Swimming’s aggressive climb
To see her approach the pool is to witness an athlete whose physique appears ideally suited to the sport of swimming. We are here referring to Shne Joachim, born 11 May 2000, and who has already indelibly etched her name in the annals of Vincentian sporting history.
The records will show that she began her swimming at the age of two years but started formal swimming lessons seven years later.
In 2010 she competed at the annual OECS Swim Championships and that got her off to being bitten by the bug as it were.
Her coming of age in the pool really took place last year when she was particularly outstanding and elevated our beautiful country onto regional recognition in the sport.
In 2013 Shne won this country’s first-ever medal at the annual Carifta Swim Championships. She copped bronze.
She continued to swim very well for the rest if the year capping it all with the breaking of a 20-year old record in Trinidad and Tobago in the 50m breaststroke for athletes in her age group.
This year, Shne continued where she left off in 2013 with some amazing performances. She broke the 50m breaststroke Carifta record but suffered a setback when she was disqualified in the finals. She did however gain a bronze medal (her second) at Carifta in the 100m breaststroke.
At the Barbados National Championships Shne delivered gold in four of the five races in which she competed, she won medals.
She capped off 2014 by breaking the 50m breaststroke record for the 50m for her age group on her way to winning two gold and two silver medals.
It came as no surprise therefore when Vincentians learnt that Shne, despite being only 14 years old, made the qualifying standard for the Pan American Games scheduled for Toronto, Canada, in July 2015, a first for the sport in this country. Her achievements for 2014 seems to have set her up for a repeat title as Athlete of the Year for this country.
Other competitive swimmers
Admittedly Shne is by a long way the most outstanding swimmer that we have in St Vincent and the Grenadines and her attendance at school in Canada where swimming features prominently, we can expect significant improvement.
There are however some other prospects in the swimming fraternity who, alongside Shne, can be credited with helping to take the sport to the top in this country in the not too distant future.
Nikolas Sylvester has shown that he too has what it takes to do well in the pool. His performances have been consistent and his approach is appropriate to his overall development in the sport. He has left his mark at the OECS and other competitions serving notice that he is a force to reckon with in the years ahead.
One of the most improved swimmers in the recent past has been Shane Cadougan whose commitment to training as directed has yielded good results for him and his club.
Storm Halbich and Adora Lawrence joined Nikolas Sylvester at the World Swim Championships in the latter part of the year.
Young Alexander Joachim swam the best of his young career when taking top overall honours in his age category in the competition in Trinidad and Tobago in December.
There is little doubt that the work put in by the coaches at the swimming pool has yielded good results over the past twelve months and this certainly augurs well for the future.
It is perhaps most important to assess the possible causal factors for the success we are seeing in the sport of swimming in St Vincent and the Grenadines today.
Some may recall that some years ago an attempt was made to develop the sport of swimming here. At the time Wendell Lewis was at the helm of the fledgling organisation and with his small team he established the national governing body for the sport, using a variety of swimming pools.
The local association at the time procured the support of their counterparts in neighbouring Grenada and Michael Davidson came to this country and served as the lead coach for a fairly long period.
It was during this period that we had representation from the swimming fraternity at the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia in 2000 (Teran Matthews and Stevenson Wallace) and again in Athens, Greece (Donnie De Freitas), four years later. We also saw the emergence of Rickydeane Alexander and Neisha Alexander as coaches in the sport.
As so often happens things can and often do go awry. This was the case with swimming. The government at the time approved the request for use of the pool at Shrewsbury House and a serious attempt was made to get it expanded to 25m. Unfortunately something went wrong in the construction process and it was short by less that a metre, unbelievable.
Davidson returned to Grenada and the organisation here faltered into near-inactivity. It was at this stage that Rickydeane and Niesha held things together, convening swimming classes and encouraging youngsters to join and stay with the sport. They did however lack the administrative and organisational structure needed to take the sport forward. They did keep it alive and must be duly credited.
The resurgence of swimming has been as a result of the interest of Andre Cadougan who rallied a number of people around his eagerness and ambitious programme. He sought and obtained the help of Errol Clarke of Barbados, who was at the time the President of the regional swimming confederation (CCCAN).
Parents were encouraged now that there was a vibrant organisation in place and they brought their children to the sport.
Unfortunately for the enthusiastic fraternity they had to contend with a pool that was shy of the requisite 25m and therefore left the country incapable of seeking to host any sort of sub regional or regional competition.
What mattered however was that the sport took a new turn; one that was truly developmental in orientation and highly supported by parents.
Today the pool is being expanded to the full 25m and an additional three lanes are being added to the existing three. This is great for the sport and allows for more athletes to train consistently in preparation for competition. We can then bid for regional championships.
In any sport programme that has a developmental pathway parental involvement is critical.
Swimming in its new dispensation targeted parents to bring their children to the sport. This was the first order of things.
Parents called other parents to come and see what was taking place and once there, encouraged them to have their children involved along with themselves.
Of course there are those who would readily suggest that it was a class thing but that is not the whole truth.
Admittedly, members of the upper and middle classes got involved but swimming has been open to everyone from the very beginning. Additionally, the National Olympic Committee in 2012 facilitated a two-week swimming programme that involved bringing people from different communities to the pool to learn how to swim. Since then the Association has procured sponsorship for a community-oriented swimming programme that serves as an outreach for the organisation to increase participation and talent identification.
In each case attempts have been made to get parents involved.
It is therefore not surprising that when local competitions are held the parents make far more noise than the athletes in supporting the swimmers in each race. They move alongside the pool urging on their children, eager to see them succeed.
One of the weaknesses of sporting development here is the eagerness of some [parents to use their children’s involvement in sport as a sort of day care. They drop them off and return to pick them up. Swimming is different. The parents are involved. They stay with the children because they know the importance of parental support to the athletic development of their children.
Swimming’s big push
Like all other sports swimming has to raise funds. While swimming itself may appear cheap – get trunks/suit and swim, the maintenance cost associated with the pool is phenomenal. This is the reason that user fees are an integral component of the sport. The pool has to be chlorinated and the pump constantly monitored and serviced.
Those children whose parents are fortunate enough to afford their own pool at home have a distinct advantage but training alone does not always ensure success. There has to be access to good quality, competent coaching and the association has been able to boast of a relatively good cadre of coaches with Kyle Dougan leading the way.
The National Olympic Committee, in 2012, facilitated a six-month programme which it funded to the tune of $30,000USD through Olympic Solidarity, that saw Barbadian, Dave Farmer, engage in the development of a national sport structure for the association.
The association has also benefitted from a NOC-sponsored technical course for the development of coaches to broaden the base of people working in the pool in a consistent manner.
The Swimming Association has opted to attend training camps in Florida at one of the more prestigious institutions in the USA. This is a costly undertaking but some parents, recognising the immense value, ensured that their children got the opportunity. They have attended at least three such camps already and more are planned. The improvement following the advanced training has been tremendous.
Competition is an important part of the developmental pathway in any sport and swimming is not different. Thus the Association has had to call on parents to commit to assisting it in getting the athletes to as many competitions annually as it possible. Those who can afford it have taken on the challenge and have seen the benefits.
It is difficult to challenge the swimming association for top awards for 2014 if only because one recognises the immense efforts of the organisation and the support it has received from parents in particular.
While the swimmers have not yet won medals at the highest levels the evidence suggests that this may well be only a matter of time provided they are adequately exposed to ever higher levels of training and competition and thy are willing to commit to staying the distance. They have started winning and this can become contagious.
The fact that the association has a home and attendant facilitates is a major factor in the preparation of athletes for regional and international competitions.
As happens with athletics though, it is extremely difficult to stay at home alone and expect to compete favourably at the international level. The requisite facilities and expertise simply does not exist in abundance.
We need sports psychologists to help our athletes emotionally. Some coaches are incapable of addressing this very sensitive yet absolutely necessary aspect.
We need a team around our best athletes that includes coaches, physiotherapists, chiropractors, sport medicine specialists and personal development specialists.
Unfortunately we fly in the face of reality by expecting too much from our athletes too soon.
We are happy that our young swimmers are doing well but let us not forget that it takes at least eight years to produce a world champion. We seem to expect to produce them almost every year.
Swimming has somehow not received the attention it deserves given its remarkable progress in so short a space of time. The approach undertaken by the association is however instructive and others may do well to examine it and learn some important lessons. The important question though is how many associations are willing to do so.