London 2012 Coach Profile: Randy Bennett
Randy Bennett, ChPC, is the head coach of the Canadian swimming team that will compete at the London 2012 Olympic Games, and has been the head coach at the Victoria Academy of Swimming since 2008.
At the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, Bennett coached Ryan Cochrane to a bronze medal in the 1500m freestyle. As the head coach at the 2009 World Championships, he led a team that produced two silver medals and one bronze. He has since led the Canadian team to various podium performances as the head coach of the 2011 World Championship team, and the 2010 Commonwealth Games team.
Since beginning his coaching career over 30 years ago in Fort McMurray, AB, Bennett has had the pleasure of working with some of Canada’s top swimmers, and has also helped mentor future coaches through his role as a mentor coach and guest speaker with the National Coaching Institute in Victoria, BC.
When did you first start coaching? Why?
I first started coaching 30 years ago. I was doing some lifeguarding at the pool, and there was a part-time ‘filler’ job available as a coach, so I said I would do it.
I stuck with coaching because the business side of coaching really appealed to me. If you run a successful club, you can make a good living, and that appealed to me. I was thinking about becoming a teacher, but by being a coach, I wasn’t restricted by a curriculum, which I really enjoyed.
What are the things you like MOST about being a national team coach?
1. Getting to work with world-class athletes.
2. Getting paid to play. I’m living a charmed life! I’m fortunate to be funded to do a job at the highest level. It’s a wonderful life and a wonderful opportunity. Every day I think I’m pretty lucky.
How did the NCCP prepare you for your role as a national team coach?
I took my first NCCP course in 1982 – the content has changed a lot since then! But at that time, the content wasn’t the draw – it was the ability to gather information from people (the course conductors and the other coaches) in the NCCP that was as valuable as anything.
I’m still involved with the NCCP – as a mentor coach and a guest conductor for the NCI - Victoria. Last year I mentored three-time Olympian Rick Say, and Gord Veldman, the current head coach of the Juan de Fuca Coho Swim Club, so I’m still involved.
What do you think makes you an effective coach?
I think I read people well and I’m very consistent. What I say in September is the same thing I say on the deck at the Olympics.
Honesty and being a good communicator are also big things. Athletes want clear, concise communications. That makes an athlete feel better than gaining an inflated or deflated sense of themselves. They know I will tell them the truth. It’s not a personal evaluation, it’s an evaluation of their performance.
What will be your greatest coaching challenge leading in to the London 2012 Olympic Games?
I don’t see anything that we’re not preparing for already. I think sometimes people are waiting on the sidelines for the spectacle of the Olympics to make you collapse. I don’t expect any challenges other than what we face every day.
These will be my third Games, after Sydney and Beijing. Sydney was the worst because we weren’t prepared. I didn’t know that until after the fact. I got suckered in to the show that is the ‘Olympics’. Of course there is pressure, but that’s why we do it. We should revel in that and not create barriers.
Describe one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned from coaching.
The biggest thing you learn is when you look back at the end of a cycle. That’s the beauty of coaching – you get a chance to do things over and fix your mistakes. We critically evaluate the program with our IST (Integrated Support Teams) and that’s a huge learning curve. The times when you submit to an evaluation are when you learn the most. The hard part is to know what you have to evaluate. Some people think it’s a magic formula, but if you’re doing it constantly, you start to know. It’s not just about competition -- there are so many other variables. You need clear parameters that you evaluate all the time.
I had a meeting yesterday with our service providers. I’ve coached Ryan (Cochrane) since he was 13, and we can show eight years of data on him. We can look at it and make programming decisions. Any athlete that comes in has to be prepared to submit to data collection, and the coach has to get comfortable with collecting that.
What has been your greatest coaching moment/achievement to date?
It’s easy to point to a really good result, but I don’t know if that’s my achievement or the athletes. Sometimes you get a great result with an athlete that isn’t at the Olympics. I’ve had great results from athletes in different areas, but you can’t get tied to the results. There are other results that mean as much to you. Sometimes those aren’t as public.
I think it’s neat when you influence change; when you sit on a committee and start talking about creating change in sport. I’m in a position where I can help develop swimming and that’s a really neat spot to be.
The culture around swimming has really changed over the last few years. Going in to Beijing, Ryan and I really thought we were going to win, but it wasn’t expected. Heading in to London, we’re expecting podium performances. That’s a really great change and I love being part of that.
Coaching is truly a wonderful life. Enjoy it. Very few people get to have a job as fun as ours. We’re pretty lucky and I think sometimes we lose sight of that.