Cheers to you, Heather

posted Jun 28, 2016, 6:18 AM by Fredericton Synchro   [ updated Jun 28, 2016, 6:19 AM ]
The following is an article from the Fredericton Daily Gleaner featuring one of Fredericton Synchro's Coaches, Heather Zilbert :

After 30 years of coaching with the Fredericton Synchronized Swimming Club, Heather Zilbert is stepping away from her daily role.
According to former coaches, former teammates and current athletes, Fredericton Synchro would not be where it is without her.
Following a career that began when she was 8 and included multiple appearance at Nationals and the 1983 Canada Games, Zilbert retired from active competition at 18.

She had been coaching younger athletes as she moved up the ranks, and decided that coaching was how she would stay in the synchro world.“For me it was the only way to stay involved with the sport,”said Zilbert.“The artistic side I love about the sport, I was and am still able to do every time we do choreography. I love the music, I love the inspiration behind the music and I love watching the swimmers produce.”

Zilbert, who was enrolled at the University of New Brunswick, stepped into the head coaching role with the club. Times weren’t good for Fredericton Synchro when she took over. Membership was dwindling and the club lacked an overarching structure. “I was the only coach for a while,” Zilbert said.“We used to be an A Level Club but the girls moving up were younger and inexperienced and all of our elite athletes had moved on. I took over the head coaching position of a B Level Club and moved it to the University of New Brunswick and it became an A Level Club.” With the move came renewed vigour and growth. Time and tide wait for no one, however, and Zilbert’s life outside the pool led her to take a leave of absence to begin raising a family. Nancy Ketch, who swam with Zilbert, was recruited as the head coach of the now burgeoning organization.

“I worked for a little while without Heather. Then I needed her because the club grew and she came back,” said Ketch. “She said ‘I’ll coach a few hours a week’ and before she knew it I guess I had convinced her to take on a lot more. That was probably 17 or 18 years ago and she’s been coaching ever since.” Zilbert and Ketch, along with the club’s other athletes and coaches, have been building over that time into one of the premier synchro clubs in the province. Of the 10 synchronized swimmers who represented New Brunswick at the Canada Games in 2015, six came from Fredericton.

Alexa Washburn, who was one of Zilbert’s first coaches back in the club’s Saunders Street days (and who is Ketch’s sister, in case you were wondering what a small world synchro can be), attributes much of that success to Zilbert’s skill and dedication.
“When we go to Nationals, she’s recognized. I think she exemplifies everything that’s good about being involved in a sport,” said Washburn.“As such a small province, we have had successes on the national stage. Team New Brunswick, who is coached by a Fredericton coach, just came sixth in Canada, against teams that could qualify for Olympics.”

Josee Thomas, who picked up a bronze at Nationals this year in her solo routine, credits Zilbert with refining and building on her existing skills over the past six years. Coaching is largely about finding the right balance between reinforcement and constructive criticism and Thomas identifies this as the trait that makes ZIlbert a successful coach. “When she coaches she can be just firm enough when she has to be so that everyone really listens and respects her,” said Thomas.“I find there’s a perfect balance between being nice and kind to your swimmers and having the firmness to get things done. I think she balances that really well. For choreography (she is) super creative. She’s really good at adapting to all the different girls and all our different strengths.”

Zilbert plans to remain involved in some capacity with synchro (given how that went the first time perhaps we’ll be running another version of this article in 30 years). Having spent most of her life involved in the day-to-day of synchro while also working full time, currently as the manager at the Kingswood Fitness Centre, she feels it’s time for something else. “I’ll still visit and if they need help and coach mentoring,” Zilbert said. “But there are new coaches coming up, coaches that I have coached, that I know will do a wonderful job. I think I’m ready to move on and do some other things. I don’t know life without synchro so I think it’s time I got to know it a little bit.”

Pictured: Senior soloist Josée Thomas and out-going Fredericton Synchronized Swimming Club coach Heather Zilbert