|An Unlikely Swim Champion|
|Wednesday, 18 July 2012 12:35|
Randy Bennett guiding Canada’s hopes in the pool
By Emma Gilchrist
Randy Bennett has made himself quite a career in swimming considering he’s never been much of a swimmer.
The head coach of Canada’s 2012 Olympic swim team grew up in Fort Nelson, B.C., a town that didn’t even having a swimming pool until he was in high school. “They opened a pool when I was in Grade 10 or 11 and lifeguarding was a good way to make money,” he says. “When I graduated, I went to Fort McMurray to be a lifeguard and it turned out they needed a swim coach.”
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Bennett has coached Canadian swimmer Ryan Cochrane to a bronze medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and his team brought home three medals from the 2009 World Championships. The path from Alberta oilsands country to the London Olympics took 30 years and included stops across Canada. At first, Bennett didn’t even intend to be a swim coach — he studied to be a teacher. “I got into coaching because I could make a better living than I could as a teacher,” Bennett says. “Plus, I was intrigued by the entrepreneurial side of it.”
Indeed, despite the glory on the world stage, Bennett speaks just as highly of his business success at the Victoria Academy of Swimming, where he increased enrolment from 150 to 600 in five years by turning the system on its head.
“We decided to measure the success of the program by the number of kids who graduated from high school, rather than if they met a swimming standard,” he says. “Instead of losing kids at 14 years old, we started to be able to think about long-term development.” It’s that outsider’s approach that’s given Bennett his edge. When asked what his secret is to motivating athletes, he insists he simply makes them aware of the expectations.
“I’m meat ‘n’ potatoes and hard work. I’m not a rah-rah-rah guy,” he says. “I don’t do famous quotes. I’m just pretty driven and pretty direct and you’ll always know what I’m thinking and it’s a really consistent message.” Bennett takes a similar approach at home with his sons, ages 12 and 14, who swim three or four times a week. “It’s good for them. You make them mow the lawn, you make them eat broccoli and you make them swim,” Bennett says, admitting he was a bit of a troublemaker who could have benefited from more structure in his teens.
“I think I would have thrived in a sport like swimming.”
Come to think of it, he did.