As former Games competitors, synchro coaches can relate to their charges’ challenges
© Brendan McCarthy/The Telegram
Shannon Driscoll (left) and Kim Burrage, both from St. John's, are co-coaches of Newfoundland and Labrador's synchronized swimming team at the 2011 Canada Games. Both were members of the province's synchro team at the last Winter Games, four years ago in Whitehorse.
Halifax — Now they’re getting to experience the other side. Kim Burrage and Shannon Driscoll are co-coaches of Newfoundland and Labrador’s synchronized swimming team at the 2011 Canada Games, but they’re not far removed from the day when they were the ones being coached in this setting as both were members of the province’s synchro team at the 2007 Canada Winter Games in Whitehorse
“I don’t think we were all that bad,” laughed Burrage when asked if she now has an understanding of what her coaches had to put up with four years ago in the Yukon.
“But now I do have a better idea of where they were coming from, especially when they talked about how stressful it was for them, especially the stress they held inside as the watch 10 girls swim, and to know that at that point, they have no control over what’s going to happen.”
When they competed in Whitehorse, both Burrage and Driscoll were involved with some coaching at the recreational level and knew it would be something they would want to continue doing in the future, but at the 2007 Games, they were so focused on competing that there was no contemplating about what they might be doing four years later.
“When I swam in the last Canada Games, coaching in this one was not a goal,” said Driscoll.
But here they are, applying many of the same tactics their coaches used on them in Whitehorse and being reminded that coaching doesn’t always take place at the pool and often requires having ready answers to prosaic questions.
“’What time do we have to get up tomorrow? When do we have to pack? When do we have to meet at a certain place. What do we have to do?’
“As a swimmer, I was the one asking those questions,” said Burrage, who is also the team manager. “Now, we’re the ones who need to have the answers. So we have to make sure we know beforehand. We have to be prepared in many ways.”
They also need to be counselors and consolers. In that way, their own Canada Games experiences are a great benefit.
“Sometimes the competition might not go the way a swimmer plans personally,” said Burrage, an education student at Memorial University. “They might not achieve their personal best or something might fool up. So it’s important, especially in those cases, to be able to speak about the whole picture, the whole scope of the Canada Games, not just from the competition side. So we tell them stories about our experiences and the last Games and the things they are experiencing now, everything from pin trading to interaction with the male athletes on our team.
“Being part of a team that includes males is something new for most of them.”
“And because we swam in the last Games, those experiences are all fresh in our minds. It makes it easier for us to relate,” said Driscoll, a biology student at MUN.
When Burrage and Driscoll swam in Whitehorse, the Newfoundland and Labrador team was made up entirely of swimmers from the St. John’s Sea Stars club. In Halifax, however, the team comes from a number of communities. This team, which was chosen after tryouts and follow-up monitoring of practices and performances, includes Molly Noseworthy and Jessica Sullivan from Corner Brook, Jessica McCormick, Jessica Reid, Robyn French and Jeesica Colleens from Mount Pearl and Katherine Alexander from Paradise. Only three of the 10-member team — Gillian Sullivan, Shaziana Kaderali and Robyn St. Croix — are from St. John’s.
“About four Games ago, I believe (Newfoundland’s synchro team) had athletes from Corner Brook, but they were going to school in St. John’s, so for the most part, they were able to train regularly with the rest of the team,” said Driscoll.
“This is a much younger team. Most of them, including the two girls from Corner Brook, are still in high school, so you really can’t expect them to move to St. John’s.”
Noseworthy and Jessica Sullivan did travel to St. John’s once a month, but even with that sort of regular contact, the team faced obvious training challenges. Just how do you synchronize a synchro team with members so dispersed?
“It’s actually gone more smoothly than we thought,” said Driscoll, who says the use of social media has been extremely important.
“Messages were posted on Facebook. Videos were posted of our practices so the swimmers could watch them after practice. And the two girls from Corner Brook could watch them, too, so they could see any changes we made and they could comment on them. And then they posted videos of their practice sessions and messages about how their training was going.
“I really don’t know how we could have done it if we didn’t have sites like that.”
Burrage says any trials and tribulations associated with the team selection method this time were outweighed by the benefits.
“In Whitehorse, our Canada Games team were all from the same club. We swam to gether for four years and there was a comfort factor because of that,” she said. “But with swimmers from Mount Pearl, Paradise and Corner Brook, as well as St. John’s, it’s nice because it is really is a Team Newfoundland.”