Just keep swimming
When Sylvain Pineau officially took the reins of the University of Regina’s swimming program in the fall of 2010, it didn’t take long for the seasoned coach to become acquainted with some of the problems that once plagued Saskatchewan’s lone university-level swimming team.
The first and most obvious issue, of course, was the Cougars’ inability to perform in the water.
After closer inspection, however, it quickly became apparent that there was a bigger problem facing the U of R’s swimming program – although Pineau insisted that this issue is by no means restricted to the university.
“In general, I’ve seen the cultural changes in society, where, earlier in my career, kids were accountable at school and at home,” said Pineau, who has been coaching since he was 18. “Now that’s changed a little bit – kids are never wrong, parents have no time, kids have iPods – things are going much quicker. In the present time, the issue that we’re dealing with is getting the swimmers to focus on the sport as much as they were in the earlier years.”
In an effort to get the Cougars – a team that has long been regarded as one of the nation’s weakest – on the winning track, Pineau set his sights on changing the culture of swimming at the university.
“I wanted to make swimmers accountable for what they do in the program,” Pineau, a Level 4 coach who coached across Canada before coming to Regina, explained. “Discipline is definitely one of the first things that we teach. Also, the notion of fitness is very important to me as a coach; you can never be too tough in swimming. As you move up in the sport, the swimmers are tougher and tougher. Everybody trains hard in swimming.”
“My philosophy as a coach is to make swimmers accountable for their preparations, though. I wanted to design a program where swimmers will learn the proper way to do things, as well as being accountable for what they do on a daily basis. I like to see myself as a program director and the swimmers are navigating through the program. I’m just trying to help them use the program in the best possible way.”
Although some swimmers were apprehensive about his approach – several athletes threatened to leave the squad if their performances didn’t drastically improve immediately – Pineau insisted that the majority of his team quickly bought in to his philosophy.
Since he began instilling his accountability-focused mindset into his squad, Pineau’s team has shown obvious signs of improvement. This past season, after a decade of struggling in the water, the Cougars sent five athletes to the Canada West championships and another on to the CIS championships.
“I would say I’m extremely satisfied with what we’ve been able to do so far at the university,” Pineau said. “Attendance at practice is about 18 per cent higher than it was at this time last year, and the club is twice the size, so we’re very happy with our progression as a team.”
Although the Cougars have progressed as a squad, Pineau isn’t done with the team just yet.
“My expectation here is to develop, basically, international results in Regina at the university level,” Pineau said. “We want to bring a more professional approach to the program, where we generate more revenue and we compete at a higher level. We want to get to a point where there is prestige in swimming at the U of R.”
“It’s been a process since September of last year But I would say the last two months have been gigantic steps in becoming a very solid university program. The numbers speak for themselves: we’ve doubled in size in one year, we’ll likely have four CIS swimmers instead of one, and we’re hoping to double – at least – the number of CanWest qualifiers.”