Russ Franklin dives into coaching at Laurier

Russ Franklin’s career is all wet.

Actually, the veteran swimming coach admits he doesn’t spend any time in the water with the students he leads.

“I’m not actually that great a swimmer,” he laughs.

For someone who professes a lack of ability, the 35-year coaching career of Laurier’s new head swim coach has included leading two young Quebec athletes to the Olympic Games.

Franklin moved to Ontario for the first time on Aug. 22 and dove right into his new position.

Although he admits to feeling a little overwhelmed and missing his family — a wife, son and daughter back in Quebec — Franklin said he was excited to be at Laurier, coaching not only the varsity swim team, but the Region of Waterloo (ROW) swim team as well.

In addition to leading nine swim team practices a week, Franklin coaches 300 kids in the ROW program.

That kind of schedule means more than five hours a day of coaching, in addition to the administrative tasks that come with his new role.

Occupying a still sparse office in the basement of the Athletic Complex, Franklin is still buoyant at the end of a long day.

“You have to go on deck with a certain level of energy and the way I coach, if I want them to be up and excited, I have to be up and excited,” he said.

“Physically, it’s challenging. But I love my job.”

Franklin said it was an inspiring moment seeing the swimmers that he’d coached reach one of the pinnacles of athletic success, but his focus is now much less competitive.

“My kick is having an impact on somebody,” he said.

“I’ve been fortunate to work with some good athletes who’ve made Olympic teams. I’ve gotten to travel all over the world as a coach and I’m not really driven by that part of the game anymore.”

Franklin’s new position comes with a five-year contract, which will introduce more stability to a team that has had three coaches in the last three and a half years.

The swim team, the biggest in Laurier’s recent history, is already seeing the results of another change in coaching with increased practices with a different focus.

Franklin said his new coaching strategy is about energizing athletes and guiding them to see new things in themselves and their abilities, a focus Laurier swimmers say is inspiring them.

Fourth-year history major and veteran swim team member Matt Fisher said the ambitious new coach is emphasizing the quality of training over the quantity of training.

“Every day, we’ve learned something new,” he said.

“To be learning something new all the time is a lot more fun than just swimming laps.”

Fisher said some past coaching strategies have focused on the quantity of laps swimmers accumulated during practice, a noticeable contrast to Franklin’s focus on swimmers’ techniques. “It’s a lot more exciting,” he said.

After 35 years of teaching swimmers the value of quality over quantity, Franklin said the job stays new every day through the eyes of his students.

Although Franklin refuses to use a score sheet as the sole means to evaluate the progress of his team, he hopes his students will see results in competition this year.

“As a competitive swim coach, obviously I want to see that, but honestly you can’t just go by numbers and stats, you have to look inside the team,” he said.

With a sense of stability and consistency, Laurier’s aquatic best will hopefully gain a sense of coherence and long-term purpose.

Franklin replaces departing Laurier and ROW head coach Nandi Kormendi.

The swim team will participate in their first exhibition meet during homecoming weekend, with time trials featuring returning alumni.

The team will attend the OUA Invitational in Guelph on Oct. 15.

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