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.

Is tall really the best asset in swimmng

I am writing all those who are not the tallest to stick to swimming.

looking at boxing as a sport and we see different classes of boxers, according to their weight, they can fight an equal partner. But then in boxing, each fight accumulates significant revenues and it is therefore profitable.

Swimming is not such a money raker, though lately, the increasingly impressive bodies and nice personalities of top swimmers, especially Adam Peaty, attract more viewers, now that the healthy body image is on the top of the agenda for many

I think it is because of financial considerations that swimming is merely portioned into age-groups. A big breakthrough lately has been a further distinction into able and various ability groups. Though if swimming was further portioned into height, then the swimming competitors would take considerably longer to process and already there are shortages of officials as it is in the average level 3 age-group competitions.

Though, when looking at swimming results I now straightaway, go to the swimmer’s Wikipedia page and see how high they are. I am always very relieved when I see that the tallest didn’t win.

The latest victory of Pellegrini in the 200 free for example, see Swimmingworld article, shows her not to be the tallest out of Katie Ledecky and McKeon, she is however only very marginally shorter than both.

Interestingly the Wikipedia profile of Katie Ledecky makes her 180cm whilst the Google search brings her up to 183cm.

In the Google search Emma McKeon is also 180cm and also 180cm on Wikipedia.

Frederica Pellegrini is 177cm on Google search and on Wikipedia.

The most significant height difference could be seen in the German Frankziska Hentke who won the prelims heat and gotten the silver in the finals of the World Championships in Budapest 2017. See FINA review.

Franziska Hentke is 169cm according to Google and also 169cm on Wikipedia. Franziska won the prelims before Yilin Zhou (175cm) and Mireia Belmonte (168cm). All these ladies are very muscular.

I would say that it often depends on the kind of stroke, whether shorter physical height can achieve.

Katinka Hosszu who currently holds the most world records for women is a mere 175cm.

I’ve also come across Katie Matts who was considerably shorter than her fellow competitors but won the British Champs 2 times in a row. Picture here on a podium in a different race where she won bronze, just to show the relative height. I am unable to find an article with her body height in it.

Layla Black won an impressive victory in the 200 breast at the LEN in Netanya Israel. Pics from British Swimming.

Last year, using the typical height charts I calculated Madison’s ultimate body height to become 175-78 but now I am not so sure. I think that height might play a big factor in how much one invests into the sport because the more time you invest the less time you have to do anything else.

I feel that endurance and bodybuilding can out-swim height and sprint ability in especially the 200m races in Butterfly and Breaststroke.

There is no need to be obsessive about height because the ultimate power of decision-making is with the swimmer and if the swimmer thinks they can win, they will want to try their hardest. Especially if swimming as sport increases the happiness factor of a swimmer and aids with learning there is no question that every length spent in the pool is time well spent.

Especially when Madison was younger and she was put into a fast heat, despite being so young, she always complaint, that everybody else was much taller than her. I think a swimmer learns to overcome certain fears and deal with it in a positive way.

But Hannah Miley must be an inspiration to anybody who is not very tall, she is a very fierce swimmer and full of winning energy.

 

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.

Fresh swimming

The recent listings for the British Summer Championships, as mentioned in my previous post, have strengthened my case for the LAC to become the third British Swim Centre.

Looking through the listings I noticed that a fellow swimmer, also of German origin (and I hope they do not mind me mentioning them), by the name of von Opel, listed with a freestyle qualifying time of 27:95 and that is a cracking time for somebody born in 2004, that girl is 12/13 years of age. Ciara swims for Chelsea & Westminster, who have a long history of producing national swimmers.

Chelsea & Westminster are a London club, but generally train in a 25 meter pool. There are other excellent London clubs who also mainly train in 25 meter pools. But to develop those swimmers to world record standards I think they need to train in a 50m pool permanently.

The 50m freestyle record, also held by a German lady, Britta Steffen, since 2009; the fastest listing time for the British Summer Champs is 25:42 by Lucy Hope from Edinburgh University, Lucy is born in 1997.

So we have gotten a 12? year old listing as 27:95 and the fastest older swimmer is 20? with 25:42. Edinburgh and Scotland in general has an excellent pool of superb swimmers also. They should also have a national swim centre in Scotland by the way, so that we get a total of four swim centres in Britain. The amount of people who take up swimming is thankfully on the rise.

But my point is that if a 12? year old can produce a 27 in 50 free than such an achievement needs careful nurturing in a great 50m pool.

So the case of the UEL to close down the Senior Program should be thoroughly rejected by Swim England and Sport England and the Senior Program should be advanced and incorporated into a National Swim Centre based at the LAC.

 

 

Supporting your swimmer

For all  parents who come from a non-swimming background, the amount of time spent around the pool slowly increases with training intensity; this becomes more the older the swimmer gets.

Non-swimming and swimming lifestyles are quite different. I could also differentiate and say that sporting and non-sporting lifestyles are quite different. Yet with swimmers, you do spend a lot of time around the pool, which is a quite special environment.

By supporting my swimmer I don’t mean interfere with the coaching, at least if it is fair, but try to understand the frame of mind my swimmer is in.

The time needed for swimming training is considerable and takes large chunks of time out of each day. When teenagers have to do their GCSE exams and preparations for those, trying to juggle time to fulfil schooling and swimming training, requires exact tuning of every useful minute of the day. Even the sleep time has to be calculated to fulfil minimum requirements for a young person, who need more sleep than older people.

It took us several months to get used to a twice daily training routine with getting up at 4:30 to 5:00 AM twice a week. Of course I do not want to send my swimmer for early morning training without any breakfast.

My swimmer’s days are non stop activity-laden days without stopping.

  • Getting up, having breakfast
  • early morning training
  • school
  • homework
  • afternoon training
  • homework
  • sleep

Of course my swimmer talks about what’s happening during training but I as a parent do not want to get involved unless it is really necessary. In a good club parents do not have to get involved a lot in the training side of things in the sense of discussing what the coach should be training. Parents always want to ensure their child is safe.

  • Parents should get involved in voluntary roles within the club and help at competitions.
  • Parents should ensure that the swimmer gets healthy nourishment and the right equipment.
  • Parents should help or organise travel to and from training and competitions.

It is very rewarding to help enable a swimmer to reach their sporting potential and also help others rather than just your own child to compete. Getting to know the rules and enforcing them, gives a sense of fair-play throughout the sport.

Swimming is not necessarily adverse to academic achievement, there are many sporting careers that stem from swimming. Children can take sport GCSE or study sporting related medicine and sporting discipline at university. There are many careers in swimming related sports.

Swimming is never a lost cause and never a waste of time. Yet I strongly suggest that parents do not force their children to do swimming but rather find a sport that children really like. If it is swimming the better but if it is not, look at what is out there.

 

The three B’s

I am very happy to have passed my final assessment and qualified as J1 judge. I joined as swimming club volunteer with Madison’s increased participation in swimming competitions and wanting to make myself useful and also wanting to pick up some good tips on how to swim better.

Like myself, many swimming parents are not from a competitive swimming background and as such getting through all the rules can take longer than if one has been into competitive swimming previously.

Competition promoters really do rely on volunteers to staff the officials required to run such competitions and the FINA rules are quite strict on the officials requirements needed. Keeping those rules means an event can be licensed and the times achieved by the swimmers are official and get listed in the Personal Best Times charts kept online for all to see.

Trying to memorize the swim order in Medley swimming for example, I noticed there are three B’s and one F.

The B’s are in a different order depending whether it’s Individual Medley

  • Butterfly
  • Backstroke
  • Breaststroke
  • Freestyle

but in the Medley relay events, which allows groups of swimmers to race the order is

  • Backstroke
  • Breaststroke
  • Butterfly
  • Freestyle

The easy way to remember this is that IM starts with Butterfly and Medley relay starts with Backstroke. I know the Breaststroke always follows the Backstroke and the Freestyle is always last.

Personally I do not like to interfere too much into the training that Madison gets, it is up to her coach to teach her the important tactics and stroke techniques. I just like to understand the racing events and so can assist the swimmers and ensure, as far as I can that the best swimmer always wins. All swimmers need to get the same chances.

It is a lenghty process to become a swimming official and lots of practise is best.

 

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.

No more excuses

Whilst I was sitting around, being a bit bored, a link from British Swimming to the ‘progressive age-group records‘ came up.

I saw, to my total amazement that Francesca Halsall actually achieved her first recorded British age-group record on this list aged 13 in the 50 free, on 7 April  2004 in 26:43. Born on 12 April 1990, this happened just 5 days before her 14. birthday.

I find this completely amazing because Fran is relatively short, she even joked about  her height in one of her recent interviews saying it would help her being a bit taller. The current Wikipedia profile list Francesca as 1.71m height.

This just puts fire into the flames of those who argue they could never win against all those tall people who turn up at age-groups.

I think Francesca should become a real trend-setter for swimmers because she achieves and swims with longevity and now aged 27 has again been nominated to the British Olympic team.

Apparently I show YouTube videos of Fran’s sprints to Madison to show her the technique; recommend this to all who want to be good at freestyle sprint.