Today is the last profile of the four finalists for the Northern Advocate's People's Choice Award for community sport "Sideline Champions". From tomorrow, you will be able to vote for your favourite and the winner will be announced on April 3.

Today's final profile features Manaia Swim Club coach Ramona Hellesoe, who started as a relative newcomer to the sport about 20 years ago and has become a stalwart of Northland's swimming community.

When Ramona Hellesoe moved from Auckland to Kaitaia when she was 25, she didn't think it would be the start of a swimming coaching journey to last over two decades.

Nevertheless, that is exactly what happened and now, at 55, Hellesoe is the head coach of the Manaia Swim Club which manages about 45 young swimmers across four weekly trainings.

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Manaia Swim Club prodigies. Photo / John Stone
Manaia Swim Club prodigies. Photo / John Stone

Hellesoe, a mother of two, has also experienced incidents of poor poolside behaviour. While she accepts most parents are positive in their feedback, Hellesoe is a firm believer in promoting a child's successes, which makes her a perfect finalist for the Northern Advocate's people's choice 'Sideline Champion' award.

Hellesoe's journey in swimming started much later compared with most swimming coaches. With her two children at Peria School and keen on the sport, Hellesoe approached the Taipa Swim Club.

As the club had a two-year waiting list, Hellesoe's only option was to become a coach which would allow her son and daughter to join the club.

Despite having very little swimming experience, Hellesoe took on the challenge and relied on her skills picked up as a teacher aide to educate beginning swimmers at the same time as she taught herself the skills of being a swim coach.

Ramona Hellesoe, 55, started her journey as a swim coach with the Taipa Swim Club, relying on her experience as a teacher aide for Peria School. Photo / John Stone
Ramona Hellesoe, 55, started her journey as a swim coach with the Taipa Swim Club, relying on her experience as a teacher aide for Peria School. Photo / John Stone

Now, 20 years down the track, Hellesoe occupies the club's key coaching role as well as working seven days per fortnight at the North Haven hospice in Tikipunga, Whangārei.

"[Coaching] is great because it's something totally different from the nursing that I do," Hellesoe said.

"I believe in giving back to the community and my kids got so much out of swimming."

Hellesoe said the true enjoyment she received from the coaching role was in seeing the children's progression in the sport.

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"Just seeing the children improve and so happy, it's great, a real pleasure.

"Giving advice and seeing my feedback in how hard they try, how hard they work and achieve in other things."

Cassara Legg powers through the water. Photo / John Stone
Cassara Legg powers through the water. Photo / John Stone

Like in any sports code however, Hellesoe had dealt with a number of incidents poolside when a parent or caregiver had acted poorly.

"Most of it is actually positive but if the child doesn't do a personal best time or swim well, you'll get a few parents that are really negative," she said.

"I don't know why it happens. Parents just expect too much from their children sometimes."

Hellesoe said she was a big believer in the "Hamburger method", by which a coach would give positive feedback, followed by constructive feedback, followed by more positive feedback.

"I just promote the child to do their best," she said.

"Definitely correct them when they're not doing something right, but always finish off on something positive afterwards."

Kees Tamboer comes up for a breath while he practises his breastroke. Photo / John Stone
Kees Tamboer comes up for a breath while he practises his breastroke. Photo / John Stone

Looking ahead to the upcoming swimming season, Hellesoe hoped parents would keep some perspective so their child could enjoy the sport at whatever level.

"It's meant to be something enjoyable for their children. We aren't all going to be Olympic swimmers."