Where Next For Dolphins As The Tide Turns Down Under?

[Photo: courtesy, Swimming Australia]

Hop back 50 years and you find coaching pathfinders Forbes and Ursula Carlile boarding a plan from Australia to the Netherlands to work with the likes of pioneer of pac on ‘fly Ada Kok and others at a time when the blazers Down Under thought the notion of professional coaches beneath them; Hop forward to October 2013 and the news that Dutchman Jacco Verhaeren is to be the first foreign Head Coach to Australia come January. What did Forbes, now 92, think? And why is Bill Sweetenham telling Australian coaches: don’t follow Europe’s lead – it won’t work?

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Hop back 50 years and you find coaching pathfinders Forbes and Ursula Carlile boarding a plan from Australia to the Netherlands to work with the likes of pioneer of pac on ‘fly Ada Kok and others at a time when the blazers Down Under thought the notion of professional coaches beneath them; Hop forward to October 2013 and the news that Dutchman Jacco Verhaeren is to be the first foreign Head Coach to Australia come January. What did Forbes, now 92, think? And why is Bill Sweetenham telling Australian coaches: don’t follow Europe’s lead – it won’t work?


coast boy

Sweetenham didn’t coach Wickham; it was Laurie Laurence and i think he personally was one of the worst coaches in Australia, but in saying that in this case Sweetenham is right and i agree with what he is saying!

We have the coaches in Australia to do the job and they are doing it now, just for other nations in our own back yard. I think its more to do with the head coaches of Australia that followed Don Talbot. We went from Don who even the big ego himself, Kerian Perkins was frightened of, to paper pushers who became head coaches without any authority or respect for swimming coaching knowledge. These guys got the job not because they were good at coaching, but being one of the boys in the club from the old boys running swimming in Australia. You go through them, Greg Hodge coach of Aquadot limited coaching success, Leigh Nugent limited success (but had the most compared to the other two fools), Allen Thompson who just couldn’t coach. When you go from a respected coach who other coaches listened to and had a solution when you didn’t know what to do to guys would wouldn’t be trusted for advice was the clear problem.

The Australian problem is and never has been talented swimmers. We have the depth in swimmers and world leading coaches but we just need to do the work and build confidence and get back the Aussie fighting spirit. That’s what the head coach is there for, that little bit of wisdom and to see something your coach cant because he is normally too close to see. But lets face it, Commonwealth Games is the next big meet, so the head coach will look good. Who is there that can swim that will compete against Australia, apart from Chad (SA) and Miley?


Who in the Commonwealth can compete against Australia apart from Chad and Miley. Australians have never lacked arrogance. Laurie Laurence was one of the worst coaches in Australia. Australians have never lacked stupidity either. And its the combination of these two traits of Australian men that has resulted in the employment of a Dutch man as your new head coach.

I agree that Australia has no shortage of talented swimmers or depth or swimmers who are afraid of hard work but Australia’s massive problem is when it comes to technically sound coaches. This is where Jacco is going to be successful as have been other brilliant foreign coaches in Australia – Touretski and Widmar.

Australia’s major issues in 200 & 400 events is technique. The swimmers do the work, they have superb support through funding and resources but if you sit in the stands at national competitions and look for technically brilliant swimmers over these distances you will struggle to find a handful. The male backstrokers are dreadful. Anybody who witnessed NSW Open earlier this year will know exactly what I am talking about after the Japanese boys tore the top Aussies to shreads through technical prowess.

Australia has no world class female 200 flyers (apart from an English girl) and no world class male 200 breaststrokers. Take a look at the Australian womens 800 final from trials this year and you can see a gathering of the worst looking freestylers (technically) on the planet that go under 8:50. Of which none are world class and of which none will go close to winning the Commonwealth games because there is a technically superb distance freestyler in Auckland not to mention a couple of superb 200 breaststrokers in the U.K.

If I was Jacco I would be teaching the coaches how to coach technique. The problem for Jacco is going to be how many of these arrogant, egotistical and non intellectual coaches are going to be receptive of him.

Australian swim fan

Congratulations Craig on a balanced and extremely detailed article. This discussion can not take place without due attention to the broader debate currently being conducted in this country. I refer you to Ricky Pontings (ex-Australian cricket captain) commements in his recent book (extracts released this last weekend) re the problems in the national team due to the lack of understanding of Australian culture and traditions by the then national cricket coach Mickey Arthurs ( a South African).
Just some further comments re the article – the points you make about Bill Sweetham’s experience in the UK are very valid, but Bill’s stint as a national coach in Australia in the 70s and 80s was hallmarked by Australia’s worst two decades in swimming since the 1930s not a very impressive period(I exclude the 72 Olympics here because it was really a child of the 60s) And to add comment to some oberservations above, Laurie Lawerance was the only coach to achieve significant success in the 80s being the coach of Tracey Wickham, Jon Sieben and Duncan Armstrong and Julie McDonald when she won bronze in 88 ( i think i am right here on Julie) pretty impressive foursome so I don’t know where the negative comment about Laurie is coming from. I am not sure if the comments by coast boy were aimed at Laurie or Bill – so I offer my comments on Laurie both in his defence and admiration – certainly not Bill Sweetenham. Laurie was totally immersed in the traditions of Australian swimming and sport generally – he was leasee of the Tobruck pool in Townville in the 60s when Australian teams went into camp in that city prior to major championships like the Olympic and Commonwealth games, he also toured NZ with the Wallabies in early 60s as the second string halfback to the famous Ken Catchpole. A record many present coaches would do well to emulate. Many of Australia’s present coaches could do well to have the same passion for the success of their charges as Laurie had. And all this with only one lung!!!
On the matter of Forbes and Ursula coaching the Dutch team in the early 60s, at the 62 European champoinships the Netherlands achieved unprecedented success particularly with the mens team, (at a home championships) yet at the 64 Olympics the Dutch could only manage three medals – silver and a bronze in the two relays and silver by Ada Kok in the 100 fly an event she was world record holder for and hot favouite. Not one male won a medal or made a final, yet at the 1960 Olympics the Netherlands had their one and only male Olympic medal (in the 200m breaststroke) before the 2000 Olympics, obviously Forbes’s and Ursula’s success was not very enduring – I wonder what cultural issues may have impacted there.
After the 1964 Olympics Forbes and Urusla returned to Australia and a much more successful period of coaching hallmarked by Shane Gould’s success at Munich.
In the 70s, 80s and early 90s there was much debate in Australia about the in ability of the nation’s coaches to produce good sprinters – we have over come that problem now we are breast beating about the failure of the nation to produce middle and long distance swimmers every age has it problems – but given the current Olympic and world championship program I would rather have coaches who could produce sprinters rather than distance swimmers if we had to chose and we do have short memories it was only 2008 when Australia won the 4×200 women’s relay.
The real problem since 2008 has been the inability of our coaches to get the taper right for the Olympics and Worlds we produce great times at our trials and then full away dramatically at the big events – this is the real technical issue facing Australian swimming perhsps Jacco can make a real contribution in this area – I certainly hope so.
Australian swimfan

Craig Lord

Coast Boy: you are very much wrong on Wickham.

Bill Sweetenham did coach Tracey Wickham from a very early age, and he coached her to all of her world records. She trained with Sweetenham for a long time and then towards the end of her career, went to Lawrence after the fall out of her bad decision over Moscow 1980… she never again swam any faster times than she did during her Sweetenham years. Lawrence also did fine work for his charges and Australia – but important to get the facts right.


I wonder if Australia would be better served by a US-style set up where there’s a national team director who is there for an everyday resource for elite athletes, but the title of head coach at major international meets rotates among the domestic elite coaching ranks. It seems to spread both wealth and responsibility among the group who is in charge of getting people onto an international team and beyond, and I also think there’s a certain inclination for athletes to be on a little bit better behavior for a coach from a different team that they haven’t become overly familiar with yet.

Not necessarily so.

In the above analyses what has been completely omitted is the calibre of the swimmers available 2008-13. ( I think we have to put time limits on this discussion for we are dealing with 2014-2020.)

2009 was just terrible. 2010 saw a low standard of attitude & hence zilch achievement amongst the men with Geoff the only highlight . Geoff himself might admit that in his youth he was just like them. Sports are wasted on the young – if only we had young bodies & mature minds!

By 2011 the girls were getting dragged down also .

By 2012 the overwhelming majority of the squad just wanted to holiday in Spain & London & then onto Europe. They got the result they deserved.

I think this attitude was still there in 2013 .

We forget that these swimmers are young & not college disciplined as in the USA. ( I read where an Aust USC scholarship holder was woken to his door being banged down because he was missing from training ) . There used to be few consequences back home for Australians who flunked out at major meets till 2012/13. Australia did not demand that much contrary to the swimmers whinging.

It is a new era. There is time for most to change their attitudes & take it seriously . After all Lauren in Auckland was swimming 4 .11 for the 400 only a few years ago at a rather advanced 20 years of age.

Coaches can only do so much . Every swimmer has it in them to overcome their past failures .

Go big or go away.

Craig Lord

Thanks for those thoughts Not nec’ so. Of course, swimmers must want it and have the drive to get there… but the coach and the leadership behind the swimmer have a hug part to play to ensure delivery. You mention Lauren Boyle, a swimmer who thanked Bill Sweetenham for his work in transforming her in psychological and, consequently, physical terms, the two very much linked to delivery of performance. Every swimmer does indeed have it in them to overcome falling short in the past – but that is far more likely to happen and in timely fashion where the swimmer has the right people to left and right. And part of that process, with whole programs in mind, is to think far more long-term and with ‘thread’ in mind. To some extent, Australia (there are far worse examples in the world) has been reinventing wheels of late, which reflects a failure in leadership.

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