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Eric Kramer worked to become the coach he wished he had when he was a swimmer

Posted 2021-08-30

By Jim Morris

After he retired as a swimmer it took Eric Kramer just two weeks to beginning coaching. The process of becoming the kind of coach he wanted to be took longer.

The native of Verdun, Que., swam with the Pointe-Claire Swim Club from age 15 to 20.

“To be honest with you, I was kind of annoyed by the way I was coached,” said  Kramer, 62, who is now head coach of the Saskatoon Laser Swim  Club. “I didn’t feel that what I was getting as an athlete was right.

“I had a chip on my shoulder. I wanted to make it better.”

It took about two years for Kramer to realize he was following the same path he wanted to avoid.

“I remember looking one day at the kids, looking in their eyes,” he said. “I remember (thinking) ‘my God, they’ve got the same look as I had. I don’t want to put them through that.’

“From then on, I just really worked hard at changing, understanding and managing better to make them feel that they can enjoy and get better and not have to go through the grinder the way I did. From then on, my career changed a lot because I went in an opposite direction of how I was trained. The rest is kind of history.”
Kramer is part of the Swimming Canada coaching staff at the Tokyo Paralympics. He sees attending his first Paralympics as a way to increase awareness of Para-swimming in Saskatchewan.

“I’m really happy because I hope this gives a good jolt for Para-swimming in our province,” he said. “At our club we have the biggest learn-to-swim program in all of Canada for impaired children. Our goal eventually is to have more kids from Saskatchewan making the Paralympic team.

“I think our program is going to be getting more publicity, more visibility and then we’ll be able to contribute to Canadian swimming and Para-athletics.”

Two members of the Lasers club will swim in Tokyo. Shelby Newkirk of Saskatoon is a world championship silver medallist in the 100-metre backstroke while Nikita Ens of Meadow Lake, Sask., is a Canadian record holder in the 100-m freestyle and 50-m backstroke.

Kramer is two-time Swimming Canada Coach of the Year (Female Para-swimmer) and was part of the coaching staff at the London 2019 World Para Swimming Championships. He also received the 2020 Saskatchewan Sport Award in Coach Dedication.

During his career Kramer coached Patricia Noall, a bonze medallist at the 1988 Seoul Olympics and Martine Dessureault, who swam at the 1996 Atlanta Games. He also was an assistant coach for Canada at the 1990 Commonwealth Games.

Kramer said the key to coaching is understanding swimmers are people first, athletes second.

“I really feel that once these individuals feel that they are respected as human beings we can get a lot more out of them,” he said. “They’re not machines. It’s not like back in the 1980s. They have to get the added value.”

A coach also must refine and enhance a swimmer’s technical skills.

“A great coach has to be the best teacher,” said Kramer. “It’s a skill sport. It’s not just swimming, like it used to be. The best swimmers have the best skills for their body.

“They have to be as efficient as they can for the way they are. You have to adapt to make them as efficient as possible as they’re progressing into international swimming.”

Working with Para-swimmers has taught Kramer patience.

“Being respectful, they are broken,” he said. “For me honestly, it has really kept me motivated.

“We have to be a lot more patient with the para-kids learning how to swim. It  takes a little longer for them to learn how to manage their body. I think it’s a great challenge because every child,  young man, young woman is different. I really thrive on that. It  gives me a great  challenge about how we can make them good.”

Growing up, many Para-swimmers are told they can’t do certain activities. They are warned to be careful and avoid dangers.

“They’re tired of this,” said Kramer. “They want to be treated like everyone else. It took me a while to adapt and not feel sorry for them and really give them what they want, to be able to work with them.”

Kramer joined the Lasers in 2015.  The Para Learn to Swim program had been started two years earlier by a pair of mothers whose daughters had spina bifida.

“When I got hired I was really excited there was already a Para-wing developed,” said Kramer. “I kind of barged in like a bull in a china shop.

“Six year later, we’re getting so many calls.”

Kramer credits his assistant coach Ryan Jones with helping to build the program. Having two swimmers heading to the Paralympic has also raised media attention.

“Our goal is to become the biggest Para program in the country and then we want to be able to feed the national team out of Saskatchewan,” he said. “It’s realistic.

“I don’t say thing just to say things. We have the capability and we have the support from our team.”

Kramer said working with Para-swimmers has made him a better coach and improved his teaching skills. His goal is to watch them in the water and not realize they have a disability.

“I can’t control if they want to go on the national team or become competitive, but they can have good life skills,” he said. “They can go and have access to some of the natural habitat we have in Saskatchewan and be safe and be able to swim.”

Looking back, Kramer believes the young swimmer he was would appreciate the coach he has become.

“Many of the swimmers I swam with don’t swim anymore,” he said. “Now a lot them that I coached, they still swim.

“I’m kind of happy the way it developed. I was a little raw when I started but I matured. I became a good student of the sport at all levels.”


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