When over 55 coaches and officials from across the country gathered in September for the 2019 CAS Technical Conference – they left challenged to shake up their thinking about the sport!

Over the three days they heard from a number of speakers from both inside and outside artistic swimming, who provided fresh perspectives to challenge conventional thinking with new ideas and concepts coming from hockey to ballet!

The keynote presentation on Friday night at the hotel Universel in Montreal featured Danièle Sauvageau, the general manager and coach of Canada’s 2002 Olympic Champion Women’s Hockey Team. She gave an inspirational address which highlighted many of the learnings from her experiences, including the ‘need to do things differently if you want different results.’

The participants also had the opportunity to pay tribute to our highly successful Senior National Team, as Championship Banners were presented to them as the 2019 FINA World Series Champions and the 2019 Pan American Games Champions. These banners will be hung proudly at INS Quebec.

Saturday’s program at the Institut National du Sport (INS) Quebec, focused on the ‘objective’ side of our sport. It began with detailed technical discussions, particularly engaging the coaches, as Own the Podium (OTP) Podium Pathway Advisor Jodi Hawley presented the new CAS Podium Pathway. Our podium pathway includes performance targets, winning style of performance and our Gold Medal Profile. Jodi identified that using performance metrics and statistical information allows for better identification of true gaps and to measure progression. This reinforced the need to objectively track all assessment areas and the importance of this disciplined approach for our funding partners at all levels. 

The coaches and officials then worked together with our Senior National Team athletes to test the Assessment Tools that are being developed to measure the pathway components on a go-forward basis.

That session was followed by a presentation by our Senior National Team Coach, Gabor Szauder, giving an overview of the team’s training and preparation strategy that began in January 2019 and led them to the top of the podium at the Pan American Games in August. The discussion then moved into a 2019 International Review, with a panel of our National Team Coaches and International Officials sharing their observations.  Everyone was engaged, adding ideas, as well as asking the panel many questions.

The final session of the day was a Development Strategy Brainstorm Session, facilitated by Benoit Girardin, President of the strategic planning firm, LBB Strategies. The goal was to process all the information received during the day and to have coaches and officials working together to elevate Canada’s potential to win.

As a result of the discussions, there was consensus that to win:

  • athletes need to learn critical technical skills at optimum ages – following our LTAD model.
  • there needs to be more standardization of skill development at each age and stage – emphasizing key periods of trainability.
  • we need attention to detail in our athlete development from club level up all the time
  • we need to deliver meaningful competitions based on standardized LTAD blocks and that we standardize our competition calendar and events, and content of events across the country
  • we work together as a team across the country

The group also had an opportunity to discuss some specific programming steps that need to be undertaken, as they answered the question “What strategic actions do we need to agree on and deploy, as a community, to create a leading national development system?”

  • be consistent across Canada in coaching technique and athlete development techniques
  • commit uniformly to AquaGO! and programs after it – especially aimed at 12 and under aged athletes
  • Coaching – coaches need to be coached at all levels – to help them understand their important role in talent identification and development
  • introduce standardized testing – everything else is standardized
  • establish and maintain a positive training environment – live the conduct expectations at all levels
  • Get Boys! Clubs market specifically and directly to boys – first in AquaGO! then at higher levels actively recruit them into programs (CAS and PTSOs to support)

Sunday’s sessions were focused on the ‘subjective’ side of our sport. FINA Technical Artistic Swimming Committee Chair Lisa Schott updated the group on new/upcoming information from FINA for the season ahead. Julie Healy, Chief Sport Officer, CAS described the plan moving forward for the 13-15 age group and Junior National Teams including a standardized annual calendar; and outlined preliminary planning for the next quadrennial. Kara Heald, Artistic Swimming Program Manager, Jennifer Langlois, IST Program Lead and Sherry Robertson, NCCP Consultant, provided updates on AquaGo!, CAS Concussion Policy Protocol and the CAS Coaching Certification Pathway respectively.

The Senior National team Mental Performance Consultant, Dr. Véronique Richard, educated everyone on the psychology of effective feedback, both how we process information and how best to deliver it. She introduced new tools for delivering feedback and encouraged everyone to “stretch” in this area.

Pierre-Hugues (Hugo) Chouinard, the renowned musical designer for athletes from several artistic sports, led an engaging and humorous session that included the importance of music selection and the quality of music production. He shared essential information about choosing, editing and finalizing music for routines.

The final session of the conference featured Lindsay Fischer, the Artistic Director of YOU dance, the National Ballet of Canada’s outreach program focused on introducing young people to the world of dance and ballet. He illustrated the similarities between CAS and the National Ballet’s pathway, including a focus on diversity and inclusivity. He encouraged CAS to look at its membership differently in the future giving as encouragement that the National Ballet’s 2020 graduating class will include 16 males and 13 females.

As the 2019 Technical Conference concluded, there was a genuine spirit of camaraderie in the group and a shared commitment to push the organization forward in key areas of athlete and coach development. According to CAS President Judi Enns Bradette,

“this weekend provided an opportunity for coaches and officials to share and contribute to our path going forward and also to learn more about CAS’s commitment to build strong HP and Development programs in Canada. By hearing new ideas, some from outside the sport, coaches and officials were given an opportunity to get out of their comfort zones and are challenged to do things differently this season.”

This key group of technical experts left Montreal energized and ready to tackle the new season.  Canada Artistic Swimming intends to hold a technical conference every two years, and supplement them with an on-going webinar series and topic specific sessions to be held at national events during the season.