Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Change For Canadian Swimming broke the story earlier today that Pierre LaFontaine will step down as CEO and National Team Director of Swimming Canada effective March 1st I had been expecting this news for some time (whenever someone emails me that they have big news, I jokingly ask them if they were appointed the new National Team Director of Swimming Canada) but it still feels like a bit of a shock.

It could feel like a shock because the Canadian Swimming community is rarely met with major news like this and maybe I'm more shocked by the fact that there is news at all than of this particular news. Although, more likely, I think I am shocked of the follow up to this news: that British Coach, John Atkinson, has been hired as SNC's new Director of High Performance. Former Director of High Performance, Ken Radford will take over as interim CEO.

There are a few of small reasons that this shocks me:
  • There has been a lot of push to develop Canadian swim coaches over the past little while and the last 2 coaches SNC has hired are British.
  • The job of National Team Director was posted online last season and many were expecting a move around Olympic Trials last season. I'm a little shocked that this took so long.
  • John Atkinson has been working with the British Para-Athlete system for the past several years which was remarkably successful. He even comes from Britain, which has a large number of World Class (top 8) athletes and is coming to Canada which only has a handful. I can't help but wonder why this job is appealing to him.
One thought I have that stands out as being very positive is this: Atkinson worked with Bill Sweetenham for a long time and Sweetenham was a big believer in developing performing coaches. I think I have said this before on this blog (although I have too many posts now to comb through to find it) that the state of (swim) coaching in Canada is not world leading - it is way to age group - club success oriented and way too much of an "old boys club". Not an "old boys club"? Take a look at the last 4 Olympic Teams and I'll give you a dime for every new name you can spot on that coaching roster. And has our medal count improved drastically in the last 16 years?

Rules exist that you have to be certified as a Level IV coach or a ChPC in order to join an Olympic roster, but in the last few years, there has not been much opportunity to certify yourself any higher than level II or III (which have been discontinued). AND recent changes to the coach of record rule prevented jugling of coaches and athletes in order to get friends and collegues on to National teams. According to the NCCP (National Coaching Certification) website, the highest you can register for is Senior Coach - the equivalent of Level III - thus, there will not likely be any new young, Canadian born coaches on that team in 2016 either... but the sad news is that not every coach works (or lives) forever. Young coaches need international experience so they can pick up where the older ones left off... unless job protection is more important that performance. I am hoping that there is more thought put into developing more young coaches who can pick up where the old ones left off when they retire so we don't have to keep hiring from other countries; and even that the new ones can work with the old ones before they retire.

I am really hoping that new blood pumped into Canadian Swimming by John Atkinson and by Ben Titley will change coaches understanding of the sport outside of their 4 walls and outside of the pages of their books. I know that my work with Ben so far has been amazing for my coach eyes and brain. None of it has been mind blowing, but certainly non-confusing and layman's terms. Also some fresh and new ideas with technology and openness. I embrace this change and wish Pierre the best of luck over at Canadian Inter-University Sport.

*You can hear Pierre speak to me on #coachmikepodcast about swimming philosophies last February  here.