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Pushing boundaries: methods to improve swimmers’ performances

Australian swim coach supremo Scott Volkers has done it all. 

From filling in as a swim club coach, to training Olympic medal-winning swimmers, his decades of experience are notable. 

Becoming a swim coach was not a planned career move. 

Asked to fill in at his local swimming club at age 19, Volkers had little experience but loads of enthusiasm.

In 1978 he landed a junior coaching position from one of his first mentors. By the 1980s he had already made it to head coach and the international scene beckoned. 

His career progressed to Director of  Coaching for Queensland Academy of Sport a role he kept on until the 2000 Sydney Olympics.  From then on his involvement in the Olympics saw him train several athletes – quite a few from Brazil where he was based for around four years. Through his coaching, these athletes were able to take home a myriad of medals. 

The Maltese Assignment

The Maltese assignment came through via Malta’s national swimming coach Delon Dannhauser. Hailing from South Africa, Dannhauser experienced Volker’s method first hand when Volkers was coaching there.

“The Aquatic Sports Association of Malta understood that when attempting to improve on performance, the key is in the detail,” Dannhauser said.

“If we want to achieve the ASA’s goals to bring international success at higher levels to Malta, then we need to understand what is being done correctly in order to keep on doing so as well as understand what is not being done correctly so it can be rectified as quickly as possible.”

On his part, Joe Caruana Curran, the ASA president, said: “With five Olympic Games to his name, coaching at the highest levels, this is what our swimmers and coaches need. We need to up our level and this is the first step.

“The ASA’s vision is to focus not just on swimmers but also to give coaches the necessary tools to recognise what needs to be addressed in weaker areas. One has to understand that a coaches’ life span in the sport is far longer than that of a swimmer – a swimmer will come and go, a coach will remain on the scene for a far longer period of time.”

Volkers emphasised that it is all about pushing boundaries from a scientific and physiological perspective and coaches need to be able to understand these facets.  

Dannhauser explained Volkers’ credentials should certainly motivate the locally-based coaches to appreciate the criticism being given during the sessions that have been taking place at the National Pool in Tal-Qroqq. 

Small island challenges

Although nations experience similar difficulties, each country offers a different scenario to work with. 

Being a small island, belief in oneself is a topic that always arises and is an approach that Volkers always attempts to instill, irrespective of the size of the country he is coaching in. 

“I look to seek where we can go. I see technical flaws, work on them and then I move on to see developments.  It is always about the belief of being capable of doing better.  This is of course the coaches’ job to do that,” Volkers said.

Whoever is on the receiving end of such training is someone who wants to improve and is not afraid to chip away through the areas of improvment – correcting strokes, maintaining good techniques, and making sure that they are aware of what they have achieved and being happy with that.  Exposure to something which is bigger than what we are used to is important.  The expectations, competition and encouragement is higher in this sphere. 

Tackling the challenge

When working with coaches and athletes Volkers takes a snapshot of what he needs to contend with and starts work on his fast track approach. 

Implementation of coaching on the pool deck is an art, Volkers enthuses. 

The interaction between a coach, an athlete and the head coach though takes time. Furthermore, being dynamic and understanding that change is required from time to time is crucial to achieve success. 

Volkers’ involvement with Malta will be divided into three occasions, the first of which is happening now. 

The next step will be in July, during which progress is assessed. This visit should coincide with the National Championships.

Following that the peaking phase will take place, and which will prepare athletes for their participation in the Games of the Small States of Europe in 2023 which will be organised here in Malta.

“We want every single athlete to be at their best when the Games take place and we are up for the challenge. Of course we cannot work miracles… they just take a little longer!” Volkers concluded with a smile.

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