Tuesday, October 19, 2010

OFSAA and the damage it does...

I would like to preface this entry by the usual: These are my opinions only and do not reflect those of Swim Ontario, The SNC, Coaches of Canada, Coaches of Ontario or of HHBF.

It is Late October and the beginning of the High School swim season. HHBF mornings go earlier (which I love) and the pool deck is jam packed with GDHS Rebels swimmers when HHBF completes their 70min workout. It amazes me how many swimmers show up for the Rebels every season... well, maybe amazed isn't the word... Astonished? Shocked? I'm not really sure.

Many of these swimmers are former Blue Fins who, for whatever reasons, left HHBF to pursue a swim career with less training and less competition in their races. Some of them are new comers to the sport and some just join to throw it on a University application. Whatever the reason it is a mixed emotion for me and I always find myself torn.

The OFSAA rules for swimming are quite unique in that they separate anyone who is affiliated with a club program and force them to compete against ONLY others that are affiliated with a club program. For example, a high school athlete who swims for a club but does not qualify for a regional championship MUST compete against the provincial champion in that event. Meanwhile, athletes who are not affiliated with a club may compete against others who are not, even if that person had been swimming with a club from age 4 until the week before the high school season starts. Does this seem fair to anyone...?

Further to this, HHBF had be plagued with reasonably good athletes leaving in the past just to get the advantage of NOT having to swim against other club athletes... Yes, athletes that were provincial level (sometimes higher) would stop swimming to avoid the competition of other club athletes and dominate the High School meets. Stop me when this seems unfair to you...

I am torn by OFSAA's rules because it does have a positive side... mainly that athletes will join because they don't have to worry about getting killed by the provincial champion... however, athletes still competed in High School ball even though they had to compete against Lebron James and St Mary's. Club athletes still compete at meets where they know they have no chance of winning their event... so what is the true benefit of this? Swimming is a life skill, so I'm glad people join my sport for that skill... however, the Town of Halton boasts the most lifeguards per capita in Ontario (don't quote me on that stat, I heard it casually in conversation but cannot find it in writing), so team or not, people are still learning this skill. So what is the advantage of separating the athletes like this?

One major down side to this is that CIS swimming suffers HUGE! Its great that there are student swimmers (non club) that can do a 2:02 or faster for 200FR but they only train for 4 months of the year... and only a few hours/week at that. Don't get me wrong, they are very talented athletes, but they are not used to the demands that training requires. Once they arrive at University, the problems start... allow me to elaborate:

Swimmer A arrives at the University of Western Ontario for their first year of University. They won OFSAA in their category, swam club until they were 13 and then quit to swim for their High School. They think that their pretty good and want to compete for the University. Here is the catch; Western asks that students make a min of 7 workouts/week. Western also has to make cuts because they can only cary so many athletes on their team. Student A is out of shape and is discouraged by the National Record holder in the lane next to them on the first day. They decide that they cannot maintain 7 workouts/week and keep up with school work. Student A quits. Canada loses a very talented athlete. End of story.

This happens EVERYWHERE and it is not new. I swam at WLU with several National record holders and medalists. We were joined by a non-club breaststroker one year who won OFSAA with a time of 1:06 for 100BR. Pretty fast, but this athlete lasted less than a full season before deciding that he could not handle the requirements on him between school and swimming.

There are obviously different tiers of University teams and some do exist where anyone could walk on (Ryerson comes to mind), but many of them now: Guelph, Western, U of T, Ottawa, Laurentian, Waterloo are amongst University teams that are dominated by FAST club swimmers. They all run with a club structure of workouts and would be like a high school athlete joining the top group of any club. How many high school athletes are willing to do that?

I had a conversation with a Rebel this morning who told me he was planning on attending one of these universities next season and that he planned on swimming. When I recomended that he join HHBF at the end of his high school season so that he could get himself in decent shape without impacting his OFSAA eligability this season, he grew concerned that it would interfere with his school work. This athlete is pretty good. It's sad for me that Canada will likley lose this athlete to "studies" unless he, and more like him, are willing to treat themselves like athletes. If I can graduate University with a double major while training 18-22 hours/week, I'm almost positive smart people can do it too.

So here is the point of my argument: this year GHDS Rebels will get probably 100 people on thier team. How many of them will go on to swim at University? The Rebels usually have upwards of 80 people / year on their team... how many are in a University program right now? 1. Jenn Ormiston now swims for WLU and placed top 10 in 50BR this past weekend at a large meet in Guelph. Great result for her and she is setting a fantastic example for the other 80 people/year who do not make it... but tell me that those 80 couldn't make it. I can show you data that proves that they can, they would rather find an easier way. OFSAA is teaching them to look for that easier way.

The OFSAA structure must change if Canada really wants to "Own the Podium". Its a gold mine here with the amount of athletes in Ontario that end up fizzeling out before their careers even really begin. Arguing against this easy way for athletes to win is not far off of arguing against doping in my books. I say it is time to break this separation and treat Swimming the same as Cross Country, Basketball, Volleyball, Track, Tennis... come to think of it, lets treat it like most other sports. I see no value in this separation at all and see much benefit in it's repeal since most of our athletes don't make it to University, thus evaporating prior to their prime. Swim Ontario must know that most of our athletes are sitting on their couches instead of training in a pool... and yet they do not demand any change and still sanction the OFSAA Championships. The frustration always begins in October.