Claire Arnott, nee Rolt, is an experienced sport scientist and strength and conditioning coach at the University of Pretoria’s Sport, Exercise, Medicine, and Lifestyle Institute (SEMLI). As an accomplished swimmer herself (and still a dominant competitor in Master swimming), her passion for swimming and performance is unwavering. Her expertise is pivotal in the overall performance puzzle for many swimmers, from juniors to Olympians, across the continent.

VS. caught up with Claire to discuss the impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on her plans and how she is surviving:

Q. Are you happy and healthy so far in the lockdown, or are you going a little crazy?

A. Healthy, happy, but definitely have my crazy days. I work best when I see people face-to-face, so this online ‘thing’ has been very difficult for me. Also speaking to people “through my PC” from my living room has not been easy at all.

Q. What immediate goals did you have with your swimmers that the lockdown has now interrupted?

A. Swimmers were about to compete at SA Senior Nationals/Olympic Trials, and I was looking forward to seeing the fruits of all their hard work this season. There were a few swimmers in particular who were looking to qualify for Olympics.

Q. What was the focus before the lockdown for this time period?

A.  After SA Nationals, swimmers would have had a 2-week break anyway, and then we would have started building a good strength base for the new season; and for the Olympic qualifiers, we were going to carry on with our prep for Olympics in July.

Q. What have you done during your lockdown time (planning/remote coaching/research/athlete interaction) to assist the athletes/coaches?

A. I have provided online S&C programs for the whole of TuksSwimming Club as well as other swimming clubs around SA during this time, ensuring that the small things that swimmers usually neglect (eg. mobility, prehab, core work, and bodyweight strength) during a normal training phase when Swimming Training is their main focus. I have had various Zoom meetings with coaches and swimmers during this time, and also worked and contributed to Research Projects for my company (SEMLI).

Q. What have you done unrelated to your sport – new skills, hobbies – to stay busy?

A. I have a newfound passion for building 1000-piece puzzles, and my enjoyment of reading (non-academic material) has returned, and I have also done a lot of baking- I am not great at it, but it is fun!

Q. How are you feeling about returning to work at the pool – are you anxious about getting the virus, your swimmers safety, etc.?

A. I am very, very keen to get back to work, having a routine, and seeing everyone again. I believe that if we all adhere strictly to the safety regulations and implement the correct safety measures, there is no need to be anxious, but we do need to be aware.

Q. Do you feel more positive about the future – has this time been constructive, or do you feel like you’ve lost some ground?

A. I am positive about the future. This has been a constructive time for me, as I have realised how much reading and “staying current” I had been neglecting before lockdown. It’s easy to blame a busy schedule and I think one can become complacent in one’s daily routine as the years pass.

Q. Have you been monitoring what other sport scientists have been up to?

A. I have been attending webinars hosted by various institutions, and also attending a few Zoom strength & conditioning sessions for swimmers, thereby seeing what other coaches/S&C Specialists have been implementing in terms of Dryland Training.

Q. What are the plans to resume/when do you think training will be resumed?

A. We have been building a good base for the season with all the dryland work so far, so a progression with proper resistance exercise in the gym, where the focus on strength and power will be our priority. Hopefully, we will be allowed to use the gym soon.

Q. How do you think training or your interaction with the athletes will be different in the future?

A. My prediction will be that the groups I work with in the gym will be much smaller due to safety regulations. I don’t see this as a bad thing, as it will provide more of an individualized approach. However, working hours may land up being slightly longer in order to accommodate all the swimmers.

Q. What positives have come from this time?

A. Swimmers have been able to work on the smaller details that are usually neglected when swimming training is the main focus; I have been able to spend more time reading up on Sport Science and S&C topics that interest me, and have been able to apply it to my online work; I have been able to start work much later than my usual 5:30am start, so I have been able to catch up on sleep, which has made my pregnancy so far a whole lot easier!

Q. What impact do you think the postponement will have on overall performances at the Olympics?

A. I think some land-based sports have been able to maintain some form of technique and strength at home during this time, so the impact of the actual lockdown won’t be as drastic as what it may be on swimming. The swimmers have been out of the water for a very long time, but I believe that this work missed, as well as technique work, will be easily caught up before the Olympics in 2021. I also believe that this extra year will give some athletes more time to work on their performances, especially those who may have been nursing an injury. It is going to be interesting to see what kind of impact this postponement is going to make. The rest of the world’s athletes are all slowly returning to their training, and hopefully, we will, too. Emphasis on slow progression is important when returning to training again to prevent injuries and to allow gradual adaptations to take place, rather than “too much too soon.”

Q. What advice do you have for your athletes?

A. Make every day count; Take one day at a time; Do what you can today with what you have available; Stay positive.

Q. First “normal” thing you’re planning on doing once lockdown ends?

A. Coffee and a huge slice of cake at a Coffee Shop with my friends

Q. Silliest thing you’ve done in lockdown?

A. I helped my husband cut the grass on our front lawn with a pair of kitchen scissors one Sunday afternoon

Q. Favourite entertainment/place/activity you missing the most?

A. The gym; Swimming; Weekends away in the bush; Beach days

Q. Sport Scientist you admire the most? And swimmer/coach you admire the most?

A. I have two Sport Scientists who I admire and whose research I follow with interest: Stephen Seiler and Inigo Mujika- I got to meet both of them when they were in South Africa

Q. Funniest moment on pool deck?

When I was still a swimmer at Tuks, there was a very large bullfrog swimming in our breaststroke lane early one Winter morning, and the reaction of one of the boys was the funniest- he jumped out of the pool and ripped off his swimming trunks, probably thinking it had somehow made its way into his trunks. Luckily it was still quite dark at 5:30am

Q. Superstitions or rituals at a swim event or on pool deck?

A. I’m not very superstitious, and I don’t really have any particular rituals. I just always need to know that I have a lot of time to put on my suit before a race.

Q. First thing you will say to your swimmers when you see them?

A. “I love you guys!”

Thank you Claire, for your time, and for you dedication to your swimmers!

Amy Bathgate
About the Author
Amy Bathgate is the Operations Manager at VS Sports, playing an integral role in product development, innovation, and design, and heading up a team of enthusiastic analysts working towards transforming the way sport is analyzed, scouted, and experienced. With over a decade of expertise in consulting, biomechanics, and performance analysis across various disciplines and levels, she understands that the little details make a big difference. One of her passions and specialties is swimming, and she assists and drives athletes and coaches to achieve their performance potentials using stroke and race analysis to better their understanding of the complexities of the sport in order to go faster and train and perform more efficiently. Amy is also a Dartfish Certified Instructor, certified in Functional Movement Screening, and a former lecturer at the University of Pretoria.