Of all the places one might suspect a nationally recognized coach to be scouting swimmers for the national team, a small community pool in the heart of the Shuswap might not be at the top of the list.
However, that’s exactly why Ken McKinnon, national development coach for Swimming Canada, was in Salmon Arm on Oct. 26, observing the Shuswap Selkirks Swim Club in action.
McKinnon had high praise for the number of different swim programs in Salmon Arm, and the support for competitive-minded swimmers through the Selkirks club and coach Barry Healey.
“I think it’s really great that Salmon Arm has the ability to develop a team. Barry has really increased the numbers in the Selkirks. I also think having the masters group as well as a younger group, and a strong summer swim club, it’s a fantastic combination,” McKinnon says.
“There is a nice support group here to build on and I hope they really succeed and we hear about Salmon Arm more frequently in swimming.”
As the national development coach, McKinnon’s job is to identify promising swimmers and help ensure they are supported in their training and have the ability to compete in world-class events.
He has been coaching in the sport since 1974 and is part of a push to support young athletes more fully as they age into maturity, where traditionally the cut-off age would be 19 or 20 years old.
“After lots of research, we discovered there are a lot of kids who are 19 to 21 years old that really should still be considered as development age athletes,” he says. “Amateur sports have changed over the years to be older and older. So there are really powerful events where they aren’t medalling and getting success until they are 25 or 26.”
Interestingly, he notes female swimmers seem to find more success at a younger age as compared to their male counterparts, beginning to earn high-performance medals at an average age of 19 to 20 as opposed to 25 to 26 for male swimmers.
McKinnon and the Swim Canada Program can offer a lot for young athletes they identify for development, including funding and skills training.
The Sport Canada ‘carding’ program offers funding to athletes for travel and training expenses, and through the Swim Canada Development Program, athletes gain access to high-level training camps and coaching from the national teams.
In particular, McKinnon and the national team currently have eyes on James Lebuke, one of the Selkirks swimmers who made a name for himself in the 2018 season with some amazing performances in several of the top meets country-wide.
“This summer is the World Junior Swimming Championships in Budapest, Aug. 20 to 25, and he has a really good chance of making that; his times are close to the selection standards,” McKinnon says of Lebuke.
“He needs to stay healthy and improve in his technical areas; he is pretty green and pretty new to the sport. He has some technical development to do but it just takes time to get in the groove for that. We have some pretty high hopes for him this summer.”