Pierre Lafontaine was hired as CEO and National Team Head Coach of Swimming Canada in 2005. In his nearly eight years on the job he led the organization to consistent podium performances at major international games including three swimming medals at the recent Olympics and 16 at Paralympics, as well as several world record performances.
His ongoing commitments to the development of a sustainable sport system resulted in nearly doubling its membership and budget. The junior program has positioned itself as second in the world and Canadian swimmers have re-written 68 per cent of the record books.
Lafontaine announced his resignation on January 31st and will be taking on the role as CEO Canadian Interuniversity Sport as of March 1, 2013.
Lafontaine was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions for the SwimSwam audience.
SS: What to you feel are your greatest accomplishments with Swimming Canada?
PF: The fact that our coaches are working together for Canada and that they are talking to each other.
Our junior program becoming the back bone of our future.
Our improved relationships with the swimming lesson providers, the great work of the Provincial Executive Directors and a rebuilding of the swimming family with Master Canada and our Alumni.
SS: Why do you feel Canada had the success it did at the recent Olympic Games?
PF: Coaches working together for Canada, Swimmers working together. Having more international exposure for a larger group of athletes through our “B” teams, junior teams, NACC…
SS: Canadian Swimming obviously had a cultural shift in the time that you were in the position, how would you define the culture in Canadian Swimming currently? What do you attribute that change to?
PF: Willingness to train, to race and talk about setting yourself to win.
There has been more engagement by a larger number of coaches to high performance and more opportunity for junior coaches to experience tours with Ken McKinnon
SS: What programs have been implemented within the Canadian Swimming system do you feel have been the most effective in enhancing performance in the pool?
PF: Increased involvement of Ken McKinnon with the juniors and the carded coaches.
The work with the Provincial Executive Directors to streamline the work of SNC.
SS: Canada has been a world leader in para-swimming, why do you feel that has happened?
PF: Canada was the founder of the International Paralympic committee, Craig McCord is one of the best Para High Performance Directors in the world, and continuous investment, education and support by SNC, Sport Canada and Own the Podium (OTP) to the program.
SS: You put a huge emphasis on the grassroots programs in Canada, especially in the areas of water safety and partnering with the Red Cross, how successful do you feel this concentration was? What do you feel it’s effect has been on Canadian Swimming?
PF: Canadian swimming is now the #1 sport in Canada for summer sport; ranked by Sport Canada and OTP.
I believe that our advocacy work is crucial in positioning swimming as THE sport for Canada in the summer. And our Start plan is to Inspire Canadians through our world performance to live a healthier life.
The national sport organizations have a high performance role, a development role and a responsibility to Make Canada Great!
SS: What do you feel are the three main areas that you would have liked to develop to a larger extent that you did not have a chance to do?
PF: Increase coaching education even more by being online more – it’s coming but it requires money.
Having more camps together, nationally and regionally and locally where people all swim together.
Having better rivalries between clubs , provinces etc because it is fun for athletes to swim for a great, fun, competitive team environment.
SS: When reviewing your partnerships in the corporate community, how much do you feel it has enhanced Canadian Swimming both in the pool and in the general population?
PF: We are blessed with our partners.
We need to sell more of the greatness of swimming for Canada, our athletes are great ambassadors and we need to help develop their brand.
SS: When reviewing your partnerships with the media, how much do you feel it has enhanced Canadian Swimming both in the pool and in the general population?
PF: It has been fantastic. The media is the face of the sport in a certain way. They are and must be a partner with us. They help sell what we do so well and we could not achieve this without great performances and an open relationship.
SS: When you took over the role in 2005 one of the first things you stated was that you needed to separate the roles of CEO and National Team Coach, that never happened, what do you feel have been the positives and negatives of that situation?
PF: Positive: daily decisions were made to help the branding of the sport, both high performance and development of swimming.
Negative: not enough time to help more people!
SS: What do you feel are the three major areas of focus needed in the development of the CIS?
PF: Brand, student-experience and exciting championships
SS: What do you feel are the strengths of the CIS?
PF: It is a Canadian made model, associated with clubs and centres when possible.
It has intellectual and infrastructure properties of the 54 Universities that can help regionally.
11,000 athletes who can become great alumni, if they have a good experience.
Our Athletic directors and Presidents that are looking at excellence in both academic and athletics.
And much more…
SS: What do you feel the weaknesses of the CIS?
PF: Not enough work at selling the great things that the CIS can bring to Canada.
We are not working in the overall continuum of sport in Canada yet. There is no major TV deal yet and we are not close enough to the High School development programs yet.
SS: What do you feel are the biggest areas of growth in the CIS are?
PF: Engaging everybody in one direction for making the country better.
SS: Having the competition with US schools and the competitive strength of the NCAA what do you feel needs to be done to keep a larger percentage of Canadian athletes in Canada?
PF: There are 11,000 athletes competing in the CIS and we want to grow it by building the experience, selling the experience, being on TV and in the media.
We need to make our high school students feel special when we recruit them and then offer a great experience, along with selling the quality of our institutions.
SS: On the same note, the budgets of the schools in the NCAA system are astronomical, especially in sports like football and basketball, how can Canadian schools compete with that when it comes to performance enhancement teams?
PF: The Canadian schools are already competing very well in many different sports. Having more resources coming from the private sector would help a lot.
SS: What do you feel the general view of CIS sport is within different sporting communities and how do you enhance the CIS brand?
PF: This is certainly exciting going forward.
We need to engage every one that works or is involved with the CIS now that has been and will be in the future.
SS: How do you grow the interest of the Canadian public in CIS sports?
PF: By improving the brand.
Becoming media savvy.
Reach out through the high schools.
Have an even better presence and experience for spectators at our events.
Build the student athlete as a future world leader.
As you know, I don’t have all the answers but I believe that the CIS community does.
We just need to engage people in the future solution and future world of possibilities. There is already great properties that the CIS is involved with, we just need to get better and better at it.