Swimming Canada’s Strange New Road Map

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Swimming Canada has recently completed a review of national and international competitions, and has come up with recommendations to improve national level swimming.

You can find the document here.

Some of these recommendations are, in my opinion, potentially detrimental to Canadian Swimming.


Gap Analysis

The basic premise is that the review identified gaps in the Canadian swimming program. Some of these gaps are specific and data-driven, such as reviewing our performance at the 2015 Senior and Junior World Championships, evaluating the depth of Canadian swimmers in all events compared to the world, and evaluating our performances at our own national championships.

Other identified gaps are more problematic in their subjective description. Here are a few examples.

#5.  Poor stroke technique and technical skills (turns, underwater work, starts etc) observed in the vast majority of swimmers across most events at all developmental levels in Canada.

#6. Swimmers are peaking at the wrong time in the season, resting too often and not establishing an appropriate training base.

#8.  Swimming Clubs run open meets to make money and thus serve as fundraisers rather than part of the development of an appropriate competition structure based on the principles of LTAD.

I’m not even sure how you address these generic and subjectively identified gaps since no metrics are even possible.


Swimming Canada’s Recommendations

The gap analysis lead to a series of recommendations.  I broke these down to what I consider to be the three main recommendations.

  1. Age Limitations: Minimum age limits will be invoked for national and provincial age group championships (Girls minimum age 13, Boys 14) with one year older for Junior World Trials
  2. All Provincial and National Championships will be Long Course [LC]. All national level meets will only allow LC qualifying times, and only for times performed in the designated Peak Performance Windows of March – April and July – August. Competition times in any other parts of the year will not count towards qualifying for national-level competitions.
  3. National level meets will NOT include 50m Fly, Back or Breast.


My Comments

Eliminating 50m Stroke Events

I’m going to address the elimination of 50 stroke events first, as this one boggles my mind.

The stated rationale is that because those events aren’t in the Olympics, we shouldn’t focus or prepare for them.  And since we’ve identified gaps in our distance swimming, we should train for those instead. I confess I have a little trouble understanding this.  The swimmers who are most affected by the elimination of the 50s are most likely NOT the ones who can bridge the gap in our distance events.

But the key problem here is that virtually every sport acknowledges that improving top end performance (eg. sprint speed or maximum strength) benefits all facets of that sport, and yet we’re being asked to ignore that.  Don’t bother building speed.  We don’t need it.

But the fact is that virtually all of the top swim countries in the world emphasize all four 50m events in their national championships.  They all seem to think 50 sprint speed is important.

Here’s a simple example.  If your 50 PB is 25.0 seconds, but in order to be competitive in the world you have to take a race out in 26.0, you’re going to have work really hard in that opening 50 to do that 26.  But if you drop your 50 PB down to 24.5, you’ll be able to hit that 26 more easily.

To make matters worse, this following paragraph was part of the official rationale for the decision (included in the link at the top of this post).

“In reviewing the results of the Canadian Age Championships since its inception in 2006 there have only been 13 winners in 50m stroke (non-free) events that have gone on to represent Canada at the Olympic Games or World Championships. Twelve of these 13 winners also won a 100m+ event at the Age Championships. With only one exception over a 10-year period, the 50m stroke (non-free) events have not had impact on developing world-class swimmers.”

On the surface that may sounds like a good argument, but it’s actually quite ridiculous.

The fact that early-maturing age-group swimmers rarely go on to represent Canada at Olympics or Worlds has absolutely NOTHING to do with whether developing a fast 50 is a good strategy for a mature adult swimmer. The two have nothing to do with each other. Not a thing.

If you want data, then look at any of my series of blog posts (here) analyzing Elite performances at the 2012 Olympics. Most of my analysis used each swimmer’s 50 PB as the reference point.  The results show that the elite tend to swim their 200m races with splits that are a similar amount above their 50 PB, and they typically have very fast 50 PBs. A lack of focus on sprinting will seriously hurt our 100 and 200 events.

The reality is that eliminating 50m races could have a hugely negative impact on Canadian swimming. And including them does no harm.


Long Course and Peak Performance Windows

There are three worrying aspects to this

1)  LC only Provincial / National Championships

Many small teams do not have easy access to LC pools for training. As a result, LC adaptation occurs mainly through innovative training techniques and LC competitions. Swimmers on these teams will have a much harder time qualifying, and this may even cause a migration of top swimmers to bigger teams with better access to LC pools. But even more importantly, younger swimmers tend to love Short Course [SC] swimming as its easier.  If we want to grow our sport, why create a barrier to enjoyment and advancement?

2) LC only National qualifying times

Along the same line, it’s easier for swimmers to make SC times than LC times, so why make it harder on them?  Remember that every swimmer who qualifies for a national championship excites the other swimmers in their club.  Everyone around that swimmer becomes more motivated to work hard. National championships are not just about the winners. They’re also about exposing swimmers to excellence, and building a love of the sport.

3) Qualification Windows (called Peak Performance Windows).

My main concern is that qualification windows seem to be an attempt to micro-manage top level training.

But there are even more important elements to this.  University swimmers in both Canada (CIS) and US (NCAA) are part of incredibly exciting environments that are completely based on SC swimming.  And neither organization has their national championships within these Peak Performance Windows.  (Swimming Canada is apparently trying to convince CIS to delay their championship to fall inside the March-April window.)  If SC swimming is so detrimental, why is it that the vast majority of top swimmers in the world have competed in NCAA.

Here’s an idea. Why not just extend the window to accommodate these major university championships? Why have these swimmers shave and taper in February, and then have to immediately try to get LC times to qualify for Trials?

ASIDE:  Swimming Canada was successful in getting CIS to move to a SC heats / LC finals format this year.   This meant that university swimmers, who spend their whole schedule competing SC, suddenly have LC national championship finals. That’s insanity. Imagine the uproar if USA Swimming suggested that the NCAA to do the same.

Somehow swimmers in the US have successfully manages the SC-LC transition. Let Canadian swimmers do the same!


Age Limitations

I don’t have a problem with this.  Early maturing swimmers tend to dominate the younger ages, and the advantages of early maturation have usually long disappeared by the time swimmers are in their 20s.  In fact, over-celebrating performances by young swimmers can often backfire when later maturing swimmers eventually catch up.  It’s not all that unusual for early maturing swimmers to quit well before their 20s.



This statement from Swimming Canada perhaps best highlights my thoughts of this new strategy.

“We have to look for an innovative solution that is uniquely Canadian in order to outperform our competitors. Simply replicating the model in other countries will at best get us similar results to them.”

I’m not sure what “uniquely Canadian” means, but it almost looks like Swimming Canada is spending more time trying to be unique than it is in finding sensible solutions.  Personally, I would LOVE to have results similar to those of Australia or Brazil or Japan, and yet we seem to be more committed to being unique.





4 thoughts on “Swimming Canada’s Strange New Road Map

  1. You won’t like my comment either I agree with you. We live in Eastern Ontario so the only long course pool in in Ottawa 275 km away or Toronto 150 km away so training in a long course pool in not an option. I personally feel that Swim Canada is going to deter future athletes from attaining their true potential as these policies will lead to the end on the small centre team.

  2. I’ve found that nothing is more toxic than worrying about cuts when it comes to being able to get excited about specific swims or the sport in general. By trying to control meet focus through the use of a narrow cut window, Canada will likely be dramatically reducing the number of swimmers who take joy in the sport, and ultimately lose a significant portion of those swimmers from the sport.
    Losing swimmers means that the home run rate needs to be even higher. The policies appear to be the equivalent of putting all your chips on a single number at the roulette table betting that you have correctly identified the causes of international success. From the points listed, I certainly wouldn’t make that bet.

    1. Andre, that is a brilliant summary of the situation. The drive to top-end excellence has to start with a broad base of swimmers who truly enjoy the sport. Take away some of that enjoyment and you threaten the future success of the program

I love comments, especially when they disagree with my view.

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