July 8th, 2015

By Jim Morris

For 13 years Ryan Cochrane worked with Randy Bennett the coach but didn’t really get to know Randy Bennett the person.

“If I was able to have more time away from the pool I think I would have a better appreciation for Randy the person,” said the two-time Olympic medallist. “He was always the guy that was giving you that feedback all the time. It weighed on our relationship a little bit.

“With time you have a better appreciation of a common goal and how much he had to push us to get us there.”

Bennett, the long-time head coach of the Swimming Canada High Performance Centre – Victoria, died in April after a battle with cancer. Besides Cochrane, Bennett helped shape the careers of 2013 world championship medallist Hilary Caldwell and 2012 Olympian Alec Page.

While their relationship may sometimes have been terse, Cochrane had the “utmost respect and admiration” for Bennett. As Cochrane matured he was better able to understand Bennett’s motivation.

“When I got older as an athlete you appreciate he was trying to make systemic changes (in) swimming in Canada,” said Cochrane. “You realize how difficult that is and how much energy it takes.

“That, combined with trying to make us Olympic champions, it’s a lot. When you’re 15 years old you don’t appreciate that. When you’re 25 years old you really do.”

Bennett’s death has forced Cochrane and the other Victoria swimmers to adapt to a new coach. Ryan Mallette, who spent the last three years working by Bennett’s side as the Talent Development Coach for the Canadian Sport Institute Pacific, was named the new head coach in early June.

Mallette’s style differs from Bennett but he brings the same desire for achieving success.

“The way I coach is slightly different,” said Mallette, who previously served as head coach of the Pointe-Claire Swim Club in Montreal and has coached at Pan Pacific Championships, FINA World Junior Championships and Pan American Games.

“The way I speak, who I am versus who Randy was is very different, but philosophically we are very similar. How we went about thinking about how to improve in swimming and how we went about doing a gap analysis . . . is very much a similar fashion. How I coach or how I lead are slightly different because I am a different person.”

With next year’s Olympics just over a year away Mallette has no intention of undermining the solid foundation Bennett laid for Cochrane.

“There is no real benefit to completely re-inventing the wheel and changing everything,” he said.

“We don’t need to train and beat the heck out of him. We’re not going to get many more gains there. Technically there is still a lot of room to go. I think he can make big gains there in order to help him toward Rio.”

Learning from criticism and accepting advice is important for any swimmer’s development. What often makes the difference is how that criticism and advice is delivered.

“The way Ryan says things is very different than the way Randy said things,” Cochrane said. “Great coaches can pick apart a stroke to the finest detail but it’s just about how they tell you. It could just be a different word that means the same thing.

“It can take a couple of different people telling you the same thing to get those results.”

Trust is a cornerstone in any coach-athlete relationship. Mallette’s time working in Victoria gave him the chance to forge some bonds.

“Building that level of trust is something that doesn’t occur quickly,” said Cochrane. “It’s been fortunate we know his personality type, he knows us, and he knows our character flaws.

“It’s all those things that really takes years of work to fully realize. Luckily we’ve had that time to prepare for what was a quick change over.”

When Mallette first stepped in to replace Bennett he tried to minimalize any disruptions by keeping “everything the exact same.” He quickly realized that approach wouldn’t work.

“We adopted the term the new normal,”

— Ryan Mallette

“While not much changed philosophically, obviously the coach on deck was different, some of the situations were different.

“Everyone adapted phenomenally to it. Everyone was really conscious to do everything as well as possible but aware it was slightly different. I feel like that is still where we are.”

A busy summer waits. There’s the Pan Am Games in Toronto July 10-26 and the FINA World Championships July 24-Aug. 9 in Kazan, Russia. Mallette shrugs off any suggestion this will be a test of how the Victoria swimmers have adapted to the coaching change.

“I don’t think about it that way,” he said. “I think for 12 to 18 months everyone is going to be feeling this. It will be the first major meet without Randy, (then next year in Rio de Janeiro) the first Olympics without Randy.

“I don’t want to get into the mindset if they swim well that means they persevered through Randy’s loss. No matter how they do this summer it’s not an indication of how they handled the loss of their coach. They grieved and they continue to grieve.”

There’s no doubt Bennett’s influence remains on the team but Mallette is taking the steps to leave his mark.

“The one thing we keep telling him is, it’s not about protecting a previous performance,” said Cochrane. “It’s more about if we get these results it’s our performance now.”

Cochrane admits it feels “weird” swimming and training without Bennett.

“Going on without him feels wrong on some levels but it’s also all I know,” he said.

“Randy wouldn’t want anything different. Randy was a results man. Medals and change was what he worked so hard for.”

Cochrane says next year’s Olympics will be his last. If he needed any extra motivation to win a medal, he now has it.

“It will be that extra kind of push I need when I need it,” he said. “I don’t want to have regrets, but I also don’t want to have regrets for Randy or I.”

 

Source : Swimming Canada