In 1999, the Canadian Summer Nationals will begin on August 14. Why? To pick 15% of the PanPacific team? An August nationals (let alone a mid-August nationals) is a holdover from the days when the long-course season went as late in the summer as possible so teams could access the only 50-m pools available, which were outdoors. To say that we need a summer nationals in August for a Trials is also faulty logic. Not only are many teams now pre-selected, but 50% of the international Games teams in the past decade have not been picked at the summer nationals anyway! Basing anything long term on the international calendar is a mistake. For example, there are now long-course-metres Worlds in 2001 and 2003 instead of PanPacs, which likely means smaller teams and probably pre-selected swimmers.
So, the only reason Canada currently holds the Summer Nationals in August, other than history, is to subsidize the national team. By extending the season until mid-August, the training camp for the national team is shortened by many weeks, saving Swimming/Natation Canada (SNC) tens of thousands of dollars. Those thousands of extra dollars are actually indirectly covered by each club and each swimmer as they train throughout July and August.
In today's business world, those who do not adjust to the new paradigms of their industry perish. Can the sport of swimming move from being a dinosaur to being innovative and visionary? Start by holding the Summer Nationals on July 1, Canada Day. It can be Canada's swim day as well. (This might even be a useable marketing tool!)
The naysayers would argue that Canadian swimmers will lose training time if Summer Nationals are held in early July. Again, that is thinking in a box of the old paradigm. Here is an opportunity to build a better mousetrap!
First, by also moving the Winter Nationals to November 22, you will encourage people to start training in late August or early September. If you think about it, kids are eager to start up in September. The only ones tired are the coaches of the international teams. Why are we holding back the entire country's development for that reason? Isn't six to eight weeks of holidays enough? Maybe by aggressively recruiting kids at the end of August and starting up in early September we will attract athletes away from other sports and into the pool! Currently, most programs don't really kick into gear until October. Move it up!
This new concept also gives back to the swimmers the short course season that has been shelved. The November Nationals (short course) would serve as an ideal opportunity to pick teams for short course worlds, permit top performances at Canada's World Cup, and possibly be a selection meet for competitions like the USA and European World Cups, and the USA Nationals. (One of the main reasons Canadian swimmers don't go to the USA anymore is that the USA dates conflict with the Canadian dates. Yet when Canada was at its zenith in the world rankings, Canadian swimmers competed against the USA swimmers regularly).
Second, international teams can train unfettered in July and August for competitions. Likewise, we can reinstitute provincial or Youth trips to meets in the USA, where such athletes can learn to win and travel and be excited. Therefore, these swimmers would also be swimming throughout some or all of July. And this could all be done via the training centres-we are paying for them, let's put them to use where they can be really valuable. Coaches and athletes of teams can spend that time preparing without other inhibitors on performance. And both could learn from the dynamics involved.
Third, many youngsters could go to camps in July. Some do now, but they "drop" going to Juniors, Provincials, and the like. This would become an easier sell and would keep the youngsters fitter, happier, and better all-around athletes.
Fourth, we would have a great six- to seven-month buildup to the Summer Nationals, supposedly the most important meet and time of the season, yet it currently has our shortest preparation phase!
Fifth, a July 1 Summer Nationals will permit many students to work at summer jobs, which is all but impossible now. Today's economic climate is far different from that of a decade ago and such summer employment may be crucial for the longevity of our high school and university swimmers.
Finally, July is an opportune time for holidays in our winter-dominated country. We need to have that option for the majority of the swimmers and parents that are not going to the Olympics.
The mid-August date for the Canadian Summer Nationals in 1999 is a blessing. Without it, we would likely have muddled along thinking that dates around that time were fine. The entire concept is now under question by many people, and rightfully so. How can we make it work so everyone-families, swimmers, and international swimmers-wins? A July 1 Summer Nationals is one of the answers. Canada swims on Canada Day! Follow that with the Provincial meets and then it's finished for most, with final preparation or meets for the elite. Everyone wins!
Byron MacDonald is Head Coach, University of Toronto, and was an Assistant Coach of the 1992 Olympic Games team.