(TORONTO, ON) – Ben Titley only started his new job last month, but he already has a big vision for the National Swim Centre – Ontario.
The world-renowned coach from England is hoping to develop emerging talent for Canada’s next wave of internationally successful swimmers. You wouldn’t expect a Brit to cite American football as an inspiration; the “football” Titley knows is round. Yet he brings up an NFL reference when asked about his vision for the centre, currently based at the University of Toronto Varsity Pool.
Titley references a recent speech by Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano, who is undergoing treatment for leukemia.
“He said ‘You have chosen not to live in your circumstances. Rather you’ve chosen to live in the vision.’ That’s what we’re going to have to do here in Toronto. We’re going to have to plan and act for the future. If we plan, act, fund and support now based on what we have now, we’re not going to get better,” Titley says. “I don’t see any reason why in four or five years this can’t be the most forward-thinking, proactive swimming establishment in the world in terms of providing a support team of staff and a facility.”
Titley says he’s received a world-class welcome from the Canadian swimming community so far, but he realizes building a successful national swim centre won’t be easy.
“I’ve really enjoyed meeting a lot of the coaches that I’ve met so far on the whole. They all seem very willing to be better and to learn and to challenge themselves and the young people that they look after to be the best that they can be,” Titley says. “Even though there’s challenges with being in Canada and being involved in elite sport, the people that you’ve got seem to be passionate, hardworking and certainly super-friendly. I don’t think I’ve met a Canadian I haven’t liked.”
Speaking of challenges, Titley lists cold weather, competition from other sports for top athletes, and a disconnect between coaches at various levels. He wants to see better athletes choosing swimming and working towards the highest levels of fitness and lowest levels of body fat. He also hopes to focus on specializing athletes for shorter distances, noting that the bulk of medals at international competitions come in 50-metre, 100-metre and 200-metre events.
“Canada has only got 30 million people. We haven’t got enough kids to try to be jack of all trades, master of none, it will just fail,” Titley says. “It’s great that Ontario here has had a philosophy the last wee while of saying everybody at the provincial level has to swim the 400IM and 800 freestyle because you want them to be aerobic and good in all four strokes. But maybe we also need to keep one eye on the big tall girl who’s really interested in swimming fast. If she’s made to do the 400 medley and 800 free, she may get to age 15 and say, ‘This isn’t for me, what else can I do?’ and try rowing. All of a sudden we’ve lost a big strong athlete with the ability to swim fast.”
Above all, as Canada’s development focus shifts to the national swim centres, Titley wants to make sure coaches are working together, and clubs are getting the credit for developing young swimmers.
“It’s about helping develop the kids to be the best ones,” he says. “My perspective is, if an athlete comes and swims in the centre from whatever club – say it’s North York in Toronto – that athlete swims or trains in the centre, but competes for North York. Whenever you go to the trials, the announcer would read out the swimmer as out of National Swim Centre – Ontario, representing North York Aquatic Club. That way the home club is still getting recognized for developing talent, which they should.”
Titley wants to see clubs take pride in having a swimmer selected to train at the centre, where they can focus on getting to the next level.
“If we’re serious about trying to win medals at international competitions, 18 is too late for us to have an effect on them. We had girls on the world scene winning medals at 15 and 16 at this Olympics. (The next generation) of those girls are now 11 and 12. What are we doing to expose those girls to best practices and training?” he asks. “I think a big part of my success down the line is helping the GTA coaches try to learn from each other and maybe learn from me. Get together, chat, share and understand the centre is not a ‘big bad monster’ trying to take swimmers away, it’s here to help.
“For the most part people seem pretty keen and want that performance leadership.”