Rushmoor's Hayley Cornick on life as a synchro coach ... and the secret of success

She’s helped lead Rushmoor Synchronised Swimming Club in Hampshire, to national success. Here, Hayley Cornick shares her coaching story.  

When I think of my synchronised swimming achievements, the first thought that comes to mind is not actually a single medal or passed grade.

Although my best achievement has been at masters’ level, when we won a silver medal in combination team at the Belgium open in 2015, I actually believe that my proudest days with the strongest emotions have been as a coach not as a swimmer.

Yes, I had many successes as a swimmer and, in turn, the swimmers I coach have won many medals. However, for me it’s not a single day that is my biggest achievement, it is the message that I have managed to pass on to my swimmers.

I work hard as a coach to ensure I regularly remind them how special they are. They are synchronised swimmers and there are not that many people who can say that.

I remind them of that to help them see that every session they complete is an achievement and being part of our club is where they belong because they are gifted and talented. I have a very good relationship with all my swimmers and they trust me. I can’t tell you how rewarding that is.

During my time as a swimmer, my idol was Jenna Randall. I remember watching her during training sessions amazed by her ability and grace in the water, sometimes getting so distracted watching her that I wouldn’t realise my coach was talking to me!

Jenna was the top swimmer in our club at the time and nationally. She was also an amazing role model for us younger swimmers as she was so kind. I remember after she won silver at the Commonwealth Games, she let us all wear her beautiful medal and have pictures taken. Events like that stay with you as a special memory.

I couldn’t possibly choose one swimmer that I have coached that is the best! There are so many extremely talented swimmers in Rushmoor.

I was, of course, involved in coaching our 2018 champs squad. Some of those swimmers I coached at 12 and under when I taught them a routine to ‘The Lion King’ so it has been inspiring to see them grow and develop through the club. Those swimmers have incredible talent which showed in their results at nationals.

I was ecstatic at the end of each of Rushmoor’s swims at nationals. The swimmers swam the best I have ever seen them. For some, it was their last competition for Rushmoor so I knew they really wanted to go in and swim their very best.

For others, it was their first nationals and we pushed them so hard in training as the step up from the lower age group was huge. I was so proud of those swimmers as they just looked flawless in their competition swim.

Most important facet of synchro

Rushmoor celebrate winning the Redwood Trophy in 2018

There are many other up-and-coming swimmers who are fantastic to coach and very talented and I look forward to seeing them in the spotlight in the future.

I believe the most important facet of synchro is team bonding.

Of course, synchro requires a variety of skills and fitness including stamina, anaerobic capacity, strength, endurance, flexibility, elegance, performance and precision but even a team with all of these skills can still look disjointed in the water if they don’t have a strong relationship.

As I coach, I feel I can see the relationships in a routine. A well-bonded team will help each other’s training both in and out of the water and sometimes unknowingly.

A bonded team benefits a swimmer’s motivation, mental preparation and clearly improves pattern tightness and interactions in the water.

Like many, my favourite aspect of synchro is the routines, specifically free and combination teams.

From finding music and revealing it to the swimmers at the beginning of the year to nervously watching them perform at their competitions and all the training sessions in between, it is by far the highlight of my role.

These routines are an opportunity to be creative, sometimes ambitious and show off the swimmers’ best skills.

As soon as I started coming to the end of my swimming career with Rushmoor, I just knew I wanted to coach. I just wasn’t ready to leave the club I loved for so many years.

I have a natural passion for teaching and wanted to give back to the club as I felt I owed them so much.

I get a huge sense of achievement from my coaching and it has given me great purpose.

I started coaching straight after I finished swimming in 2009. I then moved to Lincoln for a year for university in 2011 and resumed coaching in 2013.

Special place in my heart

Hayley Cornick coaching at Rushmoor

Rushmoor SSC will always have a special place in my heart as they supported me through a difficult time in my life.

I left university before completing my first year due to a serious period of depression. It was a very difficult time which resulted in me being house bound for six months.

My mum and partner who were aiding my recovery and treatment encouraged me to volunteer to coach again in the hope it would give me some motivation to get out of the house.

Coaching at the club immediately became the turning point in my recovery.

I was also invited to join Rushmoor’s masters squad and the exercise did wonders for my mental health. My swimmers gave me a purpose and my swimming returned fun into my life.

My friends that supported me at the club are now friends for life and have encouraged and supported me to where I am now.

I share my story openly in the hope that I can teach others to feel confident enough to talk about mental health.

Mental health at the club is a big focus of mine and I use my experiences to ensure that everything I do is positive for the swimmers and coaches mentally and they are supported appropriately.

I have been in the role for more than a year part-time, so for much of this period I have been developing myself and learning the ropes. Of course, I play a role in the success of the club through coaching and club planning but so do many others who give their time to help the club – coaches, committee members, parents and all the other admin and officials’ roles.

Without a team of people to help the club, we would not be able to achieve the successes that we have had.

We have many brilliant coaches at Rushmoor. We have many ex-swimmers, parents and life members who all coach regularly for the club and I am very proud of the standard of coaching that we provide.

I have also been studying whilst coaching and have now finished my studies and achieved a BSc degree in Applied Animal Behaviour Science. I use this knowledge to run dog training classes alongside my coaching role. Everyone says you should never work with children or animals and I decided to work with both!

I am always asked if there are any similarities in my two jobs and the answer is sometimes yes, the teaching methods are similar! My studies go in depth into learning theories and mechanisms and human psychology, which has expanded my knowledge of the learning taking place at the club and helps me get the most out of my swimmers.

Enjoyment top of my priorities

Rushmoor's technical team competing at the 2018 Swim England Synchronised Swimming National Championships

When I coach, I like to remember that the swimmers are doing this as a hobby and, therefore, enjoyment is always at the top of my priorities.

Like school teachers, there are always lessons that are extremely difficult to make fun, like maths. For synchro, it is different for every swimmer but usually it’s stamina, drills or figures so I try my utmost to add fun to every session.

I try to always think about the why factor. Why do my swimmers come to my sessions, why do my swimmers want to work hard? And it’s all about giving them a reason to do the actions I would like them to do.

I like to show them respect to encourage them to show me respect in return and I find that my swimmers like this style of coaching and it makes them keen to impress me. My swimmers and their parents tell me I am approachable and motivating which is actually what I am trying to achieve.

I was very fortunate to have many great coaches in my time as a swimmer, including Ray Geier who worked us so hard but we were always grateful. Margaret Woolley is an amazing figure coach, Emma Adams a great team coach who I now coach beside, and so many more. I loved all my coaches.

Even now I am a masters swimmer, I am so lucky to have had Julie Andrews and Kate Poulter as my coaches in recent years. Julie and Kate work us very hard but have a great coaching style which makes the sessions enjoyable, light-hearted and fun.

Hayley’s top tips to be a good synchro swimmer and coach

  1.  A swimmer must be self-motivated. As much as coaches will be encouraging and motivational, this is just not enough for this type of sport as it is so demanding physically, mentally and of their time.
  2. They must be able to work as a team. Team work is vital in synchronised swimming due to team competition being such a major feature of the sport. They need to be able to bond with team mates, problem solve as a group and be comfortable being in very close proximity to each other, including contact during some parts of the routines.
  3. A swimmer must be disciplined and able to listen to instruction. With any sport that is carried out in water, there are always health and safety considerations. The pool can be a dangerous environment so it is vital that a swimmer can listen and follow instructions well. Synchronised swimming makes the training environment even more dangerous as the swimmers swim in such close proximity that kicking each other happens regularly and, of course, the acrobatic lifts performed are very risky. So swimmers must be able to control themselves and follow the coach’s instructions accurately.
  4. To those thinking of getting into synchro coaching, I would say get ready to have synchro take over your life! It is an amazing and fascinating sport and the passion that everyone involved has is incredible. So many of our coaches do give a large amount of their time to the sport and reap the rewards. My coaching goal is to be a part of the GB coaching team as it is brilliant to coach such talented swimmers and, of course, working at that level gives exciting opportunities to go to larger competitions and represent the nation.
  5. The good news is that it’s a highly sociable sport so every moment of coaching gives pure enjoyment and never feels like work. I would highly recommend coaching at a synchronised swimming club to anyone as it is a very valued part of my life.
  • This article first appeared in Swimming Times magazine
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