Thursday, February 23, 2012

We need more years...

When I took over HHBF about 4 years ago, there were many things on my "To Do" list; however, none more important than to find a way to get older athletes on our club. High pressure was for recruitment, but I didn't feel that, at the time, we had enough to offer in order to recruit a solid enough base of older athletes. My only viable option was to roll up my sleeves and sell, sell, sell.

The history of HHBF to that point was pretty simple: we were a feeder team to GDHS high school's team. This was for a couple of reasons including tradition. But more importantly, there was no perceived need for a team for kids 14 and older.

The high school was cheaper.
The high school only made you train a few times/week for 4 months.
Perhaps most importantly, it was easier. You could train up until the first day of grade 9, then beat the crap out of swimmers who had never swam a day in their life. You didn't have to achieve high standards to go to the championship meets AND you didn't even have to SWIM at those championship meets (you could have 7 people on a relay team as alternates).
Why would anyone in their right minds bust their humps for 10 months of the year and many practices/week to race against fast people and lose?? Many of these thoughts are portrayed in my article from last season OFSAA And The Damage It Does.

I began discouraging athletes from swimming for the high school in the 2008-2009 season for about 2 weeks... then I realized that it was a useless endeavour. I couldn't fight history and tradition. All I could do was sell the difference and the importance of staying in swimming... why swimming in Canada NEEDS you! I started bringing in guest speakers such as Joe Bartoch, Kristen Bradley, Lindsay Seemann and others to talk about their swimming experiences. I started blogging. I started opening up lines of communication and education for my club, swimmers and parents. They needed to understand why this was important.

Fast forward 4 years and see that we've been really successful. HHBF has 2 alumni swimmers in University, will send more next year and a TON the year after that. We succeeded in selling the reasons to swim and the need for our club to exist. We have fast age groupers... but now comes the need to educate about the next step in this development. We need more years on HHBF.

Dean Boles, Randy Bennett, Pierre Lafontaine and general statistics will tell you that the average age of athletes performing at a world level is raising. Very few 17 year olds are making it and so we need to keep athletes swimming longer. Universities will help us achieve this goal, but more importantly, WE need to prepare these athletes to be able to survive the student-athlete University experience so that they can continue their swimming careers; That is priority #1.

Priority #2 now is to support these athletes and encourage them to help HHBF succeed. This is a new priority for us, as we've never been in a position like this before. We recently had Elizabeth Skuriat represent HHBF at Eastern Canadian Championships and swimming faster than ever, with 2 pbs and breaking 2 club records at the meet. We have former Blue Fins that want to wear the Fin and represent our team. Very simply, WE NEED THESE ATHLETES.

Accepting these athletes is one thing, but truly supporting them is another. These athletes that go to University are met with a plethora of options; teams trying to recruit them. Honestly, it would be pretty exciting for a former Blue Fin to swim for their University's club team... possibly be the 4th person on a Provincial or National medal winning relay and have their travel covered for the meet. So when it comes decision time for these athletes, the question that pops into their minds is simple: "whats in it for me?"

Supporting these athletes and bringing them back here is very important for our development as a team over the next quadrennial. The way to look at this is investing the return on the investment we made already. My long term goal with HHBF is to have a world class performance by a Blue Fin or a Blue Fin's alumni that we can all play a part in. My message this past season was all about team work and role play. Imagine how much excitement would ripple through our club, our community, Swim Ontario and Swim Canada, to have a Blue Fin make the 2015 Pan Pac team and perform on a world stage in front of a home crowd. Even if they were not with our team anymore (Training Centre, etc), imagine the excitement of former team mates knowing that they played a big part in getting him or her there. Imagine the satisfaction of the parents and executive knowing that their support ended up in such an outstanding achievement. That we played a part in Canada's resurgence into swimming world relevance.

Our responsibility to swimming in Canada (not to be confused with the organization; Swim Canada) is to be part of the success. Do everything we can to help Swim Ontario achieve their goal of an Olympic Medal produced from Ontario. To raise the bar for other clubs and all other athletes**. We need older athletes to do that. Very few 14-15 year olds will be in London this summer. What are our chances to achieve this goal if we don't have the years?

** Evidence: take a look at the role HHBF has played in raising the bar of 100BK in the 15-16 age group. Look how many athletes, chasing HHBF's Kyle Haas, made the top 50 times of all time this season. Take a look at 50BK.