Even as Airdrie’s youth sports clubs and teams are allowed to hold small-group training sessions again, a local swim club is still grappling with pandemic-related challenges that have made mentoring the city’s young swimmers difficult.
Alexx Diep, a coach for the Nose Creek Swim Association (NCSA), said the current restrictions regarding youth sport in Alberta have prevented the swimming club’s ability from offering effective youth programming.
"Although we're allowed back in the water, it's a very difficult model for the competitive swimming community to follow," he said.
"The current situation is that swimmers are allowed to swim in groups of 10 total, including the coach, while always keeping a three-metre distance. On land, it seems very feasible, but in a swimming environment, this would mean only one swimmer can be in the lane at a time.”
Complicating matters further, Diep said the mandatory distancing between athletes means the club must keep an empty lane in between each occupied lane. Considering the club’s training headquarters – the swimming pool at Genesis Place Recreation centre – has just six lanes, Diep said NCSA is only able to use three lanes at a time.
The distancing rules mean NCSA’s training capacity has been reduced to about 35 per cent of its previous total, according to Diep, meaning 24 swimmers are able to shuffle through an evening of booked practice slots rather than a former capacity of 60 or 70. He said this complicates the cost-effectiveness of NCSA booking the pool.
"We have to rent the entire pool but we cannot put 60 swimmers in there anymore,” he said.
According to Diep, the provincial swimming authority – Swim Alberta – is advocating for swimming to be placed under a different set of rules and conditions than other sports.
The organization launched the We Are Ready campaign in late February. An article on swimalberta.ca states research indicates swimming boasted a low rate of COVID-19 transmission between members last year, due in part to the chlorinated environment of a swimming pool and Swim Alberta’s cohort model, which was in place from July until November 2020.
The article highlights research commissioned in November 2020. According to Swim Alberta, 73 swim clubs and 5,446 registered swimmers from 32 communities across the province participated in the research project, which found there were no confirmed transmissions of COVID-19 between swimmers or coaches during a period of more than 31,000 training hours.
“Swim Alberta believes that swimming is and remains not only a vital life skill, but a sport and activity that is safe for Albertans during COVID-19, while adhering to enhanced guidelines as outlined by Alberta Health,” the article stated.
Diep added: "What Swim Alberta is trying to advocate for the swimming community is for governments to recognize swimming is in a pretty unique environment where there's no [history of] transmission of swimmer to coach, swimmer to swimmer or coach to swimmer," he said.
According to Diep, NCSA and Genesis Place have been providing local swimmers strict health and safety protocols since the sport was allowed to resume in recent weeks, making a swimming pool as safe a place as any to get daily exercise.
"We just want to raise awareness what's in place by the government right now is a suitable model for everyone at large. At the same time, there may be more suitable options for different sports," he said.