With the recent success of our athletes in the pool at the Rio Paralympics, there’s plenty to inspire Kiwi swimmers of all ages. This month we take a look at long established Ace Swimming Club in Hamilton, which in its heyday churned out swimmers the calibre of Alison Fitch (former Olympic and Commonwealth Games swimmer) and was highly regarded nationally.
Results may have petered off in recent years, but the introduction of world-renowned coach Emma Swanwick has seen a complete shakeup of what goes on in the swimming lanes, with increased attention paid to technique and skill levels.
Ace Swimming Club, a charitable trust, has been based at Waterworld, Hamilton, for decades since being established to assist and foster the development of competitive swimming.
“The focus of the coaches and swimmers is to strive for and attain a high level of success in competitive swimming,’ says club president Edward Hardie.
“We cater for a wide range of ages starting from six years, depending on ability, with fully qualified coaches to support and develop swimmers to achieve their potential. We also cater for water polo players, triathletes and people who no longer wish to compete but want to swim well and retain a good level of fitness.”
Ace, like all sports, throughout history, has enjoyed times of success, as well as struggle. Now armed with a keen band of swimmers, parents and committee members, Ace is enjoying a renewed focus on achieving results and providing swimmers with improved competitive skills.
Kudos to the committee for taking an honest look at how the club has been performing and setting about rebuilding its skill levels.
“Waikato is not performing to its full potential and falls behind other regions; Ace however has taken up the challenge” says Edward.
In a bold move by the committee, the club has decided to do something about raising the standards of performance, and focus on moving Ace and the wider Waikato region into a leading position where standards of expectation and delivery are set to a much higher level.
“Earlier last year we worked through how we could create the best opportunities for our swimmers – some with Olympic aspirations. Good just wasn’t enough so we sought a coaching director at international level to create excellence. We were tempted to accept a couple of other choices in our selection for coach – but when we interviewed and reference checked Emma Swanwick the choice was clear. She is a remarkable person, not only with a Masters in Sports Science but coaching success at Olympic level. That was very exciting,” says Edward.
“The basis of any development plan is assessing its current level, weaknesses and strengths, so opportunities for development can be identified and worked on,” he says.
“With this in mind we recognised that stroke skills were poor and general waterman-ship was less than effective. Without this basis, no amount of training is going to produce good results. The club at this point could only expect to continue to achieve the same results.”
Under the leadership of Emma, supported by coaches Steve Hay and Caro Cameron, a new programme of stroke tuition has been put in place from bottom to top.
“All swimmers needed to be taught how to perform all four strokes effectively,” says Emma.
“Along with this, an assessment process providing feedback to parents has been created for junior swimmers, to monitor progress, skill and speed across nine elements.”
At the end of each term, parents receive a copy of the report, letting them know their child’s performance and progress.
At the higher levels, where stroke skills were also lacking, considerable work has been carried out in re-teaching the principles of each stroke and its race execution.
A science-driven assessment process, monitoring strength balance across the shoulders (to identify potential for shoulder injury) and a carefully created land-based programme have been put in place.
Older athletes use the gym 2-3 times per week on top of their pool time. Other assessments set training paces, look at start dynamics and a turning board has been placed at a strategic point in the pool so swimmers can practise turns at high speed. More science is planned as the exercise physiology experience Emma brings to the club has already seen her coach a number of swimmers who have won medals at Olympic and world level.
The results? Swimmer performances have already risen considerably. At the club’s first meet, just three weeks into the programme, swimmers were producing slow times (as expected), which had some parents on edge. However, by the middle of the training cycle, they were touching their personal best and towards the end of this first training cycle, the results are continuing to improve.
“We set an expectation of six percent improvement per year for the younger swimmers,” says Emma.
“We saw that within one term.”
“And we set an improvement of three percent for the older swimmers, currently 15 – 17 years, and most have reached three to six percent in 20 weeks. Some have achieved even more than that.”
Up-and-coming swimmers like Danyon Hardie and Katlyn Steedman have made significant inroads at a national level, while junior swimmers Charlize Tordoff and Sarah Wilson have shown great form in the younger age group of 11-13 years.
“Any swimmers who have not qualified for a national event or have not done well in more than a year are now qualifying and showing a big improvement which hasn’t been seen in a while.
“We base our programme on a more holistic approach; understand the athlete, understand the demands on them from school, home and other areas as well as swimming, and then create a programme which takes all of this into account and deals with what the swimmer can be challenged to do. The science element helps us bring more accuracy to that process.”
Wintec student Abby Armstrong is working with the club to bring more information into the training process; monitoring daily levels of stress in a number of areas to help better understand how to tailor training to each swimmer.
So where to from here? Ace has a four-year programme development plan aimed at putting swimmers at a level to compete with the best, not just in New Zealand but on a wider international stage. 2020 is the goal to being an established club of performance.
“We are working closely with Swim Waikato while ensuring we push a programme our members are confident with and enjoy.”
Ace is taking a team of swimmers to Victoria State Championships (Australia) in December to expose the club to a higher level of competition.
“This is usually only done by a select few in New Zealand,” says Emma. “It’s a first for the club but has been a good motivator for swimmers to prove that they are capable of more than they thought. Year on year we expect to take more competitors to the State Championships as well as other overseas meets, to constantly raise the standard.”