After the Australian Track & Field Coaches Association congress ended on Sunday after I stayed on at the AIS (Australian Institute of Sport) for three more days. The AIS in many ways is the mother ship of sport with outstanding facilities and an extensive sport science and sport medicine staff. In addition each state has their own institute. It is safe to say that this is the best sports institute in the world. That being said it is not without it’s problems. It appears it has become administratively top heavy compared to my first visit in 1996. The facilities are quite impressive including a state of the art recovery center and a completely instrumented 50-meter pool that has some Star Wars qualities to it with the ability to film and measure. For me the centerpiece at the AIS has always been their library and resource center – it is second to none. My regret was that I was so busy with meetings and presentations that I did not have extensive time to spend there. All that being said the strength of the AIS is the people, they make the facilities come alive. On Monday I caught up with some of the strength and conditioning staff and observed a weight workout with their men’s junior volleyball, one of the teams in residence.
On Tuesday I honored to be able to present to some of their Olympic coaches at the Podium Forum. This forum is organized by coaching legend Bill Sweetenham under the auspices of the Australian Sport Commission to facilitate the sharing and exchange of information among their elite coaches. My presentation was titled “Training Effectively and Effective Training.” The theme was translating training into competition results.
The first speaker was Tracey Menzies, who was Ian Thorpe’s coach. The title of her talk was: “The change in coaching role with a change in high performance environment.” She spoke about taking over as Ian Thorpe’s coach from an older autocratic coach. (This needs to be framed in the context that swimming in many ways is their national sport and Ian Thorpe was a super star and media giant in OZ). Her talk was super! This lady is tough and very competent. I found her talk informative, motivating and full of coaching insights. She stated that the best way to coach is to be true to yourself. It was about her constantly developing, learning and growing along with her swimmers. A recurring theme of her presentation was that it is more than swimming; she spoke about juggling being a wife and a mother while coaching elite athletes. She touched on being a female coach coaching male athletes and how she made it a positive. When she took over coaching Ian Thorpe she asked him to list ten things he could learn from her and she listed ten things she could do for him. She stressed that Ian Thorpe’s world was not just about swimming. She made a statement that really resonated with me “ You don’t demand Tracy’s respect, you earn it” - something I think it is easy to lose sight of as a coach. On setting a level of expectation “good swimmers have great swims.” She said that if you develop the person, if you do that, then you would develop the athlete.
The other presentation was Emmett Lazich, sailing coach. His presentation was titled: “Sailing: The process of how to win.” I really enjoyed this one, having only a cursory exposure to sailing for a brief time at the National Coaching Institute in Canada in the early nineties. What a fascinating sport! I thought I was used to preparing athletes for competition in a random chaotic environment, but the sailing environment defies description. There is complete lack of control over the competitive environment. He stated that they need to learn to be good at not feeling good. I will watch sailing with a whole new perspective and appreciation after this presentation.
Bill Sweetenham made a statement in summary that we can all take to heart: “We need to focus on growing strengths not improving weaknesses.” That statement warrants further discussion in a future post.
Tomorrow I will share my visits to the Brumbies, to Melbourne with Phil King coach of Jana Pittman and finally my visit to the Sydney Roosters.