After such a brilliant summer for Irish swimming it seems timely to kick off our new monthly Q&A of Ireland’s ‘High Performance’ leaders with Jon Rudd of Swim Ireland. John is relatively new to Irish High Performance Sport having joined Swim Ireland in February 2017 from Plymouth College where he was Director of Swimming and British Swimming’s Coach of the Year twice.
Q: Mona McSharry is still in school in Ireland and Conor Ferguson in England. What can Swim Ireland do to ensure their current standard is not only maintained but elevated to the next level?
A: We have some plans in the pipeline for Conor which will be revealed soon and, this month (Sept) are starting an ‘in-touch’ concept with Mona through the National Centre in Abbotstown. She will spend (on average) one weekend in two there and also approx 50% of her school holidays there for the next 12 months. This will allow her to gain from our coaching initiatives and interventions and to also gain from the extensive SSSM support available from the Sport Ireland Institute on the same campus and will also help upskill and develop her current coaching team.
Q: What is the most important thing you learned from coaching Lithuania’s Ruta Meilutyté to the 100m breaststroke gold at the London Olympics when she was only 15?
A: To coach, develop and support the whole person is more important than to coach merely the athlete within. The athlete is just a sub-set of the person. You have to have a holistic eye on the individual to gain long-term success and for the athlete/coach to create a strong and life-long bond. This is what made my decision to join Swim Ireland and cease coaching Ruta one of the hardest decisions I ever made, because we had been through so much together over an exciting and at times challenging 6-year period
Q: Did you find glaring differences between Irish and British swimming when you arrived and where do you believe you can make most immediate improvement?
A; Not all of the Ireland-Britain differences are negative as people may assume. Swim Ireland have a lot of things right that many other nations/federations could learn from. Swim Ireland is a village compared to the sprawling metropolis that is British Swimming but, with that, you get care, detail, attention and the personal touch. We don’t have a massive talent pool but what we can do, and do very well, is really care for our athletes and provide everything that they may need if they remain ’onshore’. I will always struggle to resource athletes who swim ’offshore’ but here, particularly through one of our two National Centres, we can cater for them in a world-class manner.
Q: A scarcity of world-quality coaches, across many sports, is often posited as one weakness in Ireland’s High Performance system. How will you address this in swimming?
A: We will educate and develop the coaches that we already have and may not necessarily do this in the traditional manner of accredited qualifications. I’m all for coach education coming from outside of the box. We have already recruited a world-class Senior Leadership Team that is the envy of any leading nation. Swim Ireland has Ben Higson, John Watson, Steven Beckerleg, Damian Ball and Lars Humer in place already and they are working alongside our home-grown coaching talent (Andrew Reid and Bethany Carson are two who spring to mind). Together everybody will get better every day.
Q: What are the next big competitions for Ireland’s top swimmers?
A: For our seniors there’s European Short Course Championships (Copenhagen) in December 2017 and European Long Course Championships (Glasgow) in August 2018. Our youths have a very exciting 2017-2018 calendar. It includes World Schools Championships (Morocco), European Juniors (Finland) and the World Youth Olympic Games in Argentina.