Rugby School in Pattaya is investing heavily in its swimming program – and has hired a highly experienced swimming coach and Olympic competitor.
The ultimate goal is to have the best swimming program of all the international schools in Asia.
“We already have fantastic training facilities, and now we are focusing on building a great team,” says head coach Ida Marko-Varga, who has previously competed in four Olympic Games.
In the ever-intensifying competition between international schools in Thailand, some schools are now trying not just to excel overall, but to also find a niche strength which can help them recruit new students.
Rugby School in Pattaya has set itself very high goals regarding the development of the school’s swimming team. As part of the initiative, two experienced Swedish competition swimmers with some serious international experience have been recruited.
Ida Marko-Varga, 36, has participated in four consecutive Olympic Games, and trained for two more. She was on site before the Sydney Olympics in 2000 but was not selected for the competition squad. Since then however she has competed for Sweden in the Athens, Beijing, London, and Rio Olympics, and was also set to be in the qualifiers for the Tokyo Olympics before they were cancelled due to the outbreak of Covid-19.
She has also competed in several European and World Championships, where she won numerous medals, and has been part of the Swedish national team for 18 years.
Her husband Sebastian Marko-Varga, 36, has competed at an elite level in Sweden, and has worked as a trainer for several swimmers who participated in the World and European Championships.
Together they are now responsible for building up the school’s swimming program. She has taken the role of Head Coach, while he is now the Director of Aquatics.
A winning set-up
The school’s ambitions are high.
“We have two goals. We want to have the best swimming program of all the international schools in Asia, and we want our students to be so good at competitive swimming that they will be able to try for scholarships to study in the US or Australia, which are great swimming nations,” Ida Marko-Varga tells us.
The school has already invested heavily in this plan and has a top of the range facility, with two 25-meter pools and a 50-meter pool on the campus.
“It’s an amazing facility. It has everything a professional swimmer or coach could wish for,” she says.
Another recently recruited coach is Thai swimmer Ploy Pankaewa, who competed in the World Championships in Kazan 2015, and who Ida Marko-Varga has actually competed against. In addition there are four more coaches; two from Thailand, one from the UK and one from South Africa.
The school has close to 1000 students, and all have one hour per week of compulsory swimming on their schedules. Additionally there is a swimming team with about 60 children, who train intensively to swim competitively.
“Most of them are still quite young, but there are several students who have great potential,” Ida told us.
The hardships of training
Having world class swimming pools is not enough on its own to reach the top in swimming. A challenge for Ida is to change the perception of how much training a child needs to reach a professional level.
“A swimmer who is 13 or 14 years old and wants to compete at an international level needs to be training for around 16 hours a week, and to only be doing swimming. It’s not enough to swim four hours a week while at the same time engaging in three other sports. This is one of the challenges we are hoping to find a solution to, because most of the children already have very busy schedules.”
Together with her husband, she has now begun the long-term work of building the swimming team at the school. As soon as the restrictions from Covid-19 are eased, she hopes that schools will be able to resume their regular competition program.
“We really have an exciting period ahead of us. I think we have a great opportunity to achieve our goals with the school’s swimming team. If you as a student want to develop your swimming, Rugby School is the place,” she says.