Ex-Olympic Hopeful Making Waves as Newcastle Head Coach

Having missed out on an Olympic Games, John Davey stepped away from swimming only to find himself pulled back into the sport where he is now head coach at Newcastle Staffs Swimming Club.

Aged five, John was given more than a gentle push into swimming lessons by his mum and soon found himself regularly attending sessions at his club in Derbyshire, where he grew up. Though he was within touching distance of the Beijing Olympics in 2008, swimming hasn’t always been the love story it is today for John, largely because of his experiences with a childhood coach.

“When I was young – like nine or 10 and just starting in a club – I didn’t like swimming,” he told Fen Regis Trophies. “I didn’t like the person who taught me.

“I thought they were very strict…everything had to be done on their terms. I’d be kicking off in the car saying I didn’t want to go…I didn’t like the people teaching me.

“I was only 10 years old, but I didn’t feel like a kid [with my coach]. I didn’t feel like I could just have fun and express myself. Everything was very strict and regimented.

“When I was in the water, though, the switch flicked.”

Early Success

John first tasted the success of winning trophies and medals at weekly local league and gala meetings with his junior swimming club. Up until the age of 13, he enjoyed a varied sporting life until one event changed his way of thinking and he decided to focus solely on the pool.

“Everything used to be how old you were on the day, so if you were 13 or 14 on the day that’s who you would compete against,” John explained.

“My birthday is smack bang in the middle of the year, so I could go from racing someone younger than me one day, and then a month later I’d be racing people six months older than me.

“It was on that crossover in the middle of the year, when I just turned 12 or 13, that I was racing people six months older than me and I was holding my own.

“I thought ‘actually, I’m not bad at this’, and that’s when I started doing more outside of the pool, starting to look after myself and giving up other things.

“I used to do horse riding, play football and cricket. I thought if I wanted to swim then I can’t do the other things now.”

He added: “With swimming, it’s something that you can’t just do every so often. If you want to commit to it, you have to turn up regularly.

“It started as three lessons a week, then to five lessons, then moved to actual coached sessions…it kind of takes over your life.

“If you want to do it – if you are committed – you’re going to put in the work, aren’t you?”

Olympic Dream

Having decided to begin to take swimming more seriously, John was well on his way to realising his dream of representing Great Britain at the Olympic Games. Unfortunately, John fell just short at the British trials for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and, still just a teenager, he called time on his career.

“For everybody growing up,” he said. “Whatever sport you are in, you want to compete at the pinnacle, and in swimming, that is the Olympics.

“For me, getting to the trials was a big thing. Looking back, I probably should have carried on. It wasn’t a sudden stop, but it was a realisation that to get to this level again it’s another four years of commitment and hard work.

“I wasn’t prepared to do that alongside going to university. I wanted to experience things that I missed out on as a teenager.”

Had John continued for another four years, working towards the London Games in 2012, he would have faced stiff competition from a young up-and-comer, whom he admits he would have struggled to get near.

“If I had carried on, I’d have been racing Adam Peaty!

“As I was coming to the end, he was just starting out and we are from kind of the same area. We both used to swim in Derbyshire.

“He’s the most gifted swimmer ever, so he would have probably made my decision for me!”

Newcastle Staffs Swimming Club placed top of Division Three in The National Arena Swimming League West Midlands section.

The Move to Coaching

Having retired from competing in the pool, John initially left swimming behind completely to focus on his studies at university. Soon, though, he would find himself near the water once more as a lifeguard as a means of earning money to support himself.

Then, he got the itch and felt as though he still had something to offer, moving into teaching before almost falling into coaching, and he hasn’t looked back since.

“I did a little bit of teaching for around four or five years, and then coaching just fell into my lap.

“My best friend at the time, who went straight into coaching, left the club he was at and gave them my number and said that I would take over. No communication with me!

“They contacted me and I said I don’t mind doing a little bit and it just went from there.

“I then went to another club, had a little bit of time out after my second club, and then things fell into place at Newcastle. I have been at the club for a little over four years now.

“I did one session to get to know people and the coach at the time, who was coming to the end anyway.

“I think I was brought in as a long-term succession plan and then she moved on out of the blue. I was told ‘alright John, it’s yours now so take over’ after being there for one session!”

As head coach at Newcastle Staffs Swimming Club, John has seen multiple swimmers go on to compete nationally, and also oversaw the club to top their county league last year. Even with that, John takes greater pride in helping the girls and boys he coaches to develop and to be the best they can be.

“Just seeing people grow, not just as a swimmer but also as a person is my proudest achievement. My own experiences [when I was younger] have helped me in my coaching.”

The next goal is to go on to achieve further success at county level, establishing the club as one of the best in the region, whilst continuing to put the enjoyment and personal growth of everyone he coaches first. At Newcastle Staffs Swimming Club, success is judged both by trophies and the sizes of the smiles on their swimmers’ faces.

Visit our online shop