Andy Sharp's Diary from the Deck

15 Mar 2023

In the second edition of our Diary from the Deck series with world-class coaches from across our aquatic disciplines, Andy Sharp – Director of Swimming and Head Coach at Northampton Swimming Club - gives his thoughts on an exciting year for para-swimming, how his athletes will be prepared for this week's Para Swimming World Series meet in Sheffield and the adaptations that are made in the training environment for athletes with certain impairments...

My journey in swimming coaching began in 2005, and in September of that year I became assistant coach at Northampton, working alongside Mark Perry and Jacquie Marshall, whose support and help along the way I am always grateful for. I spent 12 years as the club's Head Coach, coaching Ellie Robinson to a Paralympic gold and bronze at Rio 2016 and playing my part in a coaching team that saw the club achieve Top Club at the 2018 British Summer Championships, among other highlights. 

In 2020, I was successful in applying for the Director of Swimming and Head Coach role at NSC. I am proud to have worked my way up through all levels at the club and I am now helping to develop the next generation of coaches and swimmers at NSC. I am passionate about swimming and want to help swimmers and coaches achieve their goals.

Having the 2023 Para Swimming WorldChampionships in Manchester is always exciting as it brings the whole country together. I was fortunate enough to get tickets to attend swimming heats and finals at the London 2012 Olympic Games and I was also part of the British Para Swimming Inspiration team for the World Para Swimming Championships in London in 2019. The atmosphere at the pools was amazing and great to have support from the British public. Another home World Championships is a great opportunity for the British public to watch and be inspired by para-swimmers from across the globe. It would be great to see lots of schools and swimming clubs have the opportunity  to attend and be part of the championships.

Working with different levels of athletes who have a wide range of experience is a big part of coaching in a club environment. We will treat the upcoming Para Swimming World Series Inc. British Para Swimming Meet like any other competition; focusing on the process and getting the athletes to do their best in and out of the pool. It is important for athletes to have fun and enjoy what they are doing without putting too much pressure on themselves.

I work with athletes with a wide range of impairments, but working with athletes with a visual impairment creates a number of specific challenges. To help provide an environment that is inclusive and safe, we have a number of volunteers that give up their time to assist at sessions. Poolside helpers are used as tappers. We use poles with tennis balls attached to the end of them to tap Eliza and Scarlett Humphrey when they approach the wall for turns and finishes. 

Swimmers in the squad that are able to see also help and assist during sessions. This creates a great team spirit and develops communication and leadership skills. Eliza and Scarlett have the same expectations as other athletes in the squad for attendance, work ethic and how they apply themselves in practise and at competitions. Throughout the week, they will swim in a lane with three or four other swimmers. 

Scarlett Humphrey breaststroke BPSM 2022.jpg
Sharp coaches both Scarlett (pictured) and Eliza Humphrey

Ahead of the major meets like this week, prep meets are important throughout the season. They allow athletes to practise racing and build into the major meets. From the start of the season, our para-swimmers are racing at events and open meets with the rest of the team. We race short-course from September to December and then from January onwards racing long-course. Each meet we attend has a different focus, whether it be focusing on race tactics, the process of warm-ups and swim downs, progressions from heats to finals, racing multiple events or specific events. 

NSC para-swimmers will race events in their para-swimming category but also other events that are shorter or longer to help them to learn race tactics, develop speed in shorter events and work on endurance for longer events. For example, Eliza recently raced the 1500m Freestyle at our county championships and broke the British Record (There is no S11 1500 Freestyle event on the international stage). Racing this event helps with the development of the 400m Freestyle.

As we work towards Paris 2024, the main aims and objectives are to continue to work hard in and out the pool and enjoy swimming. We will keep working on improving areas of weakness and keep working on our strengths to make these even better. Of course, Paris 2024 is in the back of our minds but it is still a long time away, so we don’t want to think about it day in and day out at the moment. As long as swimmers continue to enjoy what they are doing and keep working hard that’s all we can ask.

Tickets are still available for this week's Para Swimming World Series inc. British Para-Swimming Meet in Sheffield. Visit the ticket page to pick up yours - or alternatively, don't miss a second of action with our livestream coverage from the Deep End Live studio on the British Swimming YouTube channel.