UAE swimming needs heavier parent involvement to succeed says former head coach

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  • Egypt's Yousef Abdalla qualified to the World Champs in the 100m backstroke.

    ​UAE swimming needs heavier involvement from swimmers’ parents in order to develop, according to Sherif Habib, former head coach of the Emirati national team.

    Habib, who spent 14 years coaching swimming in the Emirates, is currently the head coach of the Egyptian National Team, who destroyed the field at the Arab Age Group Swimming Championship which concluded yesterday in Dubai, topping the medals table with a total of 170, including 72 gold.

    Algeria placed second with 49 medals including 12 gold, while the UAE were bottom of the table with just three medals – two silver and one bronze courtesy of Ahmed Aidaros and Ali Al Kaabi.

    Former head coach of the Emirati national team Sherif Habib.

    “The problem here is that there is a gap between the parents and the swimmers. And swimming without parents is very weak,” said Habib, who spent six years coaching the UAE team in the past, as well as two years at Al Wasl Club and two more at Al Ain Club.

    “Parents make sure the swimmer is eating right, studying well, is well-motivated… They tell their kids ‘I want to come see you compete’. They sit in the stands and cheer on and go home proud of their kids. Here we don’t have that. So the kids reach a certain point then lose interest.

    “They don’t have the motivation. So that’s the missing link. The sport here in the UAE started with a bus going around the kids’ houses, picking them up for practice. UAE parents aren’t used to taking their kids themselves to practice and watching them train. So it started like this and it’s been going on the same way.

    “They need to get parents involved here to teach them the culture of the sport, the importance of sport and how to motivate their kids when they lose interest. There are still parents here who consider sport as a game and they’d rather have their children study.

    “There’s only so much a coach can do. If I have a swimmer who came to practice without eating well, then he won’t practice well, and can’t compete well for example… it’s a vicious circle.”

    Khader Baqlah became Jordan’s first swimmer to qualify to this year’s Worlds

    A total of 32 Arab records were smashed over the four-day meet, which was held in conjunction with the Dubai International Aquatics Championship (DIAC). The 10 best swimmers from both championships in the morning session competed in a super-final in the evening each day.

    The DIAC served as a qualifying event for the upcoming World Aquatic Championships in Kazan this summer and four swimmers managed to register qualifying times.

    Khader Baqlah became Jordan’s first swimmer to qualify to this year’s Worlds when he clocked 1:52.11 to win gold in the 200m freestyle in the DIAC.

    “This was a very tough meet because unlike other competitions where you go a bit easy in the morning heats and go all out in the finals at night, this one you had to go big in the morning because they held the Arab Championship and the DIAC together.

    “And then you if you do well in the morning, you also have a super-final at night,” said Baqlah, who competed in the last World Championship in 2013 in Barcelona.

    “But still I’m really happy to be the first Jordanian to qualify to this year’s World Championships. That was one of my goals and now I hope to qualify to the Rio Olympics as well.”

    Saurabh Sangvekar of Dolphin Aquatics India also booked a spot in Kazan as well as Egypt duo Mohamed Samy and Yousef Abdalla.

    Habib believes the DIAC’s field was disappointing this year and hopes it can get stronger in the coming years.

    “I think what saved the DIAC is the Arab Championship. Had the Arab Championship not been held here, I think the DIAC would have been very poor. It’s the lowest level I’ve ever seen at the DIAC,” said the Egyptian.

    “There aren’t many strong swimmers. Egypt is here with the youth team, none of our first team swimmers are here and we’ve dominated the pool. Had we brought our first team we would’ve had 10 swimmers in every super-final.

    “Of course we’re happy, we scooped most of the medals and are heading home. But I think this championship needs to be rethought because it can be much better. At a venue like this and in a city like Dubai, and it’s suitable timing in the calendar… it should be a much stronger swim meet. I don’t know why it is not. Even the strong expat swimmers who live here didn’t take part.”