Swimming in Canada and the USA is different, way way different and I believe there is one underlying reason, and that reason is the level of competition at the college/university level. In the US, swim meets at the college/university level (i.e. NCAA) are equal or are very close to being equal to the level of competition at international meets, if not the Olympics. In comparison, university swim meets in Canada are… well, they exist and that’s about all.

But how does this difference impact the state of swimming across Canada, especially at the level of age group swim clubs?

The difference is this…

In the US, age group swim clubs know where the real level of competition exists… at NCAAs (i.e. college level competition) and the focus is preparing and priming athletes to be ready to compete at the college level. It goes further than that because just to get into a US college especially one with a strong swim program is a competition in itself, and to earn a scholarship even more of a competition. So I believe age group swim clubs compete against one another, and in that, age group swim club coaches compete against one another to constantly be a source of athletes that US college scouts will want to recruit. The outcome is that the long term success of each and every athlete is the focus of training, not what an athlete can achieve this season. A byproduct of this inter-club competition for collegiate programs is that outdated coaches end up coaching no one, because parents identify which teams prep children for college and which do not. US swim coaches do not have the time to become complacent, they have to continuously develop in their understanding and skill level as coaches, otherwise they risk irrelevance.

And then there is Canada…

In Canada, age group swim clubs are not preparing athletes for anything. There is no competition on the scale of NCAA swim meets in Canada and Canadian universities are not scouting age group athletes for teams because scholarships are rare if they even exist at all and Canadian coaches could not care less about preparing athletes for US collegiate swim programs. As a result, Canadian age group swim clubs and more importantly swim club coaches are not competing against one another, they are not striving to be the best, become the best, to be the source of top athletes in Canada. This is especially true when you have the Provincial Sports Organization (PSO) – i.e. Swim Ontario – imposing moratoriums on new club formation or simply making new club formation an absolute financial, logistical and operational impossibility allowing existing swim clubs to effectively be monopolies in their communities. Without the risk of another club forming, even in highly populated centers like Mississauga or Toronto, Canadian swim club coaches have grown complacent, and along with that their coach ability has deterioriated to the point that athletes are not even being trained in proper performance and competition technique (i.e. Front Crawl vs Freestyle).

Unlike swim coaches in the US who compete against one another to develop talent for US college swim teams, Canadian coaches don’t compete, so Canadian athletes are equally noncompetitive.

It also explains why the Canadian athletes who do manage to excel in the sport despite the State of Swimming in Canada go abroad in search of competent coaching.

The list of Canadians who want to compete at the international level and leave Canada in search of a coach who can develop them to be Olympians and/or World Champ is unfortunately long. The fact that this lengthy list even exists indicates that this post is not a Swim Ontario/Swimming Canada bashing blog, its a blog that seeks to reveal the reality behind the State of Swimming in Canada and in Ontario so that Canadians – athletes & parents alike – can make educated decisions about where they swim, who they chose as a coach, which team they decide upon.

In a SwimSwam.com article, Ontario’s Mentor Coach – Dean Bowles – who resigned from the position to take on the position as National Coach of Denmark is quoted stating that:

“he has no one to coach in Ontario, hi performance facilities stand empty as there are few Canadian swimmers who meet the criteria of ‘hi performance’.”

Yet Swim Ontario and Swimming Canada boast of the multi-million dollar investment into Hi Performance Centres (HPCs) which although empty are supposed to develop Canadian swimmers into Olympic medalists. A handful of hi performance athletes does exist, but the majority head to the US… why? Because to be one of the best you have to train with coaches who know how to develop athletes into the best. No, you do not need to train amongst the best (as Swimming Canada claims) because there far too many US Olympians (e.g. Alison Schmitt, Missy Franklin) who trained and competed as ‘unattached’ (i.e. unaffiliated with any swim club) proving that training amongst the best is not needed, instead what is needed is training with the best coaches: coaches who have the ability, experience, education, and skill to coach athletes to becoming their best.

Meanwhile, Swim Ontario and Swimming Canada believe that investing countless of millions of dollars into standalone centres (i.e. HPCs) for scouting, recruiting and training is the solution. Spend, spend, spend as if spending money was the solution to anything (e.g. if spending millions was a solution, then Swim Ontario and Swimming Canada need to explain all the value of the empty, derelict and possibly even condemned Olympic facilities used in prior Olympic Games which are failing to lead to gains in athletic achievement in those countries).

The solution for the State of Swimming in Ontario and Canada is not investing in HPCs, but investing into making swimming at Canadian university level as compelling as swimming in the US college program. Such a focus would encourage not only excellence in athletics but excellence in academics so Canadian athletes achieve in the short term in sport, and are set up after their sport careers with an education to achieve in the long term as well.

Unfortunately, for this to happen the mindset, the culture of control, of manipulation, of complacency by age group level coaches hence at Swim Ontario and Swimming Canada would have to change. With a culture of mediocrity, of laziness, of negligence embedded in the entire hierarchy of swimming in Canada, change is unlikely to happen from within and as proposed in the thread of posts titled “State of Swimming” (in Canada/Ontario) the solution must come from beyond the system.

The change must come from athletes and parents of athletes seeking an alternative to crappy coaching, crappy swim clubs, crappy swim club Boards who continue to permit crappy coaching at their clubs.

If you are an athlete and you want to explore your potential then unfortunately the vast majority of swim clubs in Ontario have little interest in helping you because they see no value in taking a long term approach to your development. If two Swim Ontario affiliated swim clubs (TSC & SCAR) both rejected Penny Oleksiak at the age of 9 because she couldn’t swim 2 lengths of the pool… well, just think on that for a moment remembering that Penny at the Rio Olympics became Canada’s most decorated swimmer… ever.

At Swim Ontario affiliated swim clubs you are expected to drop out from their program either after grade 8 or after grade 12 when you graduate high school, and because Swim Ontario coaches are not competing against one another as a source of athletes for universities… they see you simply as a body that fills a lane for a few years, so to them you are no more than an opportunity to strip mine your parents of as much of their money and time as possible.

In my view, the beauty, the value, the importance of sport, of swimming has been converted into a financial jackpot for lazy, ignorant and incompetent coaches, while children are being denied what swimming can and should be providing them… the skills, the mindset, the attitude, the fortitude, the courage, the guts, the belief, the confidence, the strategies to win as children, as teens, as young adults, in athletic endeavours, in academic endeavours, in artistic endeavours, in life.

Because adults (namely crappy swim coaches) are stealing from children the most important aspect of being a child… a time in life where making mistakes is critical, because to succeed in life the most important skill is to learn how to fail, how to learn from the failure, so that you do not make the same mistake twice, so that you move ahead in life gaining momentum with every lesson, gaining experience and an awareness and appreciation of how to succeed in life. Children who fail to learn how to fail and stand back up as children become entitled, thumb sucking snowflakes and social justice warriors who demand government intervention to fix the issues which wishbone wishing has failed to resolve. What Canada needs are adults with backbones who do not claim to be victims at every opportunity but instead stand as champions deciding that they will be the solution to the problems they see in their communities, across Canada, around the world.

Sport is supposed to train children to become leaders, not to derail their hopes, their dreams, their goals and aspirations of who they are and what they are supposed to do with the gift that is their life.

Why post if change will not come from within the system?

I post because its time for those who care about sport, about swimming, about children to return it to what it is meant to be… a special gift… one for our children, our childrens children and for generations to come. I cannot do it alone, only together can we change the State of Swimming in Ontario and in Canada to benefit not the few, but the many.

Choose your swim club and coach carefully… a critical part of your child’s development, hence their future as adults is in the hands of the individual on the pool deck who claims themselves to be the ‘coach’. The question for you is: are they capable, do they have the skill, are they worthy of the title of coach? Our children are trusting us to make the right decision on their behalf, as parents our responsibility is to choose wisely.


J.J. Adams, Vancouver Sun
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