Some unique aspects of this program-
Bell ringing: when a swimmers graduates out of a certain learn-to-swim level, they get to walk up on this platform and ring the bell as they leave. When the bell is rung, everyone stops what they are doing and gives a round of applause. Pretty cool motivator for the kids.
Squad for 11-15 year olds not interested in competing: This group comes 1-2 times per week and gets a modestly challenging workout. Most of these swimmers would be doing nothing physical if they did not come for this swim practice. They are not pressured to swim meets nor come to more practices. They seemed to enjoy what they were doing and had positive experiences throughout the evening. I was told this group of kids would most likely be doing nothing if they did not come for the swim session.
This was also the first team that I visited that was on somewhat of a break. I am not sure they had anyone make open nationals, and so that would be a good reason to have the team take a little break. However, they were still offering morning and afternoon practices for the older kids.
The rest of the trip I spent with Sydney swimming. My first visit was probably the most memorable of the trip. Through USA connections (Kathie Wickstrand-Gahen, former Northwestern Swim Coach and now president of the International Coaching Society, contacting the CEO of ASCTA (Australian Swim Coaches and Teachers Association), Dr. Ralph Richards. Dr. Richards is a former Indiana Hoosier, who coached with Kathie at Indiana with Doc Councilman.) Through these connections, I was not only able to meet Forbes and Ursula Carlile, but spend the entire afternoon with them.
This all began with having lunch at their house. When I got there, they both welcomed me at the front door, like I was a friend from long ago. They have lived in the same house since 1961 and… built a pool before they owned the house (they were only renting at the time!) So their home became the site of the first indoor pool in Australia and the first Carlile Swimming School. It is a 12.5 meter pool (30 degrees C) that is strictly a teaching pool. I did find out that Ursula and Forbes swim in it every morning. I got a tour of the “business”. Their house is like a museum. I saw photos and certificates and artwork on the wall that was all related to Forbes and Ursula’s 75 years of swimming. Autographed posters from Ian Thorpe, photos of Shane Gould swimming in the early 70’s with Forbes at her side, commendations from the Dutch Government for Forbes and Ursula (who coached their Olympic Team in the 60’s), and too many more to keep track lined the walls. Their house could easily be turned into a library of swimming history. I had the complete tour and history of their home pool. The pool was recently renovated about three years ago. This is one of 9 pools they use for the Carlile System of teaching swimming. They have 17,000 swimmers go through this system every week! With a staff of 300, they are the standard in Australia. The Carliles are about to purchase a chain of pools in Melbourne that will increase the numbers even more.
Over lunch of egg salad and salmon sandwiches, hot tea, grapes and cookies, we talked and exchanged stories, information and philosophies for more than 2 ½ hours. I tried to keep track of everything we talked about and everything I saw. I took some videos and scrambled down notes in my small notepad. Once 3 o’clock hit it was time to go to practice. Ursula is the head coach of the Ryde-Carlile swim club. They train at the Ryde Aquatic and Leisure Center just up the road from the Carliles. This pool was the site for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Water Polo competition. The 50 meter pool was sectioned into two 25 meter pools. Within this configuration, there was another team there and Ryde-Carlile had 5 different groups training… with 5 different coaches that Ursula oversees. The head senior coach has as many as 15 in his group. He had just a few over 19. Presently, the two older male swimmers were resting for open nationals and the rest of his squad had the afternoon practice off. From his group the others were just steps down from this level. There was a clear connection between each group. It was easy (even for an outsider) to see how one group could feed into another. This was a program that seemed really balanced. I found out there were at least other clubs within the 15 minute radius that also had the different competitive levels. Once again, no program had its hold on the market.
Through the previous mentioned connections, I was also able to get an inside look at the New South Wales Institute of Sport. This institute is housed in the Sydney Olympic Park. The director, Jim Fowlie was a former Canadian Olympic coach and present Australian Olympic coach who has just been put in charge as the lead coach or director of NSWIS swimming. Some of the state institutes, (i.e., WAIS in Perth), does not have a head coach. New South Wales swimming is fortunate. They are also benefitting from Grant Stoelwinder (Eamon Sullivan’s coach) moving from Perth to be the high performance coach here at NSWIS. Jim will oversee this program as Grant leads it. Eamon will be arriving with him and they should be doing some great things. One area that Jim wants to look at is using a flume for training. We have always used it for evaluation and measurement, but never as a method of training. In the flume a swimmer can train at a higher rate of speed than they can in any other way. This will be a valuable tool for sprinters. He is also interested in altitude training and what and how swimmers respond to altitude training. They have done studies on caffeine, creatine… again looking at the athletes who respond to these tests. They do lactate testing, biomechanical analysis, physiological analysis, comprehensive weight training (beautiful facility), a recovery center with products, fully equipped medical professional office (MDs, psychologists, nutritionists). The medical practice is house within NSWIS, but is a private organization. So, a non-athlete could come off the streets for an appointment with one of the doctors. Jim told me that they never had a problem getting an athlete in right away.
They have several levels of athletes (and levels of supported athletes) at NSWIS. Gold, Silver and Associate are the three levels of athlete’s support. There is also an NSWIS coaches network of support for the coaches of athletes that are being supported by the institute. Some of the athletes (associate level) might get the support of NSWIS outside of the Institute. Meaning someone from NSWIS comes to their home pool to evaluate or test. They might only come to the Institute a couple of time per month. This could be a swimmer who has been identified as having a strong potential for future success at high levels of Australian and international swimming.
The NSWIS, like the other institutes sponsor all of their Olympic sports. During my tour of the NSWIS, I also was given a guided tour from Jim of the highlights of the Olympic Park (this included the pool [see picture], the Olympic torch, Olympic Village, where the opening ceremonies were, etc.) Since Jim just came back from Beijing, he has many experiences to share. The last time he had been there was about 12 years ago, so he also gave me a view of the differences since then. It was a great experience, Jim is a very open and informative person. I think NSWIS will continue to prosper and the next Olympics should have quite a few swimmers represented by the Institute.
Off to New Zealand in the morning!