Heart of Midlothian Swimming Club head coach Phil Potter appreciates just what it takes to make the grade in the pool.
Having represented England as a junior over two decades ago, Potter’s commitments now revolve around getting the best out of those who have similar aspirations on the international stage.
The 40-year-old has been the driving force of top city club Hearts for the last 16 years and, earlier this year, was instrumental in steering Scotland to an eight-medal haul at the Youth Commonwealth Games in the Bahamas in July.
However, as he prepares to accept sportscotland’s Personal Development Award at the Stirling Court Hotel tonight, Potter insists it’s those who are required to make so many sacrifices at such a young age that are the genuine stars of the sport.
“All of our guys are still at school so they’re having to juggle their time accordingly which can be so difficult,” explained Potter, who moved up to Edinburgh from York in 1998 after graduating with a BA (Hons) in Physical Education.
“They spend 16 hours per week in the pool and various other hours doing land training and strength and conditioning. We have four mornings each week that start off at 5.30am in the pool and they are back again in the evening after school for more pool time.
“Every other weekend there are competitions too, but the reason they do it is because they love it.
“We’ve got some really talented and committed swimmers who are getting the results they deserve and it’s so uplifting to see.
“We have a very well-structured programme and I’ve seen things develop quite a lot in my time here, so we’re in a bit of a purple patch right now which isn’t a coincidence. We’ve put a lot of hard work into it over the years and the staff are making a difference.
“We’ve got some great youngsters coming through at the club including one of our swimmers, Keanna MacInnes, who won bronze at the World Junior Championships a couple of months ago and is now going to the Commonwealth Games in April.”
Potter was elated with the performance of Team Scotland on the Caribbean island four months ago. “First and foremost it was a fantastic experience,” he said. “I was there with a team of swimmers, none of whom I personally coach on a daily basis, so it was great to get to know and work with new kids.
“They were an absolute pleasure to be around, so all I had to do was create a good environment for the ten days we were there and everyone swam to a fantastic level. To come home with eight medals was a brilliant effort.”
Having arrived in the Capital 19 years ago as a young graduate, Potter’s first foray into coaching was as an assistant coach with Warrender Baths Club. However, the lure of being offered the top position at Hearts was too strong to resist.
“I’ve been in Edinburgh for a long time now. I just fancied a change after uni. I felt I had quite a lot to give back with my experiences as a swimmer so the natural thing to do was to go into coaching,” Potter said. “I started with Warrender but when the opportunity to take over at Hearts came along, I jumped at it and have never looked back since. I’ve really enjoyed every minute of it.
“Being a swimmer and then going into coaching, they are similar in terms of time demands and structure of your day, but I don’t really compare them anymore. I used to when I was making that transition.
“I’m looking forward to the awards tonight. I wasn’t actually aware Scottish Swimming had nominated me for it so to find out about it was a big surprise. I’m well aware that any awards are based on how well my swimmers do, so it’s really down to them. It’s not what I’m there for, but it’s nice to be recognised in that way.”