Swift Current swim coach Jackie Powell has received a national coaching excellence award for her role in the success of Special Olympics Team Canada swimmers at the 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games.
She is a recipient of the 2019 Petro-Canada Coaching Excellence Award, which is awarded annually by the Coaching Association of Canada and Petro-Canada to recognize coaches whose athletes have earned a medal at world championships, Olympic and Paralympic Games, and at the Special Olympics World Games.
This award was presented to 82 coaches at the 2019 Petro-Canada Sport Leadership Awards Gala in Richmond, B.C., Nov. 8. The annual gala celebrates the contribution of coaches to the Canadian sport system and to the success of Canadian athletes.
Powell was one of only two coaches from Saskatchewan to receive the award. The other recipient was Adam Burwell, the coach of snowboarder Mark McMorris.
For Powell it was exciting and a real honour to receive this award, which was presented during the three-day Petro-Canada Sport Leadership sportif Conference.
“I'm very humbled by it,” she said. “I certainly don't do what I do to get recognized like that. So it's a huge honour to have others see the work that you put into it.”
It was also meaningful to her to receive this coaching award from the national body and to be part of a diverse group of coaches that were celebrated at the event.
“It's multi-sport, so it's not just swimming,” she said. “It's all other sports that are out there and we get to share this with our peers across the country.”
She coached four swimmers who competed at the 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games, which took place in Abu Dhabi from March 14-21. All of them received medals in various individual and relay events.
Colby Kosteniuk of Regina won one silver and two gold medals, Calgary’s Jordan MacLeod received a silver and a gold medal, Regina’s Michael Qing won one bronze and three gold medals, and Tianna Zimmerman from Englefeld swam to a bronze and a gold medal.
Powell believes the role of a coach is to assist an athlete to achieve success beyond the results in a competition.
“To me a coach is that role model and mentor for the athletes, and it doesn't matter if they're really young or adults,” she said. “It's providing them with the tools that they can use while they're participating in sport and you want them to be able to transfer that to their daily lives, so whether it's when they go into the school after morning practice or if they're going to work after practice. They've got to be able to take what they're learning in sport and be able to apply it in life.”
It requires a lot of dedication and attention to detail to coach athletes for an international competition, and one of the challenges is the distance between her and the swimmers. She will have frequent contact with each swimmer’s regular training coach and she will also attend swimming events where they are competing.
“Then that way I can see them in competition activity that isn't as high stressed as a World Games would be, just to see them in different situations,” she explained. “I also have some monitoring evaluation sets that I give to all the coaches that I work with. They send the information back to me and then I can see the progress and if I need to adjust or make some suggestions to their training, then I can do that.”
A key part of her role as a coach at an international event is to assist swimmers with their mental preparation and helping them to keep focused in an unfamiliar environment with a lot of distractions. The athletes feel the pressure of swimming at a world competition and they worry about their ability to compete against swimmers from other countries. She will help to build their confidence through quiet conversations and reminders that this event is not really different from any other competition.
“So we try to take that bigger picture away for them and just remind them that they're just at a competition with new people that they've never met before,” she said. “They just have to go out and do their best.”
The greater focus on mental preparation has been one of the many changes she has witnessed in coaching since she started to coach about 30 years ago.
“Years ago, it was something we touched on just as a swimmer or an athlete was going into a competition, and now we're turning it into an everyday thing,” she said. “It's trying to have those little steps so that when it comes time for them to be competing, that they're in that right mindset. They're positive and confident in what they're going to be doing.”
Another important change has been the use of technology to assist athletes to improve and achieve their goals.
“When I first started, you didn't see any coach that did any type of video analysis and that kind of stuff,” she recalled. “Carrying around one of those great big video recorders that held a VHS tape was very cumbersome. You could never watch it at the pool, because electricity and water don't necessarily mixed, but nowadays tablets and iPads have amazing video stuff on there. I can take a short clip of a swimmer in the water, show them exactly what they're doing and show them another video of what I want them to do.”
She will attend conferences and coaching seminars to continue learning about the latest training methods, but at the same time a lack of resources can present a challenge to coaches.
“Not necessarily for me personally as a coach, because if I need something, I know where to get it,” she said. “I'm thinking more along the lines of resources for the athlete. There are definitely tools that we can use in the water that would help an athlete learn a skill better, but sometimes because of the cost of it we're not able to purchase that. For them to be able to do a really good dry land program we're having to access an outside gym. It's just having those little extra things that really would help develop an athlete to do the things that they want to be able to do in the sport that they've chosen, but we don't necessarily have all the tools and time or resources to be able to sometimes provide that as much as they need it.”
For Powell the main motivating factor after so many years of coaching is the opportunity to help athletes grow and to see them take what they have learned in sport and apply it in everyday life.
“The athletes that I work with are always changing,” she said. “They grow in age, they grow in maturity. So it's really cool to see athletes progress and it's just nice to be able to work with them through their journey.”