In this past masters season of swim meets, one of our meets took place immediately after a Swimming Canada/Swim Ontario affiliated swim club meet for age groupers (youth athletes). Since the meet was still underway, the opportunity presented itself to see exactly what level of skill, technique and capacity did these 8-10 year olds obtain. It was awful… children who had no idea how to do a dive start were being put up on the blocks to start their events. Some literally just fell in the water, some jumped in feet first, others dove but the lack of skill yielded a spectacular belly flop, while others dove and ended up so deep that they added at least an additional 5m to their event due to the amount of vertical distance they had to swim. No one was encouraging deck divestarts or for that matter in water starts, which for some of the swimmers would have easily shaved seconds off their time (isn’t that the point afterall… faster times?).

The swimming portion was equally painful to watch: in some cases it was unclear whether the child was actually attempting to execute a specific stroke, or was drowning due to the amount of thrashing that was going on. Apparently, the lifeguards had been observing this poverty in swimming ability and seeing it consistently clearly did not feel it appropriate to jump in and ‘save’ the child. Meanwhile, coaches and parents screamed from the pool deck, from the stands… trying to ‘encourage’ their child to try hard, or harder, to swim faster.

As an aside, I think any parent who yells at their child to try harder or scream at them to swim faster should be made to complete the exact event themselves and perhaps then they will consider how asinine their comments are.

Anyhow, allow me to continue by drawing a parallel to this spectacle: this swim meet was the equivalent to giving a child a math test, but failing to teach them the mathematical rules, the equations required to solve the problems, and failing to provide them sufficient sample problems in order to have any chance at completing the test successfully, yelling at a child to swim faster is like standing over top of them while they write the math test and screaming “try harder”, “solve problems faster”, “you can do this… calculate” as if any of that is actually encouraging or helpful to the child staring at numbers and symbols and being clueless as to what to do.

So why were these children at a swim meet? For a number of reasons: (a) parents demand ‘results’, therefore despite lacking the skills to swim, children are sent to compete; (b) coaches are gutless and spineless and refuse to stand up to parents by stating that children should not be sent to compete until they first know how to swim, and secondly know how to execute all swim meet specific skills (i.e. dives, turns, relay takeovers, etc…) and thirdly can handle the stress of a competition; and (c) last but not least, because swim meets are a financial windfall for swim teams. I recall hearing that one three day meet in Quebec pulled in over $25,000 for the hosting team… not a bad chunk of change. On that note, you may want to ask Swim Ontario why exactly do “volunteers” have to pay to be “volunteers” when swim meets haul in?

This is the culture that Swimming Canada and Swim Ontario have created… children driven to pursue performance instead of process, children pushed to deliver results instead of being required to demonstrate proficiency and competency in capacity, in the skills and the technique of competitive swimming (before they are permitted to compete). Swimming Canada & Swim Ontario have their heads so far up their asses to “Own the Podium” that children are sorted through one by one solely in search for the next Olympian who will bring prestige to Swimming Canada and who can be placed upon a podium to start the process all over again (obviously with a new batch of children… not the ones that we’ve already tested and who have come up lacking).

In the words of an Orillia Old Poops swim team masters swimmer, “Swimming Canada and Swim Ontario have created a culture of hero worship”.

So in this culture where outcomes (as opposed to progress and process) have been made the priority is it any wonder why children and parents are being pushed into exploring any avenue that offers them the opportunity to obtain better outcomes. When tenths and hundredths of a second matter… what won’t outcome obsessed people do?

Swimming Canada & Swim Ontario… you created this culture, now you have to deal with the consequences.

In 2016, Canada sent no more than 50 swimmers to Rio for the Olympics. Swimming Canada boasts a membership of 30,000. That means that 0.1% of Canadian athletes on swim teams made the Olympic team. If 0.1% of Canadian children make the Olympic team… then selling children and their parents that the Olympics is simply a matter of trying really really hard, is a sales snowjob. And then consider how many of those 50 swimmers actually stood on the podium in Rio. The percentage is infinitesimal.

With the pressure to deliver results earlier and earlier and earlier, with the sales snowjob of National Team membership and swimming scholarships made to seem as if available to each and every athlete, children and parents are driven into a panicked frenzy for anything that will shave off even a hundredth of a second. To combat this drive for results earlier and earlier the sport of gymnastics has had to raise the minimum age for competing at senior levels of competition. Why cannot and why doesn’t the sport of swimming do the same? Why not work to protect children and like the sport of gymnastics keep competition open only to those athletes who have the skills and abilities? Wouldn’t that be “Safe Sport” (or at least safer)?

I recall standing in line to purchase some swim training equipment at Team Aquatic in Burlington, and the line in front of me was filled with aspiring athletes many of whom were having their parents purchase racing suits which cost hundreds of dollars. Suits that they will likely grow out of in the next year if not the next month. Suits that make sense for National Team members who have spent a virtual lifetime training and who now set personal bests by the tenth or hundredth of a second. Suits that make no sense at all for athletes who have yet to master proper divestarts, proper stroke technique, proper swimming.

Which begs the question, why are competition suits which cost hundreds of dollars necessary for non senior level swimmers? Why are they even permitted? What is the statement being made by Swimming Canada by allowing these suits?

Honestly, I fail to see the difference: if race suits are ‘legal’ and offer an advantage of only tenths or hundredths of a second, then what’s the difference with every other ‘legal’ option to obtain an advantage of a tenth or a hundredth of a second.  Which is to David Walsh’s point (see recent prior posts for details): that the challenge for sport associations & WADA is not illegal doping, but legal doping. WADA is on top of illegal doping with the technological advancements in testing, but legal doping… where do you even begin… because… its legal!

What is clearly coming as a shock to sports associations is that this is not just an issue at the pro level, but because of the culture of competition, children & thus their parents are competing even before they get to swim meets, the competition starts within swim teams for the limited number of spots in more advanced levels of training which are the stepping stone to the ‘promised land’ of making cuts and qualifying for various National Teams. That Swim Ontario placed a moratorium on new swim clubs in the recent past created only additional bottlenecks in training opportunities for children, thus fueling the flames of competition amongst athletes (hence their parents). How a moratorium on new swim clubs made for “Safe Sport”… this I would like to hear from Swim Ontario.

Why should it come as a shock? In recent years stories such as those of Lance Armstrong have opened our eyes to the extent athletes, coaches and even medical and health professionals are willing to go to obtain outcomes. Is it really such a stretch of the imagination that non-pro athletes would explore the limits of anything that offers performance enhancements? We are constantly fed a live feed of supplements, super foods, and so forth that will offer us the ability to swim faster, to recover faster from training and racing sessions… where do you draw the line? Clearly amateur athletes of all ages are testing the limits because the number of masters athletes resorting to all forms of cheating – from prescribed and non-prescribed medications to course cutting to obtain outcomes – is overwhelming.

When 99.9% of Canadian children in swim meets are NOT going to make the National Team, whats the point in building an entire system and a culture that sells the opposite? Its because children are not the focus of Swimming Canada or Swim Ontario despite all the political theatre they put on selling that “children are the future”. If children were the focus of Swimming Canada, then how bout this… Swimming Canada would actually adhere to its own Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) model and would enforce the model:

What Swimming Canada’s own LTAD model shows is that there is a process! The process is a step by step pattern that if followed would raise far more Canadian children to their potential in comparison to the perverted training model we have now which places Training to Compete and Training to Win at the start. How else do you explain 8-10 years with no perceptible swimming abilities being thrown into swim meets? This is not training, this is entertainment for parents who are so sold on the culture and the belief that their child have a chance (which is significantly greater than 0.1%) to make the National Team if they just click their heels three times, think happy thoughts and try really really hard at the upcoming swim meet.

Instead of promoting, process, proper training, a sport which offers a parallel to succeeding in life outside of sport, swimming has become a snowjob of fairytales and fantasy stories that every child who wants to… makes it. And when they don’t children have only one thing to believe… it was them that failed, they weren’t enough, they weren’t good enough, they weren’t willing to hurt enough, suffer enough, suck it up and try harder and harder. Meanwhile, who failed them was Swimming Canada and gutless, spineless coaches more concerned with job security than raising up children with an understanding that achieving anything in life comes down to process… follow the process and you will succeed; maybe not in swimming, but in something you will, and thats a guarantee. Instead, Swimming Canada spreads a culture of competing and is then shocked at what its created.

To SNC & SO… you created this culture, and now when children and parents are totally engulfed in competing with one another and seeking anything that will give them an opportunity to stand out, now you want to vilify what they are doing to survive in your culture… this is reprehensible. That children and parents feel that they must go to these extreme extents is not of their own doing: you created this, so… you deal with it, you solve it. Witch-hunting only reveals that the culture you’ve created is not only out of control, but you’ve lost control.