Barely ten years ago, synchronised swimming was a sport dominated by the South of England, with the likes of Bristol, Reading and Rushmore sitting unchallenged at the top of the pile.
However, in 2008 a turning point was reached, as coaches Sue Barrington, Ian Watson and Fiona Blackstone decided to form a new ‘super club’ that would take all the top swimmers throughout Yorkshire and the North East and train them up in a bid to end to the long held southern monopoly.
That club turned out to be City of Leeds Synchronised Swimming Club, or Leeds Synchro for short, with the ten years of their existence seeing them go from strength to strength and develop a strong dynamic.
This year alone has seen a period of change, with former voluntary coach Deanne Hopkins stepping up as the full-time head coach, in a role that she admits still seems “to good to be true” for her.
“It’s hard work,” says Deanne, “but I still don’t really see it as work, if that makes sense.
“I feel like once you turn your hobby into your job you’ll never work again.
“Don’t get me wrong, I do have days where I think ‘god this is really stressful!’ but the girls are great and they’ve really welcomed me coming in.
“The previous head coach, Sarah Speers, had been coach there for nearly eight years so I’ve had big boots to fill!
“I’ve known Sarah for a while though because we used to compete against each other when we were growing up, so we’ve got a good relationship and kind of bounce off each other when coaching.”
Indeed, the aspect of working together and bouncing off each other is, in a way, part of the sport’s essence, with team-mates competing and training together for large amounts of hours and forming unique bonds.
But when it comes to getting the best out of the swimmers, it’s also about the little things, such as ‘remembering their birthdays’ and being patient with swimmers still learning the ins and outs of the sport.
One big difference in achieving this, however, is the club’s abundance of established, top-quality swimmers such as British junior stars such as Millie Costello and Daisy Rushton who, after competing at the World Junior Championships in July, have become a huge source of inspiration for younger club members.
“It’s massive to have them here,” says Deanne. “They go away with Great Britain for so long so the other girls really miss them and say ‘did you see Millie and Daisy it was fantastic!’.
“They help me because they bring a lot of new ideas back to the club and, of course, all the girls at the club are just in awe of them whenever they come back and show us a new routine.”
Having athletes from the north make the international squad was pretty much unheard of before City of Leeds was formed.
Now, with all the hard work from figures such as former coach Sarah Speers and international Masters swimmer and coach Jeanne Ansley, the aim that Deanne has for the club in her new coaching role is perfectly clear.
“We want to now be up there as one of the best clubs in the country,” says Deanne.
“For the past few years we’ve been coming fourth and third and really chasing the tails of the top three, Reading Bristol and Rushmore, so we’re heading in the right direction and what Sarah’s done is great so we’ve just got to keep building on that.”
The task of keeping up with the country’s big guns is certainly no easy one, but for Deanne, all the elements are in place to finally achieve their long pursuit of England’s elite.
Club: City of Leeds Synchronised Swimming Club.
Based: John Charles Aquatics Centre.
Season Highlights: Bronze at National Championships for Free Combination event and gold for Mixed Duet Connor Hill and Rosie Barrington, swimmers selected for England Talent Junior & Age Group Development – Isobel Davies, Tilly Budd, Emma Laycock.
Number of members: 92.
Training nights: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.