The Road Less Travelled to Rio

Preparing for an Olympic Games is tough! But for those swimmers based in smaller countries the challenge can be even greater. Those swimmers lucky enough to be based in large developed nations (US, Australia, Europe, or Canada for example) have the benefit of a well developed and well-trodden “athlete development pathway”. Complete with teams of people in place to support that pathway, programmes in place from age group to Open level and funding available if needed. In short, the way forward is not easy but at least it’s clear.

National Federations in smaller developing nations who aspire to supporting their athletes to Olympic representation and success have a huge challenge on their hands, but it’s a challenge many are facing head on and in the process uncovering some very creative and innovative approaches to athlete development. Some of the smaller National Federations are leading the way by forming mutually agreeable partnerships. Here are some of the strategies in action:

Importing Coaching Expertise

Many nations have engaged the services of an International coach to guide their athletes. The most successful nations also use that resource to build local capacity through coaching clinics, camps and workshops. Pleasingly many smaller nations now have Head Coaches of their own nationality based on this type of provision. Many of the larger coaching associations (ASCA and ASCTA for example) now offer International opportunities via their Jobs Boards. Singapore has recently had great success by employing Sergio Lopez (formerly of Bolles School USA) to work with their National team.

Pooling & Sharing Resources

Many nations have joined forces at a regional or continental level to share ideas, source suitable training partners for their athletes and provide competitive opportunities on a regular basis. Australia and Japan have recently entered into such an agreement in the lead into Tokyo 2020.

FINA Programmes

FINA offer three major programmes which help National Federations large and small to support their athletes. This includes FINA Scholarships for Athletes, FINA Scholarships for Young Athletes and FINA Team Support Grants. These programmes can fund training and travel for developing and elite athletes.

North American College Swimming

College swimming in North America is an amazing opportunity for swimmers from developing nations to continue swimming into the Open age group. With the added bonus of an education at that same time. Many swimmers are able to access world class coaching, regular age-appropriate competition and access to training partners at their level. Div I – III as well as Junior Colleges all have something to offer the International student-athlete.

Olympic Solidarity

This is an organisation which aims to organise support via National Olympic Committees (especially those with the greatest need) via the development of multi-faceted programmes which develop coaches, prioritise athlete development and develop officials and administrators. Olympic Solidarity have programmes and grants available at both a World and Continental level.

Investment in the Future

Most countries utilise “A” and “B” qualifying times to select their teams. However FINA rules also allow nations without any A or B qualifiers to attend with up to 4 swimmers. The most progressive smaller national federations are taking this opportunity to attend a full range of large International events to give their young athletes exposure and experience. This usually requires copious amounts of fund-raising and sponsorship dollars but these National Federations deem this opportunity too good to miss.

Private Sporting Schools, Prep Schools & Academies

A number of sporting schools and academies will take on athletes from overseas and help them to develop either on scholarship or on a user pays basis.

Family Support, Dedication and Sacrifice

Let’s not forget the final ingredient. Swimmers based in small nations often have to live far from home in a foreign culture, climate and environment in order to develop their swimming and realise their dreams.

So as we watch the action in #Kazan2015 unfold be sure to pay close attention to the earlier heats too, those swimmers from far-away lands have had a long and interesting journey to that starting block.

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