Combined “Combo” Routine

In  Part 1 of this 2-part article on “Combo” routines, ANA Synchro Head Coach Leah Pinette described for us what a Combo routine is and the choreography challenges and opportunities it presents.  She also gave us a glimpse of ANA’s Combined Combo this season with Cambridge Synchro and the North Shore YMCA Selkies.  In this second and final part of the article, Coach Leah tells us more about how that joint venture came about and how she and the two other coaches manage it all.
Head Coaches:  (l-r) Katie Rice of Cambridge Synchro, Carrie Reynolds of North Shore YMCA Selkies, and Leah Pinette of ANA Synchro.
ANA Synchro:  Why did ANA Synchro, North Shore YMCA Selkies, and Cambridge Synchro combine this year for a Combo? 
Head Coach Leah Pinette:  Our three teams are combining for a Combo this year to give our older athletes a chance to work with others at their level and compete as one.  It’s really a unique opportunity in that these girls are swimming alongside girls they normally compete against.  That’s different because your competitors are who you watch – for years sometimes – and you look up to them.  Even though you’re competitors, you want to be able to swim with them too.  You want to be able to swim with the best in your group. 
ANA Synchro:  How do the rules allow for a combined Combo?
Head Coach Leah Pinette:  I learned about the opportunity to join forces at our national USA Synchro Convention last September.  USA Synchro put this into place to accommodate smaller clubs.  In the past, if you were a smaller club, you might have put together a trio of similarly-leveled athletes, but we don’t have trios any more as of this year.  So, USA Synchro is allowing teams to combine to give athletes an opportunity to get involved in a bigger group.  I thought it would be a neat opportunity for our older girls, so I reached out to a few teams in our area. 
ANA Synchro:  What was their reaction?
Head Coach Leah Pinette:  Both Carrie Reynolds, Head Coach of the North Shore YMCA Selkies and Katie Rice, Head Coach of Cambridge Synchro thought it was a great idea.  We coaches then reached out to our athletes to see if there was any interest.  Initially, we had about 20 who at least wanted to learn more about it.  In the end, we had 11 (10 swimmers + 1 alternate) who were willing to make the commitment.  According to the rules, we couldn’t call the combined Combo any of our existing team names, so we’re competing under the name “New England Synchro.”
New friends are being made in the New England Synchro Combined Combo.
ANA Synchro:  How is it going?  Are the girls meshing together?
Head Coach Leah Pinette:  It’s going well!  It’s a huge learning experience for all of us, and I do find the girls are meshing.  They are not just hanging out with the girls on their own team.  All of the girls are open and welcoming, helping each other, and becoming a team.  Part of it, I think, is that all these girls really want to be here.  They had to consciously decide to commit to the extra practices, the driving to each other’s pools, and the time and expense of traveling to the bigger meets.  You don’t always get this full-on commitment with an ordinary age-group team, so having it with the Combo makes a real nice dynamic.
ANA Synchro:  How are the three coaches making it work?
Head Coach Leah Pinette:  We had never worked together like this before, so we definitely had to find our groove as coaches.  We each have different styles, which I think is turning out to be a positive to the whole experience.  Carrie is probably the most artistic one of the three of us, so she has great vision with solos and the presentation of everything.  Katie is a teacher, so she’s a very good communicator and very organized.  She tends to be the planner of the group.  And Katie is patient, which balances my coaching style because I tend to be the taskmaster of the group.  (That probably comes from all those years as captain of the National Team!)  I think we are all learning from each other, and, together, we’re creating stronger athletes all around, not with just our own.  We might even be getting a little spoiled having three head coaches around to be more eyes on deck and to independently watch all the different parts that make up a Combo.
Three Head Coaches on deck means three pairs of eyes to watch over all parts of the Combined Combo
ANA Synchro:  So the girls don’t look to just their own coach for leadership?
Head Coach Leah Pinette:  Not at all.  They’re very comfortable taking direction and correction from all three of us coaches.  I actually love this part of it.  It’s the same reason I love when our athletes go to different camps and clinics.  Sometimes another coach can tell my athletes the exact same thing I tell them, and it’ll just click with them because they’ll hear it in a different way.  So, by providing these different perspectives on the same athletes, the athletes are improving, and we coaches are improving too, just watching how each other operates. 
ANA Synchro:  What has been your biggest challenge with the tri-team arrangement?
Head Coach Leah Pinette:  The biggest challenge is we don’t get together as a group as often as we would if it was just our own team.  So it’s January and the girls are still working on learning a couple of the laps.  Luckily, the season is young, and we have the flexibility to add more practice time if we need it as we get closer to the bigger competitions.  Another challenge is making sure the choreography is all connected, but that would be there regardless of whether we were doing a combined Combo or one with just our own team.
The Combo starts its Snow White story on deck with a dramatic portrayal of the mirror.
ANA Synchro:  How are the girls enjoying the storytelling nature of Combo choreography?
Head Coach Leah Pinette:  I think they like it because it’s different than anything they’ve done.  Our story starts on the deck!  Even though deckwork is not supposed to be judged, it is still a great opportunity to make a strong first impression.  We have one girl portraying the evil queen, another portraying Snow White, and the rest of them portraying the mirror.  The whole storytelling concept is pretty new for them, so I don’t think they got the mirror concept at first, but when they did, we just saw it all come together.
ANA Synchro:  Has there ever been a multiple team effort like this before for a Combo?
Head Coach Leah Pinette:  Actually, ANA Synchro has done a combined Combo years ago with the New Canaan YMCA Aquianas when Eugenia Gillan was Head Coach.  (Genia is now coaching Boston University's Synchro Team.)  Genia and Krista Karwosky (formly Bessinger) from New Canaan were talking about how they were both going to US Opens one summer, and decided to join forces for a Combo.  Because she had first-hand experience with a combined Combo, I asked Genia her opinion and for any pointers. 
ANA Synchro:  Have you gotten any feedback from other teams about your combined Combo?
Head Coach Leah Pinette:  Yes.  I was asking a lot of questions about it at Convention, and the other coaches there were giving positive feedback.  Carrie attended a choreography clinic in Colorado Springs earlier in the season where she asked a lot of questions about it as well.  She also got a lot of support, especially from the smaller teams who had representatives there.  I think if we can show a good example of it, that we were able to come together and make it work, maybe other teams will try it too.  I know we’re not necessarily the smallest team, but we can still show how it can work.  And who knows, I wouldn’t be surprised if other teams, especially the smaller ones, are doing the same thing already and we’ll see them at nationals.
The Combined Combo is a great learning experience for both athletes and coaches.
ANA Synchro:  So you foresee doing it again?
Head Coach Leah Pinette:  Sure!  We’re showing that it can work.  If there’s enough interest, you can get the athletes competing at the skill level that they should be swimming.  The bottom line for me is this is good for synchro in general.  Our combined Combo is helping to develop our own athletes.  It’s helping us coaches learn from each other and stretch ourselves with new techniques for choreography.  And, though ANA Synchro has a long history of attending national meets, that’s not the case with all the teams in the US.  A combined Combo may be the thing that exposes more clubs and more athletes to higher level meets than what is available in their own region.  I know when ANA sent their first group to a national level meet years ago, they witnessed the top teams in the country and came back fired up to get to that level too.  And now, years later, we have routines placing in finals at those same national meets.  So, who knows what this could inspire!  But I’ll be excited to see what unfolds!