Alex Dawson won the coach of the year award at the recent Northwest Alberta Sport Excellence online awards ceremony.
The director of swimming with the Grande Prairie Piranhas was in the running with three other competitors for the award, Dawson winning for the first time.
“I am really happy, obviously, to accept that award and it’s a privilege to be the coach of the year in the north west of Alberta,” Dawson said. “There a lot of great coaches out there in a lot of different sports vying for that top spot and I’m glad to be on top of that pedestal.”
Piranhas swimmer Catherine Minic nominated Dawson but finished second best as team president James Robinson was the first to nominate the transplanted Englishman.
“I received an email saying he was already nominated, so someone beat me to it,” Minic said.
Though the precise reasonings for Dawson winning this award aren’t publicly revealed, there’s a strong chance his Zoom work with the swim club last summer didn’t do him any harm in the eyes of the voting committee.
After the COVID-19 lockdowns hit northern Alberta in mid-March of last year, Dawson and his swim staff went ahead and put together a series of workouts and challenges, attempting to keep the swimmers physically and mentally engaged, providing a bright beacon in an otherwise churning sea of blackness.
“It’s mine (and the other coaches) responsibility to ensure those athletes, at that time, had a fixed point in their lives that was not ever changing in a time of uncertainty,” Dawson said. “I guess that was the drive, more than anything else. These kids invest a lot (of time) in the sport, into themselves, and for that to be taken away, along with everything else, sitting in their basements mulling life over. We made a collective effort to really invest in those kids, not just as athletes but as people.”
Minic, for one, was a frequent participant in whatever Dawson and the staff had planned, the workouts numbering usually two sessions a day for every day of the week, the material suitable for the competitive and non-competitive swimmers in the program.
“I just think coach Alex is probably one of the best coaches out there,” Minic added. “And it’s not about how hard he pushes us in the pool or in training but he has this thing where I think he really cares about the club and the swimmers. Throughout the pandemic and when we had times of no training at all he was still finding innovative and cool ways to trying keep us in shape. I don’t know how many coaches out there actually use stuff like that.”
Way more than one
Currently, the program has approximately 110 competitive swimmers in the water but the club has “way more (swimmers) than that.”
Dawson would like to be remembered as a firm, fair and honest coach. Most important of all, he wants to set a positive example for every athlete in the club.
“I want them to remember me as someone they respected and that was approachable and just a good mentor in life, not just in sport,” Dawson said.
Even though his name is on the award, the five-year man with the club acknowledged he’s just the point man for the successful team.
“It’s a team of 15 coaches and instructors that have set this pathway in motion for success,” Dawson said. “My name might be on the end of it but it’s also them. A big thank you, not just to the coaching staff, not just to the board, the parents and the swimmers, it’s about the city and the Eastlink Centre management for giving us the ability to get the job done appropriately and safely.”
The Piranhas coaching staff consists of Nick Wenzel, Julia Dutove and Matt Burton with Michelle Dawson as the Learn to Swim Coordinator.