Competitive swimming often flies under the radar – and Matt Teokotai-White is determined to change that.
Teokotai-White started as the new head coach at Liz van Welie Aquatics in Pyes Pa this week and he hopes to raise the profile of the sport around Tauranga and the Bay of Plenty.
His aim is having more people take the sport as seriously as other codes such as rugby and rowing.
The 27-year-old, who has relocated from Hamilton where he was the head coach at Waikato’s Hillcrest Swimming Club, has developed swimmers at national and international levels, was named Waikato’s 2017 Coach of the Year and was part of Swimming New Zealand’s coaching team at the Oceania Championships in Papua New Guinea in June.
Through his experience and international travel as a coach, the Hamilton-born and Tokoroa-raised Teokotai-White has witnessed how highly valued swimming is as a sport in other parts of the world and wants to better educate swimmers, parents and the community about the sport as a whole.
In other countries, Teokotai-White says swimming is a team-based sport, and he hopes to change the perception that it is an individual pursuit. He also believes young people having success in the sport will help draw and retain young swimmers.
Promoting those successes is the key, he says.
People often take up swimming in their younger years, but numbers tend to dwindle as they switch to other, more popular sports such as rugby and netball, he says.
As a child, Teokotai-White focused solely on swimming. He was a national champ at the age of 10, but by 12 he gave it up to put more emphasis on his schoolwork. That lasted about a year before he got bored and wanted to have another crack at sports – eventually playing rugby, cricket and water polo.
“Swimming is a difficult sport … it’s hard to give swimming a good nudge without sacrificing a lot,” Teokotai-White said.
It’s not unusual for competitive swimmers to be putting in 20 hours a week in the pool and an extra five-plus hours of conditioning work, he says.
He believes it is essential for young people to try multiple sports because focusing solely on one could be detrimental to their passion for it – and had he participated in more sports when he was younger, he may have continued to swim competitively.
Instead, he has pursued a career in coaching – something that runs in the family. His brother, Stanton Teokotai-White, is the head coach at Mount Maunganui Amateur Swimming Club.
Teokotai-White says there are many strong swim clubs and coaches in the Bay of Plenty and he hopes that together they can achieve big things, raise the standard of swimming in the region and be seen as a region to emulate in other areas.
He has long-term plans and is looking forward to working towards achieving those goals in Tauranga and the Bay of Plenty.
“I want what’s best for the athlete; I can see what benefits swimming can provide.”