The Solution is…

Canadians do not need Swim Ontario and Swimming Natation Canada, that’s backwards.  Swim Ontario and SNC need Canadians, they need Canadian athletes if they are to achieve their goals of podiums and medals at the international level of competition. SNC and Swim Ontario are mandated to provide Canadians pathways to international competitions (both age group and masters) if they are to retain FINA recognition. These organizations must provide pathways for Canadians to international competition.

Problem is… we have been sold the former, not told of the latter.

Problem is… Swim Ontario affiliated swim clubs have sold athletes and parents on early results being indicative of identifying Olympic hopefuls, and the reverse which is lack of early results being indicative of no potential.

Problem is… Swim Ontario affiliated club coaches have become complacent (for the most part, not all) and don’t take the time to train athletes up slowly, appropriately, carefully, respectful of their health, their well-being, their rate of progression. They want results immediately and they obtain those results by driving kids harder and harder, using the results to market themselves and the swim club to the next group of aspiring athletes and their parents.

Problem is… Canadian coaches are supported in driving kids harder and harder because SNC – despite the incongruency and incompatability with its own Long Term Athlete Development model – has stated that training for the sport of swimming is highly intensive… at all levels, failing to underscore the importance of training which occurs at effort levels and intensities which promote learning of technique, of skills, which are practiced through the repetition of drills, drills and more drills.

The solution is…

Keep Canadian children in sport until they hit their physiological and psychological peak periods (whenever they happen for each child individually), and then having a base of years and years of appropriate and healthy training… then peak them, then prepare them to compete, then allow them to shine and experience their fullest potential.

The solution is not to pull children’s potential forward as if you can force it to happen earlier (i.e. on the coaches or parents schedule), but to allow children to grow, to mature, to progress at their own rate.

Problem is we have a ‘now’ society which demands children to yield results ‘now’, and to do so without proper progressive development; a society that wants children to be successful ‘now’ and do it without having been taught proper technique, skills, posture and form. What we want is selfish and it is hurting children.

I have never met a lazy child, but I have met children pushed and pushed so hard that either they become so anxious, so angry, or so withdrawn that they refuse to put up with the pushing any longer and either quit or give up because they aren’t allowed to grow up at their own pace.

The solution is…

Keep children generalists as long as possible, and not just in swimming but across many sports and most importantly by providing them dryland training so that they develop the entire range of physical literacy skills. Teach and help children open up as many doors of opportunity as possible when they are young by gaining a wide array of experiences so that when it comes to decide what to focus on later in life… they can do so knowing that the area they decide on is what they truly enjoy, what they truly want to devote themselves to and focus on.

Problem is Swim Ontario affiliated swim clubs are specializing athletes before they hit their peak growth rates. Athletes as young as 11 and 12 are trained and raced as sprinters, often times focusing on only one or two strokes, unable to swim more than a couple hundred meters at a time, unable to swim an IM (individual medley), unable to swim any long distance aerobically, at an easy relaxed pace.

The solution is…

For parents to enroll children in programs where coaches are thinking about your child’s long term success, not short term results that can be obtained by gaming your child’s physiology or psychology. Otherwise, you risk enrolling your child with a coach or club that will take from your child whatever results they can obtain by pushing and pushing for performance before it is appropriate, before it is necessary, before they have the training base, the physiological and psychological capacity to handle the expectations, the emotions, the experiences that training to compete and competing will put them through.

The solution is…

Not falling for the fear based narratives that they are too old. The reality is that for the majority of sports – not just swimming – athletes peak in their 20s not their tweens, not their teens.  Find a coach who wants your child to experience their fullest potential, and has no problem if that happens long after they have left them, their program and have moved onto a coach or a program that will bring them all the way up. Find a selfless coach.

Two stories of swimming…

My son and swimming…

My son swam with a Swim Ontario swim club. He was pushed, and pushed and then pushed some more. By the age of 12 he had qualified for Festivals (i.e. Provincials <13 years of age) in the maximum number of events. He was swimming personal best after personal best taking 5, 10 even 15 seconds off at a time. He was pushed harder, and then pushed harder… and then he blew up. We were driving to a meet in May in that same season and all of a sudden I realized that my son wasn’t tired, he was exhausted, he had given all that he could, he was then expected to give more… but had hit a wall. A wall that he had no idea how to climb because there was nothing left, he had given all that he had… and he couldn’t get over the wall. In that instance, the momentum screeched to a halt, like a wave that he was just marginally staying ahead of, all of the pushing caught up to him and swallowed him, it was over. That was the end of swimming. My son was pushed to the point that he came to hate what once was a love, a joy, a pleasure.

I allowed it to happen… it happened on my watch!

I was supposed to protect him, I allowed him to get hurt.

It then occurred to me that it wasn’t just my son, but athlete after athlete, coach after coach seemed to have left sport on a low… a low that to this day they still seem to live when they chose to acknowledge its existence. When a swim coach shared that the thought alone of a swimsuit can make her choke, I realized… we are doing this wrong… its all wrong! Sport is not to leave us in a low, its to be a source of empowerment, a training ground that we use to succeed in life outside of sport as much as in sport.

It took years to help my son process his early years of athletic experience. There were emotional, mental and physical patterns that all had to be unwound in order to allow him to move forward in life without the baggage he had gained from being pushed and from trying to take the pushing to perform… for coaches, for the team, for his parents, for himself. Today, he is back to training, training in an healthy manner, training with first things first.

My story of swimming…

I swam with York SC out of Runnymede Collegiate and then progressed to the next training level which swam out of Weston Collegiate Institute. I started swimming “late” (as in not at age 6-7) so when I got to Weston Collegiate, I was in grade 8 going on grade 9 but I was swimming with those who started earlier and were at least a few years younger.

That marked the end of swimming because no one explained to me it wasn’t too late, I just figured it was. No one told me that if I stuck with it that I had a chance as good if not better than the younger ones, because in time… those younger ones typically burn out, blow up, end up exhausted, done like dinner before they see their teenage years.

I restarted swimming to train for triathlons in grade 12. I didn’t join a team, I swam on my own at the YMCA and when the opportunity arose with other triathletes. In my first year at the University of Toronto, I missed try outs for the Varsity Blues swim team but showed up on deck the following week hoping that I could at least train with the team because my focus was triathlons, not swimming exclusively.  I had no false hopes that I would be able to make the team. It turned out that I was allowed to train with the team, and ended up making the team. I was a walk-on.

In the following four years, I competed as a Varsity Blue at OUAAs (University Provincials) but failed to make cuts for CIAUs (University Nationals). But what I learnt from the experience was critical… swimming doesn’t end at 10, 12 even at 15.  I may not have qualified for CIAUs, but I trained with athletes whose times qualified them for OUAAs, CIAUs and to go on and compete around the world… at World University Games, at Pan-Ams, Pan-Pacs, at the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics. The UofT Varsity Blues team had athletes who swam for Canada at all these competitions.

The Solution Is…

STEP 1 – train to peak in university not before
STEP 2 – study to peak in university not before
STEP 3 – peak in university & explore your potential

There is no need for membership to any team or club (especially Swim Ontario affiliated swim club) that will attempt to peak you earlier. Instead join a team, a club, train with a coach who understands that your peak years will be long past the days that you were with them… you will be off at university, off to explore your potential and the world.

Parents… keep kids achieving, keep kids dreaming, keep kids training, keep kids from over training, from over competing, keep kids active in an healthy manner helping them build the physiological and psychological base so that when they do hit that sweet spot of their peak performance years as a young adult they will be able to seize the opportunity. If it so happens that your child is an exception… that they peak earlier, don’t worry, you will not miss the opportunity.  If Penny Oleksiak despite being rejected by two Swim Ontario affiliated swim clubs could still make her way into the sport, and to the top of the sport… then anyone can no matter what Swim Ontario and SNC do to try and prevent it.

If I could walk-on to the University of Toronto Blues Swim Team and have the opportunity to train with the some of the best athletes in our country, to compete alongside some of the best athletes… imagine if someone had told me when I was 12 when I left swimming that all I had to do was… just keep going, not fast, not hard, just keep going.

Doors don’t close until you close them. Lets teach kids to open doors and then keep them open as long as possible so that they have a choice of opportunities when its their time.