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Swimming coach Tom Howells is making a big splash

All Areas > Sport > Swimming

Author: Roger Jackson, Posted: Friday, 20th December 2019, 09:00

Tom Howells Tom Howells

Tom Howells has been head swimming coach at Cheltenham Swimming and Water Polo Club for the best part of six months and he’s enjoyed every minute of his new role.

Mind you, that’s not really surprising because he’s been in and around swimming pools for much of his 25 years, almost from the days when he could first walk and talk.

His dad Mark was a competitive swimmer back in the day and Howells junior said: “I did swimming lessons when I was young and they provided me with a pathway to become a club swimmer when I was eight.”

Like his dad, Tom was – and is – a butterfly specialist and, like his dad, he swam for Gloucester City Swimming Club.

But although he was brought up in Gloucester – he still lives there - these days Tom is very much all about Cheltenham Swimming and Water Polo Club even though he still occasionally rolls back the years and swims for Gloucester Masters.

“I run the training programme for the swimmers at Cheltenham,” he said. “I’ve always enjoyed coaching and it’s a really good job.”

Howells works full-time in swimming, aside from working at Cheltenham he also takes swimming lessons at a couple of other swim schools.

His first experience as a coach came after he left St Peter’s Sixth Form in Gloucester – he’d been at Churchdown School before that – and he said: “I took a year out before I went to university and worked as a swim coach at GL1.”

He enjoyed that and he enjoyed his time at the University of Gloucestershire where he continued to swim regularly.

“I swam in the BUCs championships and also in the Varsity Match against the University of Worcester,” he said.

After taking some time out to go travelling – he went to New Zealand, Fiji, Indonesia and Samoa among many other places – he returned to this country in early 2019 and did a bit of swimming coaching while he waited for the right opportunity to come along.

That chance came at Cheltenham and he said: “I see my role as a project, it’s a building process. Because I’m quite young I’ve got time to move the club on and establish a competitive base although our main aim is to be a community development club.”

Howells has a one-year rolling contract and he continued: “I’d like to see how far we can develop the club over the next five years. I’m keen to take the club forward from where they are now, I might be there 10 or 15 years.”

And although a community-based club – they’re based at the leisure centre in Tommy Taylors Lane – they have some very good swimmers as well.

“We have swimmers who qualify for regional championships and then go off to university and progress further,” said Howells.

“Hannah McCarthy swam for the club until she was 18 and then went to Swansea University and in 2014 she competed in the Commonwealth Games.

“Hopefully we can develop more swimmers to a good standard who can then go to university and maximise their potential.”

What makes Cheltenham Swimming and Water Polo Club different from many other clubs is that – as their name would suggest – they are not just all about the swimming.

There’s also the water polo – Cheltenham are one of the most successful clubs in the country – as well as the synchronised swimming section and Howells added: “It’s great to be involved in a successful multi-disciplined club.

“We’ve got people who have represented Great Britain in the water polo. And there is some crossover because they will come and do some of the swimming sessions, so we offer the full package in terms of coaching.”

So what makes a good coach?

“The ability to listen to your swimmers,” said Howells. “You need to understand how they’re feeling, how the water is feeling.

“You need to be able to adapt. If they’re struggling you need to pull the reins in.

“You need to be encouraging, approachable, happy – there’s no getting away from it, with swimming you’re either looking at the floor or the ceiling so you try to create an enjoyable environment.”

And what makes a good swimmer?

“Certain people have the ability to glide through the water,” continued Howells. “They make it look so effortless, it’s natural to them.

“It’s a massive bonus if they’re big as well. Most successful athletes in all sports have long levers, but that isn’t always the case, there are some swimmers who are on the shorter side.”

Howells is 5ft 8in so it’s fair to say that he comes into that category but he certainly had plenty of success as a youngster.

“I swam for Gloucester until I was 19,” he said with some pride, “I was club captain for two years.”

He reckons he was a better butterfly swimmer than his dad although he admits that his dad was a better all-round swimmer.

Both were Gloucester City Swimming Club stalwarts, of course, so which is Tom’s number one swimming club these days?

“Cheltenham,” he said without a moment’s hesitation. “I will always have an interest in Gloucester, I wouldn’t be the person I am today without them and I will always be grateful to them.

“But from a coaching point of view, I want Cheltenham to perform better than Gloucester.”

He admits that right now Gloucester are a stronger swimming club than Cheltenham but he insisted: “As an aquatic club, we’re more successful.”

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