The Breaststroke King of Hong Kong

【Interview with Gary Wong, Senior Coach of ESF Sports】

Having started swimming at the age of 7, Gary Wong has been very active in sports since he was young. At school, he took part in many different kinds of sports such as basketball and soccer. Wong says “at first, like many other top swimmers in Hong Kong, I started to learn swimming because I had nasal allergies. I didn’t know I would become a competitive swimmer until I had some good competition results.” Wong joined the swimming team at age 9 and broke the national records in the Hong Kong Amateur Swimming Association (HKASA) 50m and 100m breaststroke competitions for 10 & under. He started to think about becoming a competitive swimmer in high school. “I joined quite a lot of swimming competitions, such as the Inter-school Swimming Competitions and the Hong Kong Championships. I managed to get into the top 3 in the competitions. That was when I started to swim competitively,” says Wong. Swimming also helped him to get into the University of Hong Kong, and he became the captain of the HKU Swimming Team. After graduation, Wong became a full time athlete and was also selected to be the captain of Hong Kong Swimming Team.

As the current holder of a few national swimming records in Hong Kong, Wong expresses that he does not have strong feelings about keeping the records. “I am concerned about the process more than the results. When I am in training for competitions, I always set a very high target to push my limit. I worked hard to execute the plans to achieve the targets, and eventually I managed to win several medals in the Asian Swimming Championships.” Getting the individual medals is one of the biggest accomplishments Wong has achieved throughout his journey as an athlete since it was really the first time Hong Kong received the individual medals in such a major aquatics event in Asia. Wong continued “in addition to the individual medals from the Asian Swimming Championships, I’m also very proud of my “never give up” spirit. I’m now 30 years old, working as a swimming coach, but I’m still able to represent Hong Kong to take part in high level competitions. I don’t give up easily. As long as I am swimming in the mainstream, I’d still try to have improvement and set an even higher target for myself.”

A year ago, Wong started coaching at ESF Sports as a senior swimming coach. “I did have some coaching experience before ESF. As a senior in the Hong Kong Swimming Team, I always have the chance to coach the younger swimmers. But that’s not like here at ESF. Students at ESF Sports may be beginners who have never learned how to swim before, or their technique may not be perfect. We teach them the right techniques. It’s different from what I’ve done for the HK Team, but I enjoy it very much because I love working with kids. And most importantly, the philosophy and environment here at ESF Sports is a good match for me,” says Wong. Wong got his coaching license from the American Swimming Coaches Association (ASCA) and AUSTSWIM. He is also going to take the Swimming Coaches Certificate Course at HKASA. He points out that these coaching courses enhance his knowledge of teaching; for example, they provide steps for how to teach children who never learned swimming before.

The ESF Sharks Swimming program starts with children as young as 4 months old. The first program is called Baby & Me, and is for babies 4 to 30 months old. Since children are still too young to swim on their own at this stage, parents are required to be in the water with their child. “For the Baby & Me program, we are actually teaching the parents how to teach their kid. It’s a great opportunity for parents to spend time with the kids and let them be familiar with water. Since children are still young and safety is important, our coaches teach the parents what they should do,” says Wong. Following the Baby & Me program is the Learn to Swim program which is divided into four levels also known as SW 1-4. The objectives differ for each level. SW1 places emphasis on body movement and body position. Students in SW1 may not know how to swim. The classes introduce some basic swimming techniques to them, and help them get familiar with the swimming pool. For SW2 and SW3, freestyle, backstroke and breaststroke are introduced. Coordination is the key point. Students are also required to learn the correct technique of each stroke. The last of the four competitive swimming strokes, butterfly, is taught at SW4. Training at SW4 takes a more competitive approach to prepare students for the pre-squad in SW5. At the SW5 pre-squad stage, coaches give more complicated instruction for students to achieve certain targets. Students also get feedback from coaches on areas for improvement. If students have mastered all basic techniques and the four swimming strokes, they would be capable of getting into SW6, the ESF swim squads.

Wong thinks that the swimming culture here in Hong Kong is very good. Parents have been very supportive of all kinds of swimming competitions. “We always have one of the biggest cheering teams when we travel overseas for competitions. Parents nowadays are very supportive as they know the benefits of swimming. Parents want their children to be able to set goals for themselves and achieve the targets. If you have gone through sports training, you won’t give up easily. This attitude can be applied to everything else in your life.”

As a successful competitive swimmer, Wong identifies three elements that will help kids become successful swimmers. “First I would say is determination. Training is very boring. You’ve got to be determined to be able to go through the whole training process. Second I would say is technique. Swimming is a technical sport. From my experience, good technique makes a difference in your performance. And lastly, I would say is enjoyment. It’s hard to be a successful swimmer if you don’t like swimming. That’s also the reason why I’m working as a coach at ESF now - because kids who are here all enjoy swimming. They all finish the lesson with a smiley face.”

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