Swim Coaches Rudd, Vergnoux & Bolognani Chew Over Hopes & Fears In Nuoto’s Pool Bar

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Jon Rudd, Fred Vergnoux and Walter Bolognani in Nuoto's Pool Bar - Photo Courtesy: Nuoto.com

Coaches Jon Rudd, Fred Vergnoux and Walter Bolognani today spoke of their hopes and fears for swimmers, fellow mentors and clubs as they navigate the storm of coronavirus lockdown and the financial impact of the global economic recession set to affect hundreds of millions worldwide.

In the course of the conversation with Nuoto.com’s Alberto Dolfin, Rudd, the Performance Director for Ireland, also talked of the positive things that might emerge from the crisis, including swimming’s ability to become more efficient, in its practices and the way it spends money – and in terms of reducing a big carbon footprint.

Rudd refers to a common practice in the sport: endless travel, to see programs, journey to meets, meetings and more. All now realise more than ever that remote communication can be good, efficient and save money, time and energy.

Rudd, Vergnoux, head coach to Spain and mentor to Olympic 200m butterfly champion Mireia Belmonte, and Bolognani, Head Coach to the Italian Junior program,  talked about their approach to dryland regimes during lockdown, physical and mental challenges and the struggle of coaches and clubs to stay in the game.

Translation makes the session a long one but there are gems to be found at Nuoto’s Pool Bar:

The Survival & Financial Futures Of Clubs & Coaches

Rudd noted the importance of engagement not just with athletes but coaches, too. Clubs and swim communities “will be struggling a bit” for a while to come, he said, adding that there could be lockdown waves to come as part of steady easing down of containment measures designed to give the virus nowhere to go.

Regular contact with athletes was not only important for their physical and mental well-being. It would also keep clubs and coaches in the game.

It was important for athletes “to do some exercise together, to socialise together, to get some physical value out of some form of training but even more to keep the athletes engaging with sport, so that swimming is still part of their lives, even though they are not getting into water. If you can do this, then the club’s continue to have a reason as to why they can charge the athletes [club fees].”

If clubs continue to charge members for  activities that engage the swimmers during lockdown, they can continue to charge fees and the fees can contribute to the work of coaches, Rudd noted, adding:

“It’s a major problem if the club’s stop everything and say ‘because we are not swimming, we do nothing’. Then the swimmers are less likely to come back when the pools reopen and the coaches will also struggle with their finances and may have to find other work and then we lose expertise from the coaching population as well.

“My biggest fear is that the clubs just down tools and say nothing is happening now for weeks and weeks and weeks and then they’ll be surprised when a large percentage, maybe, of their swimmers do not come back to the sport.”

He saw signs of hope as clubs sought to keep their networks up and running:

“My belief is that the clubs are doing this and doing this to the best of their abilities, even if they are modifying the money [and] charging less for this because families will be finding that they’re also out of work at this moment in time.”

The Blank Page

Vergnoux noted that the current situation “is something new for everybody”, a blank page that is “extremely interesting”. It’s a time when a lot of coaches can “come up with fantastic ideas” and have taken to digital platforms to express some of those and instruct others.

There’s a learning curve ahead yet because the sport is into the unknown, Vergnoux suggested, and tried and tested methods, cycles and length of training phases worked back from the date of “the big one” may need new thinking because of wholesale and unusual changes to the spots calendar as a result of the pandemic.

He expects the return to pool training will be a steady, phased affair, with small training groups of elite swimmers allowed back to the water ahead of a time when clubs can congregate once more.

Some of his charges had been lucky to have access to equipment such as static bikes and rowing machines but “some swimmers have nothing” but “a small garden in which they can jump about a little bit”.

He believed there would be some swimmers who would never return, go off to study and move on in life, but many would return extra-motivated and that would need to be controlled.

“I’m sure we’re going to see a lot of very very motivated swimmers, very motivated athletes – and we’re gonna have to control that.” He believes thought will need to go into the question ‘how long will they stay hyper-motivated?’

Italy’s head coach to the national junior team, Bolognani, speaking in Italian, makes good points along similar lines, too, and has spoken to Swimming World about some of his concerns and hopes. 

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