Exclusive Interview with Michael Jamieson
How coaching kids helped former Olympian find a new direction after swimming competitively
‘It’s really not about the swimming. Swimming is the vehicle to impact change in a wellness sense.’
If you are a swimming fan you may think you know everything there is to know about top Olympic and Commonwealth athlete Michael Jamieson. You may know for instance that he was born in Glasgow, started to swim competitively at age 9 and that he has been brand ambassador for both Speedo and BMW. And of course there’s those memorable silver medal wins at the 2012 Olympic games in London and again at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014 which have guaranteed him a natural place in sporting history books.
What you may not know however is that Michael is now a highly dedicated coach, committed to holistically developing the next generation of swimmers - in and out of the pool - through the Michael Jamieson Swim Academy.
“The goal is to build the emotional intelligence and fitness of a group of talented young swimmers to develop in them athletically as a whole, not just within swim but in life." - Michael Jamieson
Tell us about your aims for the Michael Jamieson Swimming Academy?
‘While launching the academy was a natural progression it’s ultimately about providing a space for kids to explore their potential at their own pace. I think too many businesses, especially within swim and the private ‘learn to swim’ providers are primarily commercially driven, so kids are expected to move at the businesses pace rather than their own learning pace. I want to change that by allowing kids to have their own time and space. It would be great if it sparks a bit of a passion for sport and healthy living in general.'
Your highly successful professional journey is well documented - tell us what about your early days and experience as a child.
‘I started to learn to swim when I was about 4 and by 9 I’d started competing. I started with a couple of early mornings, and by the age of 12 I was doing at least four mornings a week. From a coaching perspective, you see parents come in early morning and heading to work early; it does change the daily routine for your immediate family and the people around you. That commitment to development is more valuable as we become more impatient and more hungry for immediate results. It’s a reminder, particularly within competitive sport - it’s a long, lengthy process which means that family support is key.’
As both a child competitor and now a coach yourself, what tips would you pass on to parents to encourage participation at weekly lessons?
‘The more space and creativity kids are allowed to have in their learning environment, the more chance you’ve got of sparking a hobby or a passion for that sport. We’ve had lots of kids the last couple of years that have come into the programme, maybe not the most talented or particularly the most able in a mobility or range of movement sense, but with the right guidance and communication they’re able to develop, catch up, accelerate past other kids and then they become more and more interested in it because they get that feedback of performance improvement.’
“Kids are a mirror of the people they spend the most time around and as a sports coach, you have a responsibility to deliver the best opportunities for their athletic development' - Michael Jamieson
Do you believe that children are either born with a competitive edge or is it something that develops when they’re older?
‘I think it’s developed through exposure to different opportunities and for me as a coach, everything is based on communication. Kids are a mirror of the people they spend the most time around and as a sports coach, you have a responsibility to deliver the best opportunities as much as possible in terms of their athletic development. ‘
How does it make you feel when you see children developing and getting the results with your coaching technique?
‘It’s brilliant, it’s really good fun! It’s really rewarding.’
Tell us more about your Olympic and Commonwealth experience.
‘Competing at the games was the last step on a 100 foot ladder. It was really important to me was that I had my teammates there, and family and friends too. Particularly my teammates that weren’t lucky enough to make it to that level, I really wanted them to have their own Olympics experience and that they felt a part of it because they were there every morning training for 6-8 years in the lead up to the event.'
Do you derive more satisfaction from your own career success or helping others achieve their own goals?
'Tying my experience in and around the commonwealth games and difficult periods psychologically, I just thought there’s a better way to prepare young people in this sport. It doesn’t have to be just about performance or recreation, there’s surely a way to marry the two and prove it is possible to be happy and successful. I want to use my success for the benefit of others.'
It sounds like you’re describing a holistic approach to the sport, would you agree with that?
Yeah, for sure. The coaching programme we have now has introduced elements of mindfulness, yoga, meditation, some breath workshops and things like that. That’s a recognised form of training for us. The goal is to build the emotional intelligence and fitness of a group of talented young swimmers to develop in them athletically as a whole.
What’s the most important message parents should know about the Michael Jamieson Swimming Academy?
We’re passionate about creating an environment that helps young people grow and develop at their own pace, that’s supported by a group of really dedicated teachers. I think that’s reflected in the model of the business, the ratio for classes are smaller, the continuing professional development opportunities in the company are really important to me. We had a mental health first aid training course last week with over 80% of our staff, which sort of ties in that holistic view of our programme. So it’s really not about the swimming. Swimming is the vehicle to impact change in a wellness sense.