Coaching is key to swimming success

28th April 2006 at 01:00
After supreme success at the Commonwealth Games, Scottish Swimming wants the Scottish Executive to ensure the sport is not left high and dry in schools, writes Roddy Mackenzie

A new wave of optimism has engulfed Scottish sport with the recent success in Melbourne. The Scottish team brought back 29 medals and the 12 won in the pool was the highest number by a Scottish sport at any Commonwealth Games.

Richard Gordon, the director of coaching and development at Scottish Swimming, believes it is a mark of all the hard work that has gone on below the surface in the past six years. But he knows there are still issues holding the sport back in Scotland, as it strives towards further success in 2010 and in 2014 when Glasgow is bidding to host the Games.

Mr Gordon believes that swimming should be on the curriculum throughout Scotland, and is hoping the success in Melbourne will prompt the Scottish Executive to issue a directive instead of leaving it up to local authorities.

"There is an issue in terms of getting swimming on the curriculum. It is in England and Wales but here it's like a patchwork quilt," he says.

"The Scottish Executive handed the decision to individual local authorities and some offer swimming and some don't. Some of those who do, offer only the basic level.

"We would like to see every local authority offer a programme and set relevant standards. It's as much a safety question as anything. We're an island nation surrounded by the sea and with a lot of inland water, so surely it makes sense to get every child to learn to swim.

"That said, there are some good programmes out there. There are terrific ones in South Lanarkshire and Edinburgh and in some parts of Glasgow. But we need consistency and we hope that the performances at the Commonwealth Games may highlight this."

Mr Gordon, whose remit at Scottish Swimming is to plan and implement a comprehensive teachercoach education and development programme, admits the success of the Scotland team in Melbourne surprised even those closest to it.

"We were quietly confident going into the Games but I don't think we expected the level of success we had," he concedes. "Caitlin McClatchey's 200m freestyle lifted the whole British team and showed that the Australians were beatable. But a lot of work has gone on since the Olympic Games in 2000, when the British team came back without a single medal.

"Bill Sweetman was appointed as Britain's coach to improve standards.His immediate observation was that we were competing too much and training too little. He worked hard to turn it around, but he had his critics. There were allegations of bullying and working swimmers too hard, but they were unfounded.

"I think a lot of the reaction was simply to the changes. He has had a lot to do with our long-term athlete development programme."

Mr Gordon also points out that there has been a change in mindset regarding professional coaches. Increasingly it has been accepted that paid coaches who constantly upgrade their qualifications raise standards. In the past, there had been a reliance on amateur coaches but now the contribution of coaches is widely acknowledged.

Mr Gordon says there were 13 coaches for the 19 Scottish swimmers in Melbourne, which shows that it is not just a small number of coaches who are producing an assembly line of swimmers.

"Swimming is fortunate in that it can generate its own money through learn-to-swim programmes, and many clubs now pay for professional coaches.

There are 2,600 swimming teachers and coaches registered with Scottish Swimming and every teacher registered with a local authority is paid in some form if they take a lesson.

"Many club coaches are doing at least 16 to 20 hours a week in the pool: that is the equivalent of a part-time job. The Warrender club in Edinburgh has taken on a full-time coach.

"When the Australian Institute of Sport was set up in 1981, it recognised the need for good quality paid coaches. It paid dividends for Australia. We have taken some of those ideas on board as well as those of other countries."

Mr Gordon is optimistic about the future but still believes Scotland is punching above its weight, due to the dedication of the swimmers and coaches and given that facilities are not ideal.

He points out that 20 per cent of the last British Olympic team was Scottish. Given the population, a more realistic figure would have been half of that.

"Facilities have improved, but there are still only four 50m pools in Scotland, at East Kilbride, Tollcross in Glasgow, the Royal Commonwealth pool in Edinburgh and at Stirling," he says. "There is nothing north of the central belt.

"There is also an issue with access to existing facilities. Clubs are getting squeezed to late evening and early morning. It is not difficult to see that swimming from 8pm-10pm and 5.30am-7.30am is not ideal for a healthy lifestyle."

SCOTLAND MEDAL WINNERS

GOLD

Swimming

Caitlin McClatchey, women's 200m freestyle, women's 400m freestyle David Carry, men's 400m freestyle, men's 400m individual medley Gregor Tait, men's 200m backstroke, men's 200m individual medley

Cycling

Ross Edgar, Chris Hoy, Craig MacLean, men's team sprint

Shooting

Sheena Sharp and Susan Jackson, women's 50m rifle, prone pairs Sheena Sharp, women's 50m rifle prone individual

Lawn bowls

Alec Marshall and Paul Foster, men's pairs

Boxing

Kenneth Anderson, light heavyweight, 81kg

SILVER

Swimming

Kirsty Balfour, women's 200m breaststroke Euan Dale, men's 400m individual medley David Carry, Euan Dale, Andrew Hunter, Robert Renwick, men's 4x200m freestyle relay

Cycling

Ross Edgar, men's sprint

Athletics

Chris Baillie, men's 110m hurdles

Shooting

Martin Sinclair and Neil Stirton, men's 50m rifle, prone pairs

Bowls

Joyce Lindores and Kay Moran, women's pairs

BRONZE

Swimming

Kirsty Balfour, women's 100m breaststroke Gregor Tait, men's 100m backstroke Gregor Tait, Todd Cooper, Craig Houston, Kris Gilchrist, men's 4x100m medley relay

Cycling

Chris Hoy, men's 1km time trial Kate Cullen, points race James McCallum, men's scratch Ross Edgar, men's Keirin

Badminton

Susan Hughes, singles

Weightlifting

Tommy Yule, men's 94kg

Gymnastics

Adam Cox, horizontal bar

Athletics

Lee McConnell, women's 400m hurdles

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