The thread of blogs titled “State of Swimming” is addressed to parents of age group swimmers, to masters swimmers, to those who care about the sport of swimming. The purpose of these blogs is to shed light on the true state of swimming in our nation, because the state that we are sold by Swimming Natation Canada (SNC) and by Swim Ontario (SO) is the state that they want us to see, hope that we will see, that we will believe, and most definitely not ask any questions about.
So on that note…
The state of swimming…. well isn’t it amazing? Obviously the state of swimming can be nothing other than superb because… well… Penny Oleksiak of course. Oleksiak is not just the youngest Canadian to win a gold medal at the Summer Olympic Games, she is the most decorated Canadian at any single Summer Olympic Games having won a total of four Olympic medals in 2016 Rio.
Swimming Canada and Swim Ontario have only to point to Oleksiak… to dismiss any question as to the state of swimming in our nation because the only answer to them is… well, Penny Oleksiak.
Indeed Penny’s achievements are exceptional, her accomplishments should be celebrated – as they have – but the state of swimming in Canada or in Ontario cannot depend on one athlete nor be defined by one athlete no matter how much SNC and SO hope it can. One athlete does not represent the 30,000 members that SNC claims as its base.
With the Rio Olympics well in the distance in the rear view mirror, the point of these posts will be to look beyond the simple answer of Oleksiak, to review the data, the statistics, shedding light onto the reality that is swimming in our country… a sport which has long ago lost its focus on actual swimming, on training, on preparing, on developing Canada’s youth into capable athletes into a tool used by bureaucrats at SNC and SO who seek primarily to profit themselves, and to secure their positions at the cost of Canada’s swimmers, their parents, their families, and at the cost of the meaning and the value of the sport of swimming itself.
For these associations, Oleksiak is a portrait of perfection of the efforts they have put out into organizing and developing policies to make swimming successful, to “Own the Podium”, to engage the next generation of athletes. There is just one tiny problem with this portrait of perfection… the story is not that simple, it never is, and for Swimming Canada, Swim Ontario, and all their affiliated clubs, the truth reveals just a sliver of the true state of swimming in Canada.
The story would be perfect, absolutely ideal if… Penny started at the age of 5 or 6 in some Swim Ontario affiliated swim club, progressed perfectly through the levels of training available with that club, competing year after year winning age group after age group, setting record after record. Her steps of progress from novice, to competitor, to member of the National team would be an example to all and for ages to come. Problem is it didn’t happen that way.
Oleksiak was not an early swimmer, it was not til the age of 9 that she started to learn how to swim. In fact, because Oleksiak was unable to swim two lengths at the age of 9, she was rejected by both the TSC/Toronto Swim Club & SCAR/Scarborough Swim Clubs. You read that right… these two Swim Ontario swim clubs rejected Canada’s to-be most decorated swimmer. The association which today champions Oleksiak as a product of its system was rejected by that same system. Think about that.
That statement alone summarizes the state of swimming in Canada. Clubs and coaches are looking for “easy” athletes that can be turned easily into champions with little work on their part. Wait a tick… isn’t the entire point of clubs and coaches to train, to teach, to develop, to improve, to refine… to coach would be athletes into athletes? If coaches are not coaching, then what are they doing? Exactly… what are they doing?
Why do clubs have “no parents” on deck policies? What are coaches doing or saying that parents cannot and should not be part of? Why do clubs reject “older” athletes – that is if 9 can even be considered old… definitely not after Penny! If coaches are not coaching, why do clubs charge exhorbitant fees? Why does Swim Ontario allow membership only via clubs if clubs reject aspiring athletes? What’s the point of a system that rejects athletes who are motivated to learn? What kind of system have Swimming Canada and Swim Ontario created that children motivated to become swimmers are rejected because they cannot swim some measure?
If Canadians interested in swimming are rejected by Canada’s swimming organizations… then where exactly are they supposed to go? Correct me if I am wrong… but its “Swimming” Canada and “Swim” Ontario… as in swimming.
Back to Oleksiak…
Could you imagine today being the coach of that swim club knowing that after all your years as a swim coach, you still cannot ‘pick’ a swimmer even when Canada’s next Olympian stands in front of you. If that coach hasn’t quit swimming, admitting that they know next to nothing about swimming, let alone coaching, then they should have been terminated. But that just doesn’t happen in our swim system, but that’s a story for another post.
Indeed Oleksiak is the pride of a nation, unfortunately, the system which she is supposedly a byproduct is not and cannot be the pride of this nation.
These posts are a call out to all current athletes, all former athletes including OUAA, CIAU, and National team members, to parents of athletes and to be athletes, and all those coaches who have had enough of a system focused on profits and protecting the positions of coaches who – like the one who rejected Oleksiak – should not be coaching yet still are, and likely still head coach. The current system of age group clubs is not the mandatory or the obligatory pathway for Canadian athletes seeking to explore their potential as a swimmer, excited to pursue the sport of swimming at national and international levels of competition. There is an alternative and not just one but several (which I will detail in blogs to come).
Finally, in anticipation of reactions from readers thinking that elimination of SNC and SO is the objective, it is not. These organizations serve a role, and that role is to provide a pathway for Canadians to be able to compete internationally in events recognized by the global body for swimming: FINA. That is their role, and that is where their role should end. Problem is that Swimming Natation Canada, Swim Ontario and all the other Provincial Sport Organization (PSOs) have reached well beyond their scope and have overgrown like weeds into every crack and crevice of the sport writing policies and procedures that are not only contradictory to their obligations in order to receive government sponsorship and funding, but are equally contradictory to the ethical management of sport, to the growth of the sport itself. Like overgrown weeds, these organizations need to be cut back, and cut back severely if the sport of swimming is to grow & thrive the way I believe it can, and in the way I believe it must for this generation and all generations to come.
SNC and SO need to exist, but in a much, much, much smaller capacity than they exist now. They should be focused on “Owning the Podium” but based on the story of Oleksiak we have to ask… if the interference of SNC & SO at the grassroot level of the sport of swimming led to our most decorated Summer Olympian being rejected not just once, but twice… then how many other Canadian children have been “rejected”? How many other Canadian children have been told that they are not enough, not good enough to participate in a sport that they showed interest in, for which they showed excitement, eagerness. What message are Canadian children getting from SNC and SO affiliated clubs? Not a message that a generation faced with epidemics of juvenile obesity and diabetes need to receive.
Its time for change in the sport of swimming in Canada.