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.

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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.

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.

 

 

 

 

The good people of Britain

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Keep calm and carry on
Keep calm and carry on

Just received a reply from the Department for Media, Culture and Sport, showing that my communications where not put before the minister but answered by a member of the Ministerial Support Team, telling me that Sport England invested £400.000,– of Lottery funding between 2015 – 2019 (this works out as £100.000,– per year).

Sport England works with the University of East London to make the program sustainable. This means they can’t spend what they don’t earn.

Running a swimming club is very expensive. A top coach receives around £60.000 per year in wages. The more swim classes, the more coaches you need. Of course learn-to-swim coaches are not quite so dear but the Living wage, goes up and up.

Some clubs, that do not receive any prop-up funding constantly scrape their financial barrels, kids are seen spending the weekends fund-raising.

Clubs which can manage better usually have rich sponsors, either because the Billionaire parents can afford to bolster their club’s spending or because a club is fortunate enough to get charity funding. Many clubs increasingly rely on Jack Petchey support.

Whichever way you look at it, fact is top performance needs top coaching but there are coaches who need to work in day jobs and who coach after work in the evening, sufficiently tired. Nevertheless it must be said that most coaches I ever dealt with where very passionate about their swimmers and always wanted their best.

I think here at LACPP, the future of the top-coaches is very uncertain.

I therefore invite anybody interested in supporting the future of the LAC as a National

Olympic Park
Olympic Park sign near the LAC

Swim Centre, which would attract funding for top coaches to approach Sport England about this. Now is the perfect time to achieve improvement for the LAC as things are getting settled at the moment.

It would be great for all local clubs, here to London to get the LAC as National Swim Centre because our local swimmers could continue to train locally if they make it to the top.

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.

Hoping for a reprieve on parking costs at the LAC

Whilst I am very much in favour to put in any pollution cutting measures possible, and I think making anything to do with driving cars will help that idea, at the same time I need to consider what is actually needed – currently – to enable people to function.

Ever since man invented the wheel, human society has developed more and more into a commuting mass of travellers.

People commute to work, commute to visit relatives, commute to do business, a lot of transport takes place to deliver goods and of course there is space travel.

Space travel interests me the least as there are definitely no swimming pools in space or on other planets.

Whilst I reside in close vicinity of the LAC and have easy local transport by bus and rail to the venue and have lots of time, as I am retired, I know many people who have to juggle work and kids’ sport, which is quite difficult.

For a start, swimmers need lots of equipment. My child cannot carry that equipment around with her all day, there are no lockers in her school. Whilst we do have a locker at the LAC, there is still a fresh towel and food needed. On land-training days, another lot of equipment needs to be taken.

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The baggage we bring on a busy day.

Especially as school kids often need to be taken straight from school to swimming, they require to take in nourishment in good time prior to the swim. Working parents allow their kids to eat in the car, we have to do it on the train.

Working parents tend to work anywhere in London or even outside of it, they have to dash after work to collect the child from school, allow it some time to eat in the car, then travel to the LAC and bring the training equipment with them. Not even working parents can carry stuff around at work with them; often lockers that employers provide are quite small. Often work places are not near public transport that swiftly delivers parents near the place of their child’s school either.

So which ever way I look at it, I have to support free parking for working swimming club parents at the LAC because there is an infra-structure in place, that makes people commute to work and commute to sport and because people no longer work where they live and kids go to school and sport outside of their immediate living area, we need to travel.

We cannot now just quickly change the way society works and must allow parents to park their cars, because around the LAC area, there are no free parking spaces to be found. Of course around other pools, in less expensive areas, there are plenty of free parking spaces in roads or even near the venue, but the LAC area is very expensive and each inch of the land is valuable.

Perhaps the LAC can raise money by appealing to the government to give them some funding because those privately funded schemes do not always work because the common, working people who have to fund them eventually run out of money.

Parents already pay a lot of money for the sport and there is a tipping point for everyone. A recent initiative saw parents appeal directly to the LAC management.

Everyone is on edge about the result of that enquiry. The Newham Recorded also commented on the issue.

But obviously if the Lac DECIDES to keep those parking costs for all then the LACPP swimming club for younger members will stay affordable only for either very rich parents or for those lucky enough to live in close vicinity of the venue. This would be discriminating against other parents who cannot afford it any longer like police officer Dave Wardell, who will have to change club for his daughters, as the BBC reports.

The government was so proud to have produced an ‘affordable’ Olympic venue that is now successfully used in the aftermath of the 2012 Olympics yet, for many parents with children, the venue is still not a local neighbourhood, especially not for those with competitive swimmers who have trained for years already at other clubs to get fast enough to join the high-end competitive club LACPP.

Perhaps in the future younger local swimmers grow up in the local club but that is perhaps a decade down the line.

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.

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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.

Cash prizes for swimmers

I came across this by chance, on Twitter,LACPP re-tweated a link from COMAST to a website that listed the cash prizes swimmers at the Manchester International could win.

At the Manchester 2016 International meet swimmers and coaches could actually win MONEY prizes. Amazing, after I read that British swimmers cannot win cash at the Olympics, lets all go to Manchester to top up the kitty.

mism-2016-prize-money. Prizes range from £5 for 12th place in the female coach category to £800 for the male or female open winner. Prizes get paid via the clubs.

Our own Michael Gunning and Jarvis Parkinson won £150 and £100 respectively. Well done.

additionally 9th and 10th male coach prizes were awarded to London Aquatic at £15 and £10. I need to find out who this coach was.

 

My dream coach is Mel Marshall

Having been in swimming really all my life, as it is a family trait and now intensely with Madison since 7 years, I start to think there is more to swimming then just swimming. There is a lot of attitude, correct approach, good coaching and hard work and life-style changes.

Mel Marshall has in my view the perfect approach, I just looked up on her page on the British Swimming website and it says: “Marshall is a firm believer in the romance of sport….”.

Yes quite I totally agree, a swimmer must be in love with swimming to be driven by the sport and change their lifestyle to suit it and get the best results.

It is also very good that Mel was a competitive swimmer herself and knows all the pitfalls of too much and not enough.

I firmly believe that only those swimmers who really love the sport will do best at it.

 

Jack Petchey award winner

Just received this unusual letter, addressed to Madison and upon opening it, was very surprised to see that Madison has won the November 2016 Jack Petchey award for Girl Guiding London North East County.

Madison was chosen as

  • being kind
  • funny and caring
  • getting on with everyone
  • always having a smile on her face and
  • positive attitude.

And also Madison sets a fantastic example to all the guides. Well done!!

Maybe this is a good place to mention that Madison was also awarded the pupil of the year 7 group in Bishop Challoner School for last year.