Lessons from a Master
Cathy New is a Synchro competitor, coach and judge. She is also a proud Synchro parent!
In 2012, Cathy won a bronze medal at the World Masters Synchronized Swimming Championships, held in Italy.
In June 2013, Cathy gave an excellent, motivating speech at our spring banquet. Her speech contained lessons for everyone involved in our sport. Below is the text of Cathy's speech.
Thank you for inviting me to speak about my favorite topic, which is the sport of Synchronized swimming. This sport has taken me on an incredible journey throughout most of my life; since I was 9 years old until now at 51 years of age so almost 42 years. In this sport I have had an extensive wardrobe of bathing caps, goggles, nose plugs, bobby pins and Vaseline on my head before we discovered gelatin. I have worn some very interesting head pieces back in the day that were not always created to reduce resistance and drag. I have gone weeks without shaving my legs As most of you know, Synchro swimmers require the hairs on their legs to help feel the water line. As a swimmer and coach I have proudly worn track suits from 5 different clubs, in 3 different provinces and 2 different countries. I have worn club travel outfits back when I was very young, consisting of club colored matching slacks and blazers that contributed to the professional image of Synchro. I still see this image displayed frequently in our Synchro Regina athletes as they line up their swim bags neatly on the deck and are mindful of others using the facility. There is no gossip in the dressing groups unlike some other user groups. They are polite and respectful. As a judge, I have worn serious white, when I judged for 5 years as a Level II judge. I have worn volunteer t-shirts. I have worn smiles and tears of pride and joy as a parent watching her daughter swim. I have worn smiles (sometimes forced) while competing. As a Level III coach and former Head Coach for Regina Synchro, I have worn many, many different facial expressions depending on how practice was going that day. Lately though, through the last few years, as I have returned to the pool again as a competitive Masters swimmer, I wear bathing suits with more support and am still looking for the perfect pair of goggles that do not give me goggle lines. As I get older my skin has less elasticity and goggle marks last all day!
I have seen the sport of Synchro change over the years, but what has never changed is the complex training that is required. As the other coaches here will attest to, coaching Synchronized swimming is very challenging. Our sport has so many different aspects to teach athletes and then train these components: basic body positions, about 20 different kinds of sculling, figure transitions and many, many different kinds of figures. We need to train ballet legs, train vertical height, train speed, train control, train breath control, train all of our basic swimming strokes, train patterns, extension, propulsion techniques, egg beater, egg boosts, thrusts, spins and twists, train out of the pool fitness with core strength and flexibility, highlights, presentation, smiling, facial expressions, creativity and that is even before we have begun routine choreography. Once the routine is done we need to work on synchronization, counting to music, and land drill. It is sometimes overwhelming for a coach to know where to start so planning and prioritizing is important as well as lots of practice time. We need to appreciate the dedication and specialty it takes to coach our sport. Our coaches in Regina Synchro receive great training. They are always looking for different ways to train to meet the needs of every athlete, to make practice fun and help athletes to set personal and team goals. Our club has always recognized the importance of coach development that supports our coaches to keep up with the trends. As I said, coaching takes dedication; it is not like a job that you just show up at a set time every day. There are no set business hours; you think about it all the time as you plan practices, drills, choreographing routines in your mind, and always listening to music thinking it could be a potential routine. You are always communicating with your athletes and parents sending and receiving lots of emails to parents and swimmers. Sometimes you have to get up early to be on the deck at 5:30 in the morning or miss supper hours, be away for weekends at meets and camps. And the pay is not great, but of course that is not why they do it. Coaches coach because they love the sport and they love working with young athletes.
I just mentioned trying to train all the numerous parts of our sport is a challenge, but what is so great about having all these components in one sport is that an athlete can always find something that they are better at than others; everyone is good at something. Someone may be amazing at eggbeater boosts, someone may be awesome at splits, and someone may have great vertical height. You can also see why it takes many years to develop all these skills and be able to perform at a higher level. It takes time and practice, practice, practice.
Let me talk for a moment about judging. I was so glad to have the opportunity to experience judging. It made me understand the sport better. Sometimes, as athletes and coaches and parents, we think that judges are against us or are on the opposite side to us. This so NOT true, judges are volunteers who do this because they love the sport of Synchronized Swimming. I have had the opportunity to learn so much from some wonderful judges in our province and I know they are on the same side as swimmers; but they take their job very seriously, they follow the rules and review their manuals carefully in the judge’s room before going out to do their job; they are prepared. They want to give swimmers good marks, but we have to deserve them, we have to work for them or we will never improve. Some people do not like being involved in a judged sport, but I look at it in a positive way. Being a judged sport has made our sport grow and change, become dynamic, more exciting, stronger and better. I look at some sports like tennis and baseball for example, the athletes have gotten stronger and faster, but basically the game is the same. Same with speed swimming, those 4 strokes have not changed. Our sport has evolved so much as judges want more; higher, faster movements, more intricate patterns. As a result I have seen the most creative movements I could never think possible now being performed. When I first swam there were not the highlights and acrobatics that you see; there was not the close tight patterns and number of pattern changes; there was not the incredible height that allows us to see amazing athleticism. Our sport is marked out of 10 with 10 being excellent, but that 10 is a moving target. What was considered a 6 or 7 10 years ago would not get that same mark now. Parents and swimmers, it is very hard to move out of certain mark ranges. It could take 5 years before you can move from 6s to 7s and then another 5 years and another level of swimming to see 8s. I personally have never gotten too concerned about marks as every competition is different; every judging panel is different. You need to go by your personal performance. I watch the video as it never lies. It is also so important that coaches and swimmers really understand what judges are looking for and understand the marking system; it is very specific. I feel we need to train swimmers to understand this much better.
Swimmers, if you are disappointed in your marks; you need to really reflect on your training and practice. Think back, how was my preparation? Did Natalie say to me you need to work at slowing down on your descents or add more sculls at the top of that join, but did I do that at every practice? Did I maybe just do a couple of reps and then swim to the edge and chat to my teammate for the next 10 minutes? When Emily told me to work on getting higher in my eggbeater did I try and incorporate that into every time I was out in eggbeater? Everything comes down to practice. It is the beginning, the middle and the end. It is in practice where the work is done and where all the life skills are learned and friendships are made. Sport is all about the process! I know, I remember when I started swimming at a more competitive level when I was 11 - how tough it was to learn how to train. I had a coach that was very persistent in getting me to learn what hard work needed to feel like. She would run down the length of the pool getting me to swim hard… her enthusiasm and sincere desire to want me to improve really helped me. So many girls would want to give up as there is discomfort involved in pushing your body hard, in holding your breath in making your body move faster, putting yourself into uncomfortable positions. It is very hard, but it is like that line from the movie A League of Their Own. I know they are referring to baseball, but I say “Synchronized Swimming is supposed to be hard, if it was easy everyone could do it.” So swimmers, be very, very proud of your accomplishments as you are in a much selected group of young women who do this sport. Others really find it remarkable to be able to do what you do. Synchro also allows us to be so creative and I feel very fortunate when I was young to be given lots of opportunity to explore my creativity. It is good for coaches to work on this aspect with swimmers and let them be crazy creative; sometime that is how the best movements come out. I asked my own daughter Emma, who has just finished her 13th year with Regina Synchro, about this and she said, “Synchro helped me learn who I am and that I can be a different person in it.” She says, “If you have a coach that will let you, you can add your own creativity and put more of yourself into a routine. It lets me try on roles.” Synchronized swimming is such a thinking sport; it forces you to be so focused on what you are doing with your body and to be engaged with the swimmers around you. For at least a couple of hours, girls are not looking at their cell phones or computers. They are engaged in the moment and connected to their body and the water and the music and their teammates and coaches. They are living in the here and now.
Oh, and of course, something that was instilled in me at a very young age and as many of the girls know from having me as their coach, and what I still practise myself as a Master swimmer, is never miss practice!!! Your teammates rely on you, they want to trust in you that you care about them and the success of the team. The team is limited in its success each time one individual misses practice!!! The best coaches are the ones who help facilitate this connection between members of the team and promote team bonding and promote the desire to want to work hard for yourself and your team. My best success as a coach were the times when I did not have to tell athletes to work harder; I knew the swimmers would do that automatically as that was what they wanted, that was the team norm and they had the trust in each of their team mates that they would do their job. I feel very much like this every time I go to Masters’ practices. I know all my teammates are trying to work to the best of their ability. You may notice in our Master program it really is all about the process for us; we don’t compete very much, the goals we set are training goals. We come to practice because we want to come to practice; it is all about the practice!
Parents and swimmers, I believe we all know what Synchro has to offer girls and young women; self-esteem, positive self-image, commitment, team building, courage, confidence, fun and fitness, but it is not until years later after girls have retired from the sport do you really see the incredible benefits of what their time in sport did for them and still does. I wanted to take this opportunity to highlight some of this so I contacted some former Regina Synchro athletes who spent many years in the club and asked them to share how Synchro helped shape and still does influence their lives. I was overwhelmed with the feedback I received. Some of these women responded immediately, eager to share what they have learned and wanting to continue giving back to the club that had helped shape their developing lives.
They have allowed me to share this with you today so I have put up their unique stories. I encourage you to read their profiles. I hope they will motivate you to continue in Synchro and work hard and set your goals high. Parents, I hope you read these and that it reinforces how it is worth it to be supportive of our girls and keep them involved in Synchronized Swimming and to keep volunteering your time to the club. Some of you may know some of these women as some are still involved in the sport. I think it is really important to recognize as a club what we really offer; we not only build champions in the pool, but build champions for life. I hope that in another 10 years many of you girls here today will be celebrated in this way. So be proud of yourself and be proud of your club. See you at practice.