AN INSPIRATIONAL coach has said he is sad to leave Tavistock Swimming Club, but proud of the hundreds of young athletes he has supported to reach their potential.

James Lake’s last coaching session was on Sunday (February 18) when he was surprised at Meadowlands pool with an emotional farewell from the club to say thank you for 12 years of coaching and helping the relatively small club ‘punch above its weight’.

He has helped the club achieve the following: 266 Devon County qualifiers and competing in 840 events with 744 personal bests (pbs), 183 finals, 24 championship finals and 61 medalists, 102 regional qualifiers in 306 events with 293 PBs, 48 finalists and 24 medalists. Also nine national qualifiers in ten events, nine PBs with five finalists and one National England championship winner. Older swimmers’ success came with 16 masters nationals swimmers in 27 events with 17 PBs and 14 medalists. His wife Sam is well-known for her success under him with one Aquathlon World and European Championship title and seven other international multisport medals. James has also himself won South West Swim England Coach of the Year 2022 and a national nominee in the same category. He also scooped the 2019 Devon Coach of the Year in the Devon Sports Awards across all sports.

James, whose children Joel and Miley, aged 17 and 15, also swim, is leaving to advance his coaching career at the far bigger Devonport Royal Swimming Club in Plymouth where he has also been coaching: “I was honoured to be headhunted by Devonport which I also coached and the time has come in my career where I can improve through a bigger club with a bigger catchment of swimmers with their ambitions and dedicate myself to one club. I will be sad to leave Tavistock and very proud to have influenced the lives of hundreds of youngsters to reach their potential. I say I am surrogate uncle to the youngsters and they are like my family. I have seen so many children grow in terms of their swimming ability, it’s a partnership between me and them, if they can put the work in I can help them reach the skies. I also keep everything simple, which parents and children appreciate. I’ve coached youngsters from their primary school age to university and to getting jobs and they or their parents still keep in touch. One dad tells me how his son is doing with the Irish national team.”

James is a former butterfly swimmer specialises in strength and conditioning coaching. He commands respect from his charges not only because of his coaching skills, but also because of his background. He has struggled with dyslexia, which swimming has helped him overcome and which enables him to empathise with swimmers who have challenges to overcome. He has also trained with GB swimmers, including Bejing Olympics bronze medalist Cassie Patten. He was very sporty as a youngster and found that dyslexia meant the swimming training regime suited him among the other sports. He said: “Although I have a specialism, the science of all sports is taken far more seriously now, as is nutrition and psychology. The psychology comes in when you believe you can achieve your goals, then parental influence is important and I then step in and show them the pathway to develop to reach those potentials. Tavistock Swimming Club has recently been caught in the middle of the two huge influences of Mount Kelly and its sports scholarships and big city clubs of Plymouth in terms of attracting swimming talent, so what we have achieved is very impressive for a small club. There’s therefore, a future shortage of swimmers in between coming to us and being developed.

“What we also need is wider encouragement of parents to persuade youngsters to be more active and take up swimming. It’s all too easy for the youngsters to stay at home and occupy themselves online rather thsn take up a sport, let alone go out socialising. There seems to be a trend of parents being less inclined to foster competitive [spirit]. But Tavistock has a bright future with great youngsters coming through.”

Parents and others have added their thanks to James on an online farewell fund site. Parent Ian said: “Thank you James for everything you have done for TSC over the years. There are many swimmners you hav developed, so the club has punched above its weight.” One mother,Lindi, said: “Thanks for all your help over the years, it’s been much appreciated, even if the standard response from my daughter has been ‘huh, when you try to get her to do something new.”

Sue said: “James, your enthusiasm, your first rate coaching skills and your own personal swimming talents, while a member of TSC throughout most of the past 33 and a half years, commencing when you were a ten-year-old boy with great athletic potential, will probably never be equalled. Thank you for the loyalty and friendship extended to a generation of swimmers and their families.”