When he needs to relax and clear his mind, Vince Mikuska likes to paint.
Often, while working on a canvas, Mikuska comes up with some of his best ideas for his other passion, Para-swimming.
“It’s important to have another outlet,” said Mikuska, who was named Swimming Canada’s Senior Coach Paralympic Program earlier this year.
“It’s amazing the things I think of when I’m painting, when I’m not specifically thinking about my job. That whole idea of the unconscious continuing to process things while you are doing something else. It’s been a really good outlet for me.”
Mikuska has been involved in Para-swimming for more than 20 years. He’s witnessed the growth in participation from countries around the world and seen how that has raised the bar for Canada’s athletes.
The preparation to win a medal at the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo begins now, said Mikuska. Not two years from now, or in the months leading up to the opening ceremonies.
“Have a dream. Make a plan. Get better every day,” said Mikuska.
“What we are trying to stress is for everybody to focus on the process of swimming fast. You have to have a dream; you have to have a goal. Once you have established that, it’s critical to have a plan in place.”
The key to that plan is continual improvement.
“The plan has to include doing something better every day,” said Mikuska. “It doesn’t matter what it is. You have to get better every day at something.
“It’s the only way to move yourself along. If you are doing that, you are going to be more productive at everything.”
In a recent email to swimmers and staff, Mikuska talked about needing “a greater ambition to be on the podium at the international meets.”
“At the upper levels we need to get people having more ambition and thinking beyond just making the national team,” he said. “They have to focus more on what it’s going to take to get on the podium and get on the podium in multiple events.
“I think that focus is going to reflect in better swimming domestically in our Can Am meets, because people are going to have to start moving themselves along more during the season than just waiting for their performance at the end.”
Mikuska brings a wealth of experience to his job. For the last several years he worked as the National Para-swimming Performance coach while Craig McCord was the National Para-swimming Head Coach.
The Chilliwack, B.C., resident was part of the coaching staff for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games team that won eight medals. He was also a staff coach at the Toronto 2015 Parapan American Games, the 2013 and 2015 IPC World Championships in Montreal and Glasgow, and the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.
McCord stepped down from his positon after Rio.
“This is a big picture job,” said Mikuska. “As the performance coach I was more focused on a specific group of athletes. Now I am, in sense, responsible for everybody and not just a select group.”
One of Mikuska’s objectives is to increase the number of Para-swimmers in Canada.
“We’ve known for a long time this is an issue in Canada,” he said. “We need participation . . . so we can build that critical mass that we need to keep moving the program forward at all levels.”
Mikuska also plans on continuing his visits to different programs across the country where he will offer advice on training and technical development.
Overseeing Mikuska will be High Performance Director John Atkinson and James Hood, Senior Manager High Performance Para-swimming Programs.
“Vince brings a wealth of knowledge from competitive swimming in Canada that can be applied immediately in his position,” said Atkinson. “He has a proven track
record of working with swimmers and coaches in the build up to Rio, that resulted medal winning performances.
“I am confident Vince will continue this fine work and prove to be an innovative leader, and will target specific areas for targeted investment and development.”
Hood said Mikuska brings both experience and continuity to his position.
“Vince’s experience working with all sport classes . . . provides some key insight in to the development and design of programs and the challenges coaches face in the club daily training environment,” he said. “Vince also comes with the ability to start his position and hit the ground running as he has been part of the program, understands the areas of weakness, and has a vision on where he wants to head.”
Two areas Mikuska wants to see improvement is how athletes prepare for the Paralympics and the goals they set.
Overall, Mikuska was satisfied with the team’s performance in Rio but believes some athletes didn’t push themselves in training until the final year before the Paralympics.
“You have to move forward every year,” he said. “We had people that didn’t move forward enough in the years leading into Rio.
“In the last year everybody makes a big push. Our athletes did very well at making that push but it wasn’t enough.”
He’d also like to see more multi-medal winning athletes.
“We need more multi-medallists as we move forward,” said Mikuska. “Make them competitive in more than one stroke and more than one distance.”
While Mikuska has his own ideas and visions for Para-swimming he doesn’t see any major departures from the groundwork laid by McCord.
“When I was working with Craig we did so many things together,” he said. “There was a lot of cross-pollination in terms of ideas and creating ideas.
“I’m excited about taking on a challenge myself. I like the idea of being able to do the big picture things and I think there’s a lot of really exciting opportunities on the table night now that I’m really looking forward to being involved with.”