Monday, January 14, 2013

What Are We Doing For The Ones In The Middle?

I love to see "high performance" a key focus of our sport (or at least getting around to an actual definition of what "high performance" is, at least). Canada is getting better with Olympic performances and international level meets and is taking it up a notch by eliminating bonus events from National events and making it harder to qualify for National level meets. This is all great news to me and I'm happy to see this progression at the national level. However, I want to make sure that Provincially and Regionally, the concepts of athlete retention & having fun are still there and at the forefront. 

While preparing for the Ontario SC championship season, I read through all of the meet packages and found several spots that worry me; we may not necessarily be concerned enough about the mid level athlete. Take these new Ontario Provincial Festivals; for example. The entry fee is set at $60. Lets say that 12 year old Jimmy swimmer's best event is 200FR and he only qualifies for the Festival (his version of a championship meet) in the one event. There are no bonus events at the Festivals so Jimmy is limited to 1 event. Thats expensive, but not a major deal if the festival is in Toronto and he lives in Toronto, but what if the meet is in London and he lives in Ottawa. Suddenly this becomes a much larger expense. It becomes an even larger expense should Suzy swimmer (same situation) end up missing her only race at a "championship" meet because she's overcome by nerves, an argument with a parent or sickness. According to the meet package, this infraction (late scratch: past 30min prior to the start of the session) will cost her family $100, payable to Swim Ontario.

If Jimmy and Suzy live in the Central Region, they cannot swim their best & favourite events at the Central Region Championships because they are over qualified. If they wish to compete at a championship in their best event, they have to pay $60 for that race and go to the festival (and hope that they don't miss it). They also will have to settle for swimming it as a 25m race because there is no LC Festival in Ontario; not even in the long course season. Jimmy & Suzy may have the National Age Group Championship standard, but they need a minimum of 3 standards to even attend the meet. So they either have to pony up the MONEY to go to the Festival or not swim their best event in a championship meet. I wonder if a volleyball player in Canada has the same decision to make.

Competition is great but we need to remember that competition does not only exist inside the pool; it exists in gyms and hockey rinks and recital halls too. Our competition Nationally is international competition, while our competition at the grass roots level is competition from other sports. Swimmers who do not get the satisfaction of a "true championship" (or at least an affordable one) may find the satisfaction they crave in volleyball or basketball or dance or even life-guarding... more importantly, the paying parent may want this satisfaction for all of their hard earned money and time dedicated to the sport. I am not arguing that we have things organized the wrong way. My point here (again) seems to be that we (the swimming community in Ontario - not to be confused with Swim Ontario) need to value the income from any event less than we value the service we are providing to the athletes or face the consequences down the road. Its great that we're accommodating the fast kids and the kids that aren't fast enough to compete with the fast kids... but what are we doing for the ones in the middle?

4 Years ago, HHBF and MMST put together a dual meet/championship to accommodate these athletes in an exciting atmosphere. Distressingly, I have been told by coaches at other clubs that they would not be interested in this type of meet because there is no money in it...