Brad and Ariel Hutton can’t help but take their work home with them.
The husband and wife St. John’s Legends Club swimming coaches tease about exactly how much they bring back from the pool, but they agree it can’t be helped.
“I guess we bring back quite a bit,” Brad said with a laugh. “We’re quite emersed in the sport. It’s not the kind of a job where you can leave everything at the pool.”
They both acknowledge they bounce ideas off one another and have an odd disagreement from time to time.
“It can be a lot depending on what’s going on,” said Ariel, about talking swimming at home. “If we’ve already hashed it out at the office, sometimes we can move on to other things at home,” she said, laughing.
What they can absolutely agree on is the satisfaction of seeing the club grow since they’ve taken over.
St. John’s Legends president Cathy Dornan said the Huttons are having, “an amazing impact on our club.”
She pointed out the club has increased from 90 to 167 swimmers in five years.
“They have transformed the club to a point where we are now reaching racing levels like we had in the late 1970s and early ’80s,” said Dornan.
The Huttons came to Newfoundland five years ago from Western Canada, and have made a significant difference since arriving in St. John’s.
As you might expect, the Huttons met through swimming. Ariel had a job with the Vancouver Pacific Swim Club, a team Brad was coaching at the time.
They have similar coaching philosophies which evolved during the time they spent together under other coaching influences.
“Because of working together so much, we talk to one another about what we’re thinking and we go over things and work on ideas,” said Brad.
Ariel, who does some dryland training with MUN swimmers, coaches the younger age groups (8-11 years) in the Legends club, “and then I kind of take over when they are at a certain level, so she certainly has a lot of influence over where the group is at in terms of their basic skills level,” said Brad.
Ariel swam in high school but then had to give it up because of a series of injures. She missed having swimming as part of her life so she picked up coaching.
She said the decision to relocate to Newfoundland, “was good timing. I have a degree in kinesiology from UBC and, while I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do, I was really into coaching and so we both looked around to see what was available and we thought coaching in Newfoundland would be a good experience.”
Since arriving in St. John’s, Ariel said, “it’s really rewarding” to see the progress at the Legends Club.
“It took a couple of years to see where the work was going because we sort of had to start from the ground up.
“It’s hard not to talk about the kids all the time, and share our ideas and how they are doing. Besides the swimmers, you get to know all of the families, so it’s like a big family.”
The key to their success, they say, is getting more kids involved in the various age groups so it is easier to make friends and therefore make the swimming experience a better situation.
“We also tried to keep the kids who were focused on competitive swimming together with other people who were equally focused,” said Brad, who is a native of Alberta.
“Sometimes it’s hard when you have a group of kids who are around some who aren’t as committed. All the kids are competitive to some degree, but there are others who are trying to be competitive on a national level in their age group. Still others look to compete on the provincial or Atlantic level.”
The coaches feel getting a broader base of swimmers involved will produce more competitive athletes.
“Sometimes,” said Brad, “parents will say their kids are not that competitive, but they really like swimming and later we find that after some training the natural competitive part comes out in them. They want to improve their individual times and things like that.
“We also had to change the dynamic and goals of the club and make it more focused on performance and quality and teaching strong fundamentals as well as the love of the sport.
“If they love it at an early age, when it gets tougher and they have to train more hours, they will be able to do it because deep down they have a love of the sport,” he said.
Like all sports, swimming loses kids at certain ages, but Brad says the retention rate has gone up in recent years.
“A lot of it is just making sure it’s fun for them,” he said. “We encourage our coaches to make it’s fun with little sprints and races while making little improvements in technique or time and to make sure that, no matter what level they are at, there is some progression which helps keep up their interest.
“We are a big enough club now that we can accommodate swimmers no matter what level they are at,” he said. “We know that people still get a lot out of the sport even if they are only coming out two or three times a week.
“Depending on what level you are at, you do need to be in the water a certain amount,” he added.
However, the Huttons said if the sport is to continue to advance in this province, there’s a desperate need for more proper facilities.
Both coaches said there is a “huge” need for a new 50-metre pool.
Most swim meets in this country and in the world are done at 50-metres they point out.
“Right now, we can only train in the mornings because there is other stuff going on at the (Aquarena) pool,” said Brad of the 35-year-old facility, constructed for the 1977 Canada Summer Games.
He pointed out that when the Aquarena was built, it was adequate for the number of swimmers at the time, “but now with the swimmers we have in the province and the meets we want to run, we really need to have another facility.
“Swimmers in this province are at a disadvantage because they only get two long-course meets a year here. They run dozens of those meets in other provinces,” he said.
Yet despite the lack of facilities, both coaches see progress.
Brad, who is also head coach of Memorial Sea-Hawks varsity team, said there has been a major improvement in the level of the local competitors.
“To get on to the provincial team — compared to two or three years ago — it has changed incredibly. And the depth of the province’s swimmers has improved at age group nationals. Those standards keep getting tougher, but our province’s numbers keep growing.”