I hope to have encouraged BAME people to start making a splash in the sport

Raj Singh, the head coach at Oldbury Swimming and Triathlon Club, hopes his experiences of being a BAME coach will inspire others to take up the sport and follow in his footsteps. Here, as part of UK Coaching Week 2020, he shares his story.

I’ve been involved in and around competitive swimming for the best part of 20 years.

My journey is similar to many coaches. I started at my first club, Oldbury Swimming and Triathlon Club, based in Sandwell, Birmingham, as a swimmer.

Where it might be different to possibly many is that I have always been at Oldbury – and I still am now having been the head coach for the last four years.

My mum has always been supportive of me as a swimmer and coach and my club has a great and supportive chairperson who goes the extra mile – and having someone like that always makes you want to carry on going the extra mile.

Coming from, and, growing up in an area where diversity is rich with people from different backgrounds and cultures, I have rarely felt like an outsider – and have always been made to feel welcome and part of the family at Oldbury STC.

My coaching journey began at 21 when I did my level 1 coaching, level 2 aged 24 and, in 2019, I completed my Senior Swimming Coach Qualification.

There’s always been a slight stereotype that BAME people cannot swim, therefore maybe cannot coach.

Big strides

Traditionally speaking, it has been a sport seen as those who come from a white middle or upper-class background.

It’s great to see the excellent work Alice Dearing, who incidentally started at Oldbury STC, is doing to get rid of the stigmas attached to BAME participants in the sport.

It isn’t all one-sided though. Those of Asian origin have always had a high focus on academia over sports, which are seen as hobbies.

It is very definitely a cultural preset, though I was one of few exceptions.

There has been big strides in more people from BAME backgrounds participating in the sport over the last 10 years but a lot of work is required from all parties to help increase these numbers.

It is noticeable, however, going to competitions of any level and being the only head coach who isn’t white, though I don’t see it as a negative.

Hopefully, if coaches have BAME swimmers, and see me on the poolside, it might inspire them to involve swimmers and push them to take the routes I did – or even having conversations with the parents of these swimmers to get them involved.

Role model

I have always been treated fairly and have made some good friends and colleagues from other clubs through coaching, who I share ideas with on a regular basis.

I’ve also continued to learn a lot while being mentored by Alan Bircher on the Swim England Coach Advisor Programme.

I personally have never had a negative experience because of my background or ethnicity and I do feel that being a BAME coach has encouraged a lot of swimmers in and around my swimming club, from non-white backgrounds, to start making a splash in the sport.

They may see me as a role model – I hope they do anyway – and an encouraging sign that people from BAME backgrounds can flourish in the sport as a swimmer or a coach.

Oldbury STC is so diverse, more than it was when I swam.

With the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games happening on our doorstep, and a brand new aquatics facility being built in Sandwell, the buzz around swimming is quite high, especially with the three local clubs now working closely together.

It is also the perfect opportunity to witness swimming of the highest level and I hope that and myself can continue to encourage more people from diverse backgrounds to partake in aquatic sports.