STEPHENVILLE Stephenville native Robert Dower believes Aqua Aces Swim Club coach Leonard Roxon’s approach goes against every ethical coaching guideline in Canada.
However, Roxon, who took over the coaching duties with the Aqua Aces in September, insists he is just passing on information to his athletes like any good coach would do in an effort to help them improve their performance in the pool.
Dower, a 25-year-old who recently returned to Stephenville after retiring from the Canadian Navy, has a younger brother — 12-year-old Patrick Power — swimming with the Aqua Aces.
Dower has concerns about a series of recent emails coach Roxon sent to members of the club and felt it was necessary to let people know what’s been happening under the tutelage of the coach, father of Paralympic swimming star Katarina Roxon.
Dower says he disagrees with coach Roxon distributing to children — ages five to 16 registered with the club — an email Dower views as encouraging the use of performance boosting substances such as Gu Energy Gel.
He also says he didn’t appreciate an email sent out that detailed coach Roxon’s concern about ferritin (iron) levels in his swimmers because the coach felt many swimmers were struggling to keep up with the program.
Dower thought it wasn’t appropriate for the coach to ask young swimmers to get blood work done.
“Bloodwork for five-year-olds is totally inappropriate,” Dower said. “They’re in there to have a little bit of fun and, if by some miracle they become Olympic swimmers like his daughter (Katarina) did, that would be great. But if they don’t, then this is a little fun after school for them to do.”
As for Roxon, he said he’s doing what a coach is supposed to do and that’s to apply what he learns from people who have paved the way.
“I’m not promoting anything. I’ve given them nutrition and hydration guidelines according to Coaches of Canada,” he said. “They’re not my own guidelines and I’m not promoting any specific drink or methodology. I’ve given them an entire list of the things they can do, which is what any coach should do and which is what the national team does with us.
“All the philosophies I use with the team are philosophies that I have learned from the national team and anything I suggest I’ve got sufficient scientific documentation to back up what I suggest.”
“It’s all within the Coaches of Canada guidelines and what he (Dower) is doing is picking and choosing selective words and selective sentences putting it out of context, and he’s manipulating everything that I have said and he’s not taking the full email in context,” Roxon added.
“Anybody can take one word and put it together with another word and make it look bad, and that’s exactly what he’s doing.”
Roxon said emails were sent to swimmers, with his only intent being to inform and educate, and by no means did he suggest that youngsters as young as six years old be eager to try Gu or any of the other suggested gels he mentioned.
“I just sent out an email to all parents so nobody feels left out, that’s it,” he said. “I’m not saying a six-year-old should take Gu. Gu is what the national team physiologist suggested that competitive athletes take.”
“There’s no banned substances in it, and it’s not a performance-enhancer like Robert portrays it to be,” he added.
As for the email asking parents for blood work, Roxon recognized lot of the swimmers were struggling with the program so he wanted to eliminate various reasons for this including low ferritin (iron) levels.
“If iron levels are low, there is a chance kids may get sick,” he said.
“I have an email from the national team physiologist who has suggested that these are the tests that need to be done,” he added, noting his email included a number of disclaimers including one to discuss this issue with a physician and that it’s not compulsory for a swimmer to be a member of the club.
Roxon, who was teaching Robert to swim in the evenings for free until his schedule wouldn’t allow it, finds it odd that it’s only now that the family is voicing concerns about his coaching methods. He suspects it all went awry in January after he had a discipline issue with Patrick.
“If they thought that because of how friendly they are with me that their child would get extra concessions I’m sorry because I have to treat every child fairly,” he added.
According to Roxon, his swimmer was back at practice the next day, but has since been handed a temporary suspension by the club’s executive.
Roxon says he isn’t taking the matter lightly and he feels he has done nothing wrong to jeopardize the safety or training of his swimmers.
“He’s taking everything that I’ve said and twisted it around and that’s up to him,” Roxon said. “I have already sought legal counsel.”
When the young swimmer does return to the Aces, he will be looking at working with a new coach because Roxon said he has the right to choose who he coaches.