Swimming – “The Scottish Olympic Training Scheme”
International swimming began in 1896, at the 1st Olympic Games of the modern era in Athens with 6 of the 13 nations entering a total of 18 swimmers in 3 Freestyle events over 100, 500 and 1200 metres and they were held in open water at the port of Piraeus.
In 1900, at the 2nd Olympiad in Paris, a different Swimming Programme was Organised, which included a 200 metres Obstacle race, a 4000 metres Freestyle event and an Underwater Endurance Swimming contest and they all took place on the River Seine.
In 1904 in St. Louis further changes were made and for the first and only time, a Long Distance Plunging Championship was held.
The programme was changed again for the 1908 London Olympiad.
By this time, the Olympic Games Committee recognised that uniformity was required and it suggested that the A.S.A. rules, used at the London Olympiad, amended if necessary, should be adopted. During the Games, George W. Fern (A.S.A.) invited representatives from the competing Nations to debate the issue and at the Manchester Hotel, in London, they established a worldwide swimming association – the Federation Internationale de Natation Amateur (F.I.N.A.) that created a uniform set of rules for Swimming, Diving and Water Polo, which was not only applicable to the Olympic Games but also to all other International competition.
It also assumed responsibility for the verification of World Records and the compilation of World Lists.
This was a major contribution to the development of the sport and inter alia, it marked the start of a growing interest by National Governing Bodies in International Competition and the Olympic Games provided the stage on which international comparisons were made.
The results of British swimmers in the first six Olympiads were disappointing. There were some good performances, in 1908 Henry Taylor won Gold medals in the 400 metres and 1500 metres Freestyle and Fred Holman won a Gold medal in the 200 metres Breaststroke.
In 1912 a Scottish swimmer also won a Gold medal. Bella Moore (Premier) was a member of the victorious 4 x 100 metres Freestyle Relay team, however the best swimmers were produced by the United States, while Canada and Germany also made their mark.
In an attempt to improve British performances for the Paris Games in 1924, a National Training campaign was established by the British Olympic Selection and Management Committee (B.O.S.M.C.) and a number of Regional “talent spotters” were appointed to identify potential Olympians. At two to three monthly intervals, swimmers were required to visit Mr. Howcroft, the “’national expert”, at Garston, or another local expert “for the purpose of criticism”.
“They will demonstrate their stroke, their faults will be pointed out and corrected, suggested alterations or improvements in style shown to them, and some slight practice given. They will then be expected to return to their home bath to practice the new ideas, and to return to their master in another two months a faster and better swimmer.”
Andrew Inglis (Thistle A.S.C.), a member of the B.O.S.M.C., was in charge of Scottish “talent spotting” and responsible for arranging visits to the three Scottish experts Messrs. Logan, Greenlees and Burns. He also made all the arrangements for Howcroft’s tour of Scotland that was paid for by the B.O.S.M.C.
In Scotland, the Campaign produced some good results: five Scots were selected for the British Swimming Squad and another three for the Water Polo Team. This was the largest representation Scotland had ever had, however, in qualitative terms it was not enough because none of the swimmers reached any of the Finals and American swimmers dominated the programme. In particular, Johnny Weissmuller was in magnificent form. He had a marvellous stroke and he swam with his back slightly arched, he had a high head position and his kick was both powerful and beautifully loose. He set technical standards which everyone set out to emulate.
Andrew Inglis was a Water Polo Referee at the Olympiad and he saw at first hand that the British, and more significantly, Scottish swimmers, were not quite good enough to compete with the best in the world. On his return to Scotland, he formulated a scheme to remedy the situation and in 1926 the S.A.S.A. launched a “Scottish Olympic Training Scheme” (S.O.T.S.) to train and coach “all probable candidates for Olympic and Championship honours in Scotland.” The scheme was managed by a Scottish Olympic Training Committee of which Andrew Inglis was the convener and he ensured that it took a number of actions to raise standards:
i) It arranged lectures and demonstrations of the latest swimming strokes and distributed support material to swimmers and coaches. Particularly important developments were printed in the S.A.S.A’s magazine “Swimming News”. For example, in 1926 it published a paper illustrating the “trudgeon” and “dorsal” crawl.
ii) It organised conferences between the various coaches “for discussion on the latest strokes and with a view to securing unanimity, in style, and in methods of tuition”. In 1928 the National Coach hired a film from the A.S.A., which featured a clutch of British and Scottish champions including Ellen King (Warrender), Bella Robb (Renfrew), Willie Francis (Renfrew) and Willie Burns (Glasgow Police) and he used it at coaching conferences in Perth, Govan, Dundee, Renfrew and Hamilton.
iii) It appointed coaches in each District. Fifty had been appointed by 1927.
iv) It appointed a Chief Coach. The first was John Burns, the Superintendent at Greenhead Baths, Glasgow. He was replaced in 1929 by A. Logan. He resigned in 1931 and Willie Francis (Renfrew) took the job. The Chief Coach’s principal duties were: to keep in touch with the District Coaches to “advise them regarding the most suitable methods for class instruction of the American trudgeon crawl (back and front) and to keep them conversant with all the latest ideas”; to consult and advise local coaches about the training methods used and programmes devised for their swimmers; to visit the major English centres to study their methods.
v) It awarded grants to some swimmers to pay for entry fees and even for season tickets to ensure that they had regular access to suitable facilities.
vi) It invited and paid the expenses of the best swimmers to compete in the A.S.A. Championships, in order to increase their international experience.
vii) Promising Junior swimmers were given a special Costume Badge and an “Olympic Membership Card”, which was intended to “act as a constant reminder to them to keep in proper training at all times.”
In 1926, the creation of Elite Groups at National Level was a new concept in Scottish Swimming and to ensure that all clubs and swimmers supported the development, the S.A.S.A. adopted a firm line and swimmers were told that the Scheme was voluntary and that they were not compelled to make periodic trips to Local Experts, but if they wanted to “participate in the benefits offered by the scheme”, then they would have to seek and accept coaching advice. Similarly, clubs were expected to give District Coaches the names of promising swimmers, to co-operate with the Chief Coach and other local experts and appoint a Club Coach “who will look after crawl stroke swimming” and maintain close contact with the District Coach.
There was a great response to the Scheme and in 1926, 41 male and 33 female swimmers applied for membership. Within twelve months there were 100 men and 69 women. No new members were taken in 1928, because Inglis wanted to concentrate all his resources on “those swimmers with a potential chance of securing a place in the British Swimming Team” for the Olympic Games in Amsterdam.
The Scheme produced a notable increase in standards and at the end of its first year, Convener Inglis wrote:
“Much good work has been done quietly and effectively, and the Committee believe that the intensive preparation given by these coaches during the winter session will make the coming season even more remarkable for speedy performances than the one just passed. A look at last year’s list of new records in Scotland should convince the most confirmed pessimists that progress is still being made by our national swimmers.”
In 1927, 10 Scottish swimmers entered the A.S.A. Championships. One 1st, one 2nd, one 3rd and three 4th places were described as a “magnificent performance”.
At the 1928 Olympiad, Scottish swimmers experienced mixed fortunes, although the men did not do well, Ellen King (Zenith) equalled the World Record in a Heat of the 100metres Backstroke and was only 0.2 seconds behind the winner, Marie Braun of Holland in the Final.
Jean McDowell (Warrender) and S. Stewart (Belmont) were placed 4th in the 100 metres and 400 metres Freestyle respectively.
After the 1924 Games, Andrew Inglis was convinced that improvements in stroke technique held the key to better performances and a lot of Scottish coaching work reflected this.
Inglis also attended the 1928 Olympiad, as both a Water Polo Referee and a representative of the British Olympic Selection Committee and on his return, he was convinced that all technical work had been beneficial and he wrote “the successes gained have amply repaid the cost”. Nevertheless, it was also clear that the victorious American swimmers had developed new levels of physical fitness and in his report to the British Olympic Committee he wrote:
“Our swimmers have the necessary physique and fighting ability, but do not seem to have the will to compel them to spend hours and days and months in the dull monotony of steady practice over varying distances, in order that they may understand the niceties of pace and become so fit that they can travel over the required distance at top speed from start to finish.”
He also noted that British swimmers required more International experience and specialisation of one distance and style was necessary “if success is desired in Olympic competitions”. Some of his comments were acted upon and an Inter-Country Speed Swimming contest was inaugurated to increase the amount of International competition and coaches introduced more fitness training.
Inglis resigned at the end of 1928 to devote all his energies to looking after Scottish interests at International Water Polo Board and F.I.N.A. meetings, nevertheless, the Scheme operated for three more years with considerable success. Scotland sent five swimmers to the first Empire Games in Canada in 1930 and they all won at least one medal.
Coaching was the principal function of the S.O.T.S., but as it developed and, at the same time, some new International competitions were inaugurated such as the Empire Games and the European Championships, it became increasingly involved in other impacts of international work such as selecting Teams, arranging Trials, etc. and consequently in 1931 it was remodelled and its title was changed to the Scottish Olympic and International Swimming and Training Committee (S.O.I.S.T.C.) and it was given a much wider remit.