New Canadian Director Atkinson: We’re Going to Focus on Improvement

Swimming Canada’s new high performance director John Atkinson, just two days officially into his new role of leading Canada’s best and brightest athletes, is working hard but making few promises thus far.

In his first media presentation since he officially came on board Monday, Atkinson discussed his measures of success beyond just Olympic medals.

“Of course, medals are the end game,” Atkinson said. “But I tell my athletes focus on the smaller things, and the bigger things will take care of themselves.”

This was a recurring theme of Atkinson’s comments: a focus on improvement. He said that he will use this year’s upcoming World Championship Trials in Victoria as a benchmark to see where the athletes have improved since last year’s Olympic Trials. Then he would focus on how to get those athletes better between Trials and the World Championships.

“I really focus on improvement,” Atkinson repeated, which perhaps speaks to his front-line coaching mentality showing through.

Atkinson said that he is also looking at how to get the Canadian Junior World Championship team, whom he noted won 14 medals at the 2011 meet, to perform at the same level at senior World and Olympic Championships.

When asked if the Canadian college system, as compared to the American one that many Canadians have recently taken advantage of, was a big part of that plan, Atkinson said that it would be a matter of pulling, not pushing, athletes to stay home.

“I will never make an athlete do anything that will impede their training. I think it’s a matter of showing what we can do, the proof is in the pudding. I think we have great facilities, and if we can show that we’re getting the job done at our universities and at our training centers, the proof is in the pudding. If we have success and provide opportunities for athletes at home, then athletes will want to stay here.”

Atkinson’s first few weeks in office, both unofficially and officially beginning this week, have been spent on pool decks around Canada and gathering information.

“I have a background in coaching,” Atkinson said, “I think it’s important to go out and see our coaches in their natural environment at their pools and with their athletes…I have some ideas about what it takes to run a successful team and where we need to get, but right now I’m still gathering a lot of information about what we’re doing here.”

Atkinson is avoiding the trap of coming into a new role and making big promises. He would commit to a few items in terms of a plan going forward: one of which is an increased level of direct interaction with athletes.

“I believe that there is more than one way to achieve success in swimming, more than one way to train. There are 34 swimming events, d there’s more than one way to train for them. We’re going to work with our young athletes, their coaches, and their families to make sure we get athletes with the right coaches.”

The other was the idea of creating swimmers that were true athletes. He quoted the great British swimming coach Bill Sweetenham, with whom Atkinson worked for some time, in saying that he “doesn’t want fairweather swimmers.”

Atkinson elaborated with the idea that no matter what is going on outside of the pool, when athletes line up behind the block for that 50 meter race, it’s all the same for everybody. He feels that today’s athletes can perform under any given set of circumstances, and that’s the sort of mentality and physiology that he wanted to develop in Canada’s top swimmers: the ability to perform at any given time and in any given place.

Atkinson and his media director Nathan White concluded with the invitation to continue holding these periodic conversations with the media, and with initial returns showing Atkinson as an up-front, relaxed, and honest conversationalist, so expect continued insight into the changes at Swimming Canada headed toward Barcelona, Rio, and beyond.

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9 years ago

One thing the Canadians will always lack is decent winter weather outside of UBC. If program quality is equal, and a choice comes down to winters in Manitoba or a locale where they can have an outdoor long course pool is open almost all winter long and you rarely have to worry about your hair freezing after practice, then hello American sunbelt.

Reply to  beachmouse
9 years ago

I agree with Braden. Also, aside from a few schools in the PAC-12, most of the top flight NCAA programs train indoors during the academic year. Plus, I’d say swimmers train at places like Cal, Stanford, Arizona in spit of the weather — for much of the academic year, it is far more painful to train outside in those facilities than indoors anywhere else.

I’d also question your assertion of Vancouver’s good weather — give me Calgary’s nearly persistent sunshine any day over the gloom and rain of BC.

9 years ago

Swim Canada needs to stop thinking that only podium placement is the only way! I have been disgusted by all the money that’s been poured into swimming, only for Swim Canada to hire expensive “execs” who don’t know that the base of our programs, are the key! (what percentage are at the top? – less than 1% I’m thinking).

We need to stop focusing solely on the top and sorry to say but when they hire, and Swim Ontario hires, ridiculous people who do nothing but take a salary, we need to step up and get that funding to our athletes and coaches (who actually do all the work). Fresh ideas is what swimming needs here in Canada, not… Read more »

9 years ago

Great British swimming coach. There may be some but it ain’t Bill.

9 years ago

Ok .

Bill Sweetenham is not a

9 years ago

John, Welcome to North America and best of luck with the new gig.
Doesn’t everyone win when a canadian junior swimmer heads off to the ncaa? 1) us college gets a top-flight athlete contributing to their program 2) athlete gets benefit of some of the best coaches on the planet for 4 years before returning home 3) doesn’t cost canada anything 4) canada able to provide funding for aboot 🙂 10 or so (just guessing on this number) swimmers who wouldn’t have otherwise qualified for carding.

Reply to  marley09
9 years ago

I couldn’t agree more! All you have to do is take stock of the top Canadian swimmers who went to the US.What Swim Canada has to wake up and acknowledge is that unless you are carded, there is no funding money at all for anyone else! Many swimmers go to the US because the training is great and everything is paid for. If they stay in Canada the training costs and much of the costs of a post secondary education are still paid by the bank of mom and dad. Maybe Swim Canada should put their money where their mouth is!

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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