Walsall in sync when it comes to success
It’s fair to say Walsall Synchronised Swimming Club are making a bit of a splash this summer.
Not only did they steer the region to a national title at the first attempt, but they also have two of the country’s best swimmers competing in the World Youth Championships in Slovakia.
Olivia Baker and Robyn Swatman are the top two 15-year-olds in the country, and the club has four swimmers in total on the England programme.
But it’s not just the elite swimmers catered for at Walsall Gala Baths, the club also trains beginners of all ages.
Having recently started an adult session, they are also on the hunt for more male competitors.
Founded in 1972, the club has been going for almost five decades, but they’re still going from strength to strength.
“We’ve got about 100 members,” revealed head coach Amy Baker. “We’ve just recently started doing adult sessions, we’d love to get some more adults doing it.
“We take beginners of all ages, it’s open to everyone, and we’re really pushing males at the moment.
“The sport is going through a bit of a change to try and make it gender equal, because it’s dominated by females.
“It’s not normal at the moment, it’s still uncool for boys. But there are quite a lot of boys that take part up and down the country and we’re trying to build that up.”
Amy has been synchronised swimming since she was nine, and the 36-year-old has been head coach at Walsall for 14 years.
She has a team of 18 coaches to assist her, all volunteers. But this week, Swim England have paid for a former Olympic swimmer from Greece to come to Walsall to give Amy’s students a masterclass.
She’ll be working specifically with Olivia and Robyn, two girls who have a great chance to make an impact on the world stage at the Youth Championships in Slovakia in August.
But it’s already been a successful summer for the club, who guided the Midlands region to victory in the Beacon Games.
“We were chosen last year to form a new Beacon squad, to basically be a hub for local clubs in the area,” explained Amy.
“Birmingham, Rugby, Nottingham, they all come and train with our coaches. There are seven hubs in the country.
“We’ve never done it before, but we ended up winning the trophy!”
The club hold five or six sessions a week because it’s an intense sport.
“If they’re not with us they’re expected to do additional training outside of the pool,” said Amy. “It requires so much fitness and technical ability and it takes years to master, so the younger they start the better.
“We’ll take them from five, providing they’re able to swim a width without armbands.
“We don’t expect them to be ploughing up and down the pool but they’ve got to be confident.
“As long as they float and are happy out of their depth, we can teach them the rest.”
The club’s younger competitors recently had their own time to shine, when Walsall played host to the West Midland Novice Competition.
A total of 167 athletes competed from 14 different teams across four different age groups, and Walsall won 11 medals in total, three gold, three silver and five bronze.
Megan Williams and Pippa Wood each won individual gold while the 13-15 age group picked up the team title.
Ella Rose Prince, Molly Lunn, and Ellie Willoughby all won silver, while Isabelle Broomhall, Isabella Gogerty, Bethany Weekes and Heidi Partridge picked up bronze.
“The Novice competition is our event for youngest and most inexperienced swimmers,” explained Amy. “It’s the way synchro swimmers can learn about the pathway. For most it was their first competition.
“Other clubs come along to that event. We took quite a few medals.
“We had nearly 50 members of the club just taking part in that event, including some who have only been doing it for a couple of months.”
But with the likes of Robyn and Olivia there to look up to, the beginners are able to see the heights they could reach themselves.