Atlantis: A Thriving Swimming Club
Bill Penny is not a man that takes any nonsense. At the age of 72, with fifty years of swimming coaching behind him, the New Zealander still has the desire to ensure that all of the youngsters at
Atlantis swimming club reach their maximum potential.
The swimmers at the Horsham club have great fun and enjoy their time in the pool, but at the same time they know that their professional coach will not look favourably upon any messing around. The swimmers are focused, always attentive, and the results have been remarkable.
It is six years since Bill arrived at Atlantis, and since then he has transformed the club, to the point where it now competes in the Premier South Division of the National Arena Swimming League.
In addition, several swimmers have represented the club at national level, and if they continue to progress at their current rate have genuine hope of competing at World Championships and Olympics in the future.
Bill said: “I’ve been a coach for most of my life, and have worked with many athletes that have reached a national standard and even some Olympic athletes. Before coming to Horsham I was a high performance coach in Scotland, where among the swimmers coming through was Michael Jamieson, who finished 5th in the 200m breaststroke at the 2011 World Championships in Beijing. I’ve got tickets for the final of that event at the London Olympics so he had better make it!
“I had to retire in 2005, and came down from Scotland to be close to family. I thought I would get a coaching job down here. They were looking for a coach here, and back then it was just a small club but we’ve built it on. Atlantis was at the bottom of the Second Division and from there we’ve gone into the First Division and then up to the Premier League, where we are now the only Sussex club.”
Atlantis was founded some thirty years ago, and has steadily increased to become a club with 230 members. Swimmers start in the Clubs and Penguins, before moving on to bronze, then bronze plus, silver and gold groups. Training sessions are held seven days a week, not just at the Pavilions in the Park (where Atlantis are comfortably the council’s best customer!) but also from leisure centres in Billingshurst and Steyning.
Bill is given able support by professional deputy head coach, Andy Lobley, and a team of nine Amateur Swimming Association (ASA) qualified swimming coaches and teachers, together with a specialist land training coach.One of the coaches is Matthew Cumber, whose daughters are members of Atlantis.
Matthew said: “We have a lot more girls in the club than boys, because there are so many sports available to boys. They will obviously play their football, cricket or rugby, but Bill is a great believer in getting kids to participate in lots of different sports. People can join from the age of seven and go right up to Masters, which is for adults and parents. A lot of swimmers go away to University and will come back afterwards to train and even compete for us. We have an ex club-captain that is 35 but still trains with us.
“But predominantly it’s all about the youngsters. Swimming is disciplined, good for their health and there’s a great social aspect to it too as for lots of members this is where their friends are. They all start in the Seals and Penguins, and it’s a natural progression. The coaches will decide when a child is ready to move up, but we don’t want to put them out of their comfort zone too early.
"But fundamentally it is a competitive swimming club. We compete in galas most weekends, and these can often last for most of the day. All different clubs will enter in individual races and we can get more than 200 children competing from clubs across the south east.
"Our jump up to the Premier League has really raised the bar. We now travel further around, and the furthest we go is Oxford. We hire a coach and head off to swimming galas for the day, and the kids love it!”
There are several forms of gala – competitive galas where the coaches select a team for county or national competition, and what are known as ‘B’ Galas, where other children are given an opportunity to compete in a competitive event. There are also Open meets where you can choose which events to enter, which offer a chance for the better swimmers to achieve personal best times and increase their competitiveness.
Every year, County Championships are held, with swimmers needing to achieve a certain time to enter. The Regional Championships demand an even better time and the Nationals are another level again. Four swimmers have qualified for this summer’s nationals in Sheffield.
Among those preparing for Sheffield is 16-year-old Rebecca Lobley, Vice-Captain of the Senior Girls squad. Bex will be competing in the 100m and 200m breaststroke. She said: “I started swimming at K2 in Crawley, and then I came along to Atlantis and loved it so started.
“I love to do breaststroke, so Bill made me focus on it and I improved and the results came. I got my national times this year for my age and then you compete up in Sheffield this summer. If you get through to the finals there is always a chance you can get picked for the Great Britain team.
“That’s the goal for me, to represent my country at a major championship. It may not be in the first few days but if I keep working at it. Bill and my dad (Andy Lobley is a coach) don’t push me - I want to train as I love swimming. It’s a bonus that we have lovely people here."
Tanbridge pupil Cameron Lambourne has been a promising prospect for several years. Cam was born in Perth, Australia, but because of his father’s line of work moved to Horsham when he was nine. A sprint specialist, he will be competing in the 50m and 100m events at the National
Championships if he can avoid any pre-competition injuries.
Cam said: “I missed the nationals twice due to injuries from bike accidents. When I was 14 I fell off my bike, before the nationals, and fractured my elbow, which meant I missed out and so did the relay team. I’m banned from riding my bike after the regional championships now!
“I finished second the last time I competed, and since then it’s been injury after injury. Now I think I’m sitting 10th and 8th in 50m and 100m respectively, but I don’t really know what my true position is because we haven’t dropped off the training at all. We’re just preparing as best as we can and we’ll see what happens.
“To begin with the goal is to get into the final, and then if I do that the aim will be to get a medal. The overall goal is for 2016 – the Olympics. I think 2014 World championships are in Glasgow, but I have to step it up from a national to International level. I have a scholarship to go to Plymouth College next year, which is the best swimming college in the UK. They compete abroad a lot so that will help. I’m only in Year 11, and often swimmers have fallen behind as they go to a local college and you don’t have the time to train as much. I’m lucky that I will get the opportunity for plenty of swimming.
“I love it at Atlantis. It does become like a second family, because you’re around each other so much. It’s quite a lonely sport as your head is down in the water for so long, so when we do come out of the pool you tend to talk a lot, and I think that annoys Bill a bit! Bill has coached at an International level, and we have Andy too, and they are pushing everyone in this top squad to a regional level and as many of them as possible on to national level. We have a strong squad now and that is down to Bill coming in.”
But success does not come without working for it. If youngsters do not progress in terms of ability, they do not move on to the next level. Swimmers in the top group are doing nine training sessions a week - twice on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, with a single session on Wednesday, Friday and
Saturday mornings. Sunday is a rest day, but of course many compete at galas and open meetings.
Bill said: “When you have kids with computers and Smart phones or whatever, swimming helps them to get into a regular pattern of exercise. I think that’s part of the attraction for parents initially, as well as their kids learning to swim properly.
“The Pavilions acts as a little bit of a shop window, as the young people involved in the council-run swimming lessons can see what we are doing at Atlantis, in the pool and working out in the gym. I’ve been a professional coach for the best part of fifty years but now other coaches here have adopted a professional attitude.
“We have a great committee, and we run fantastic galas, and Atlantis has a growing reputation for
developing young swimming talent. We also welcome swimmers who want to participate in the sport as part of a healthy lifestyle. Swimming may not end up as their number one sport but it gives them a strong cardiac system, teaches them healthy lifestyle habits and dieting and staying away from smoking and drugs, which is a worry for lots of parents.
“For me, I think it’s great to see improvement, so I enjoy the coaching at all levels. All swimming strongholds in the world, be it towns or cities, they all build up traditions, and that’s what we are doing here. We are building up a tradition of competitive swimming. We started off with small numbers and then friends and siblings got involved, and now we are building up a tradition.”
For more details visit www.atlantishorsham.co.uk