James Freezer is eager to put City of Cambridge Swimming Club on path to glory
National success is in the sights of head coach
The schoolmasterly figure striding purposefully along the side of Parkside Pools clearly has an objective in mind.
With three stopwatches in hand, there is a steely focus on watching the swimmers going hell for leather in the four lanes.
The commands are in short, sharp bursts that echo around the cavernous nature of the swimming hall as James Freezer has a goal – the national championships.
He wants nothing less than the athletes in his control to be in peak condition at the highlight of the year, and they are having to prepare in what are best described as interesting conditions.
Parkside Pools is split in half, so while one section caters for the leisurely, hobbyist swimmer, the other is focused on high performance – and the two occasionally mix, such as on this occasion when a member of the public inadvertently joins the City of Cambridge Swimming Club warm-up before being informed by a lifeguard of the error.
It is a minor problem that Freezer has got used to contending with during his eight-year tenure at the club – one which has seen them become a force on the national level again.
“I was approached by City of Cambridge Swimming Club about the opportunity of coming in and revitalising a club that had been on the wane for a little bit,” said head coach Freezer.
“They were struggling and I assessed the options and thought it was a chance to implement a plan that I saw would work long term.
“It was a really tough and challenging opportunity to come in. I think at the time we had one national swimmer, and we had three by the end of that season.
“Every club goes through peaks and troughs and we have definitely had that in my time here; we’ve had some really successful years.
“We’ve progressively got better and this year we go to nationals with about 20 swimmers and with people going in with medal opportunities, which is great for everyone in the club.
“From parents, committee, all the coaching team, it just shows that everyone working in the same direction really does have an influence on the impact, and the opportunities for swimmers in Cambridge and the surrounding area.”
Freezer, 34, was a swimmer himself, starting at Stowmarket Swimming Club before moving on to Ipswich Swimming Club, picking up the coaching baton aged only 16.
He was assisting at Stowmarket and that developed further at Ipswich, before he quit his full-time job to take up a part-time coaching role as assistant coach at West Suffolk Swimming Club. He then moved to UEA City of Norwich Swimming Club for four years.
And it is looking back on his own racing days and feeling that he underachieved as a competitor by staying at a small club for too long, and therefore hindering his development, that drives Freezer to become a better coach then he ever was a swimmer.
“You’ve got to be a great communicator,” said Freezer, on the skills required to be a coach. “You’ve got to be able to get the point across that you’re trying to get the swimmer to learn.
“It’s no different from any coach in any other sport, you’ve got to be a great motivator. You’ve got to have buy in from your athletes and they’ve got to trust you and you’ve got to be able to trust them.
“You’ve got to have a plan – you can’t just try to wing it.
“You have to have a plan in place that’s not only going to benefit the guys you are coaching now, but the guys that are going to be coming through the system and structure in the future.
“In terms of technical aspects, you’re trying to make the swimmer as efficient as possible in the water – trying to transfer the strength and energy that they are putting into the stroke and make it as easy as possible.
“It’s a knowledge you accrue over a number of years of being a swimmer. Luckily for me, I was coached by Dave Champion at Ipswich who has been on numerous international teams, and coached Karen Pickering.
“I was also lucky enough to train alongside her so being in that company of an Olympic swimmer, and a swimmer that has won Commonwealth Games and world medals and broken numerous British records, is someone that is a benchmark.
“If you were a sponge you would take that information and try to transfer it into what you’re trying to produce.”
And it is that pursuit of excellence that is unrelenting for Freezer.
He has four alarms primed to go off at 4.20am every morning, and will be at Parkside Pools by 5am, with the swimmers arriving between 5.15am and 5.20am for a 5.25am start in the water.
After the culmination of the session at 7.20am, Freezer will do some office and gym work before heading home for breakfast, and then return to the pool at 1.30pm and will be back poolside between 4.30pm and 8.30pm.
And Freezer’s motivation for such long hours coaching is altruistic.
“My ultimate goal is to produce an international swimmer,” he said. “After not reaching what I thought was my full potential (as a swimmer), I want to be able to offer these guys the opportunity to reach it.
“And obviously I’ve got a drive to make it on to an international team in the future, and having swimmers that are at my club join me.
“You only get recognition on an international or national stage if you have got swimmers that you have produced.”
The signs are certainly looking promising for Freezer, with success spread across the many different sections of City of Cambridge.
“The club is in the strongest position it’s been since I’ve been here,” he said.
“I think that’s because it’s had that continuity and consistency and that does – like in any sport – take it’s time to come through.”