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.

Middlesex county quals 2018

14 years upwards longcourse   27+ 28 Feb 2018

10-13 short-course     20/21 Jan + 3/4 Feb 2018

Next year Madison, though only just turned 13 has to swim in the 14 year old category and she already has 8 qualifiying times, well done.

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.

 

Essex County Block C

We spent a nice weekend in the Essex area of Basildon and made the most of the weekend. There is plenty of scope for relaxation near the Basildon Sporting Village with plenty of excellent restaurants and hotels to stay in overnight. An 8am warm-up start on a Sunday morning made staying in a hotel necessary as I do not know how to get there this early without a car.

Talking of being a carless not careless but carless human being, navigating the area around the Basildon Sporting Village for a pedestrian is a sheer nightmare as there are no pedestrian crossing toward the bus stops at the north of the Sporting Village. We had to take taxis for each journey as crossing the dual carriage ways without a nearby pedestrian crossing points is very dangerous.

Despite that, it is well worth to make the way to the Essex County Championships as the atmosphere in the hall is superb with all individual athletes and teams doing their utmost to achieve brilliant times. New county records were achieved, look at the ECASA website for details. Needless to say that the organisers did a brilliant job putting up the event. I have heard that the LAC leg of the Essex County Championships was the largest such event ever held in Europe.

Apart from that Madison thoroughly enjoyed the competition that weekend. We could only marvel in the very fast times other 13 year olds achieved. This year Madison is happy with achieving personal best times on her long-course PBs. Next year the aim is to do better.

She’ll have to try again at the Redbridge regional qualifier to get those regional qualifying times for this year.

ECASA 2017, 50m sprints

Madison was very happy to compete at this event on 4th. February 2017 at the London Aquatic Centre. As stated in the previous post, it was a tremendously well organised event that managed to allow many swimmers to compete during the day.

This competition was very important for Madison as it was an important goal setter for her future aspirations in swimming.

I am awaiting the official results but believe Madison came 30th. out of 99 swimmers in the 13 years age category in the 50 freestyle, 14th in the backstroke out of 75 swimmers  (winning her heat) and 28th in the fly out of 55 participants. Madison achieved Personal Best times in all her swims since entering competitions as LACPP swimmer.

I am adding to this as the results get published.

We are extremely pleased that the entry times were suitable to catch brilliant level 3 swimmers like Madison and elevate them into this category 1 environment. It has opened our eyes by experiencing how fast others in her age-category are and how much faster Madison has to swim to compete at the top ten level.

I am now no longer disheartened, as I was after the 800 freestyle 2 weeks ago, but gotten fresh inspirations from today.

Seeing Mark Foster at towards the end of the day, make me feel that we are in the right place to achieve more.

Essex County and new parking charges at the LAC

ECASA has a superbly organized day of 50 m competitions @LAC today. Despite hundreds of fiercely competing swimmers from 29 clubs, the atmosphere was relaxed and enjoyable.
Today I even saw Mark Foster at poolside during the Essex County Championships.

As part of the Olympic Legacy LACPP is a competitive club that established at the LAC as a new national performance Centre. Training sessions start at 6AM and parents need to bring younger swimmers from miles away, like Kent, Greenwich. It is not feasible to travel by public transport as it would take more than 60 minutes, whilst a car reduces travel-time to 15 minutes.
The BBC sent a reporter to interview Harley Hicks and some parents about this. The BBC news at 17:45 will report about this. Harley was awarded the swimming teacher year of the year award by the Amateur Swimming Association.

Whilst I personally reside very local and can take a bus, Madison will miss friends who have to leave the club over the parking charges that can cost as much as £2,000 per to parents.
Is it really necessary to make swimmers’ parents bear the cost of running the Olympic Park? How is it possible to run a swimming club for youngsters, most of which have to be brought by their parents, if parking is unaffordable?

An action group has distributed a leaflet and people are invited to lobby the London Legacy Development Corporation about the issue.

lacparking

The Parking charges at the LAC put the LACPP under an unfair disadvantage because other clubs do not charge parents for parking when they bring, collect or accompany their children to swimming practise.

Rankings

The ASA website has this wonderful tool, that allows swimmers to compare themselves to others within a chosen region. Also one can ascertain the ranking within the last 12 months or all time for various nationalities.

It’s a little bit hard sometimes to see one doesn’t come within the top 10 on a search; Today Madison ranks joint 16th on the 50 meter freestyle in Essex County. Tomorrow comes the big test, swimmers from 29 clubs will try to get into the top-ten, to make the finals. They swim in age-groups and anybody is aged as they would be on 31st. December 2017, even if they are born in January.

Last year Madison was ranked 20th in the same category, she has improved 4 places since joining LACPP.

I am taking some solace from stories I heard that Adam Peaty ranked 38? when he was younger and that Michael Phelps always was in the B-squad as a youngsters and tried his best to catch up.

I suppose in swimming success comes with endurance and longevity; swimmers train for years each day of the week, sometimes twice per day with gym training in between to be at the peak performance in a competition.

Swimming skills build over time, hang in there and train hard. A personal best is always good.

Swims can only get Better

Madison’s previous club did not have early morning training for quite a while. Some years ago Madison went to morning training twice a week. Now it takes a little getting used to again. Especially on those cold winter-mornings, when it is really dark and frosty outside. Even for me as parent, I occasionally find myself moaning and not being exactly the best role-model there is.

But, overcoming the initial hick-ups, we are getting there. The hope that it will soon be spring and we can see the sun-rise again in the morning, cheers us up. (A picture will follow as soon as we can see a sun-rise again).

Obviously after changing club there can be no sudden jump in performance, especially as it takes around 9 month to get out of bad stroke-practise.

The best effect of changing clubs to LACPP is that Madison has found the will for swimming again. Madison can see hope that her swimming performance now stands a chance of achieving something in the long-term. If I had not changed club for Madison, she would have dropped out of swimming completely this year.

We do follow the County champs results of Madison’s previous club mates who also changed clubs to various other clubs closely. Some are doing extremely well.

OK, so the 800 free didn’t go too well, but then not everyone is an 800-meter swimmer. This weekend we have the 50 sprints to come and that is going to be very exciting. As it takes place in Madison’s home-pool the LAC, she hopes to do well. I am sure she will do her best. So far we had PBs in every race Madison entered, which is a good result. What more could we want?

Which costume

With tonight’s Essex County 800 meter race approaching, I am pondering which costume to take. Madison owns a variety of costumes, all of varying quality and fit.

The more expensive costumes are the tightest fit and take the longest to get on. At the Christmas at Dagenham qualifying meet, there was little time between the warm-up and the heats and changing from a warm-up costume to a quality racing costume would take at least half hour, just for the costume.

When I watch Olympics, world championships, nationals, I always see the swimmers wait in the marching in area for quite a while prior to their races and so they seem to have plenty of time to prepare the outfits.

Racing costumes, which are water repellant, often last for only 12 races before they lose their top qualities. But it is only possible to put them on if there is plenty of time between warm-up and marching in.

Of course on County meets, the amount of swimmers is enormous, so as much swimmers as possible get the change to improve. Many events are tightly packed inside the scheduled pool time.

Perhaps we have to commit a sin and wear the competition costume at warm-up because there may not be enough time to change between warm-up and the marching in for the first event. Or we put on a less expensive costume, which may slow the time. Another solution is to put on the racing costume for warm-up but wear a cheaper costume on top. the cheaper costume protects the expensive one and can easily be taken off for the races, when there is not enough time after warm up to change.

Be aware it is against ASA and FINA rules to wear more than one costume at a licensed competition.

With growing kids the costumes do not last forever, they wear out because of the child’s growth or they wear out because of wear and tear. Either way a racing costume often increases the swimmer’s confidence and races seem faster.

County qualifying times

They vary wildly across Britain. I give some examples:

50 Free Girls age 13

Middlesex = 32:50
Essex         = 35:20
Devon        = 34:35 (includes Plymouth Leander, Mount Kelly)
Derbys      = 37.20 (2016)
Staffs         = 32:00
Kent           = 31:00
Hamps       = 31:20
Berks          = 32:40
Yorks         = 32:80

Middlesex includes parts of West London whilst Essex spreads towards the East. Middlesex includes clubs like Barnet, Westminster & Chelsea from where a few participants in the British nationals sprung.

Out of those areas listed above Plymouth Leander (Devon) and Sheffield (Yorkshire) supply more swimmers at national level than the other counties and yet they have slower county qualifying times in the 50 freestyle for example than the faster Middlesex and Staffordshire.

I have witnessed it myself, if the county times are too fast for at least 2 swimmers per club to qualify, the local clubs loose momentum and turn into leisure swim clubs and don’t become more competitive. Clubs need to be able to connect to the competitive events.

Hence even at the Olympics they now allow the fastest swimmers from developing countries to swim in the heats, even if that time is slow compared to our standards to bridge a connection.

From what I observed, talented swimmers can be very fast aged 9/10 if they start swimming early enough but then when swimmers turn 12 upwards it becomes a matter of regular training and eventual muscle-building, which is only allowed in British gyms from age 13. I think all County Associations should put on times that allow a wide participation even if it means that they struggle to engage enough officials to cover the events.

See the lists of all teams in the 2 divisions here.