Kent Swim Camp – An epic tale of the Piranhas 22

[info]Please note: You may want to want to get yourself a brew before starting on this epic account of the adventures of the Piranhas 22! Are you sitting comfortably? Then we will begin…[/info]

Well we went with 22 and returned with 22 so that by my standards is a good result!!!

Sometime a long long time ago in a moment of madness I suggested to the Piranhas faithful committee that (following a successful 2 day training camp in Kimbolton 2013) we hold a training camp in mid February to help with pre counties preparation. Great idea said John … you do it and I will focus on Italy!!!

So a quick call to a training centre in Kent that I trained at when I was a young swimmer of 11 (20 or so years ago!!) resulted in a provisional booking and letters to the squads.

Sue and Lou committed to support the venture (they will never learn) and following a few more months of organising a final squad of 22 swimmers mainly from lanes 2 and 3 and a small squad from lane 4 were getting ready. Oh did I forget to mention that mid organisation one of the team took a temporary position in the US and left Sue and Lou to it!! Well that must have slipped my mind. So mid way through the organising of the camp I (Gavin) had to make a decision virtually overnight to go and work in the US and fortunately the great skills of Sue and Lou came into effect as they took up the slack and completed all the pre-event organisation.

Let me say that organising an event like this takes a lot of personal time. Medical forms, parents’ consent, diet, contact details, clothing lists, swim kit lists, snacks, venue, transportation, event organisation, training programs, out of pool lectures, land training, and much much more need to be thought about, worked on and then coordinated 22 times. And let’s face it, not everyone is quick to respond so with some people replying immediately and others taking days or even longer everything you do needs a tick list. So a big thank you to Sue and Lou for taking up the slack for all the incomplete things while I went off on “work holiday”

So planning complete we were ready…

I flew in from Salt Lake City, Utah on the Thursday, kissed my wife hello, packed that night then kissed my wife goodby and off to the Huntingdon pool we went to catch a coach.

The coach arrived early as did all the parents and the first surprise happened and all the “Kent Intensive Training Camp” squad, coaches and support team received their T-Shirts designed by me and created by Kym of Kymera. These went down really well and had we realised it at the time would have solved a lot of packing issues as most were worn every day by the swimmers……perhaps next time we charge parents for an extra T-shirt and reduce the packing by half?

So a quick goodby and the occasional tear (mainly from Sue, Lou and Gavin in anticipation of the days to come) and we were off … in a deluge of rain and wind that reduced our speed to under 50 mph and saw the Dartford bridge reduced to 3 lanes. Having negotiated the traffic and conditions admirably we crawled the last 2 miles along country lanes and found our venue for the next 4 days.

John had driven due to other commitments (I suspect this was not wanting to be on a coach with the adults to be honest!) and had organised everything with the event team at Arethusa Venture Centre ready for our arrival.

Can I say at this time John clearly stated if you bring it you carry it yourself … parents beware … your children who weigh 25kg or for some even less cannot carry a case twice their size and weight!!! At least 5 or more children would still be at the bottom of the stairs today had we not intervened (having just got back from the US I can confirm that I took less luggage for a 4 week stay than some had for a 4 day camp). The older swimmers stepped in to help and lugged all the oversize cases to the right floor and room.

Clear instructions to the squad of … find your room … drop your cases … grab your swim bag and leave out your duvet and pillow case, then it was off to the pool.

Swim session 1: 1.5 hours

John and I have a good understanding on poolside so we decided on lanes, swam a warm up, adjusted lanes slightly then ran the first session of 1.5 hours. Throughout the weekend the message was on quality swimming and consistent effort and all the lanes used the same techniques and format. John and I agree that this helps as swimmers progress across the lanes so using exactly the same terms when instructing the swimmers supports this progression. The first session usually sets the tone of the camp so it was tough for some, a wake up for others and situation normal for all who usually swim in lane 2!!

Straight from the pool to the dinner hall Sue the cook had stayed behind to make sure everyone was fed and everyone was quiet while they crammed in the calories … this was to be repeated regularly over the next 3 days.

So the first day was nearly over and while John and I larked about on poolside Sue and Lou had prepared the duvets and pillows ready for the kids to get to bed……first night excitement saw a little cheekiness and rule bending and after a short while all was quiet.

The adults opened the champagne and toasted the day until a12:00pm (read: tea and coffee and a chat about what tomorrow would bring)

Day 2 – Saturday

Coaches and chaperones up and ready at 6:45 and kids up between 7:00 and 7:30, the tone of the day was explained and off to a cooked breakfast we all went … count 22 kids out and in (we repeated this every movement of every day to and from each venue). Sue the cook again was there to sort us out and she commented on how great our kids behaved. Then quickly back to the rooms for a briefing and a video of breaststroke pre 1st swim of Saturday.

Special event of the day … Emily Aston birthday today followed up with a surprise visit from her mum and dad who brought … cake!!!

Swim Session 2: 2 hours

1.5 hours for all squads with an extra half hour for the older swimmers culminating in a tough T15 swim to measure fitness set the tone for Saturday (15 minutes freestyle at full pace).

Back to the rooms for one of many snacks that the parents had supplied (a huge mound at the start of the weekend was never going to be eaten was it?)

Team session 1: 1.5 hours

a quick change then off to the first team building session which was blindfolded leadership. This was a firm favourite especially the older girls who simply loved the soggy smelly blindfolds on their perfectly moisturised faces!!! The idea of this was to communicate well and help each other as a team. John helped a lot here, especially with Henry, a slide and a mud puddle!!

Then another quick change and lunch time. Again perfectly behaved kids showed respect to everyone at the centre and more food was consumed ready for the afternoon along with birthday cake. Back to the rooms for another quick change and a discussion on nutrition and how to get the most out of your food (a copy is on the memory stick) followed by a snack of flapjacks and fruit and time for our first gym session.

Gym session 1: 1 hour

At this time I think it is fair to point out that our squad were showing great coordination and style in the water……this was certainly not generally evident in the next session.

After a 10 minute warm up we had stretching and flexibility run by the lovely Amy Leslie, everyone was ready for the main set that was an 11 station circuit training set. Well let me say that a fish out of water has never been so true. Some of the attempts at the land based exercises turned John into a quivering wreck, but as the session progressed many managed to get their land legs and gave it their all finishing off with a quick shuttle run and sit up competition our first land session completed it was off for a quick change again.

Snacks to the squad organised by Sue and Lou again it was into swim kit and back out to the pool.

Swim session 3: 2 hours or so we thought

Not quite so bouncy, not quite so smilie not quite so chirpy the squad were back for their last session of the day. But who was there at the door … another squad ready for their swim and a familiar face … a woman I had taught to swim as a child had her own swim squad booked and the venture centre had made a mistake … quick decision making from John and we delayed our session start to cooperate with Emma’s swim squad.

Times adjusted to 1.25 hours

This was a hard 1.25 hour session concentrating on freestyle and breastroke expanding on the first session and focusing on technique and timing. Again all lanes followed broadly the same format with each lane doing slightly less than the lane above them. Even lane 3 full of the juniors was swimming really decent distances and for some of the children we were swimming the equivalent of 2 or more weeks swimming every day!!!

Out of the pool straight to the dinning hall … dinner was a quiet affair with some really tired faces and a simple desire to fuel the engine again. Then back to the rooms.

Sue and Lou ever present organising things in the background held the whole event together from getting everything into the drying room, replacing wet kit, getting 16 girls ready in the mornings, laying out snacks, etc had outdone themselves and turned the team room into a cinema and pulled all the settees into a line ready for the evening movie and popcorn. After everyone had changed into PJ,’s an hour or so of the film most had drifted off so lights out and teeth cleaned it was the end of day 2.

Once all the kids were in bed the 4 adults went out clubbing!!! Well actually we sat down discussing the day… covering the next day and planning events until about midnight with more tea and coffee.

Day 3 – Sunday

Up again pre 7:00 and all the kids were looking less than delighted about the format of the day….some pretty tired faces and less enthusiastic larking about…teeth cleaned and over for breakfast … today was sausage and egg!!

Back for a quick change (notice that we had no time the whole weekend for a slow change) it was about now that we gave the squad some good news….no land training today (big cheer) because after yesterday’s pool mix up we would be swimming 3 sessions today!!! Oh how the cheering stopped. Another swim DVD demonstrating backstroke and it was pool time again.

Swim session 4: 2 hours

Lots and lots of technique on backstroke followed by some hard strength sets, a T10 swim (10 minutes constant swim freestyle at as hard a pace as you can) and half an hour of min max 50 swims (minimum strokes at maximum speed) recorded by Lou and Sue. These sets from an important part of the assessment process as the T10 or T15 swims are used to calculate the average speed you can consistently swim at (not just how fast you are over 50m) and are a great indication of what lane you should swim in, where as the min max 50 is used to work out stroke length and time. Both of these sets are tough in their own right and every swimmer from the super quick Livvy Pearce right through to the younger swimmers in lane 3 completed them.

Then off for snacks a quick change.

Team building 2: 1.5 hours

We split into 2 teams where half were outside on high ropes and challenging themselves to push their personal limits while team 2 were tackling the internal mountain climbing wall. Great team work was shown where they had to manage the safety of each other, provide encouragement, hold the safety ropes, etc. simmers are fit kids with great power to weight ratios and you could see this from the way they climbed. Team speedy: Millie, Skie, Havana and Ava took to racing up the wall and asking to be timed. This became the theme for the second half of the rock climbing session as more and more kids raced the wall.

Straight from team building 2 into Sunday lunch where the squad refueled … and they were a real squad now… looking after each other, older and younger all mixed together, filling each others drinks and all tidying up together.

From many years of experience in running them and taking part in them I can tell you that these types of camps provide more than a tough weekend of physical activity. You see teams develop, leaders emerge, some tough kids find it all too much and so called weaker kids tough it out. Tears of frustration and tiredness become smiles of joy as individuals overcome their challenges and build on their experiences. And out of the end of the camp you find a more capable stronger technically improved group of swimmers emerge with some great stories to tell their parents.

Lunch over … back to the rooms for 45 minutes of free time a snack (yes just after lunch) and this time a video on turns showing in detail why you need to be fast in and out of the wall … remember the water shock wave kids and how it can pin you to the wall if you are too slow there!! And it was off to the pool (in place of land training) for swim set 2 of the day.

Swim session 5: 1.5 hours

This session was backstroke and freestyle again with continuing emphasis on stroke length and streamline position …. as the swimmers read this please remember the techniques we used and the pointers shouted out by John and myself during the sessions …. hands closed streamline, swim long, head position, hand entry and exit … whatever we told you individually you need to remember when you swim on your own … remember swimmers have a lot of technique they need to work on constantly and use their brains … where as walkers sick one foot in front of the other!!!

With a few moans and groans we left the pool for a quick change!!! And off to the rooms for a 45 minute break and some more snacks and then straight back to the pool.

By this time we had literally rubbed some of the swimmers away, fortunately as Ava suffers from costume rub normally she had the miracle body glide with her. So Sue and Lou gained yet another job … the girls changed then stood in a queue just before entering the pool where Sue and Lou were in place to use body glide on numerous girls shoulders necks, hips, etc just where the costumes were beginning to make their mark!!!

This is amazing stuff and really makes a difference. Some kids never seem to rub, whereas others seem to mark even in a short session. It certainly helped the wounded in the squad.

Swim session 6: 1.5 hours (third session of the day)

Think how tough this is for a second … 5 hours of competitive swimming in a day at decent pace when some swimmers only swim 1 to 2 hours a week and even the most senior swimmers only swim 2 hours at most a day. John an I spent a lot of time and care looking for signs of stress and overtraining, taking real care of the squads and knowing when and when not to push.

This session was focused on technique and distance at a moderate pace with lots of underwater streamlining and fin work. We finished a little early and 22 very tired bodies dragged their way to the dining hall for dinner. The food all weekend really was very good and we had plenty available to us (enough for seconds if needed) at every session and this time we ate virtually in silence as most had worn themselves out. Some were just too tired to eat and we dragged ourselves back to the rooms for some chillax time and at around 9:30 most were in bed.

The adults reminisced the day, told jolly japes and sang ging gang goolie around the camp fire (drank tea and coffee and worked out the plan for the following day) then wrote swimmers PB’s into their log books ready for the next day.

Day 4 – Monday

Another early start with Sue and Lou leading directions on bedding, packing and preparation John and I had to brave the boys corridor which you could definitely find by smell as you could the girls but theirs was of perfume, makeup and moisturiser where as the boys was equally distinctive for other reasons!!!

Off to breakfast and with a good nights sleep under them everyone was ready for the last push of the camp and had a bit of a spring back in their step.

Last breakfast was finished and cook Sue had been replaced by another chef, the squad were into the lecture room for another swim DVD and talk from the coaches.

Swim session 7: 2 hours

This was a review of the freestyle, breaststroke and backstroke techniques we had worked on throughout the camp and technique then power session on each to reinforce the coaching. Then we swam each person in lane 3 through the strokes and took a video of them over 3 lengths at speed with the aim of perfect technique

Lanes 1 and 2 swam a full IM at speed again with a view on perfect technique and these were all videoed as well.

Team building 3: 1.5 hours

Quick change and snacks in hands we were off to team building 3 … this was a swap from team building 2 where the high ropes team went inside on the climbing wall and the team that had tackled the wall went outside onto the high ropes. So swimmers are not competitive right … some schools would say it’s not really a sport … what rubbish … Sue and I were inside with the climbing teams and team crazy girls … Amy, Emma and Livvy raced their way to the top from the very start using very different techniques. Amy used her height to miss out many of the holds. Livvy ignored technique and used her excellent strength to sprint up the wall and Emma used a combination of incredible flexibility and power to ignore foot holds at times and just use her arms.

The high ropes team took on multiple challenges including the leap of faith at 50 feet up they leapt from a tiny platform on the top of a telegraph pole to a trapeze.

The other teams were also facing the challenges head on and conquered their fears and challenges and all worked as great team units.

Final challenge over it was off to our last lunch where we were all a lot more chirpy following the team challenge and then more cake for desert and a quick rest we were going back to land training.

Land training 2: 1 hour

Following lunch John took the land training and initiated a session on relaxing techniques as he taught the swimmers how to chill between events and reserve their energy. This is really useful at a long day event where you will see some swimmers chatting and getting involved with other swimmers whilst some take themselves away … put on their headphones … keep warm and conserve energy.

While John was doing this Sue and Lou were preparing last rounds of snacks and sorting out the accommodation and I was converting all the videos taken onto individual memory sticks for the swimmers to take away.

Land training over it was last change of the day … swim stuff at the ready … and a quick lecture on performance, goal setting and challenging ourselves as swimmers

Wow the team are switched on and critical … we had spent a couple of hours the night before adding PB’s to the swim squad log books I had prepared while in the US and had these as a surprise for the squad the next day (a copy of this is on the USB stick). We spoke about setting realistic goals and how to do this and as the swimmers received their books many of them mentioned that they had beaten the times in the books … these were a month or so old and it is a great testament that the kids were this aware of their times … these books are a great way to record the times and progress and have a goal setting page for the swimmers to set long, medium and short term targets. Remember to ask your time each time you race!!!

Lecture session over it was off to the pool for our last set.

Swim session 8: 1.5 hours

This was a repeat of the morning session and a refresh of the strokes and techniques we had all worked on for 8 yes 8 swim sets over 3.5 days … a total for virtually everyone of 12.75 hours of swimming, 3 hours of team building and 2 hours of land training … we were all tired and that included the adults.

The session went well and one of the highlights for me was Skie saying who is that swimming … when I said it was Phoenix her brother … she was honestly shocked and could not believe how good his technique was. This could have been said about almost anyone in the pool as they all came a really long way over the weekend with strokes improved, technique refined, work rate heightened and a greater understanding of team work by all.

Completing the final session was a relay and in true John style the selection resulted in a close finish … very close … not more than half a second separated the 3 teams on the final race and that was it … the weekend was over … John jumped in the pool followed closely by Gavin and that was that.

Happy chirping and tired bodies changed for the last time … collected the remnants of the food snack mountain we had at the start of the weekend … yes it did all get eaten … and ready for the coach to arrive final checks were made for bits left behind.

The coach reloaded and 22 tired bodies counted on we were off on the way back to sunny Huntingdon

The journey home was much less eventful than the journey out and many of the squad slept on the way back. I called everyone on the contact list for a collection of kids update and we all got back around 9:15pm

As the swimmers left the bus they were presented with a memory stick containing a video of their swim a few photos of the squad, a copy of the nutrition lecture slides and log book to remind them of the weekend … plus of course the legendary squad polo shirts.

At this time I think we should say a big thank you to all that cooked snacks, to Sue and Lou for holding everything together … being great chaperones to the squad, supporting all the swimmers and coaches and sorting out so much in the background. A big thank you to John for taking time out to organise all the sets and lead lanes 1 and 2 through the whole weekend and finally a massive thank you to the swimmers who took part …. what a great bunch. Up for any challenge dedicated, hard working, generally pretty cheerful, well mannered and respectful … really a pleasure to be involved with.

Kent over for 2014 … Italy to come … Kent 2015 anyone???

It’s been emotional



So who was in the squad?


  • Amy – taught the adults a lot … led flexibility and warm up … always engaging and entertaining … a total dear
  • Ava – swam hard in lane 1 … felt unwell, but trained hard and always engaged … great team player
  • Bea – quiet and thoughtful … worked hard and strokes improved during the camp
  • Ciera – a laugh a minute and great fun … nicknamed Dora as she just kept swimming … just lovely
  • Connor – never afraid to ask questions … swam with John for the first time and worked hard
  • Emily – birthday girl … swam high distances and never complained … super backstroke drills
  • Emma – quiet & tough as nails … swam near the front always … a superstar on the rocks
  • Harriet – new tough guy … had a small blip day 1 and came back stronger than ever … champ of lane 3
  • Havana – swam up a lane and worked hard every day … champion on the rocks
  • Henry – worked hard on his stamina … trained himself to exhaustion … always a firm favourite
  • Kerry – swam more in a day than she does in a month … always on hand to help everyone
  • Kirsty – a tough day or 2..overcame fears and challenges, returning stronger..another star in my lane
  • Layona – Sassy – lovely strokes and effort every day- looks like a future star – worked her socks off
  • Livvy – queen of the nap … worked at the front of lane 1 … gave her all at everything … what a star
  • Mason – a pre event shoulder injury caused him a few problems, but he was always involved
  • Millie – smiled every day- swam near the front of lane 2 – charming and entertaining
  • Natasha – quiet, tough, determined and hard working … another one who swam big distances
  • Phoenix – smiled like his sister every day… stokes transformed and swam like a champ
  • Sam – a real star and developed as a leader over the week … worked really hard … great strokes
  • Skie – always positive … made the most of the weekend … swam like a champ
  • Will E – lovely lad willing to join in everything … never a problem … worked hard and always first up
  • Will S – swam near the front every day … Mr Tidy… a great presence in the pool and the dorms

Sue is working on a surprise photo reminder for the team and some more photos will be available soon

And as they say … That’s all folks!