Canadian swim coach Atkinson has his team back to work

Talent-laden squad can make a statement at Tokyo Olympics

John Atkinson speaks into a microphone at a press conference
John Atkinson speaks into a microphone at a press conference Courtesy Swimming Canada / Ian MacNicol

John Atkinson typically spends 200-250 days a year on the road, accustomed to frequent travel and large social gatherings.

Thanks to the pandemic, the Canadian national swim team head coach has been confined to the two-bedroom apartment he shares with his wife and daughter, the isolation shaking up both his personal and professional lives.

“It was hard for some of our coaches who live on their own, the normal life,” said Atkinson, who previously coached the national youth programs in both Britain and Australia. 

Atkinson is a long-time member of the international swim community, having worked with Australian Swimming youth and national programs from 1994-2000. He then moved on to serve in multiple leadership roles with the British Olympic and Paralympic swim teams, overseeing more than a decade of success between 2000-2013.

Throughout this time, he developed a reputation as a data-driven teacher, and co-authored ‘Championship Swim Training’ alongside a fellow Australian swim coach, Bill Sweetenham, a book focusing on their training methods, published in 2003.

Since taking over in his role with Canada, in March of 2013, the squad has experienced a resurgence, with significantly improved performances at the 2016 Rio Olympics, the 2017 FINA world Championships, and the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships.

The need to adjust has been very much the same for the Canadian swimmers who, like Atkinson and the other coaches, have been torn away from the team environment.

Gone is the routine of 10 pool sessions a week, each lasting 2-2½ hours, leaving a massive hole for everyone to fill. Then there’s the time spent on the road, like last March for example, when eight national team swimmers and three staff members departed for a camp in Florida.

“Your coach may be the one person that you spend the most amount of time with, except if you’re married or living with somebody,” said Atkinson, who is also the national team’s high- performance director. “You become very close to that group of people.”

With summer and the Tokyo Olympics fast approaching, there is an end to the isolation in sight. Swimmers are beginning to reunite on the pool deck, replacing virtual meet ups with real ones – albeit masked and observing social distance.

Atkinson will take a strong team into the Games, including 2019 world gold medalists Maggie Mac Neil (100m butterfly), and Kylie Masse (100m backstroke, plus bronze in 200m back), and bronze medalists in Eric Hedlin (5k open water), and Sydney Pickrem twice (200m individual medley, 200m breaststroke).

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Posted: Mar 14 2021 1:04 pm
Filed under: Sports Swimming Tokyo Olympics