STRONGER together, weaker apart.
It’s a slogan that does not often fit well in the world of competitive sport where clubs, in order to look after their own self-interests, often struggle to see the bigger picture.
Fife swimming, however, has bucked the trend, and as a result, is going from strength to strength.
Back in June 2009, ten local clubs embraced a request from Scottish Swimming and Fife Council to put years of rivalry behind them and unite under one umbrella, the Fife Swim Group.
The aim was to identify the best young swimmers from each individual club for extra elite coaching in order to turn them into international athletes.
John Dougall, a former Scottish internationalist, was appointed the group’s first performance coach, and less than two years into the project, it is well on course towards meeting its targets with young Fifers now among the top performers at national level.
One swimmer, 16-year-old Jordan Lamb from Cardenden, is even travelling to London this month for an Olympic trial.
For Ken White, a long-serving coach at Kirkcaldy club Fins, it was the willingness of individual clubs to work together that has allowed the Fife swimming scene to flourish.
“Over the years, trying to get Fife clubs to work together was an impossibility,” he explained.
“When Scottish Swimming approached Fife Council to try and get the clubs together, it took quite a while to get them all to agree.
“But once they did, we appointed John as head coach, started the training, and gradually the squad has grown over that time.
“And the performance of the swimmers has come on leaps and bounds over that time.”
For head coach John, all the hours of hard work in the pool are paying off.
“We hit the water with an initial squad of 12 swimmers, now we’re up to 27,” he said.
“Very quickly, within a year and a half, we’ve had British and multi-Scottish champions.
“We’ve also got Jordan going down to the Olympic trials this month, while 80 per cent of the squad are on the national squad programme.
“It’s snow-balled very quickly and we’re now challenging some of the top programmes in country.”
Working alongside John is a dedicated team of volunteers, some of whom get up as early as 5 a.m to help teach the elite squad.
“These people are up at the crack of dawn, then do a full day’s work and come back and coach again in the evening,” John said.
“It’s a phenomenal commitment that they are prepared to put all these hours in over and above their own work and family time.”
Not only has the creation of the Fife Swim Group helped the region as a whole, individual clubs are also reaping the rewards.
John added: “Six out of the nine clubs are now reaching finals and winning medals at district level, which is good to see.
“When we set up, Incas and Fins were dominating, but now there are four other clubs getting success as well, which shows there is good depth of talent across the region.”
The challenge now for the Fife Swim Group is to secure the investment it requires to continue.
At present the project is funded via three sources – its 10 member clubs, Fife Council and Scottish Swimming.
However, in order to survive, the group must become self-funded, and as Gina Logan, the group’s vice-chairman explains, that won’t be easy.
“It’s incredible how much it costs a parents to put a swimmer through this level of training and competition,” she said.
“It can be up to £10,000 a year for one swimmer – and we have one family with two sisters and a brother.
“There are a lot of expenses to cover training costs, entry fees for galas, and costs for hotels. It’s a very expensive sport to be involved in.
“We’re gearing up to the Olympics this year, and from a Scottish viewpoint the Commonwealth Games in 2014, and a lot of John’s squad are aiming for it.
“We’re hopeful there are businesses out there that want to be part of that legacy for this country.”
Swimming’s governing body has praised the Fife swimming clubs for sharing a single vision.
Sarah Pryde, a regional swimming development manager with Scottish Swimming, said: “It’s about having one vision, and Fife have that vision where clubs have come together to share resources, because you can’t do it alone.
“We’re really happy with how Fife is progressing and where they are, not just with the development of swimmers, but with club and coach development.
“As a directic result of the Fife Swim Group, we are seeing more licenced coaches in Fife, and that’s down to the mentoring opportunities available through John and the club coaches working together.
“Fife is also going through our national accreditation scheme – Swim Mark – which makes sure there are certain policies and procedures in place for the committee.
“We’re really happy with the overall infrastructure in Fife, and we’ll look to continue to support and invest in it, although eventually it will need to become self-sufficient.
“We expect that to take around seven or eight years.”
With swimmers representing some of the country’s best hopes for gold medals in the upcoming Games, Sarah believes the structure of the sport is an example for others to follow.
“We’re a high achieving sport,” she said. “We bring clubs together and show that they achieve more by working together – that’s where swimming excels. Other sports can probably learn from that.”