After a disappointing performance at the London Olympics and even more disappointing behavioural problems, the brass within Swimming Australia decided that the best course of action would be to put together a training camp where the countries best 100 athletes could train together and have a chance to bond as a team.
Along with the 100 swimmers in attendance there were approximately 74 staff, including coaches and performance enhancement teams involved in the camp that went from January 28th-February 2nd and was housed at 8 different pools along the Gold Coast.
Australian National Team Coach Leigh Nugent felt that with the Gold Coast hosting both the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships and 2018 Commonwealth Games it was the ideal place for the camp to be held, “Before Rio, the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships and the 2018 Commonwealth Games will both be held on the Gold Coast putting our camp in an ideal location to prepare the future stars of the sport and ensure the EnergyAustralia Swim Team returns to the top of International Swimming.”
Although the location was ideal, the first few days of weather weren’t, “The camp was tested early on with cyclonic conditions but that only lasted for 2 days and the remaining 5 days the weather was perfect and the camp was a great way for everyone to gel,” said Michael Bohl, Head Coach of St. Peters Western.
Once the camp got underway Alicia Coutts, who was the stand out of the Aussie team at the Olympics collecting five medals, agreed that the camp was the perfect situation for athletes to get a chance to know each other.
“I think a shake-up was needed. We haven’t done one of these types of camps since 2007,” Coutts told AAP.
“There have been times when I have been on the team and I haven’t known half of them.”
“When it’s like that, you don’t know their personalities. Sometimes people don’t go out of their way to introduce themselves – it does make it quite difficult.”
“But this type of camp makes it a lot easier.”
The Aussies hope that this type of team building experience will create a positive environment on their team which will negate the behavioural problems they have experienced as of late. In London there were reports that members of the team had been bullied and to some extent ostracized from the majority of the team.
To further deter this type of behaviour Nugent introduced a new team behavioural protocol at the camp. He stated that the rules will be simple and can be summed up as “I am a team member first before I am an individual.”
Although specifics of the protocol have not yet been released it is already known that they include limited use of social media at major competitions and consequences handed out swimmers do not follow the protocol which will include cuts to their funding.
“We’ve set curfews, limited use of mobile phones when we’re together and told competitors to make sure they’re acting in a way to try to improve the team’s performance and not detract from it – and not just think about yourself,” Nugent told the Herald Sun.
In the pool swimmers were split into groups determined by their main strokes and distances. Young athletes were mixed with those who have had extensive international experience. For example relay teammates and Olympic gold medallists Cate Campbell and Melanie Schlanger shared the pool with triple gold medallist from the 2013 Australian Youth Olympic Festival Alexandra Purcell and Youth Olympic Games representative from 2010 Emma McKeon.
Another example saw Olympic silver medallist in the 100m freestyle James Magnussen training with teenager Luke Percy who collected a gold medal and set a new Australian Olympic Youth Festival record in the men’s 50m freestyle (22.46).
“Looking at the future and those who will make the team in the next few years, it is good to get to know them now,” Coutts, who trained with the medley girls, told news.com.au.
“And it won’t be as daunting for them when they make the team. This is great for team bonding.”
“Plus the girls I am training with are experiencing what I do to be one of the best in the world – it’s a good learning experience for everyone.”
The coaches not only expected the young athletes to learn from the vetrans, but they also expected them to flex their own muscle, “We have some outstanding age group swimmers that are on the rise and a priority for us is ensuring our up and coming age group swimmers are putting pressure on our established senior group. The more pressure that can be applied the more outstanding performances we will see at our trials,” said Michael Bohl.
The camp was not only an opportunity for the young Aussie swimmers to develop, but it was also a venue that gave up and coming coaches an incredible learning experience. ASCTA sponsored junior coaches were included in the staff that helped coach each group that were lead by experienced head and assistant coaches.
Coaches also met each evening where they were addressed by several coaches that have experienced international success including Michael Bohl, who developed Stephanie Rice, Doug Frost, who developed Ian Thorpe, Rohan Taylor, who developed Leisel Jones and Glen Berrigen, who developed Petria Thomas.
This time period also allowed swimmers and coaches to regain their focus on the direction of Swimming Australia and develop a stronger concentration on performance, “Swimming Australia is concentrating on performance – if we are to re-gain our position in world swimming we need to ensure our team performs when it counts,” says Bohl.
“World Championships are just around the corner but we have a good group forming and trials for us are at the end of April and our swimmers need to perform, qualify and then go on to Worlds and improve upon there trials performances. The US Team do an outstanding job of performing well at trials and then a large percentage of their team improve at the major competition.”
“Australia is very aware of this and we are looking at improving in that area into the future.”
Bohl feels the camp was a success and gave Australian athletes an opportunity which will be a great benefit for them leading into World Championships and beyond, “There is an energy that is quite distinctive when the Australian Team gets together and the week on the Gold Coast was a positive experience and it has served its purpose.Swimmers, coaches and sports science have had a unique opportunity to spend a week together. Great discussion, great training and great friendships were forged throughout the week and we will see a tighter group of swimmers and coaches representing Australia in Barcelona.”