Just a word of appreciation

Whilst we are now gone beyond the season’s summer competitions and many of us didn’t reach times fast enough to participate, there is a need to reflect that every swimmer is important.

I often see those national swimmers at age-group competitions, in the last and fastest heats of course, and they swim with all of us to get those qualifying times, to make it to the top and be the best at the sport.

But don’t forget, they do need all of the swimmers there to compete with, to make the sport what it is and to get the feel of a good hub of excitement.

All the swimmers that train with a club, enter competitions and support swimmers who compete are important. Also their parents and family who sponsor the sport are very important too.

Yes, we only hear from those famous swimmers 84900739_84900738 that won medals at national and international competitions because they did our nation proud, but all the swimmers who take part are very important for the sport.

The more swimmers want to succeed, the more actually do succeed. All swimmers give emotional support to those who have that extra special gift to set those world records and win those medals at major meets.

 

History in the making

The new LAC based swimming club is in the making and we are going to take part in the newly compiled competition schedule for next season.

What a priviledge, not only could Madison participate in the first and only level-3 age group the old LACPP hosted at the LAC with Newham on 13. October last year, with medals that must have extreme rarity value, but she will also be part of the new club that is being developed.

This is true Olympic legacy, history in the making and very significant for Madison that she can swim for the first independently run swimming club that operates at the LAC.

We can hardly wait to learn who the new coaches are going to be and what the next season’s competition schedule will be.

I am sure that many swimmers are going to watch this new development closely. This new club is the most exciting swimming club development in Britain today.

 

 

A sentimental journey

Learning to swim is a great milestone in every child’s life. The journey through the swimming stages are very important and a source of great excitement for the whole family. Getting those certificates and promotion to the next stage, coupled with a love of the pool and swimming, can lead to a career as competitive swimmer.

Madison learnt swimming at Sharks in Bethnal Green and I remember having spent years accompanying her to the small-pool sessions. They were staged, half hour each and you start at 6pm and the last session can end as late as 9pm. We were unlucky and had our last small pool sessions ending at 9pm in the middle of winter.

Perhaps that was one reason to want to promote to the large-pool sessions that would again start at 6pm. They were called Improvers at the time. With the Improvers came the promotion to the Talent lane, a session run by Tony Ansell, who learned talented swimmers from both Sharks and Better sessions to learn competitive tricks.

Again we spent a couple of years in Improvers until the promotion came to the Mini-Squad. The first Galas and the first competition at Redbridge followed shortly after.

madison-sharks-10
Madison at Sharks Championships with her friend

The most fun for Madison were always the Sharks club championships. Also great fun were the Canary Wharf Sprints held once a year.

After Mini-Squad came County-Squad. We had heard about the sessions being run at the LAC for elite swimmers, they were part-time sessions.

What I think in retrospective is, that once you start going to proper licensed competitions, you learn how achieved times are recorded and you just cannot help comparing to other swimmers as you get ranked. You want to achieve the County times and then of course you learn about the Regionals and the Nationals and so forth.

The Happiness of swimming with friends turns into eager anticipation to make it on the national scene.

For most swimmers that is an easy transition because they can achieve all that within their home club. Most very successful swimmers stayed with their home club until they reached the Olympic Squad or other squads run by British Swimming.

But unfortunately not so in Bethnal Green Sharks. Fact is, and that is a matter of public interest, is that most very successful swimmers left the Bethnal Green Sharks and joined other clubs.

Sam went to Chelsea & Westminster, Kai and his sister Mika went to Hackney Aquatics, Kai went on to swim in the nationals this year and also competed in the Europeans. Ilias competed this year in the Welsh nationals for Hackney Aquatics. Shawn competed in LACPP for County, winning important medals and then also joined Hackney, so did Tasso. Other swimmers joined Camden Swiss. Even the one swimmer of Bethnal Green Sharks that once won a bronze at the Olympics Dervis Konuralp* has now removed his child from Sharks to join Camden Swiss Cottage.

Madison joined LACPP and this year achieved 8 Middlesex County Times, which is an 800% improvement on last year. But Madison is one of these kids that are proud of their friends, that like to be part of their local club and Madison would not mind swimming for Sharks.

It is also bugging me a lot that we live just 5 minutes away from York Hall but cannot compete for Sharks any longer because we are too much trouble for them. Perhaps it is not only us that is too much trouble for them, perhaps all the other good swimmers were too much trouble.

I think it is a great shame that our local swimming club only exports great swimmers without raking in on the glory when they become national and international swimmers. Madison left Sharks last year in July 2016 and had since tried twice to re-join the club but without success.

We now have no choice but to either swim for the next nearest club, which is soon going to be a changed LACPP at the London Aquatics Centre or go to clubs like Hackney Aquatics or Chelsea etc. But for us, we just don’t want to spend hours and lots of money on public transport or on car journeys to clubs.

It takes away a lot of home-work time for a teenager to spend at least 2 hours travelling to and from 2 hour swimming sessions. Considering that school hours already comprise a full working day, e.g. 8 hours and teenagers need to do their GCSE’s and need more sleep than adults, it would make sense that swimmers can stay with their local clubs.

Yet the training provision seems better in other clubs, that is why swimmers leave the Sharks and go elsewhere. Training provision can involve many things including how sessions are staffed and how communications within the club work.

I looked at clubs’ constitutions and how they are set up and can see for example that in Redbridge and in Hackney, Gators, the parents of the most successful swimmers man the Committee, do central supportive roles in the club; but not so in Sharks.

I think there is demand for a high-quality swimming club in Bethnal Green and that improvements like getting equipment to turn the 33m pool into a 25m pool and getting proper timing equipment, so that licensed meets can be held is good. However, the club does not want to do it.

I even gained the J1 qualification, I would be willing to train others to become officials, because clubs need a certain number of officials to hold licensed meets, but all that is not wanted by the Sharks; for them everything is too much trouble. Yes, it would involve increasing the very low Sharks monthly membership fees but that is also not wanted by the club.

So Sharks train, and very successfully so, train young swimmers, but all the best competitors leave the club to join other clubs.

We now have to pay double what we would pay at Sharks, plus travel and competition costs. But we could also pay that to Sharks, have a local club that can deliver equal quality for the same price as other clubs and be happy locally.

What is so very important for swimmers, is the club atmosphere, Sharks definitely has that but to combine club atmosphere with great and continued competitiveness, is something the Sharks simply miss out on because their best swimmers always leave and I cannot see that the club would want to retain those swimmers, and indeed as we have experienced ourselves, they do not want those swimmers back.

* I am not certain whether this shift has to do with relocation or not.

All things new

I am a great supporter of local clubs and therefore trying to re-join Bethnal Green Sharks, where Madison was a member for 6 1/2 years and us being residents in Bethnal Green since 39 years, seemed logical. We still have many friends swimming there.

Yet we were not welcome with ‘open arms‘. Re-joining there has been made too difficult and unpleasant.

Just today, and by total accident, I found this invite from Swim England in my spam inbox, inviting Madison to join the new club, that is going to succeed the LACPP, which will not be run by the UEL but supposedly independent.

A meeting will be held at LAC in September.

I think that is very exciting, not only being member in the original LACPP but now in a newly configured club that shall train at the LAC.

I had a feeling that those medals that were given out at the first and only LACPP, Level 3, hosted meet at the LAC last year are going to have collector’s value.

New Beginnings

Local is Best, as it is near and plentiful. We reside almost next to York Hall and have Mile End Leisure Centre a short bus ride away. But during the last season Madison trained with London Aquatic Performance at the LAC solely. The schedule was very harsh. To show you Madison’s time-table last year:

Monday    :   07:35 – 15:05 school;     17:00 – 19:00 swim*or 19:00-20:30 Guides

Tuesday   :   06:00 – 07:30 swim*, 07:35-15:05 school; 18:30-20:30 swim*

Wednesday: 06:00-07:30 swim*, 07:35-15:05 school; 17:00-18:30 swim*

Thursday :   07:35 – 15:05 school; 17:00-19:00 swim*

Friday     : 08:35 – 15:05 school; 17:15-17:45 piano lessons

Saturday : 08:30 – 11:00 swim* or competition all day

Sunday   : church or competition all day

*  All swimming took place in London Aquatics Centre, all schooling in Shadwell.

This was an extremely tight schedule and because we had to take the few sessions that were available at the LACPP, Madison had hardly any rest during the previous year. It was very hard to fit in homework during the week and eating had to be done during travelling to and from venues, especially from school to swimming and back home. Because the early morning swim was straight after an evening session, that meant straight to bed when arriving home to get ready for an early start.

For a 13-year-old with GCSE exams coming up, this schedule is not manageable over a prolonged period of time. Teenagers need more sleep than older swimmers and that takes away a lot of time from doing stuff in the evenings.

As it is quite apparent to most who visit the swim club websites, the LACPP website has not been updated for quite a while, also the Facebook page is unchanged since a few months. People know about the stoppage of the senior performance program there.

The club is on summer shut-down for the whole of August and the remaining club swimmers were not given any competition schedule for the Autumn. At least Madison was not given any competition schedule.

We had such great improvements during the last year, that I think a whole month without training and then no competitions to prepare for the up-coming County and Regional competitions can’t be good.

So I needed to make a quick decision and approached our former club, the Bethnal Green Sharks for membership. They are local, easy to reach, there is hardly any travel time to get there. That all saves previous minutes to do course work or rest and eat.

Sharks also have competitions planned from September and Madison can slowly lead up her performance improvement to January 2018, when the County competitions start.

LACPP started off as support club for local elite swimmers and I think for Madison it is best to recommence part-time swimming with them in the autumn because of the time-schedule concerns I have to do with schooling.

Sharks train in the evenings almost every day and on Saturday and Sundays, there is a great variety of sessions to choose from whilst at LACPP the sessions available had been pressed into 5 days with 2 sessions on 2 days. There is no land-training and only 20 mins pre-pool available.

Currently we have no idea what the schedule is going to be at LACPP in the autumn and the lack of planning for us is quite difficult to manage. That’s why we chose to return to our local club as main club with the LACPP as support club. Of course the LAC facilities and the quality of training are superb.

Other successful swimmers have the LACPP as support club like Angharad Evans for example who won Gold at the British summer championships in her age-group. Her home club is West Sussex; I state this only to show that a local club is probably a better option for us too. Though at the moment Madison can only dream of the British Championships.

The flowers you see are a charming by-product of walking to the LAC via the scenic walkways; that is one big plus of going there. But the local happiness and umpf of the local club can only be found here.

 

Nothing is easy

Nowadays I often define myself by well-known song-titles as they define emotional milestones in my life. Jethro Tull had been one of my all-time favourite bands.

This song has probably one of the cleanest lyrics of the time, so it’s save to show it here.

Things constantly change in the life of a young swimmer; with the publication of Madison’s latest end-of-year results I definitely want to concentrate more on school work next year, the year when pupils enter their GCSE paths.

But it is not just so easy as to say, well my swimmer is not too good in school so we concentrate on swimming. I think it’s best to try out a lot of different sports to find a ‘suits us best’ style. Swimming always assisted Madison’s learning rather than hindering it.

I am constantly pondering over how much time we spend travelling, how much time we have for homework and other hobbies. How happy my swimmer is in the club they are in and how much money it all costs me.

It is much harder than I thought it possible to come to conclusions because Madison is smart and good at a lot of things, it is really hard concentrate on one sport. Because even in swimming things never stay the same. Favourite strokes also change constantly.

If I look at those swimmers currently at the top, I always wonder how they made their decisions to concentrate on their swimming careers. Perhaps I start reading biographies of swimmers next.

I am going to want to watch some life streams of competitions online to get some inspiration.

British Summer champs start in 3 days.

FINA world championships in Budapest are in full swing.

Commonwealth Youth Games in the Bahamas, 1 more day to go.

White Currants

Swimming, especially as school sport seems to be the white currant of sport. To explain, there are black currants, red currants and white currants, we all can buy the red currants, know the black currants from jam, cheese cake and juice but the white currants are hardly known. In the school sports world, here in London, swimming is hardly known to exist.

What really is important to introduce swimming as a sport to schools and having looked at the Sport England Website, they have some very good headlines like: “Swimming – Health benefits proven“, Core market – people who already play sport are hugely valuable”, “Local delivery“.

For school sport however, here in Greater London especially, there is no funding available for schools to make it a permanent feature as a school sport. Primary schools get funding for 2 years to take primary kids to swimming once per week for 45 minutes. It is actually enshrined in British law that school must teach children to swim.

Madison, who attends secondary at Bishop Challoner Girls now gotten taken swimming for one half term, that is around 6 sessions for 1 hour each per year. Madison’s PE teachers think she is not athletic enough to be put into the set 1 for PE ‘because she is only a swimmer and that is not a school sport’. [sic]. Though her school is very supportive of her swimming club lessons, starting at 6am on some mornings.

All the swimming that Madison does with her swimming club is privately funded. Parents have to pay for club membership, for ASA membership, competitions and travel there, costumes and equipment are also dear. Parents even need to volunteer to keep the clubs running, to man competition officials. For being an official parents even have to purchase their own stop watches and whites to wear and other equipment. often at competitions it is hard to get the core amount of officials needed to run the competitions.

I think that structurally swimming is chronically under-funded.

Perhaps this has to do with the fact that especially in London schools usually do not have pools inside the school compound.

Swimming has become a private sport that has to be financed with money that people earn and is manned with swimmers whose carers/family can afford to bring them to lessons, especially when they are younger.

As already mentioned in the previous post top coaches earn a good salary that an average club cannot afford. Swimming generally gets funded by lottery money or many athlets depends on GLL funding, clubs depend on the hugely important Jack Petchey foundation.

British swimming has established two British Swim Centres in Loughborough and Bath, four top coaches are employed to train there and coach Olympic teams but London, that actually has the Olympic pool has no such scheme; we merely have a Beacon program.

The Beacon program is a huge and very important step forward to get competitive swimming established and furthered in all regions of Britain. London’s Beacon program is delivered by the LACPP at the London Aquatics Centre. With the UEL running the LACPP and top coaches’ careers being at jeopardy at present because of a funding problem, we are really on edge about the future of our swimming club.

I do understand that UEL and Swim England are currently negotiating the situation and I have no complete insight how the funding works but obviously from the £100.000 Lottery funding that Sport England gives the UEL to run LACPP over 4 years, (according to the Minister for Sport), there is a doubt that the coach, who delivers the Beacon program and excellently so, can stay in post because of a lack of funding.

Swimming is chronically underfunded. In school sports’ teachers minds, swimmers are not atheltic and the ethos of swimming seems centred around those who are already famous and made it to the top. 84900739_84900738We all love Adam Peaty. But getting there literally needs years and years of almost daily training and when at the top often training twice per day. Adam is extremely athletic.

To get swimming more widely established, schools should get funding to make swimming a school sport as it would cut the health care costs that the NHS is so worried about. So the government should fund more  swimming in schools as they would save the money on NHS costs.

Parents are already investing a large part of their salaries into the swimming sport of their children, many parents simply do not have the money at all to allow their kids to swim as a sport. Recently, through cut-backs, some local councils stopped funding their local swimming clubs and that has a huge effect on clubs. Many club coaches have to work during the day and coach in the evenings to help kids into competitive swimming, they all do their utmost.

Swimming is probably the most undangerous sport that has the most health benefits and should make Britain a healthier nation, so the Sports Ministry should invest more into it.

I also think that swimming club membership keeps children off the streets and helps reduce crime.

 

 

 

 

On balance…..

There are several parts of a successful swimming environment:

  1. The team
  2. the coach
  3. the pool

Neither of those three can function to full fruition without the other. There is a fourth part that has not been mentioned and that is the facility environment. I would love to see the London Aquatic Centre being made a British National Centre for Swimming. It is the ideal Competitive environment and simply asks for British Swimming to make it the third British National Centre besides Bath and Loughborough.

I am fighting tooth and nail for this to happen.

Current plans to downgrade the LACPP to a learn-to-swim facility with a Development Squad simply cannot have been properly thought through.

I am currently lobbying the Minister for Sport to get involved and avoid a national scandal around the use of the London Aquatics Centre.

An Olympic Pool is the ideal place to coach an Olympic team or part thereof.

A beautiful pool alone doesn’t make champions, it is the whole buzz around the facility that spurns swimmers on to do better.

One can see quite easily that since training with LACPP Madison has achieved a greater improvement rate than with her previous club. Click on any of her recent Personal Best Times on her records and see how the improvement curve becomes steeper since July 2016, when she first started swimming with LACPP.

Angharad Evans achieved record speeds in the national arena after having trained regularly with the LACPP team and the national coaches there.

The presence of such wonderful swimmers like Aimee Wilmott, Michael Gunning, Jarvis Parkinson and others have a great part to play in the desire to swim faster. If that top set of swimmers is no longer there then the biggest assets of the pool are missing.

There are many great British clubs who regularly participate in British Championships without having a permanent 50m pool to train in, just to mention Chelsea and Westminster and Camden Swiss Cottage, Barnet Copthall to name a few. Hackney Aquatics now has swimmers in the national summer champs. Such teams only train a couple of times per week in a 50 m pool. It is because of their team spirit and presence of long-standing swimming aces, that these clubs achieve so much.

The LAC has the ability to make the pool the greatest national swimming legacy by training national swimmers and Olympic swimmers there. But to ‘only’ use an Olympic pool for learn to swim and development sessions is a travesty.

We’ll consider our options if Swim England and UEL decide to down-grade the club because I think swimmers swim faster if they swim with other fast swimmers; fast championship swimmers in 25m pools are faster than leaner swimmers in 50m pools.

The club is it

After long and laborious deliberations whether or not to change club, it was decided to stay at the LACPP. It isn’t so bad after all.

Sometimes it helps a lot of look around though and go through the motion of the fictional change, calculate travel time, look at training schedules and see how that would work with the usual routines.

Changes can be dramatic when changing club. Madison was at her first club for 7 years and recent uncertainties at our new club led us to seek out other clubs but what the heck, why change things that do not need changing.

We could not wish for a better coach, we could not get a better pool, we could  not get better training.

It is just much easier if a swimmer qualifies for the top tournament and goes on tour to swim with a team, like the European Champs, World Champs or Olympics; then one doesn’t need to ponder which club to swim with at all. Instead we just amuse ourselves with the achievements of others and dream to do better next season.

Ultimately all a competitive swimmer wants to do is to swim faster and looking at the Personal Best Times should be the best reward possible.

If PB’s seem to stall then a change of club could be a solution but in our case, Madison has had a lot of PB’s since joining the LACPP and made a lot of progress.

It’s always good to keep the important objectives in mind and not to get lost in little frustrations. Things like rumours or assumptions coupled with insecurities can make a  person think another club would be better.

Especially smaller children can often admire other clubs that seem happier or better organised and moan that ‘they get the sweets and we don’t’ but nice looking pictures are not everything. Happiness is our fulfillment in our achievements and trying to strive to the ultimate best time.

Stability

One of the most important considerations for me as parent is the factor of stability. Swimming was always meant to be an enhancement to the growing up process, a sport that helps improve school results and learning rather than be an alternative to education.

Children’s lives these days are marked out till at least they are 18, Nursery, Primary School, Secondary School, A-levels. University, Job.

Whilst for school we get the time-table at least 1 year ahead, we know what is expected of a pupil at all times, we can normally fit our swimming routine in with the education and group our social life around this.

During Madison’s early swimming years, she was a member of Bethnal Green Sharks and I now start to appreciate how important the stable running of that club was to us. There were always the same teachers, the schedule would never change, for years and years, we could rely on it.

We then changed to LACPP and were given a totally different routine and we managed to adhere to this as well. We were given competition schedules, great, another thing to put into the diary and something we could plan ahead for.

What is happening now is that suddenly we got an e-mail saying that the future of the club is uncertain. I got e-mails saying, “We hope you can bear with us during this difficult time”.

But there is not even a hint of when we are going to get a schedule, apparently it all depends on negotiations between Swim England and the UEL.

Yet as a parent I kind of would like to know that our time-tables and swimming schedules  and competition schedules are guaranteed for the coming year.

Unfortunately this is not yet the case. I am trying to explain why I now start to panic and ask for trials with another club that seems very stable and has great training routines and excellent swimmers, who also participate in regional and national competitions.

Considering that both our lead coaches are rumoured to be leaving the LACPP as well and we do not even know what coaches we are going to get and there are only rumours that there are going to be reduced training hours for the top squads without again providing for land training, it seems quite logical that I want to look for another club.

For smaller swimmers it might not be so impacting on their lives that some things are uncertain but for Madison who has to choose her GCSE subjects next year and start to learn for a tougher GCSE schedule than ever, we just cannot afford any more instability.