WRITTEN BY SHARON ROBB
Tyla Martin is just scratching the surface as a competitive swimmer with the South Florida Aquatic Club.
At 31, SOFLO age group coach Bruno Darzi is one of the nation’s youngest ASCA Level 5 certified coaches and still learning about the sport he has dedicated his life to.
For both swimmer and coach, it was the opportunity of a lifetime to attend the invitation-only USA Swimming Southern Zone Select Camp in Louisville, Ky. last week.
Martin, 12, was the youngest swimmer invited to attend the educational camp for some of the nation’s most promising swimmers.
Darzi was selected as a member of the camp’s coaching staff. It was his second USA Swimming camp. Last year he and U.S. national junior team member Lindsey McKnight were invited to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
In a city known for its horse racing industry, University of Louisville swim coach Arthur Albiero hosted thoroughbreds of another kind at his college’s natatorium.
“A camp like this absolutely helps,” said Darzi of the four-day camp. “It has been a tremendous experience. I had a great time with Tyla and the rest of the kids. The coaching staff was great.”
Coaches were able to exchange coaching ideas throughout the camp.
“There is always something you can learn from other coaches,” Darzi said. “You don’t want to get stuck with same thing all the time. You want to share with other coaches and get new ideas. It gives you a different perspective of what’s going on in the country.”
The coaches arrived on Wednesday to meet and organize the camp. The next day the swimmers got in town for the first of five training sessions.
“The facilities were amazing,” Darzi said. “The camp had a little bit of everything.”
After the kids registered and went through introductions, the swimmers, ages 12-15, had their first practice on Thursday afternoon.
There were meetings covering rules and code of conduct behavior. There were presentations on post-training and post-competition recovery, nutrition and goal-setting. One of the speaker presentations featured two national junior team members including Lauren Driscoll of Fort Lauderdale Aquatics.
The swimmers played games that helped them to get to know each other and make new friends. One of the practice sessions featured FINA testing for the kids that featured racing for time in all four strokes in 100 races and 200 individual medley.
The kids were also treated to a minor league baseball game featuring the Louisville Bats.
“The swimmers learned what it takes and they understand what needs to be done,” Darzi said.
Martin, a U.S. citizen who represented Trinidad and Tobago at the recent CARIFTA Championships in Jamaica where she was high point winner in her age group, spent time learning, watching and taking notes, Darzi said.
“I enjoyed meeting different people from all the southern states,” Martin said. “There were drills and talks about everything like nutrition, and recovering. The most fun was the test sets.
“This is going to help me improve, I learned a lot more,” said Martin, who recently moved up to Coach Michael Lohberg’s group. “It’s an advantage to have all these really good experiences. In the long run it’s going to pay off.”
The experience will also pay off for Darzi, who started coaching 11 years ago when his swimming career ended with injuries. Mentored by six-time Olympic coach Michael Lohberg, Darzi hopes one day to be a member of a national team coaching staff.
Darzi was a national level swimmer in Brazil where he swam for 17 years while growing up in Rio de Janeiro. He was one of eight national team swimmers that trained with Lohberg at the Coral Springs Aquatic Complex in the late 1990s.
“I had my time in the sport as a swimmer, I know what these kids are going through,” said Darzi, who retired from swimming in 1999 with a bad left knee and sore shoulders.
Darzi went to business school first and realized “it wasn’t for me.” When his mother told him if he did something he likes he would be successful, he knew swimming was his destiny.
“I understood what I was getting myself into,” Darzi said. “I knew I would like coaching. Michael played a big role and is a good mentor. There is still a lot for me to learn.
“It’s definitely rewarding, I know now I am following my destiny,” Darzi said. “I have no regrets with what I did. I probably would have done it differently as a swimmer if I could have. I had some crazy coaches when I was younger. I learned from their mistakes. I want my kids to have a good and different experience than I did when I was young.
“Working with young kids like Tyla is very satisfying,” Darzi said. “She was a raw swimmer when she came from the Y in Boca and was a work in progress. She helped herself a lot to get to where she is along with her parents, Michael and me. This is part of what being a coach is all about, watching young swimmers grow, develop and have fun doing it.”
Sharon Robb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org