Terrace Bluebacks raising up young leaders

High expectations from coaches and positive team support are developing young leaders for the swim club and the Terrace, B.C. community.

Renzo Zanardo and Mackenzie Bannister became team captains this year

High expectations from coaches and positive team support are propelling young leaders upwards in the ranks of the Terrace Bluebacks Swim Club.

“I like to believe that everybody has leadership possibilities,” said head coach Mike Christensen. “The way we set up our club, every member gets a chance to lead at some point… and the ones who really gravitate to it, step into it and want to be in that role, and other kids naturally follow,” he said.

Expecting the swimmers to do well and act responsibly is a large part of what Christensen describes as the club’s focus.

“A huge part of the swim club is that we want these kids to develop into people who are going to contribute in solid ways to their families and to their kids in the future,” he said. “[We want to] build character… and when you expect them to do well, they usually rise to the challenge.”

That approach has had a clear impact on the two swimmers who became team captains at the club this year. Renzo Zanardo, 15, and Mackenzie Bannister, 13, both joined the club later than most and started out a bit behind other swimmers. But with hard work and a lot of support they have developed their swimming and their leadership abilities.

Christensen said Mackenzie was a naturally talented swimmer, but often wanted to give up if she could not do strokes perfectly.

“There were some times when I would said ‘okay, you don’t have a choice. I’m going to make you do it.’ Then we would kind of battle a little bit – a battle of the wills. But it’s because I believed in her, and she needed to believe in herself a little more,” Christensen said. “Then when she would get that little taste that she could do it, she would instantly pick it up and run with it.”

But more than her swimming, Christensen said what made her stand out for team captain was her dedication, enthusiasm and willingness to work hard. She also has a natural leadership abilities and works well with younger children.

And despite an injury and a tough swimming season, she says she enjoyed the role, which included leading cheers and helping swimmers get ready on time at competitions.

“It was a really big responsibility, but it was really fun to have the chance to do all that stuff,” Mackenzie said, adding that her favourite thing about the club is the friendships.

“We started the swim club as strangers, and we kind of developed into a swim family,” she said. “You pretty much spend every day with the people you are in the club with… you may be completely different, but you end up being so close.”

Like Mackenzie, Renzo has natural leadership abilities and brings a fun dynamic to the team, but Christensen said his development was not always easy either.

Renzo was in swimming lessons from a very young age, but struggled to develop his swimming, getting stuck at level six for seven years. But he didn’t give up, bolstered by encouragement from parents and supportive aquatic instructors, said his mom Heather.

“He didn’t lose hope, he kept trying… he loves the water and he loved the atmosphere,” she said.

He joined the swim club four years ago, after Heather was told about it by a friend.

When he joined the club he was “arguably one of weakest swimmers as far as technique,” said coach Christensen.

But the club looks for two things in athletes: enjoyment of the sport and willingness to work hard. “Those are the two things that Renzo has in spades,” Christensen said.

“He certainly wasn’t the most talented or gifted swimmer, and in many ways still isn’t. He has to work hard at his technique all the time… but he isn’t afraid to work hard and he doesn’t mind being challenged and pushed. That’s a quality you like as a coach.”

Christensen said he has been really hard on Renzo at times, but it is because he believes in Renzo and the results come when Renzo works hard.

Obviously impacted by that relationship, Christensen was the first thing Renzo talked about when he was asked about the club.

“Mostly what I like about being on the team is my coach – Mike. He’s a really great coach… if something is not working for you, he knows how to help you fix it,” Renzo said. “A big thanks to [all my coaches] for helping me out and pushing me through when it’s been tough.”

Renzo said that he enjoys competitions, meeting new people, and seeing the payoffs of his effort.

“What I put in, is what I get out,” he said, adding that being in shape and learning to wake up early are other benefits from the club.

His mom Heather added that he is also more aware of making healthy choices.

But the biggest thing she appreciates about the club is that they care about more than just developing athletes.

“They are not just interested in developing the participant physically… they care about their whole well being… their development as a person,” she said, adding that Renzo is able to juggle multiple sports without pressure to commit solely to swimming.

The strength of the club is also in the encouraging and supportive atmosphere set by coaches, the board, the parents and swimmers, Heather said.

They cheer each other on even as they compete against each other, she said.

“There is such a positive team spirit, positive team building. It starts from coaches and board members, to parents and kids,” she said.

Christensen agreed.

“I have an amazing coaching team… and then we have amazing parents too,” he said, adding that the board and parents all get along and set a very positive atmosphere.

“We’ve been super blessed…. We are really fortunate to have the people we do,” he said.