Swimming’s big splash

swimmerA few weeks ago we focused some attention of the resurgence taking place in Table Tennis in St Vincent and the Grenadines. Some may have taken the contents of the article the wrong way but there is little that anyone can do in that regard.
Table Tennis has, over the past few months, taken something of a quantum leap in this country and the immediate results are already evident. There are more people already playing the game of Table Tennis on a regular basis, especially students. There is now a concerted effort being made to cultivate a pool of the more talented players at this stage of the game’s resurgence, with higher-level training on a consistent basis, with the objective of better preparing them to be the next generation of quality Vincentian Table Tennis athletes.
The work being undertaken by the leadership of the Table Tennis fraternity has more time to devote to quality work in and for the sport and that could very well make the difference going forward.
Some important developments are taking place in the sport of Swimming here in St Vincent and the Grenadines, not much unlike what is happening in the aforementioned sport of Table Tennis. In this week’s Column we devote some attention to the development of swimming here.
Swimming got a significant boost where numerous other sports are not so fortunate. They were lucky enough to have the pool at Shrewsbury House allocated to the St Vincent and the Grenadines Amateur Swimming Association (SVGASA). This development is most interesting.
Several years ago the then President of the Association, Wendell Lewis, had sought and obtained permission from the James Mitchell administration, to have the services of the same pool.
Mr Lewis had also acquired the services of Coach Straughn of Grenada, who was instrumental in getting the sport to literally take off in this country. Together Lewis and Straughn accessed support o get the pool at the time significantly renovated to allow for it to move from being merely recreational to a 25m training and competition pool for the national association.
Unfortunately for the Swimming Association at the time the renovated pool fell short of the 25m by .5m, something that continues to exist and which significantly impairs the work of the Association in monitoring the development of its athletes. The pool was never completed. Nothing happened after that. The Association, for all intents and purposes collapsed and Rickydeane Alexander and Niesha Alexander kept the sport alive through a swimming club that they established.
When Andre Cadougan became President of the Association he and his executive set about reorganising the sport and completing the pool. This done, the sport began to develop with tremendous speed. This is the result of being in possession of a home, however small it may be.
Of course, the fact that the facility is not up to the full 25m means that locally achieved times are of little consequence and it is virtually impossible to conceive of hosting a regional swimming competition; it will not receive approval of the international federation for the sport, FINA.
The revitalisation of the SVGASA has much to do with the administration of the organisation. Cadougan had the benefit of some very professional people. This is to be expected in the sport of Swimming, much like Tennis and Squash. These sports are usually expensive and there is a tendency for them to attract professionals.
Cadougan and later Stephen Joachim, opted for a professional approach to the administration of the SVGASA while at the same time opening up the sport and the facility to an ever-widening range of Vincentian children in an effort to ensure that it is in no way elitist.
The pool is expensive to maintain and the SVGASA had to put in place the appropriate mechanisms to facilitate its sustainability. This meant working with government and corporate St Vincent and the Grenadines.
A new Salt system was purchased and installed. This has resulted in substantially lower chemical bills. The quality of the water has significantly improved. The water is also more comfortable to the swimmers.
The pool was emptied, resurfaced and repainted.
A multispeed pump intended to reduce the amount (and cost) of electricity used at the swimming facility was procured.
The administration has benefitted from the following:

  • The Government, in providing duty free importation of numerous items used in the rapidly expanding swimming programme.
  • The St Vincent and the Grenadines National Olympic Committee (SVGNOC) have been invaluable in providing support in the form of equipment for the pool; assistance to compete at Carifta in Jamaica; a training camp in Florida as part of their World Championships preparation.
  • Corporate partners, Scotiabank, Lime and Coreas, have provided the funding necessary to keep the pool facility operational.
  • The National Lotteries Authority is also on board in respect of the team scheduled to compete at the OECS Championships later this month in neighbouring St Lucia.

The revitalised SVGASA now has two swim clubs – Blue Marlins and Black Sands. The swim coaches are aligned with these clubs.
Competition is necessary if the sport is to develop and given the limitations of the local facility the SVGASA has to travel to get competition in approved pools.
The SVGASA has met with some measure of success in the regional competitions. The highlight of the organisation’s achievement must be that of Shne Joachim who won this country’s first medal – bronze- at the annual Carifta Swimming Championships, held in Jamaica, earlier this year. Competing in the 11 – 12 age group, Joachim copped the bronze medal in the 50m freestyle and was a finalist in the 1000m breaststroke.
At the Barbados National Championships (Long Course), Shne Joachim won one Gold medal, one Silver and three Bronze medals; Nikolas Sylvester won three Silvers and one Bronze.
At the RHAC Invitational – St Lucia, which featured over 350 swimmers from five countries, Isabella Bollers (2 Golds in the 6 & Under age category); Roy Bradshaw (3 Silvers in the 18 & over age category); Davaugh Durham (one Bronze in the 15 to 16 age group); Storm Halbich (2 Golds, 1 Silver and 1 Bronze in the 13-14 age group); Shne Joachim (3 Golds, 2 Silvers and 2 Bronze in the 11-12 age group); Adora Lawrence (1 Silver and 2 Bronze in the 13-14 age group);
At the BASA Aquatic Centre Invitational – Barbados, Shne Joachim (2 Golds and 1 Silver in the 11 to 12 age group) and Nikolas Sylvester (3 Silvers and 1 Bronze in the 11 to 12 age group) were our top performers.
At the Open World Championships in Barcelona, Spain, the three Vincentian representatives each attained personal bests enough to attract the attention of international coaches.
The foregoing are but some of the successes attained by our swimmers.
Coaches Development
No sport could exist and develop without the support of a good cadre of professional coaches. The revitalised SVGASA has also been paying much attention to this aspect of the sport.
To help the organisation get started on the right path the NOC allocated the SVGASA a six-month programme under the expertise of Dave Farmer of Barbados, during the period August 2012 – January 2013, to develop a National Sport Structure. The funding came from Olympic Solidarity, the development arm of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
The NOC also allocated a three-month advanced coaching course to Niesha Alexander. This was held in Canada.
While here Farmer worked with the coaches available to set the tone for their approach to the sport. He also kick-started the GTIP for the SVGASA.
In February the SVGASA benefitted from a 10-day FINA Development Course conducted by renowned international swim coach, Rick Powers.
Two coaches attended a FINA Level 2 Coaches Certification Course in St Lucia in May while one month later two attended another FINA Coaching Course in Barbados conducted by Anthony Nesty – the first black swimming gold medallist at the Summer Olympics – and Leah Martindale former Barbadian Olympian.
Last evening the curtains came down on the NOC/Olympic Solidarity sponsored two-week Technical Course for Coaches conducted by Rick Powers.
Coaches need constant education and training. Coaches never stop learning as the sport is always developing
Programme expansion
Committed to developing the sport around St Vincent and the Grenadines the SVGASA has already reached out to a number of communities with support from The Mustique Charitable Trust. This programme is scheduled to run over 24 months and impact 12 communities. The programme is broken into 12-week session for 25 children in each community. The programme teaches swimming as well as life skills such as conflict resolution and discipline.
Of course it is important that in each of the communities involve din this initiative offer potential coaches to facilitate the sustainability of the programme as well as volunteers willing to become technical officials in the sport.
Indeed, the one area that seems weakest in the SVGASA may well be the inadequacy of persons willing to serve as technical officials.
It has often been suggested that it is easy for people of a nation surrounded by water to make it in swimming. That is not the whole story. Success requires a tremendous amount of work.
The pace of work currently being undertaken by the SVGASA is hectic and particularly valuable to the development of the sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
The fact that FINA now includes Open Water competitions opens up additional avenues for expansion of the sport in this nation of ours.
Already some youths from Bequia have been identified as talented and begun training in the Shrewsbury pool on a regular basis. Their progress has been tremendous and suggests that many more talented swimmers abound around these islands that comprise our nation.
No association is perfect. The challenges remain tremendous, not the least being the inadequacy of a 24.5m pool that FINA would not recognise.
The SVGASA, however, like Table Tennis Association is building blocks one at a time and making a difference in the lives of Vincentian youths through sport.