It has been approximately 10 months since John Atkinson was hired as the High Performance Director of Swimming Canada and in that time he has been actively conducting a thorough review of the program.
After his review Atkinson feels that Canada has exactly what it needs to be successful on the international stage, “As a nation we do have everything available to use that we require to deliver at the highest level at the Olympic games,” Atkinson told SwimSwam.
He has spent a lot of his time in the country traveling across Canada and has been pleased with what he has seen, “There wasn’t that eureka moment where there was one big thing, there were lots of things that happened that showed me that potential,” explained Atkinson.
“I think we have a very strong club network, really solid coaching and really good junior athletes coming through.”
Although Canada did only earn two bronze medals at the 2013 FINA World Junior Championships in Dubai, Atkinson pointed to the fact that the nation did finish fourth in the overall point standings, which speaks to the depth of performers in the junior ranks.
“The club coaches are producing good world level, junior athletes that have the potential to progress.”
As a country Canada has traditionally had strong junior athletes internationally, but has traditionally been challenged with transitioning that success to the senior level. This is something that Atkinson is aware of and has a plan to change, “It is going to take a number of different things to happen for those athletes to transition through,” said Atkinson.
“We have to give the right support to the athletes that can deliver at the world level for Canada. One of the things that we are developing is the Swimming Canada ‘On Track Times’ so we can look at what athletes are on the gold medal track, medalist track or finalist track, identify who those athletes are and through carding get them support.”
Camp initiatives will be another piece of the puzzle, “Through the camps we have initiated and are part of the junior program we can give them the opportunity to develop the skill set that is necessary for them to deliver on the world stage.”
One of the camps that he is looking forward to the most is the “Take Off Camps” which will be attended by the top females 17 and under and males 19 and under in the 100 and 200 freestyle events that have to potential to compete on relays for Canada. These camps will be set up a lot like the NFL combine where swimmers will be tested in a variety of skills.
And of course there is their training on a daily basis, “Then there is the training piece, are the athletes doing the right type of training as juniors that will see them be successful as senior athletes? Do they have the right technical skills? Turning skills? Starting skills? Do they have the right capacity, have they built the right engine?”
“All these things together will begin to have an influence on the transition rate of being a successful junior athlete to a succesful senior athlete.”
After reviewing what he has seen and taking into account the program in it’s entirety Atkinson has broken down Swimming Canada’s focus into three main priorities, “I simplified it into three key areas. Swimming Canada is responsible for sending teams to international competitions, whether that be senior or junior and in the pool or in open water.”
“The second element is funding the high performance centres. The third element is programs and projects.”
“Those are the three key area, my part is to look at all those three areas and decide what our strategic priorities are going to be moving forward. We have the ‘cake’ (resources) we have to divvy up and that cake isn’t getting any bigger. Every part of the program has been reviewed.”
The National Sporting Organization’s next step is to present those findings and a plan to the Own the Podium program, which makes major funding decisions based on the thoroughness of a sporting organization’s plan and their potential for earning medals on the international stage.
Atkinson is excited about the potential of the Canadian program, but as any good leader is he is more excited to put a well structured plan in place to turn that potential into results.