In between cram sessions at Western University in London, Ontario, Patrick Sheppard spends every waking moment preparing for the high stakes drama that is the North Shore Winter Club Marlins’ summer swimming season.
Alright, maybe not every waking moment, but this summer represents a lot of extra work for Patrick, the Marlins’ brand new head swim coach.
“It’s going to be a challenge for sure,” Patrick tells me over Skype as he puts the books aside for an hour. “But we’re ready for it. I can’t wait to get back.”
Kelvin: Tell us about your swimming background and what brought you to the North Shore Winter Club. Don’t spare any details.
Patrick: I started swimming with the Vancouver Vikings when I was in grade 6. I swam with them for 5 or 6 years before I decided to start swimming year round. I was playing select soccer at the time and I ended up choosing swimming over soccer at the end of grade 9. I swam for 3 years in high school with the Winfield Dolphins in Tsawwassen. These last three years I’ve been swimming with the Varsity Mustangs here at Western. I started coaching after my first year of University. I’d done some junior league and some volunteer coaching but nothing too committed.
I came to the Winter Club two years ago. I’d known two former coaches, Mark and Tammy, from their time with the Vikings when I was a younger swimmer and they were coaches with the Vikings.
So coaching was a natural progression then?
I’d say so, I just didn’t know where I’d end up. I wanted to coach somewhere, I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go, the Marlins were keen on having me, the executive committee was happy to offer me a position as assistant Coach, so I did that for a year. I really enjoyed it, I worked with the senior group and a little bit with the junior group.
And then last year, the Executive Committee asked me to help out with Mark. It was my first time with my own group. I thought it was a pretty successful year. I had a lot of fun. For this year, Mark and Tammy are moving on to Michigan and I’ll be the sole head coach. We have pretty much the exact same coaching staff as last year which is pretty nice. Everyone is taking on a little bit more responsibility, moving into bigger roles but it’s good to have that continuity from year to year.
Does everyone work with a specific group or is there movement throughout the Marlins?
Everyone has a group they’re assigned to. This summer I’ll be coaching the intermediate group which is a new group that we’ve started after the last few years. We’ve had a big jump in membership, especially with the younger ages. The average age of swimmers is a lot younger than it was previously, so with that in mind we’ve decided to add another group to even out the numbers in the groups.
Who are the other coaches and what groups will they be assigned to?
Our Minis program this year is going to be led by Laine Tadey. It’s her first year as a group coach. She had been an assistant last year and as a deck coach the year before that so she’ll be heading the minis program.
The Intro group is going to be led by Nicole Hufsmith. She was the Minis coach last year.
The Juniors will be Victoria Munro. She coached the Intros last year.
I’ll be coaching the Intermediate group and then Jason Terrillon will be the Head Coach of the Senior group.
Those are the lead coaches and we also have Troy Williams, Buzz Mallender, and Spencer Duke; those are our assistants who will help out with various groups throughout the year.
How old are the kids in this intermediate group?
Patrick: Kids in the intermediate group will depend for the most part on ability. There’s some consideration based on age and maturity, but for the most part we want swimmers to be comfortable with the skills presented to them.
Do you build groups as people register? Or do they register for a certain group?
We have a good idea of, assuming all of the swimmers from last year come back, where they should fit the following year.. On top of the returning swimmers there are new swimmers who come in. They could be really experienced having swam at a different club, or it could be someone who is brand new to swimming. From that perspective, once we have final numbers, that’s when we go in and put the groups together. I’ll lead the discussion this year but in consultation with the group coaches so they know what’s going on, their input is obviously valuable in the process as well.
The key is to just get it right, right?
For sure. People won’t always agree or they’ll want to see their kids in older groups, but for us it comes down to their environment and getting the best possible performance from the individual.
Honestly, problems are rare. I don’t want to say swimming is less competitive than other sports, but there’s more of a social atmosphere with the Marlins than you might get with year-round winter swimming. That tends to be a little bit more intense, especially from the parents. In the summer everyone just wants everyone to do well. The support and encouragement is phenomenal.
A lot of these kids swimming with the Marlins, their main goals are in hockey or in tennis or rowing or all these other different sports so that’s kind of where that extra energy I guess goes.
Back to you, give us a very limited insight about college life.
(Laughs) Honestly it’s pretty tough. I’m just finishing up my third year right now. I’m a major in English with a double minor in history and philosophy. I plan on graduating next spring if all goes according to plan. After that, I haven’t quite decided. I’m kind of on the fence between pursuing law school or going into education.
I’ve enjoyed my time here a lot, particularly the new perspectives on things you don’t necessarily see. Just in English itself, I’ve had the opportunity to read a lot of literature that I wouldn’t have ever thought I would read in my life, so to me that’s opened my horizons a little bit. History has always been a bit of a passion of mine so it’s nice to have that as the minor. Philosophy is something I was introduced to here at the university but I’ve really grown a keen interest on, especially in the more practical philosophies, if that makes sense.
I mentioned earlier, but there’s a certain social aspect to the Marlins that you don’t find in winter swimming, and I think my time at university has helped me appreciate it even more. The families are a lot closer together, the kids hanging out outside swimming more often, the parents are supportive. There’s a parent party every year where the parents get together at one of the houses for a big barbecue. That’s a lot of fun, the coaches all go so there’s definitely that sort of social aspect that’s different than I’ve ever seen at any other club that I’ve been a part of.
I also think it might just be my bias from growing up swimming in basement pools, indoors where it’s super hot but I think there’s something to be said about an outdoor pool in the summer. It has a special atmosphere, especially with our home meet and regionals at the North Shore Winter Club, racing outside is a lot of fun in my opinion and I think training outside makes things a lot more enjoyable for the kids and the coaches as well.
Man, you can say that again.
You bet, I can’t wait to get back.