Making waves in 2019
For the first time in their history, the StFX Swim Team has fundraised to hire a dedicated, professional coach. I sat down with Craig MacFarlane, swim team coach, and Tyler Thorne, Swim Team president, to discuss their newly found partnership, and their aspirations for the future of the team.
EDK: Thanks so much for taking some time out of your day to join me for this interview. Why don’t we start with your name, and a little background on your own personal journey?
CMF: Sounds great. My name is Craig MacFarlane, I swam when I was a youngster many years ago – swam the 1500 averaging about 18 minutes, although we’re talking a long time ago.
Started with the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association. I did that by about 4 years and knew the grind. For instance, waking up on a Quebec morning at 4:30am and biking to the metro underground and catching the bus for practice at 5:30am.
It really helped me develop an appetite for better things. Faster. Further. Higher.
EDK: That all sounds incredible. How did you manage to find your way to Antigonish?
CMF: I guess I’m blessed. I’m honestly elated and honoured to be here, to be part of StFX. It’s a good question – they say the long way there is the short way home. I suppose I returned to Canada – I was in the United States for a while – I transitioned into nursing it didn’t click, so I was certified in swimming. Fortunately, I met Tyler (Swim Team president) through recruitment. We had a good starting and it really worked quite well.
EDK: You arrived here quite recently, two days prior to the start of term. Are you excited for what’s ahead?
CMF: Absolutely. I graduated from St. Mary’s in Halifax, so I had a feeling for the Nova Scotian people. I suppose you can’t generalize people, but those that I’ve met have been nice people. They’re courteous, they’re pleasant, they’re generous. Just wonderful.
EDK: I absolutely agree. Moving forward with the swim team, have you been able to gauge their abilities as a team, and could you speak to where you’d like to take the team in the future?
CMF: Well, keep in mind I’ve only had two weeks with them. The first week was really an evaluation, with the second week being my pushing them to see what buttons I could poke. I’m very pleased with the attitudes, very pleased with the efforts. Just a very positive group in general.
EDK: They seem very eager to learn.
CMF: It’s probably an attribute of StFX, of the young people here.
TT: We’re a very athletic school – it seems like we’re quite innately athletic.
EDK: I’d agree. And looking forwards, perhaps both of you could collaborate on this answer, but when you look forwards a few years from now, where do you hope to see the team?
TT: Sure. My whole goal with this presidency was to get the team essentially pushed in a direction where they were both a) more competitive and b) at a level where we could transition to become a varsity team. That’s been the goal of every president on this team since its inception.
Normally we would hire education students that would coach for one or two years. Not to say they weren’t capable, but the idea is if we want to have a varsity team, we need to build it into one beforehand. When looking at a team, they would have a competent, consistent and stable coach, someone who would be able to dedicate more time to the team as opposed to being part time as a student.
Now that Craig is here, I’m hoping that we can transform the next group of incoming swimmers and make them stick. Once they’re in there, we want to be as competitive as possible and training for meets as soon as possible.
An issue that we’re always had is no one is ever sure where they’re going, or what the level of competition was. Now with this new atmosphere, we should be building a base of competitive swimmers to the point where we can make a decent case to advocate for varsity.
EDK: I suppose the assumption is once you get these people who have been swimming at a competitive level in high school, you can lock them in at the beginning of the school year, keep the skills up and ensure you have continuity over four to six years.
TT: That’s the big one. Getting those people from high school on the team and keeping them there.
EDK: Craig would you agree? In terms of where you’d like to see the trajectory of this team in the future?
CMF: Yes. I think varsity is achievable. As a matter of fact, I was looking at some other universities, I won’t mention who, but some that are competing in U Sports, and there’s one that competes in U Sports that swims less than us. I’ll be very frank with you – the quality of the swimmers is better than I expected. Especially on some of the more difficult strokes like butterfly. Obviously, it needs improving, there’s always opportunities for improvement, but I find that promising.
EDK: For those who will read this article and aren’t aware of the divisional standards in swimming, could you elaborate on the difference between club and varsity, as well as masters versus open.
TT: The difference between varsity and club is largely competition based; by that I mean are you able to compete with each other? Varsity teams will compete at a varsity level, whereas club teams cannot. As well, varsity teams receive more funding. That means they can afford more equipment, more pool time, etc. The club teams on campus, you can see they have that more social aspect to them. They do compete, but a lot of the time there’s not a big commitment, no contracts, you’re not getting recruited. So that’s the big divide.
With masters versus open – masters is 18+, and open is self-explanatory, open to everyone. The reason we swim masters is we want swimmers competing against people their own age.
When you get into open, you’re going to get into an area where there are really, really good swimmers who are a lot younger than you. It can be discouraging, especially for those who aren’t extremely competitive swimmers. Now, however, that we’re a lot more competitive, I think it’s definitely time to look at going back into open. I think we can definitely compete at that level. That’s a better route, a more competitive route, which puts us on a better trajectory to varsity.
EDK: Do you see any issue with the transition from club to varsity, in terms of retention of current members on the team? For instance, if you were to transition towards becoming a more competitive, varsity-aimed team, would you end up having to cut those who were less competitive on the team?
CMF: The term cut, I really don’t like. We have enough pool space right now that we don’t have to cut anybody. I would hope that we will be developing confidence to go to friendlies and eventually competitions, because we are moving to the next level. For the purpose of building confidence, rather than use the word cut, I would rather poke people and let them know that if they want to compete, they really have to go out and train.
And for that matter, there are some people who probably don’t need to grind too much more and could attend competitions right. Before any cuts, I want to enforce the idea of confidence building and preparation, allowing us to then go outside of our pool.
EDK: I do suppose it would be a gradual transition, rather than a hammer drop. Besides, you’d need competitors to be at a level of varsity competition before being given the name.
CMF: Yes. The only other dimension on that is that the more social swimmer will progress less rapidly than the competitive swimmer. So, there is more of a variability in the training and coaching, which adds a bit of a drag.
TT: I think we’ll definitely see a slow transition, rather than any sort of rapid name switch. That just won’t happen. By the time we’re ready to do it, we’ll have very competitive swimmers who will be keen to demonstrate their skills.
EDK: That’s great. I’ve touched everything I wanted to cover, would either of you like to add anything?
TT: I’ll just say I think the team is in a really exciting place right now. If there are any swimmers on campus who are looking to keep up their training, now is a really exciting time to get in on it, because we are a lot more established than we have been in the past. This is the most competitive direction we’ve been going in since the inception of the team. So, overall I’m just really excited for their future.
EDK: Phenomenal. Thank you for joining me, both of you. It looks like the swim team has some exciting years ahead.