond (B.C.) Rapids acted as head coach. The coaching staff also included Zucchi;  Wendy Johnson, assistant head coach of Calgary’s Cascade Swim Club; Chilliwack Spartan Head Coach Justin Daly; and Baylee Munro, head coach with the University of Regina Cougars.

Zucchi said the coaches benefited as much as the swimmers.

“That was a really good group of coaches,” said Zucchi, who came to Canada from France 13 years ago and has coached in Red Deer, Alta., the University of Regina and the Vancouver Pacific Swim Club. “I learned a lot and there was stuff I brought home right away.”

Zucchi said the structure of the camp, with its training sessions and out-of-pool activities, was designed to show swimmers what it takes to compete at high-level, international meets.

“We wanted to show them what a high-performance athlete is doing and what they can do better,” he said.

Zucchi said he saw a difference in Dreyer, who swims the 200 and 400-m individual medley plus the 200-m butterfly.

“When he came back home his level of training was better,” he said. “We’re working on his skill.”

The camp is one of a series operated by Swimming Canada. The goal of developing more male swimmers came on the heels of the Rio 2016 Games, where Canadian women won six medals and reached 12 pool finals. Canadian men were kept off the podium and reached three finals.

Among the swimmers who have benefitted from past male junior camps are Finlay Knox, who won gold in the 200-m individual medley at the recent World Aquatics Championships in Doha, Qatar; Joshua Liendo, a silver medallist at the 2023 World Aquatics Championships and winner of three medals at the Budapest 2022 World Championships; and Gabe Mastromatteo, who won three medals at the 2019 World Junior Championships. Liendo, Knox, Mastromatteo and Cole Pratt all swam at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Most of the swimmers who attended the Vancouver camp are expected to compete at the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Trials, Presented by Bell, May 13-19 in Montreal. They will try to earn a spot on the Canadian team headed to the Junior Pan Pacific Championships in Canberra, Australia, in August.

Neither Dreyer nor Kong has represented Canada at a major international meet. The Vancouver camp was a first step along the road to the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.

“It’s a pretty far goal,” said Kong. “It’s always in the back of my head. I think it’s doable but it’s going to be a challenge.

“I think it’s a lot more achievable after this camp.”