When Jeritt Brink dove headfirst into his new job coaching Quesnel’s Waveriders Swim Club six years ago, he made a bit of a splash.
First of all, the city didn’t have a formal swim club in place. There was interest from the community, and in 2010, a group of swimmers became affiliated with the Williams Lake swim club in order to be able to attend meets. They swam under Williams Lake’s banner, and in the meantime, a local parent was training through the National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP) to become Quesnel’s head coach.
When that individual moved away, the parents got together and posted a position for a certified coach. Brink answered the call.
He says in those first years, there was a bit of resistance from staff at Quesnel’s pool.
“We were asking for more lanes, more time. The club goes on for nine to 10 months, non-stop.”
At the time, Brink was coaching around a dozen members. Some of their parents – all volunteers – formed the Waveriders board of directors.
During the six years Brink has been in Quesnel, the club has grown slowly, mostly by word of mouth, and now has as many as 70 swimmers. With that growth, the pool administration has become more supportive, Brink says.
“For the last three years or so, they’ve been great. It’s been a steady track to them giving us more time and space.”
So how did the club go from just a few members to 70?
Waveriders president Angela Swyers says Brink has been a big draw.
“Without his coaching, which is recognized by the community, I don’t think we’d be where we are.
“I credit him with a lot of that. He’s done incredible things with our children, and the kids adore him.”
It’s not hard to see why. Brink, an affable, laidback 38-year-old, is as comfortable joking with his young charges as he is chatting to a reporter he’s just met.
And his coaching philosophy seems to fit well with what Quesnel’s swimmers – and their parents – want.
Says Swyers: “Jeritt is incredibly dynamic. He is so engaged: he knows every kid and every parent.
“He does the job because he truly loves the sport of swimming.”
Against the tide
That love of swimming was ingrained in Brink in childhood.
He grew up in Vernon and spent summers at his family’s cabin on Okanagan Lake, where he started swimming when he was five years old. His cousins would visit from Australia and New Zealand and teach him what they knew.
“The way I learned to swim is pretty old school: flip turns off of burned barrels full of rocks out in the middle of the lake. I had the southern-hemisphere culture of swimming from my cousins.
“That childhood is where my love of swimming comes from, and then I think when I coach, that’s why I try to honour all the time: what I learned from my family.”
Brink joined his local swim club, the Vernon Kokanees, when he was eight or nine. He recalls that six months in, his cousins came to watch him and were displeased with how Brink was being coached.
“They told my mom to pull me from the program because all we were doing was swimming; there was no directional learning.”
So Brink says he continued swimming on his own, just for the feel of the water and pure appreciation of the sport, soaking up lessons from his family when he could. He seemed to have a natural ability.
“I have never been professionally coached like I coach these kids. I was just a lover of the water. I really liked to swim and happened to be pretty fast.”
He’d swim at the cabin in the summer, and started to swim a few hours a day at the pool, where he says other swimmers noticed his speed and technique.
“I was hanging around at the Vernon rec centre for a decade.
“People in the pool would ask me, ‘How do you make swimming look so easy?’ So I’d show them a few things, and they’d make improvements quickly.”
A new head coach for the Kokanees, Marc Tremblay, arrived in town and witnessed these impromptu lessons. He asked Brink if he’d ever thought of coaching.
The rest, they say, is history.
“I’d never coached, never thought I’d have the confidence to lead little people in something.
“It was something I never would have thought of as a career. But it’s been the best thing ever because it’s what I love to do.”
Tremblay became a mentor to Brink as he went through the NCCP program and got serious about coaching.
Brink landed a job in Comox, on Vancouver Island, but a few months in, he says the head coach began to resent the fact that Brink’s few swimmers were outperforming his own.
Brink says he was told to adhere to the head coach’s philosophy, or leave.
“For myself morally, and for Tremblay, I just couldn’t do it.”
It was a turning point in Brink’s career.
Tremblay put in a word for him at Island Swimming Club, and Brink was invited to shadow the coaches there, including Randy Bennett, who went on to be the head coach of Canada’s top senior national team from 2009 to the 2012 Olympic Games; Neil Harvey, who later became president of the Canadian Swimming Coaches Association; and Aaron Dahl, who coached Olympian Alec Page in 2012.
“I was just hanging out on the deck with them. I wasn’t getting paid, I was just trying to get my foot in the door.”
Then, a stroke of luck: a coach in Sooke quit, with two-and-a-half months left in the season.
“Aaron Dahl said, ‘You’re making positive changes in my athletes’ – [his team] was the second from the national team. He said I could go to Sooke for the remainder of the season.
“Within that couple of months, my little Sooke kids were starting to do better than half the kids in the Juan de Fuca club.”
Brink became head coach for Island Swimming’s summer club, but found he couldn’t afford the winter season. So when he heard that a small town in the Cariboo was looking for a coach, he was intrigued.
“Quesnel was an opportunity for me to not work under anyone else and just do my own thing.
“They had so many coaches at Island Swimming, and I was still such a rookie. Quesnel popped up and I got the job. Six seasons later….”
Brink’s Quesnel swimmers range in age from six to 17.
The Waveriders is a competitive club, but Brink recognizes that not all the swimmers are interested in that aspect.
“We do have kids who train but don’t go to meets. It’s an individual choice; they don’t have pressure from me to go. But they all train as if they are going for that goal. Just putting in the work, the skills it gives you – it’s all valuable.”
He says it can be challenging to coach all the different ages and abilities together. Brink says he can appreciate that some come simply for the social aspect.
“You give as much encouragement as you can. Sometimes I’m looking at someone in the program and they’re not giving it all, but I ask myself, ‘Why are they showing up still then?’ There’s something they like about it, so let them come and enjoy swimming.
“Or you have some that are a little wild. Sometimes those are the ones that go the distance and actually become the fast swimmers. No, I don’t write them off. But it can be a struggle if we don’t have the lanes or space to sub-group them into just swim-fit kids who swim to learn, get fit, stay strong.”
This supportive style of teaching speaks to Brink’s overall coaching philosophy, which transcends his sport.
“I want them to keep growing as humans. Most of the club, even if they’re extremely competitive or just there to be social, they all have improved their [personal bests] by the end of the season.
“That’s always the goal – to maintain some level of bettering yourself. That’s what I try to teach.
“Swimming is my outlet to influence that, if I can.”
Waveriders member Garnet Currie, 17, says his coach is inspiring and has a unique interpretation of the sport.
“He describes it more as flying than swimming, as a very peaceful thing. That’s his outlook on swimming: freedom.”
Training makes the swimmer
Over the 10-month season, the Waveriders attend 12-14 meets all over the province.
The older groups practise five evenings and two mornings a week, while the younger Learn 2 Swim group has two practices a week. Brink tries to keep the schedule manageable, and never holds practices on weekends. He calls swimming a “longevity sport”.
“Let’s say you start swimming at six. By the time you graduate, you’ve potentially been swimming for more than a decade. And that’s when you’re getting to the point of choosing if you’re a ‘Swimmer’; a career swimmer.
“That’s when your body starts shifting to muscle and swimming fast feels harder and more tiring, and life becomes more – graduation, work, girlfriends and boyfriends, driving… and then you have all that swimming.
“I very much encourage slow. Slow down. I try to keep it the best progression that we can do under my own philosophy, and with what the community here can offer.”
Brink says there’s a big difference in the way he coaches the Learn 2 Swim group compared to the more experienced swimmers.
“You’ve got to teach [the newer swimmers] everything: lane control, how to look around the environment, respect for themselves, all of that.
“Once they turn 16 and choose to become a ‘Swimmer’ – now you’re coaching them. But they have to have the foundation; you can’t advance to stage two until stage one is done.”
But when they’re at a big meet, Brink prefers not to interfere: he’s trained the swimmers, and now it’s their turn to execute what they’ve learned. The coach says he simply observes.
“I don’t time their splits, or do anything like many other coaches do.
“In finals, I go up above, where the spectators are, to get a different angle on it. I like to watch the races and take my notes; just tiny things. When they are very good, you can sit back and just watch.”
Angela Swyers says the swimmers respond positively to Brink’s methods.
“They love the feedback they get from him. He’s an incredible role model.
“When we are at swim meets, we constantly hear from other clubs’ parents how much they wish their coach was more like ours. He’s up and down the deck, cheering on the kids. He’s there at the beginning of the race to tell them what to work on, and he’s there at the end to high-five them.”
The ripple effect
Along with coaching Quesnel’s swimmers, Brink mentors the next generation of swim coaches.
The Waveriders Swim Club pays for the teens to get their first NCCP qualification, and the junior coaches are, for the most part, responsible for teaching the younger groups in the club.
Brink says he remains present on the pool deck, but allows the junior coaches to come up with their own ways to coach the group, based on his guidelines.
“It gives them a way to give back. And it gives them confidence in a different way.”
Brad Swyers, 18, has been a junior coach for three seasons, but will be giving up the post, having graduated from high school this year. Garnet Currie also has some basic coaching training and guides the younger swimmers.
Currie says when he coaches, he keeps Brink’s techniques in mind.
“I relate it to how he coaches us, how he talks about stuff and makes it funny so they’re all paying attention.
“The best part of coaching the younger ages is seeing them liking swimming and having fun with it. If they are enjoying it, it’s the best.”
Brad Swyers, who Brink has taught for five years, says he looks up to his coach.
“He has a hands-on style, which is something I’ve implemented into my coaching.
“I like seeing the improvement in the kids as the months go on.”
Brink says the junior coaches make a real difference in the younger swimmers.
“I’m the head coach, but I’m not the only one who inspires the kids. The kids get inspired by other kids.”
Brink, in turn, takes inspiration for his methods from his junior coaches, and the swimmers.
“I get inspired by the kids, by the parents, by my mentor, by other things that have nothing to do with swimming.”
Brink seems proud of the way the Waveriders are a result of real community effort and collaboration. He’s thankful the directors are willing to give so much of their time.
“I think it’s cool that we’re not just successful at the swimming level, but are growing as a business and also in the community. There’s goodness that’s happening from it.
“Seventy kids is a lot in a small community of hockey and soccer and baseball and skiing.”
With the Waveriders seeing constant member regeneration, Brink is continually given fresh inspiration.
“I’ve had opportunities to leave, but I keep staying because the kids keep evolving. I get the next group, and I start to see things in them that make me curious… so I stay.”
Waveriders president Angela Swyers says the club knows Quesnel is lucky to have Brink.
“To have his quality and level of coaching in a small community is almost unheard of.
“He’s built these ties to the kids and to the community, and he wants to see it through. That gives us [on the board] a big sense of relief because finding a good coach is not easy.
“Our club is well known in the province for being one of the best small clubs. Jeritt is incredibly well respected.”
But the merit of Brink’s coaching is that he is not concerned with what the rest of the swim community thinks. His focus is inward, on the team’s achievements, big and small.
He has created a symbiosis within his club, where coach influences swimmer, who motivates coach… and on and on.
It seems as long as there are new swimmers, bringing fresh energy and ideas with them, Coach Jeritt Brink will remain on deck.