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Unprecedented times but Nicola is positive that out of adversity comes opportunity

As a swimmer, swimming parent, teacher, open water coach and Swim England educator, Nicola Bainbridge thought she had seen it all … then the coronavirus pandemic struck.

However, Nicola explains why she thinks we’re in a positive position to help develop teachers and coaches – and how she helped to raise thousands of pounds for charity through an open water sponsored swim  following an off-the-cuff comment.

I’ve been involved in aquatics for more than 35 years and I thought I had seen or experienced most of the things that can be thrown at our wonderful sport – then Covid-19 came along.

At the start of the pandemic, I was working in Dubai delivering Level 1 and Level 2 coaching courses.

Although it was unaffected by the growing crisis, by the time I returned to the UK it was clear that the situation was becoming more serious.

On March 20, the Government closed leisure centres, causing the indefinite cancellation of all scheduled work across the sector and wiping out most of my paid work.

As director of swimming at a local school and owner of a thriving learn to swim programme, Covid-related school closures took away any remaining work and income.

Being a self-employed working mother with two children still in full time education, the short-term situation looked fairly bleak.

I was aware that my reduced income might have a significant affect on our family finances, but my overriding concern was how the shutdown might impact on the progress of my learn to swim/school swimmers – and that of my existing and future teaching/coaching course learners.

Notwithstanding the fact that I hate being idle, I was keen to explore and support alternative delivery methods as soon as possible, and I was pleased and excited to be asked to deliver some of the first content taught online.

Great to be tutoring

Within a week of ‘lockdown’ being introduced I delivered a Level 2 Open Water Coaching course via Zoom, the practical assessments for which were conducted via video when social distancing rules were relaxed in England.

It was great to be tutoring again!

With a background in management training and consultancy I thrive in face-to-face and ‘live’ presentation environments, and I was aware that using an online platform might reduce some of the benefits offered by classroom-based delivery.

However, I’ve built in plenty of ‘get to know me/you’ opportunities that help to break down the barriers to effective communication, ensuring subject delivery and group discussions remain vibrant.

My students are all individuals and the online approach allows me to treat them as such – with break-out ‘rooms’ and one-to-one opportunities easy to plan and achieve.

Feedback via Zoom also feels more personal than a phone call or email, and is always well received.

Since the end of July, I have delivered three Level 2 coaching courses using this method and feel that this model works well.

I really like that the learners can now receive theoretical input sessions whilst also completing relevant sections of the online workbooks and theoretical questions.

I feel that the structure and flow of the online delivery, workbooks and theoretical questions is now more logical and supportive of the learners’ development.

As pools reopen with appropriate restrictions, practical course elements will be reintroduced.

The number of personal enquiries I’ve received about these suggests that demand will be strong, and I’m looking forward to reconnecting with Swim England colleagues and learners in a more traditional setting.

In the longer term, I can see a case for both online and in-person delivery methods being used according to circumstance – it makes us more agile and flexible to our sector’s needs.

I’m lucky enough to live in Ellesmere, Shropshire, in an area renowned for its Meres (lakes formed by glaciers).

As a Level 2 Open Water Coach, and to fill some of the gaps left by Covid-cancelled courses, I’ve been able to deliver pre-booked one-to-one and small group coached sessions and provide ‘swim-fit’ lap swimming to local swimmers and triathletes through the summer.

The demand has been staggering!

From club and masters swimmers desperate for an opportunity to swim, to locals just wanting a dip in their local Mere; ‘bucket list’ swimmers, to birthday celebrants; triathletes in training to English Channel record holders; eight-year-olds to senior citizens….and everything in between.

It has been a pleasure to see my swimmers develop, contribute to the continued popularity of outdoor swimming, and inspire people to test themselves competitively when the opportunity is available.

I anticipated there would be strong interest from club swimmers from across the Midlands, due to the demand I experience for pool-based one-to-one sessions.

However, what I had not anticipated was the diversity in age, experience level and motivation within the ‘recreational’ swimmer group.

The swimming journey that some participants have been on since early July has been breath-taking.

Making a difference to peoples lives

The Mere Mile which raised thousands of pounds for charity

The pandemic created a fantastic opportunity to make a difference to people’s lives and to see these swimmers relaxed and at peace, appreciating the freedom and pleasure being in open water provides, has been very special to me.

I feel honoured to have had the opportunity to contribute positively to the health, physical and mental wellbeing of these individuals and I plan to continue local open water sessions in future years.

Goalsetting is useful to maintain progress. An off-the-cuff comment by one of my training group led to the scheduling of a late-season sponsored swim, which certainly helped to focus the stroke and endurance development of my swimmers.

‘The Mere Mile’ was put together in six weeks, raising funds for the League of Friends RJAH (Royal Orthopaedic Hospital, Oswestry).

In the weeks beforehand, every coached session was full, buzzing with competitive spirit and enthusiastic chatter of target times – I could tell something special was happening.

On September 12, blessed with a sunny and warm late Summer day and supported by the county and town councils, local businesses, Rotarian groups and an army of volunteers, two ‘competitive’ and three ‘recreational’ swimmer waves swam their finest, emerged from the water with huge smiles, and raised more than £6,500 for charity.

The final tally is expected to be closer to £10k! Incredible times, incredible people!

Out of adversity often comes opportunity.

Whilst the last six months have been unprecedented, they have certainly been interesting and varied.

With new and innovative ways to connect with prospective teachers and coaches, different methods and approaches for swimmer engagement and a dedicated, flexible sector workforce, I think we’re in a strong position to push forwards despite the challenges we continue to face.