More than 10 weeks after our last training sessions in the water Scotland is at last starting to take its first tentative steps out of Coronavirus lockdown.
It’s understandable for us swimmers to look rather jealously at those other sports which are being allowed to open up again – yes we mean you, golfers and tennis ball hitters! – but just because we’ve been kept away from the pools doesn’t mean our swimmers haven’t been training hard at home on land.
In these past few weeks Junior Coach Alan Dickson has become a self-taught master of video conferencing (haven’t we all!) as he put together a programme of exercises and squad catch-ups to keep our swimmers in the best possible place mentally and physically for a return to the water, whenever that will be…
“When swimming suspended my first reaction was one of disbelief, really,” he recalls.
“I took some a little time to think about what the right approach was and decided that what we needed was a schedule which would help the swimmers to develop new skills.
“With the benefit of hindsight I can see that the kids were under a lot of pressure with new things being thrown at them – home schooling, parents working from home – and every organisation seemed to be bombarding their members with online programmes.”
In the days between Scottish Swimming telling clubs to suspend training and the full lockdown being imposed, Alan and vice-president / land training coach Sheena Currie pulled out the stops to produce a series of aerobic and strength videos.
They featured 11 exercises which we filmed some volunteer swimmers demonstrating and are posted on our social media feeds.
Alan explains the thinking behind them: “It became apparent that there was no point trying to keep the kids aerobically fit for swimming – that’s not possible – so instead we looked at how to prepare them to come back into the water with other skills.
“I decided to focus on strength, flexibility and mindset.
“I’m big on visualisation at competitions so I thought lockdown would be a great chance to practice that – it doesn’t require anything other than a couple of minutes in a quiet space.
“I’ve put out a weekly schedule for the swimmers to follow. It’s not prescriptive but it’s a framework they can use to build something which suits them.”
The coaching team have also made efforts to try to keep the social connections between our swimmers even though they haven’t been able to meet up in person for months.
A WhatsApp group called ‘The New Normal’ helps everyone to share pictures and stories of what they’ve been getting up to in their Government-approved outside exercise time, and for setting daily challenges like press ups and planking.
The squads are checking in on regular video conference calls with Alan, who says the input and feedback from the kids has been superb.
“Whenever you get people face to face you get the sense of being part of a club back and remember why you enjoy coaching,” he says.
“They’re all pleased to see each other and keep that connection which they get from being in a club. The feedback from the kids has given me ideas and helped me to put together some bespoke programmes.
“I’ve been able to advise them on other forms of exercise, such as running and cycling, and how much they should be doing and how hard, including some specific stretches for cyclists.
“I’ve also had a swimmer observing Ramadan, so I was asked to put together a bespoke programme for her.
Some swimmers have also been keeping detailed exercise diaries recording not just what activities they’re doing but how they felt while doing them and Alan would be delighted for more to get involved in that.
“I’ve had opportunities for professional development taking part in webinars with some of the best coaches in the world who’ve been giving up their time for age group coaches. You soon realise that they’ve all come up through the system and have been where I am and have faced the same challenges.
“It’s really validated the things we’re doing like trying to come back with new skills and not just trying to do the same things better.”
It’s still too early to make any firm predictions about when training might be able to resume.
As a club we will have to wait for decisions on dates for the future phases of lockdown easing to be taken by the Scottish Government, and guidance from our governing body, Scottish Swimming.
We will also need to work in partnership with KA Leisure, who run the pools we use, to agree on a safe way to resume sessions.
It’s inevitable there will have to be some changes to the way we operate, but we will do our utmost to keep an open channel of communication with our swimmers and their families to help everyone adjust as best we can.