Guest blog: Coach Dave Ling on long distances, coaching and getting sunburns

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

I met Dave Ling in the early 00s on the decks of the University of Toronto Pool where he was a guard and I spent all of my spare minutes swimming through undergrad essay conundrums. He swam on the Varsity team and was the first long distance swimmer I'd ever met. He's now the coach of the St. John's Legends Swim Club and a most inspiring swim chum. (He also answered all sorts of my swimming questions during the Olympics!)


Your race was the 1500m. What drew you to long distance swimming?

My best race in the pool was the 1500 and I also swam quite a few Open Water races 10km and 25km marathon stuff.  I swam distance because it became quite apparent in my early teenage years that I didn't have natural "speed" and every time I kept swimming distance events I'd have better results... eventually it just became a pride thing, I loved swimming, I loved racing, the best way for me to be "relevant" in terms of the Canadian swim scene was to swim the distance freestyle events.

I tried to swim for 2h this summer, but got kicked out after an hour and a half and was astounded by how boring it was. How did you not get so bored? Additionally, what's the longest you've ever swum at one time?

I swam some 25km open water races that took the better part of 6 hours... did I get bored? Sure.  But my competitive urges were significantly stronger then the momentary boredom.  I loved the challenge of the distance stuff, I took pride in doing things other folks would not dare to even try.

You used to swim competitively, training for hours every day? Do you miss it? What do you miss? What don't you miss?

I swam for 17 years, loved every year, finished with my final season being my best season.  Training a lot, it was a major part of the lifestyle.

I miss the feeling/the confidence I had in my abilities to do anything in the water.  I miss getting to see my best friends (teammates) every day for 2-4 hours a day.  And most of all I miss the competitive outlet it gave me in my life, even if the person I was most competitive with was myself most days.

I don't miss the constant body ache and the chlorine sweats...they were the worst.

What have you taken from your swimming life into your coaching life?

The primary thing would be the understanding of the process... what goes into a long and fulfilling swimming journey and knowing it's a marathon and not a sprint.  So many families bring their kids to our sport and want immediate results and get incredibly emotionally invested in the early years of their child's development and then the kids end up "burning out" because too much is being asked of them by their parents and their coaches... it's sad and unfair.  As a swimmer, I never felt the sport was ever unfair to me so it's important to me as a coach to do all in my power to be fair (which takes on many forms) to my swimmers and their goals.

What are some of your favouriting swimming/coaching moments?

My favourite swimming moment was probably when I first qualified for Sr. Nationals in the year 2000.  I was not a young superstar, I was 20 years old, I wanted to qualify for Olympic Trials, my coach Linda Kiefer was the best guide and mentor I could have ever hoped for to get me there.  I was at the CIS Championships at the University of Guelph swimming the 1500FR.  There's usually a final lap bell that comes at 1450m of the race but in my race the officials were a little confused and rang the bell at 1350, 1400, and 1500...but not 1450...thankfully my UofT education taught me how to count, I managed the race properly and earned my qualifying cut.

What made the situation even more enjoyable is that I was informed by my teammates that Linda was angry and yelling at the officials while they were messing up the counting of the race and at the end of the race Linda had to apologize for being cross at the officials...it meant my swim mattered, it meant she cared, it's symbolic of what makes Linda a great coach to this day.

As a coach, my favourite moments come about 3-4 times a year watching kids go an important breakthrough time after putting in the work to earn that swim. It's the best feeling, it makes the year long grind worth it, and then some.

What's your favourite advice to give swimmers?

I have a favourite diagram I draw for my swimmers about 3 or 4 times a year called 'the Learning Process' and it goes into the 7 different stages that go into achieving goals.

If you're looking for more practical advice for ANY swimmer...work on your swimming from the outsides-in.  That is, become a better kicker and become more away of what your hands are doing at the top of your stroke. If your hands aren't right at the top of the stroke then they will never be right at any point in the stroke and you will just be reinforcing incorrect habits every time you swim.

After training in dance, people often ask me if I now take classes "for fun" but there's no way. It would feel ridiculous to not be able to take classes at the level I was used to. But tons of people do. Do you swim recreationally?

I feel 100% the same way you do about dance.  I occasionally like to get in the water and move around but I have zero interest in "swimming laps" or swimming in a Masters program.

If you're at a cottage, or pool party, what do you do? (I don't really know how to do anything except front crawl and always feel so awkward...!)

Right now I usually sit around and get a sunburn.  I like getting in the water with my sunglasses on, taking a few strokes and fooling myself into thinking the only reason I'm not "swimming" is because I have sunglasses on.  The other dorky swim thing I do is I scull my hands in the water a lot and try to fool myself into thinking I still have good "feel" for the water.

You married a fellow swimmer! Was your wedding held underwater?

If I was in the kind of shape I was when I was a swimmer, I would have been all for that.  

We had an incredible number of swimming friends at our wedding, we held the wedding at Knox Presbyterian (across the street from the UofT pool), and we held the reception at a venue we would not have known if it were not for swimming... so in a way our swim lives were all around our wedding and in a funny way a large part of our love story. We hold our swimming experiences in a fond place in our hearts.

Thanks so much, Dave! You're so inspiring!

Dave Ling swam for 17-years with the COBRA swim club, Brock Niagara Aquatics, and the University of Toronto.  In recent years Dave has taken on a coaching career that saw him serve 8 successful years at the Toronto Swim Club as an assistant and starting this Fall he has taken over as Head Coach of the St. John's Legends in St. John's, Newfoundland.

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