Chris Street has made a splash or two in his fifteen years as head swim coach of the Prince Rupert Amateur Swim Club. Having moved to the city with a career transition on his mind, he was thinking of hanging up the coaches whistle for teaching. With a degree in physical education, he left Alberta for a new life in Northern B.C. more than 20-years ago and doesn’t regret that he didn’t end up leaving the coaching field.
Chris started off as a competitive swimmer in his youth at the age of 12 with the Edmonton Keyano Swim Club. The club is home to more than 15 Olympic athletes and Chris was a member until graduating high school at 18.
“It’s one of the biggest clubs in the country for sure,” Street said. He carries the experiences form there with him every day.
While at university he ventured into water polo which grabbed hold of his personal interest in water sport. During his time studying he kept his love of competitive swimming afloat by coaching his high school alma mater swim team.
After a couple of summer jobs that led him to B.C., he decided to jump into coaching full time with his first position in Smithers. Street’s path led to White Rock for a year and Williams Lake for three years before arriving on the shores of Prince Rupert.
In his years with the Prince Rupert Rapids, (knick-name for the P.R. swim club) he has seen many swimmers literally grown up in the program.
The swim program, he said has helped grow swimmers from as young as eight.
“All of them develop differently. I am incredibly proud of some people who have come out of the program and who they have become as adults. They are well adjusted, successful and contributing. The families in the club have been amazing,” Street said.
When asked what drew him to swimming as opposed to a different sport he said was just drawn to swimming.
“I did a few other sports. Not all sports are structured the same throughout the country. Swimming is built around professional coaches. It would be very difficult to be a professional water polo coach in Canada because there are not very many. Coaching swimming is a job you can do and make a living at.”
Chris said he believes that coaches help to develop skills that allow kids to be successful in swimming and these skills will later definitely translate to being successful in life. Some of these skills he said, are dedication, perseverance and delayed gratification.
“Doing something that is hard now, that may or may not come later with a reward is important to learn, he said. Competitive swimming teaches the student to be process and goal-oriented.
These are qualities that have certainly enhanced his own skills, Street said.
Swimming streams in Chris’s family. His younger sister swims in Edmonton and does water polo. Being older than his sister, they were not competitive siblings in swimming, but as the supportive elder brother he did coach her water polo team while she was in high school.
Street said he is so proud when swimmers show growth and potential especially when some of the best swimmers did not start out as superstars when they were little.
“I really believe the determining factor in who is successful in swimming is perseverance. Sticking with it, hanging with it,” he said.
A few years ago there were some swimmers in the club that in the early days of swimming were not outstanding swimmers, however, because they loved the sport, worked at it with dedication they ended up graduation some of the best swimmers the club has ever had, Street said. But it goes both ways.
”We have had a litany of kids who were awesome when they were 10, 11, 12-years-old. When it got hard, when they had to practice more and when it wasn’t as easy to win, they faded out of the sport.”
Dedication and perseverance are what Chris wants his swimmers to learn.
“Perseverance is definitely more important than talent in the long run. Perseverance is a skill in itself,” he said. “If we are measuring how good someone is going to be when they are 18, (their perseverance) is going to be much more determinative than raw ability.”
While he did think of leaving coaching just in the early years he said coaching in interesting and fulfilling.
“When I moved to PR I was getting out of the business. I was going to do a couple of years then switch to become a teacher … But what has kept me in it in PR is working for amazing people. I was hired by amazing people.”
Those people have long left the swimming club he said, but they left him with the tools to carry on coaching.
“The board, when I started was great and supportive they put me in a position to succeed. They appreciated what I did well and helped me with what I didn’t do so well.”
Street said now there has been a succession of supportive parents who have helped him all the way through.
“This has always been a great place for sports, and that’s why going back to school (to become a teacher) faded away.”
Chris is assisted in coaching the Rupert Rapids by Cheryl Paavola who has been with the club more than six years. They work together with a team-teaching approach to guiding the young swimmers.
“With the younger kids, we split it up for manageability. With the older kids, it is much more a team approach,” he said.
Even as a coach he is still learning he said. Coaching has taught him to be more a more open person.
“I’m not an extrovert,” he said.” I am not naturally a people person, but this job is people job. You have to work with 90 kids at any given time, they all need different things. You need to interact with parents in different ways.”
“When I was younger I was really competitive and I thought everyone was getting into swimming because they too were really competitive. I believed that the whole point was to make everyone the best swimmer they could be. But you know that is only part of it, ” Chris said. “People are in it for different reasons and you have to respect those reasons. You have to be supportive of people who are in it for fitness or who are in it for fun. It has made me a much better people person.”
Street said while he doesn’t have children of his own he refers to the swimmers as his kids and it’s fair to say they are family.
“I enjoy my job very much. I adore my kids. With the seniors’ group of swimmers, for the most part, Cheryl or I have been the only coach they have ever had. I have been working with some of them for the better part of ten years since they got into the program. They are athletes, they are my swimmers and just a big part of my life.”
Street is the type of coach who likes to interact with each swimmer on their own level using a style unique to each student.
“I don’t try to have one style of coaching. If someone has high goals and they are trying to achieve something that is difficult for them, then I will push them more and be harder. Not everyone is in it for the same reason.”
“It is definitely my philosophy to coach to the individual swimmers’ needs,” he said.
Being a swim coach and involved with swimming has been a great environment for him and Chris is proud of the ‘tremendously positive and supportive environment’.
“It has a great culture about it.”
The club is supportive of its members he said, whether it be for personal issues or for swimming. There have been members who have had health or personal challenges and the club has come together to fundraise and support those members through tough times.
“It’s more about the community. There are people who have been here for a long time. They are always going to step up for their own. It just reinforces what we all know exists. I know if my family was in need the club would be there for me. I think a lot of our members feel the same way.”
“I’m certainly closer with the families I work for than would be typical in our industry because I’ve been here a long time and because it is just the nature of our community.”
K-J Millar | Journalist
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