Meet Chris Watts - Vision Sports Ireland Swimmer & Coach

March 24, 2021

Chris Watts is a competitive visually-impaired swimmer, swimming teacher and swimming coach with Vision Sports Ireland. He's also a triathlete! Let's learn more about his relationship with water...

Q: What do you like about being in the water?

A: I've always found the water freeing in a way I can't really explain. I received swimming lessons as a child, but I was never actually in a club, so the vast majority of the time I spent in pools was purely leisure.

It was only when I was a bit older and more mature that I began to approach swimming as something I could set goals and be competitive in, and I think that was actually quite a healthy way to do it.

Q: How did you get into swimming/coaching?

A: I went to lessons all through primary school and spent a lot of time in leisure pools. In 2014 I met Frank Cullinan at a Vision Sports Ireland event and we spent the next few years working constantly on my technique. Again, there was no competition in it for me at this point. I just wanted to get better.

Frank was the one that encouraged me to pursue teaching/coaching too, and in the last couple of years I have been helping him with the Vision Sports Ireland classes that I'd attended for so long.

Q: Have you always felt included by your club and swimming community?

A: I certainly don't have any memories of feeling excluded at any swimming lessons as a child. I know this isn't the experience that everyone in similar positions to me has had, but I guess I've been lucky in that sense.

I've never been part of a swimming club, as I said, but my triathlon club have always been incredibly supportive!

Q: What do you think is your greatest achievement in the water?

A: The first time I swam a mile was a big deal. Looking back at it now it doesn't seem like much at all, but at the time it meant a lot to me!

It's hard for me to pick out any others off the top of my head, because within a race, even if the swim goes perfectly, there's still a lot to do.

I don't really see a great performance in the water as a huge achievement if the rest of the race goes badly. Because if that's the case, the question is always 'Did I go too hard in the swim?'.

Q: Has anything ever stopped you doing something in swimming due to your visual impairment?

A: I can't think of anything. Obviously some things are a bit more challenging, such as observing a demonstration. But I think if the swimmer and the teacher/coach are both willing to really work together then a solution can be found to the vast majority of problems that might crop up. That has certainly been the case in my experience.

Q: Who is your role model in swimming/coaching and why?

A: Frank Cullinan - and even though I've met so many incredible people through swimming, there isn't really a close second.

I don't really believe in idolising someone you've only seen on a television screen just because they have a particular skill. I think there should be more to a role model than that.

I know some incredible people and I prefer to aspire to the standards I see them set on a daily basis. Frank has been my coach for nearly seven years and he's definitely one of those people.

I was an adequate swimmer when I first started going to Frank's Vision Sports Ireland classes, but he spent the next few months disassembling my stroke and putting it back together.

For ages I felt like I'd regressed because the things he was asking me to do took some getting used to, but after a while I realised that I had become a much better swimmer because of them and over time it became more natural. That earned my respect.

But I've probably learned more from Frank during the time I've spent poolside with him. Not just about swimming but also from seeing how he interacts with people and builds a great rapport with his swimmers.

Q: What one thing could Swim Ireland change to improve our community for you?

A: My experience is probably very different to most peoples' because I never came through the club system. But from a teaching/coaching point of view, I know it might seem somewhat counterintuitive to have a visually-impaired coach, and I completely understand why people might be sceptical. But like most things, it's about finding solutions to the problems.

The problems are different for each individual and therefore so are the solutions. But I would love if the swimming community was more aware that this is 100% possible for a lot of visually-impaired people with only a little bit of innovation.

I don't think this is something Swim Ireland alone as the governing body could fix, but if they approach the idea with an open mind, I think that would help others to do the same.

Swimmer, Coach, Teacher, Triathlete

Swimmer, Coach, Teacher, Triathlete

Chris Watts has not let his visual impairment stop him from taking part in the sports he loves, and helping others achieve their goals.

He's hoping that his experiences and the experiences of his students and athletes can make others more open-minded about having a visually-impaired swimming coach or teacher.

Vision Sports Ireland
Virtual CPD to help you assist visually-impaired swimmers

Virtual CPD to help you assist visually-impaired swimmers

Every swimmer with a visual impairment has the right to participate in the sport of their choice. This course will assist anyone who delivers swimming activities with support, ideas and guidance on how to include people with a visual impairment.

Visually-Impaired Friendly Swimming
Diversity and Inclusion Policy

Diversity and Inclusion Policy

This story is part of a series we are sharing to showcase how inclusive the aquatics are, and how we believe they are a sport for life, and a sport for everyone.

To find out more check out the documents below:

Swim Ireland Diversity and Inclusion Policy WORD DOCUMENT

Swim Ireland Diversity and Inclusion Policy PDF