Good Morning – thanks for coming in. Just to start off, I am going to give you a little more background about myself, as well as about Dave Thomas. I will let Dave tell you a little more about his background. As Tom Avischious said, I have been involved with Para Olympic Swimming, officially as a staff member since 2003, but as a coach for over ten years.
I got involved by the same way that a lot of coaches in the US get involved. I took over a new club team and I happened to have a swimmer who was blind on that team so I had to “trial by fire”. I had to learn what I needed to do to prepare that athlete and then it just grew from there and I stayed involved with the Para Olympic movement.
My current position, for those of you who are familiar with USA Swimming is really similar to what the National Team and the club development division, as a whole, do for our able-bodied athletes. That is managing our National Team, recruitment and development, working with athletes and their home coaches to get them into a program and working with those programs to accommodate those athletes. It is a pretty encompassing job and it keeps me involved with Para Olympic Swimming at all levels here in the US.
I am going to turn it over to Dave for a second so he can introduce himself a little more extensively to you. I began in the late 80’s. I had a few athletes that I was not only teaching, but coaching. In ’92 I was the head coach for the Amputee and the Dwarf Team and then from that time I was head coach of the first World Championship Team from the US that went as a combined team. Prior to that we sent 7 different teams and then at that time Para Olympic Swimming grabbed me and I went to the dark side and started working with classification and the administration of growing the sport of IPC Swimming around the world.
We have kind of divided our presentation up into three main sections for you this morning. Nine out of ten times when I pick up the phone in my office or get emails from coaches, program directors and athletes – those questions fall into three different categories and those are the three categories that Dave and I are going to cover for you this morning.
The first kind of main grouping is “How do I coach a swimmer with a disability?” You know, what do I do? How do I integrate them into my practice? What are some tips for technique?
The second piece is “What is classification?” A lot of coaches and programs out there are not familiar with what classification is and being an authorized classifier, Dave is going to cover that piece – give you a little more in-depth overview of what it is, when it is necessary, how it works.
The third main topic that I get questions on is “Where do I go for more information? Who else can help me? Who else in my area may have a disabled swimmer? What National and International Organizations are out there to provide resources?” Those are the three areas of focus that we are going to talk about this morning.
We plan to speak for about 35 to 40 minutes – leaving the last 15 – 20 for questions as we have found when we talk about disability swimming everybody has unique situations. Everybody has a lot of questions and we like to leave time for that. You can all learn from each other and your situations and the athletes that you may have. Ask us questions if you have specific things that you would like to know about and that we can help you out with.
The first piece that we are going to cover this morning goes to coaching and inclusion of athletes into your program. Here in the US, just to give you a little bit of history, about ten years ago we really started to emphasize including disabled athletes into regular “able-bodied programs”. Prior to ’96 (Dave can give you more history and speak a little bit about this if you have questions.), a lot of our athletes trained on their own. They may not have had coaching at all. Very few were actually integrated into a program, whether it be a US Swimming program, a high school program, YMCA or collegiate program. A lot of athletes just did train on their own and were able to qualify for international level meets. At that time the US was really a third world country internationally in Para Olympic Swimming. We were not competitive at all prior to Atlanta in ’96. We were marginally competitive in ’96. We got a little bit better in Sydney. Athens was our best showing by far and I think shows where we have taken the program in the last five to six years. We are really making headway internationally and obviously, shooting to be #1 in Beijing and beyond.
So, talking a little bit about how to integrate a disabled athlete into your practice. I have listed some considerations up on the slide and we will go through each one – talk about some of the different options that you might have, different things to think about. The first one is age relevant grouping as opposed to training ability grouping. This is a prevalent topic with our athletes. We get a lot of up and coming athletes who may be 12 or 13, 14, 15 or 16 in that middle school age group and teenage range. Depending on what their disability is and how it affects them, their training ability may be the equivalent of an 8 and under swimmer or a 10 and under swimmer. This is where we really try to encourage coaches to think creatively. The age/social grouping is much preferred by the athlete. They want to be with their peers. They want to be with their social group. Sometimes it makes things a little tougher on us as coaches to figure out a creative way to make that work so that we can fit a 15 year old athlete into an appropriate senior type program as opposed to having them train with younger athletes, but it can work. We have a lot of coaches out there doing it and there are a lot of different things that we will go through that you can try.
Another consideration is lane space. Some of us have the luxury of (I don’t personally. I wish I did.) having an 8 lane 50 meter pool every day. Some of us have 5 lane 25 yard pools every day and everything in between. This really comes down to your program, your lane space, what you have available. 99% of the time your disability athlete is going to be able to fit in your lanes, provided you are not one of the programs that is really, really crowded. There are some of those out there where you don’t have the luxury of spreading out. You have got 10 or 12 kids in a lane. That is tough on everybody, not just the athlete with the disability, but all of your athletes. When you have got an average size lane count, 5 or 6 senior kids or 8 or 10 age group kids, fitting an athlete with a disability into those lanes, based on body size and height and wing span, it isn’t too much of a problem.
One other consideration to think about is your coach to swimmer ratio. How many coaches do you have on the deck in your senior program? How many coaches do you have on the deck in your age group program? I know my team strives for 20:1 – 25:1 at the senior level at a max and about 10:1 at the age group level. Every program is a little bit different. Just another thing to keep in mind, depending on what level the athlete is at when they come into your program. How well educated is your coaching staff about the disability, what the athlete’s needs are, what they can and cannot do?
That leads me into the last point here which is ability versus disability. The best way to work with our disabled athletes is to look at what their abilities are. Figure out what they can do and figure out how to implement that and integrate it into your practices and not focus on the disability. This is something that the athletes themselves really, really hammer home on. They want to be looked at as athletes. They do not want to be looked at as someone with a disability so by focusing on what their abilities are, what their strengths are, what different things can be trained, focuses on that ability piece as opposed to the disability piece.
We will now go a little bit into some of the different types of modification that you may need to make during a practice session. The first is just your general training, drills, sets, warm-up, warm down, lots of different options out there, depending on how you structure your workouts. Some teams will use a rest phase system rather than intervals. Some teams may use intervals. Some may use a combination of both. Simple things such as your athlete goes the same distance, different interval, same interval, different distance. I think most of us probably have a group of athletes on our team where you may have 25-30 athletes in the water and everybody is of varying abilities to begin with, so sliding an athlete with a disability into that grouping is going to be an appropriate place to put them. In my senior group for example, I have athletes who can make hundreds on 1:05 over in this lane and athletes who can make hundreds on 2 minutes over here and finding a spot in that continuum for an athlete with a disability just takes a little work to figure out which lane they work the best with. They may be going a different distance when their peers are going something a little bit longer, for example. Those types of modifications are individual to the athlete.
If you ask any coach who has ever coached an athlete with a disability and I have coached several, every single athlete is a little bit different. They have different needs. They are able to do different things. Some may switch strokes. Some may do different drills. Some may modify, the team may be pulling, the athlete might kick or vice versa. The team might be doing a drill. If the athlete is not able to do that drill they may scull or they may kick, so they’re doing basic substitutions. That is real easy. It is not hard on us as coaches to modify those things as we are going through our daily workouts.
Drills sometimes can be a little bit of a challenge, particularly with athletes who have disabilities that affect their legs, if they are unable to kick. If you think through a lot of the drills that we probably all use on a daily basis, a lot of them are kicking based and that is where you can do a little bit of modification, depending on what the athlete’s specialty stroke is, what they are training for, and again, substituting pulling, substituting sculling, substituting some drills that may be able to be done with modifications to the kicking. There are a lot of different examples out there and different things that you can do.
Next, we will get into equipment a little bit. Not as much of an issue for most swimmers with a disability. Again you may be looking at kicking versus pulling, using paddles versus not using paddles. Sometimes with athletes who may have an amputation in one of their arms or a hand, using paddles is very beneficial. We have actually had athletes who had a partial hand amputation use the paddle on that hand to even their stroke out. They didn’t compete with it, but they trained with it to keep things balanced. Those types of modifications can definitely be made. When you are working with athletes who are blind or visually impaired – pace clocks become an issue. Various solutions are out there. If they have some visual acuity, the portable pace clocks at the end of the lane work great if they can see a few feet away from them. I have actually used the other athletes to help. Have the other athletes in the lane working with that swimmer tell him “You are going to leave in ten seconds or you are going to leave in five seconds.” The athlete knows he left on the 60. Then somebody who is in the lane in front of him says “You came in on the 42.” Have the kids work together as team work to help those athletes out. Another good practice modification if you do have swimmers who are blind or visually impaired is using sprinkler systems. If any of you do have an athlete who has a visual impairment, I am happy to talk to you about that and the lap rate on that. It is a real consistent method of letting them know where the wall is, rather than using stroke count which may vary based on speed or using clappers which is someone indicating to them by tapping that they are coming to the end of the pool. That is something that I can talk to you individually if you would like to know a little bit more about that.
Going into instructional again. This is probably pertinent to your able bodied athletes as well: verbal instruction versus written instruction versus visual instruction. Everybody learns a little bit differently. Some of us can look at something and grasp it. Some of us need to read it. Some of us need to hear it. Some need all three. With certain disabilities there are obviously key pieces. With an athlete who is blind or visually impaired, verbal instruction is obviously a key form of instruction. Visual is also a key form if you have swimmers who are deaf. Written workouts using a white board, posting a workout in the lane are things that all help with that communication piece. When you do have swimmers who are blind or visually impaired you also might need to go to the tactile communication and actually get in the water. Move them through the motion and teach them the skill because sometimes verbal just isn’t enough. They may not pick up that skill without a little extra help to learn those movements. So really, everyone learns differently and your disability athletes are the same as all the age group kids and senior athletes that you work with every day. Everybody is going to have one of these pieces of communication that works best for them.
Going a little bit into competition: when our athletes are integrated into an able bodied team of whatever sort, they have a variety of avenues for competition. Our disability athletes compete regularly in able bodied meets, whether those be age group meets, senior meets, high school dual meets, YMCA meets or NCAA meets. We have athletes with disabilities integrated into all of those types of programs. They may not qualify for a championship level meet or they may. We do have athletes who outright qualify for meets such as those or sectionals or YMCA Nationals. It depends on their disability and the severity of it and whether they are able to make those able bodied time standards. Integrating an athlete into just the regular non-championship, non-time standard meet is fairly simple. Typically, the meet referees and the meet hosts are very open to it. You enter the athlete just as any other. It is wise to let the meet referee know, in case there is any accommodation that needs to be made. It may be something as simple as a strobe light on the start or hand signals on starts or the athlete starts in the water. Things that the officials might not be used to looking for. It is just wise to give them a heads up.
Most of our LSC’s here are USA Swimming LSC’s and have a provision in place for athletes with a disability who attend their LSC championships. In some cases it may just be a certain requirement they have to meet or in some cases it may be some type of time standard that they use, but it is wise to check with you LSC to see if there is a provision in place to include swimmers with a disability at your age group and senior championship meets locally. Each zone within USA Swimming has an inclusion policy. Each LSC is eligible to take four swimmers with disabilities, no time standards or qualifying times required to the zone meet each year. Two athletes 12 and under and two athletes 13 and over from each LSC. There are some LSC’s taking great advantage of it. There are others out there that aren’t. I am not sure how widely publicized it is. I know in the LSC where I am it is very well publicized. I know some others where it may not be, but that is another option to check into to get those athletes some championship experience and championship competition opportunities.
Some of the sectional meets as well, the Central Zone Sections, for instance, do have a provision. There are qualifying criteria, but it is disability based qualifying criteria so that athletes can attend the sectional meets. As you move up the ladder of competition, there are various avenues to include swimmers with a disability.
The next piece is the disability only meet. Those are typically run by a disability organization. The major meets here in the US are actually run by US Para Olympics. These are what we call IPC’s Swimming approved by the Para Olympic Committee which is our international governing organization. Those meets are run under IPC swimming rules and are disability only. All athletes entered have a disability. They are grouped into classifications which Dave will talk about in a little while.
There are also some meets that are only for specific disability groups, run on an international level primarily, but sometimes they do trickle down to the national level. Those are run by IBSA which is the International Blind Sports Association. They run some meets only for blind and visually impaired athletes. The other group is deaf athletes. Deaf swimmers swim in the Deaf Olympics every four years which is a totally separate meet run by a different organization than the Para Olympic Games, but it is very similar. They have a quad and a 4 year plan and going to Deaf Olympics every four years and there are some opportunities for them domestically as well.
A couple of things to think about as coaches, when you are working with an athlete with a disability and you have all these meets. They might be going to an age group meet on the weekend and then swimming for their high school team. Next they are going into a disability only meet. It is important to know what rules they are swimming under. Here in the US with our initiative, we have done a really good job of meshing lines here, high school and US Swimming rules at the age group level, but those rules are going to vary from IPC rules a little bit although not a lot of huge variants, but there are some things that may get called in one meet and not in another or vice versa. Just to give you a couple of examples: when FINA adopted the new rules last year with the dolphin kick in the breaststroke and backstroke toes above the water, those have not yet been adopted by the IPC so athletes who are in an IPC meet swimming under IPC rules cannot utilize those changes yet. Another thing that comes up very frequently is an IPC rule that reads, “in the butterfly – arms must recover over the water”. Over means over and they will get called if their arms are going through the water or dragging over the top which as you all know from any age group meet, is really prevalent, particularly with younger kids. Under our domestic rules here for US Swimming they don’t call that if they are not over so there are some minor differences like that to be aware of so the athletes are aware. It may get called in one meet and not in the other.
We have a little segue here into Dave’s classification piece. Classification: a lot of times it is a controversial subject, particularly with athletes, not so much with coaches, but with athletes and in some cases parents. When an athlete does not reach the highest levels of disability swimming, whether it is making a national championship, making a qualifying team for World Championships or the Para Olympic Games they tend to blame that on “I am in the wrong classification” when in reality, as our sport has grown and Para Olympics has grown world wide, the quality of competition just continues to go up and up and up and very much more so here in the US. Just where we have come in the last 10 years? You could really not train a lot and make our Para Olympic Team back in the early 90’s and the mid-90’s. Now, our Para Olympic level athletes are training 6-8-10 sessions a week, whatever the relevant number is for their age and development. This is just a good little piece that the IPC has developed, part of a bigger document that not every swimmer with a disability can be a Para Olympian. You know, we have 250,000 some-odd age group swimmers in this country with a maximum Olympic team size of 52 every four years. It is a very small percentage that will make the Para Olympic team. Unfortunately Para Olympic sport is still young enough that a lot of athletes think “Oh, I have got a disability, I can automatically go to the Para Olympic Games,” which is not necessarily the case. It is contingent upon the same factors as an elite able bodied athlete: talent, drive, physiological tools. These mental capabilities are all pieces which play a factor with our disability swimmers as well so we are going to move into classifications here. I am going to turn it over to Dave for a few minutes.
Well, like I said earlier, classification is the dark side because it does cause all the controversy. It is not a finely honed science. Classification is the process by which athletes are grouped in comparable disability groupings for their competition. The functional classification system is rated as S1 through 10. 10 indicates the least disability and 1 the most disability. Athletes go through a process where they are questioned about their practice, what types of practice, how far they go in practice, what kind of coaching they are receiving. This information is included with bench testing with a physical therapist or a doctor who does regular bench testing. It is a common procedure that athletes go through in the normal every day world when they are learning to live with their disabilities. Then the coach, the technical advisor or technical classifier and the medical classifier sit down and put the athlete into a classification based on points that are assigned. There is a range for each classification. Some people will be at the top, some will be in the middle, some will be at the bottom and some will be right on the borderline. Classification will continue into the competition and the classification for an athlete will not be concluded until they have finished the competition. Blind and visually impaired athletes are classified S-11, S-12 and S-13. The S-11’s have no visual acuity or field of vision. They may have some light perception.
The deaf swimmers have a hearing loss of 55 decibels or greater. In the Para Olympic Games it is functional and blind. As Julie stated, the deaf have the deaf games. Classification usually occurs in conjunction with an IPC approved meet or sanctioned competition. As I brushed over earlier, they will come in. They have some paper work to fill out. Then we go through very precisely everything about who and what they are. Then they go through the bench testing giving numbers 1 to 5 and then we put them in the water and do a series of tests in the water and then we assign the classification. The athlete will sign off that they have seen their scores and they are given three sets of scores. They are given an S class which includes freestyle, backstroke and butterfly. They are given an SB class which is breaststroke and then they are given an SM class which is for the medleys. In that way they will have the right classification number for the strokes that they are swimming.
The coaches may use this classification sheet or points to see what an athlete can physically can or cannot do. We have a lot of coaches that can find out that their swimmers can do a lot more than what the athlete ever led them to believe. I do not know how many times I have heard an athlete say “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.” Then it is “I guess I can,” so do not always trust them to tell you exactly what they can do. Your job as coaches is to challenge them, to see what they can do.
The blind athletes and visually impaired athletes will need to have their exam done by an ophthalmologist, not an optometrist. These will also be conducted in major competitions that are Para Olympic approved or sanctioned meets, usually at the Para Olympic Games, World Championships or even some regional championships. They will have forms to fill out. They will have to go through a series of visual testings to come up with their true visual acuity. They are once again shown the sheet as to what their numbers are and where they will fall within the blind classification.
The deaf athletes will visit with an audiologist and get an audiogram which will actually document the amount of hearing loss that they have.
When does an athlete need to be classified? Classification is necessary at disability only meets. You do not need to be classified if you are going to a YMCA meet, a USA Swimming Meet, a high school meet, a Masters meet, a summer league meet or an NCAA meet. Only when it is a disability meet will they need to be classified. Any questions on that? Okay – Julie.
I like my short part. It depends on which meets are entered. If you are entering USA Swimming meets you need to be registered in USA Swimming. If you are swimming in US Masters Meets, you need to be US Masters registered. That goes back to the Amateur Sports Act in 1976. Each sport was given its own autonomy to lead its organizations. Masters is an all national governing body, as is swimming its own national governing body. We don’t share anything – except water. Does that answer it for you?
We are going to move on. The classification piece, observation piece is actually done by the classifiers, though we will be what we call teams of classifiers. A team is one technical classifier and one medical classifier. They will conduct a bench and in the water test which are scheduled appointments, typically the day prior or maybe two days prior to competition. Then the classifiers actually sit, usually in the stands, somewhere with a good view of the pool and observe all of the competition so that they observe the athletes who are being classified. All classification in the US is handled by US Para Olympics. We do have a classification data base of all US athletes who have been classified. It is posted on our website. It is a PDF file that pops open and it has all the athletes listed alphabetically with their classes, their class status, whether it is a domestic class or an international class. When we run competitions we post on our website the information for that competition and we will indicate that classification will be available at that event with instructions on how to request an appointment for an athlete to come in and be classified. We will move on to the “Where do I get more information?” type piece and then we will open it up to more questions for you when we are done with that.
Just to give you an overview of swimming organizations, kind of a comparison of the able bodied side of things and the Para Olympic or the disability side. At the international level you have the IOC, the International Olympic Committee and the IPC, the International Para Olympic Committee. They both function similarly. They are both responsible for running the games every four years for the summer games and every four years for the winter games as well. So actually every two years now with our new schedule. They do work in conjunction with each other. They are two separate organizations, but work very closely together. All Para Olympic Games are now run in the same location, venues, village, and city as the Olympic Games. Typically, it is about a two week window in between. The Olympic Games will run first. It will be about two weeks in between to switch over sponsor logos, switch over venues and those types of things and then the Para Olympic Village will open. That is the same for both the summer and the winter games for all sports on the program. They will use the same venues.
At the international level, when you look at swimming or aquatic sports, on the able bodied side you have FINA, which is the governing organization for all aquatic sports: synchro, diving, water polo, swimming, Masters. They have got it all under one umbrella and on the Para Olympic side we only have swimming so we have IPC Swimming which is our International Governing Authority for Para Olympic swimming. Domestically, here in the US, our national governing body for competitive swimming is USA Swimming and USA Swimming is one of 49, I believe, NGB’s that fall under the US Olympic Committee umbrella for able bodied sports management. On the Para Olympic side we have two organizations: US Deaf Swimming has just formed. It is a small group at this point, but they are kind of ramping up to be a governing organization for deaf swimming here in the US and they fall underneath the SU Deaf Sports Federation which is an overall group for all deaf sports, not just swimming. US Swimming will fit in with them and then we have US Para Olympics.
US Para Olympics is our national Para Olympic Committee, just as the US Olympic Committee is our national Olympic committee. We are actually the same organization. US Para Olympics is a division of the USOC out in Colorado Springs and right now we are the only country in the world that has our NOC and our NPC integrated as the same organization. This actually gives us some huge advantages when we look at higher level competition and games because we are working hand in hand on both the Olympic and Para Olympic side. A lot of other countries have a separate NOC and NPC and they are not necessarily working together when you get to the Games level.
US Para Olympics manages 23 sports. Some are external with NGB’s. Some are what we call contract sports where we contract an NGB or a specific disability sport organization for the management of a sport and summer internal which is where swimming falls so we essentially function as the NGB for Para Olympic Swimming at US Para Olympics. We have a staff that runs the swimming program. Just to give you a few more resources: Internationally the IPC and both IPC and IPC Swimming have some great resources online. At IPC you are going to find everything for all sports. It is going to be a little bit more general, but it is a good source for governments and games type information whereas IPC swimming will give you a little more swimming specific info., things like world rankings, world and regional records and in depth classification info as well as an international swimming calendar which lists all IPC approved and sanctioned swimming events worldwide.
Domestically, here in the US, as I mentioned before, United States Deaf Swimming which is just starting up (They started up last spring.) so they are still really in an infancy stage to develop things. They have their next Deaf Olympics coming up in 2009, but they are working toward that to provide some opportunities for deaf swimmers here in the US.
We have US Para Olympics, as I mentioned before, and our web site is a great resource for Para Olympic swimming domestic info, such as events and results. We have what we call an elite national team. Our elite team is basically our National A Team. Our National team is kind of our national B team. They get named each year, just as we do on the able bodied side where we name a national team. Those athletes are eligible for a variety of different benefits, just as our able bodied athletes are, ranging from just financial funding to offset training and travel costs to elite athlete health insurance to Olympic job opportunities program and several other benefits that athletes that reach that level are eligible for. We also provide all the selection procedures. US Para Olympics has the oversight for selecting all teams to World Championships, Para Pan-AM games, Para Olympic Games and we have the domestic classification piece that Dave and I mentioned before.
Another unique opportunity we have, the CAN-AM logo you see up there on the slide. About a year ago we went into a collaborative partnership so to speak with Swimming Canada to offer more elite level competitive opportunities for swimmers with disabilities. It is expensive to run swim meets as a lot of you know, particularly at the national level. It is not as much of a money making endeavor at that level as it is at an age group level with local meets, so we partnered with Swimming Canada. We are offering eight national championship level meets throughout each quadrennium and they are scheduled kind of appropriately, depending on where the major international competitions fall, but typically a spring championship, a summer championship, in some cases an open championship the week after the US Open in December and that calendar is set through 2008. Shortly, we will be working with the next quad calendar for 2009 to 2012, but that offers our athletes just more elite level competition because individually our organizations, both us and Canada just financially and logistically have difficulty running more than one, maybe two meets a year so this really gave our athletes domestically some great opportunities.
We will open it up to questions on anything that you guys may have for Dave and I and one more note to let you know we have copies up here of the presentation , if you would like copies of the slides. We have some classification information and IPC Swimming rule books so feel free to wander up when we are finished here and grab any of that which might be helpful to you in your programs at home. Do you have any questions?
The question was where to go for more information about including kids of cognitive disabilities. Unfortunately there are not a lot of resources out there. At this point in time cognitive disabilities are not included in the Para Olympic Games so they do not fall under the guidance of US Para Olympics. US Swimming does have some general brochures that are available. They are either available online in the swimmer and in the disability sections on the USA Swimming web site. It was a series of five brochures that the adapted Swimming Committee at USA Swimming put together four or five years ago about inclusion and those do have some pieces on cognitive disabilities from a parent, coaching and meet director view. They come from different perspectives so that may be the best place to start with some information.
Any other questions? The question was where to do Outreach to get more swimmers with disabilities involved, whether on a team or just into the sport of swimming? That is actually the hot topic around my office because it doesn’t affect just swimming, but it affects all of our sports; where do we find more athletes? And there are really two, particularly on the swimming side, two spots that we get out athletes from. Number one, and this is the small group, are those kids who have been out there in a program for ever and ever, have some sort of disability, but never knew about these opportunities with Para Olympics. Those are very few and far between because there has been so much education and development within the sport of swimming.
The other side is where can we target disability populations who might be interested in getting involved in the sport of swimming. Some of the sources or resources we have looked at are hospitals. We actually do get a lot of disability swimmers that way because swimming and water therapy are huge rehab activities. Someone may have never swum before or may have been in another sport before and had some sort of accident. Then they got into swimming through their rehab because of the aquatic therapy piece so that is a great resource.
There are a lot of disability only groups sprouting up around the country. Lots of park and rec league type groups at a very recreational level that have athletes with disabilities. Unfortunately at that level they typically are not including swimming, because you have to find a pool and lane space. They may be doing things like track and field and wheelchair basketball, but that is great.
The third piece we have really talked about looking at is going to the schools and getting information to educators because they are seeing all kids coming through, particularly at the elementary and junior high level. Students are coming through and are getting some type of services. Educators are key in identifying those athletes with disabilities.
I would also look at the deaf and blind school because every state has them and a lot of them have dropped their programs due to funding. They look for outside groups to come in and offer it. I know in my tenure in USA Swimming we have numerous programs that no longer exist because of the funding issues. They are looking for outside groups to come in and work with them and partner with them so that would be another place to look, a readily available source.
Any other questions? If you go to our website you will find that we have selection procedures currently posted for the 2006 World Championships. We just selected that team last month and the Worlds are in December. The document is there so it is a good read and we have selection procedures for our Para Pan-Am team next year. Para Olympic sport is being included in the Pan-Am Games next year for the first time so we are selecting that team as well. The Para Olympic Games procedures for 2008 for swimming will probably be done some time in the December or January time frame, at the end of this year and posted on our web site. We have certain deadlines that we have to meet with the US Olympic Committee.
Dave was one of the people really involved in this process of how to select because as you heard Dave talk about in classification, you have 13 classes in the Para Olympic Games, 1-13. Every class gets seven events. Everybody for example has a 50 free. So we have 13 50 frees and 13 medal events where we award a gold, a silver and a bronze. If it was as simple as what we do at the Olympic trials, where the first two males or females to hit the wall go, it would make my life really easy, but unfortunately it is not that simple. You might be our National Champion or the fastest swimmer in the US in that class in the 50 free, but the guy who is in the S2 class might be second in the world and he is the US champion. The guy who is in the S6 class might be 20th in the world and he is our national champion and the guy who is in the S10 class might be 1st in the world and he is our national champion and the focus at the games is medal production. The USOC says that publicly, you hear about the Olympic Games all the time, we need to win the medal count. The goal here is medal production. That point is being hammered home and the panel is excited as well. We need to win the medal count. When you select your team you need to figure out the method or the most fair way of selection to get the most competitive team. What we do in swimming is we use the world rankings which are kept up to date. They have all the most current data of all times being swum in IPC approved meets worldwide. What we will do in our selection procedure is we will set the date frame of the rankings, typically we use a year or a year and three, or four, or six months prior to trials, depending on where trials falls in the year so we use January 1 of the prior year, through the trials meets and we take all times from finals at the trials and flop them into the World Rankings. Then we go through the World Rankings and we take all the athletes who are #1 in an event and add them to the team and we go through #2 and we go through #3 and it has worked that way a long time. It also shows us how the quality of our team is improving. The first international staff I was involved with for Para Olympic Games was Sydney in 2000. We had a team of 29 athletes and we went as deep as about 8th on the women’s side and 6th or 7th on the men’s. In Athens two years ago we had a team of 45 athletes and again we went to about 7th or 8th. Last month I selected my World Championship team. We were taking a team of 25. We were at 22nd and we were not even out of 3rd yet in the World Rankings so the athletes know that to make a team, they have to be a medal contender. They need to get those world rankings, which is why we encourage everybody to be looking at those too. They are posted online and the athletes can look at those. It is a little bit about their time, but it is more about where their time falls in the world rankings. So the faster they are and the more they are moving up those rankings, the better shot of making an international team.
Total classified and this is over time, functional classification started in 1994, well 92ish, but 1990 was the first time we went to the functional classification system. We started classifying athletes back in 1990, just a few that went to Europe and then in ’92, all our athletes went through functional classification so I am thinking that we probably have around 1,000 classified athletes in this country. I would guess between 800 and 1,000. How many are actually active at this point in time? Everybody that Dave and I have info on is online. That way if somebody comes out of retirement or those kinds of things, they are all in there. I would say that at any given time we probably have 3-400 athletes. Those are athletes who are classified, competing in IPC approved meets. With disability sport groups that are out there, working at more of a grass roots recreational level I would anticipate there are another 2-300 athletes so figure in the ballpark of 600 at any given time, competing. Probably 150 of those athletes are at the level where they make our national championship and then our national team. There is not a set number on our team. Again it is based similar to our able bodied team where they fall into world rankings at the end of the year. The national team typically fluctuates right around 30, maybe a few less and sometimes as high as 35-40, particularly going into games when everybody is really ramping up and trying to get those slots.
Go ahead. No, classification is not based on where you are training wise. It is based on your abilities so hopefully, I mean, this is our goal, when you go through classification that is where you are going to be your whole career. Just because you get fat and lazy and old doesn’t mean your classification is going to change, although some of them would like it to. We look at what you are capable of doing. That is why we do a water test and a bench test and you are that classification unless, through our research, the classification system changes. In that case we will call in everybody to be redone, or unless someone protests your classification and we pull in and we find we missed something or you can do something that you couldn’t do before and you may get changed. For the most part once you get set within your classification you are pretty much there. Now the thing that you have to be worried about is people who say they are classifiers who are not. We have people out there that think they are classifiers. Yeah, I looked through this stuff once and I can do that; it is easy. Trust me, there is a reason there are only six of us in the world doing technical; it is not easy. Most people who try it get right back out. It is a high stress job because you have to deal with all those international wacko coaches out there (You know who you are.) and you dictate what their career is going to be. That is why it is a heavy burden to be a classifier so hopefully, that once they are classified, that is where they will be for their entire career.
Well, we have a rule that with those types of injuries, they cannot be classified until two years after their injury and that is a full 24 months. They have to have gone through that entire 24 month period because what we know right now is that a two year period is where they are going to make their greatest strides. After two years there are not going to be a whole lot of other changes, because that is too long for the nerves to be down and then come back. Now, as science changes, classification procedures will change, alright? We didn’t have that 24 month rule when I started back in the late 80’s. We didn’t have a whole lot of rules back in the 80’s. As a matter of fact, our rules were over three or four books. I went into a Chinese restaurant in Sydney and we finally got all our rules put together so it was a long Chinese meal, I will tell you.
I was going to add one thing to what Dave said about classification. Occasionally you will run across a disability that is degenerative and there are some out there. There are some conditions that just continue to degenerate and those athletes do get reviewed. They provide medical documentation and say hey, I think it is degenerated enough and then they get to keep going through the classification process, but that is really the only situation, outside of a protest, where they are going to get brought back in and looked at repeatedly. Even some of those cases, the coaches and the athletes don’t want to come in because they don’t want to know the answer. Those are the ones that you hate to see because you know the answer.
We would. In order to compete at Nationals we ask that all athletes who either have never been classified or maybe they were classified at a local level, by not-authorized classifiers so they are not in our domestic data base. We request that all those athletes get an appointment, come in and be classified. We do that with every national championship level meet. There are also a few we call regional meets, with no time standards, at a couple of different locations throughout the country that are IPC approved. They are more of a good growing developmental opportunity for a lot of younger athletes to come in and senior national team athletes and that sort of thing. We do classification at those as well, with authorized classifiers, so when we run those we always ask any athlete who has never been seen or who is not in the data base because once they have been seen by somebody authorized, they are in the data base.
If I am out in Pensacola and I look at an athlete, I am only one person. That doesn’t count or if Julie and I were there together, we are both technical people. We are not medical. We are still only one person. You need a full team to get the actual classification that will carry with you.
That is up on the IPC swimming website so at that web link there is a link. I think it says contacts and it has got a list of all authorized classifiers worldwide, as well as authorized officials. We have an officials authorization piece as well and that I will tell you just so you know. Here in the US we have three technicals, myself, Dave and a gentleman from Portland, Oregon named Mark Maxwell. We have one medical, Ray Carpenter from Denver and those are the only authorized classifiers here in the US. We also have what we call trainee classifiers who have started the education process and have met certain requirements. They have met certain minimum requirements and they are also allowed to classify just domestically here within the US and there are another five or six people in that group so when you are at an event that has got authorized classification you are going to see somebody in that group of people.
There is actually, Dave asked me to mention the online course, when you do go to the IPC swimming website, they have an online classification course. There is a link to it. It is run through a university in Australia, a 16 module open book type of thing and it is a great resource. It does cost to do it. It is 400 Australian which works out to be like $300 US depending on when you sign up, but it is a great resource. The first time I did it, I did it because I did go to the dark side of classification, but from a coaching perspective I found it hugely valuable because it teaches you what the numbers on the classification sheet mean. So I finished the online course and went back to my office and started pulling classification sheets going, ”well they said they can’t do this,” but these numbers tell me they can. Somebody just hasn’t taught them how yet so from a coaching standpoint, if you are working with a lot of athletes with disabilities I find it really useful because it does give you that little bit of background knowledge and you can go back to the classification sheet and read it and understand it and know what their true capabilities are.
Overall or swimming? Just swimming? In Athens, just to kind of give you an idea where the medal pile of people fall, Great Britain is pretty firmly planted on the top, although us and my counterpart, Brendan, who does my job in Australia who is sitting back here, we are gunning for him at Worlds this year. China is really an unknown. They are not bringing a lot of athletes out to IPC approved events. They are staying home in China which we know they do on the able bodied side as well. I anticipate that they are going to come into Beijing with the hammer swinging. It is going to be a home pool, but we don’t know what they have right now so it is kind of an unknown fear. Two years ago I was actually in China and did classification in China and it scares the hell out of me. They bring in a bunch of people all missing their right arm from the same region of the country and it makes me wonder. You know, the next bus load is all guys missing their left arm. The next bus load of guys are missing both arms. The next bus, people missing their knees below. They have a lot of athletes. They had games and there were over 900 athletes at their games in just swimming. So it scares me when we are going over there against an unknown. So China is really the unknown factor.
The other major countries are Great Britain and Australia. Spain is fairly solid. They have a really good blind and visually impaired function and structure and particularly in those classes, they are very, very good. Unlike able bodied swimming where you see the same countries up on the podium all the time, we do get a lot more countries in the medal count in Para Olympic Swimming. You know, Peru may have one guy and Angola. So, you get some smaller countries that have one or two or three athletes, but they are showing up in those medal tallies, but for the most part in the top 5 you are looking at the US, Britain, Australia, China, Spain and Germany is usually up there. Ukraine is actually becoming quite the powerhouse in Para Olympic swimming and my personal opinion is that it is the next generation. You are seeing a lot of athletes who are at that age when they were born or young, when (Chernobyl?) happened. There are a lot of those kind of former soviet republics where you see a lot of athletes sprouting up too.
No fee to be classified. You just have to enter the meet, show up, get yourself there, but no fees for classification. We actually have a program. It is called the US Para Olympics Military program. They are working specifically with input hospitals, Walter Reed, naval out in San Diego and have implemented three sports that are going right through the military’s morale, welfare and recreation department at these different hospitals. The three sports that they have chosen to implement are track and field, swimming and sitting volley ball so military is a big, big area. They are implementing it on a recreational, get injured soldiers back involved in sport and recreation, but there are some who are taking it to the next step and looking for Masters programs, looking to get out there and get a little more competitive with it so that is something that we actually have a few staff members in my office and that is all they do is the military program. They work closely with the sports staff to get people filtered to the right programs when they do want to take that next step.
Anybody is eligible to enter a US Para Olympics meet. We actually don’t require a registration because our athletes come from so many different types of teams. When I run a National Championship I would say that the large percentage is US Swimming team members, probably 75-80%, a lot of Masters swimmers and a lot of kids who might be just on a Y team. We even get kids who are just kind of learning about the Para Olympic thing and maybe they have only been on a high school team or summer league teams, so we don’t have a registration system per se. They need to be registered with whomever their home team is affiliated with, but when we run a meet there is no overall governing body registration required so anybody can come in and compete.