Schloder shines through adversity

There are not very many white women who would have the courage to walk into the backyard of gang territory. However, Monika Schloder is no ordinary woman. A swim coach by trade, a humanitarian in spirit, Schloder once risked her life and limb in an L.A. ghetto.

"I was teaching in the pool, and a black gang pulled off a Latino lifeguard and just beat him to pulp," she recalled. "We were all on our stomachs, and shots were flying every which way."

Okay, so what was she doing there in the first place? She says it’s just one of her many projects. For the past 10 years Schloder has run a summer program to get kids out of trouble and into sports. In that time she trained 217 swim and soccer coaches, who have, in turn trained other coaches. All of the original 217 are ex-gang members who, through this program, have turned their lives around. She’s had some major successes and some major disappointments, as well as her share of life threatening situations.

Given these credentials, Schloder is also a full-time professor at the University of Calgary in
the Department of Kinesiology. Currently in the fifth year of a 10-year study involving her own coaching philosophies, she focuses more on technique and efficiency than meterage. She also stresses the importance of an active, supportive coaching network for every swimmer. The overall goal of her theory is to produce well-rounded athletes that will not succumb to premature burnout. Throughout other parts of the world, Schloder is recognized for the five books she published on coaching methods and techniques in swimming. An elite level coach, Schloder has also sent athletes to the Olympics in swimming, track and gymnastics.

However, no one could say it has been an easy road. Almost every moment has been a challenge for the 40-year veteran. As far as coaching goes, swimming is a predominantly male sport, and the popular philosophy is to be tough and not worry too much about technique. Schloder challenged a lot of traditional beliefs in swimming with her theories. She has been continuously questioned, and been called crazy for her new ideas of producing athletes instead of swimmers.

Schloder admits the disrespect shown to her by the rest of the swimming community does hurt. Always overlooked, experts are actually flown in from Europe to teach Schloder’s theories. And in a country that constantly complains that not enough money is given to sports it seems that much of the problem is the distribution of funds.

"People here are always complaining, it’s the money, it’s the money, but we don’t even use the resources we have," said Schloder. "If we used the money we had more wisely, it could be distributed more easily."

It is for all these reasons that Schloder has taken a step back from elite level training to focus on the developmental part of the sport. With all the prestige at the top why would someone do such a thing?

"You are only as strong as your base," she said of Canada’s underachieving developmental program. "That backfired for Canada big time in the 2000 Olympics. We saw the results of that."

According to Schloder, nothing is put into the developmental program in Canada, and there needs to be a more systematic approach to the developmental level. Swimmers throughout Canada should have similar training programs, as well as some experienced coaching staff.

"Having more females in the coaching positions is needed," said Schloder. "With the proper guidance, they can do great things with these young kids."

Many groups talk about the need for more women in strong positions in sports, but do nothing to make it happen.

"If you want something to change you have to do it yourself," she said. "But the money is not there."

Schloder has trained between 17,000 and 18,000 coaches in Canada, and has received little recognition for it. What she would like is a scholarship fund set up to support women in coaching.

"I do this to see the fruits of my labour," she said. "I do it to know what I’m doing works, despite everything else."

As an athlete she promised herself she would make a difference. If you talk to the kids in the ghettos of L.A. or the coaches and athletes she mentored, or even some of the students in her classes, they would probably say she has. She has overcome almost every form of adversity. Monika Schloder is a woman of vision who is not afraid to fight for her beliefs.

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