Coaching Association of Canada

It’s all about the journey...

August 2, 2011

I had the opportunity in July to lead a group of developing athletes from the Granite Synchro club to China. My fellow coaches (two of whom are Chinese) and I had been contemplating doing this for the past few years. With the 2011 World Aquatic Championships taking place in Shanghai, this summer seemed the perfect opportunity.

The trip had several objectives: first we wanted the athletes to have the opportunity to be exposed to different training methods by providing the opportunity to train in a Chinese club. Creating opportunities for athletes to step out of their comfort zone and experience new environments is one of the very best ways to stimulate learning and growth. Secondly, we wanted to provide the athletes with the opportunity to see first-hand the very best synchronized swimming in the world by being active spectators at the world aquatic championships. There is nothing like seeing the best in action to stimulate and inspire young athletes to want to reach for the stars. Last but not least, we wanted the athletes to have the opportunity to be exposed to another culture -- its people, sights, history etc. Far too often when we travel to compete, we are pressed for time and do not take the opportunity to experience our surroundings.

We left Canada on July 8th – 17 of us in total (11 athletes, two coaches and four parents). We spent two days in Beijing sightseeing. Highlights included a visit to the Forbidden City, the athletes climbing the most challenging section of the Great Wall on a blistering hot day, and visiting the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube venues from the 2008 Olympic Games. We flew to Chengdu in the Sichuan province on July 11th where we spent five days (with a 1/2 day training camp every morning and visiting local sights every afternoon). The athletes had the opportunity to work with various experts in the areas of core strength development, diving for acrobatic moves, ballet, and technical pool sessions. The training venue was not fancy but it had special memories for our coach Manny, who left home at the age of seven to train at another club. Manny was a member of the 2004 Chinese Olympic team and immigrated to Canada in 2007.

I had long heard stories about the beauty of the Jiuzhai valley which is about a 30-minute flight from Chengdu. We headed there next for two days of sightseeing and hiking in the beautiful mountains and valleys, covered with lakes and waterfalls like we had never seen before.


Our last stop was the magnificent city of Shanghai and the opportunity to support our Canadian team in action in all of the final synchro events. I believe that most athletes are inspired to reach higher by witnessing an event of this magnitude -- we often hear stories from our Olympians that their dream began with identifying with an athlete at a major games. We also attended the men’s semi-final 10-metre platform diving event which gave our athletes a whole new level of appreciation for the pressure of this high risk sport.

As a coach for more than 25 years, this trip reinforced so many things for me. Coaching is about making a difference in the lives of those whom we work with and opening individuals to possibilities. I know that this trip opened the athletes up to greater possibilities in sport but most importantly in life.  We are all enriched as a result of this experience. We are also more connected as a team, having shared in this journey together. It is not easy to travel with this many people for 18 days in a foreign country. It was an exercise in team work and co-operation on a daily basis. Everyone had to practice tolerance, patience and good grace. It really was a trip of a life time – the stories, the memories and the learnings will stay with us for a lifetime. Sport truly is about the journey!

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