Business, Goals Edition Laurie Lawrence
By: Laurie Lawrence • 4 years ago •
ONE SUMMER, A YOUNG COACH FROM TOWNSVILLE MADE THE TRIP OF A LIFETIME AND WENT TO STUDY UNDER THE GREATS OF US SWIMMING AT THE TIME.
LAURIE LAWRENCE CAME BACK AND BECAME A LEGEND HIMSELF WITH OVER EIGHT OLYMPIC GAMES, HIS COACHING ACHIEVEMENTS INCLUDE 10 GOLD, 11 SILVER AND 12 BRONZE MEDALS FROM SWIMMERS HE HAS DIRECTLY ASSISTED WITH NAMES LIKE STEVE HOLLAND, TRACEY WICKHAM, JON SIEBEN AND DUNCAN ARMSTRONG.
was born in Townsville, but I actually started my career as a physical education teacher before I got transferred to Toowoomba. For those that don’t know, Toowoomba sits on the edge of the Great Dividing Range, 127 Km West of Brisbane. Due to a bad bought of bronchiectasis as a child, I only have one lung and so I finished up with asthma on the oval. It wasn’t possible for me to stay there, so I went back to Townsville for my health.
At that time, 1956, my Dad was manager of the Tobruk Pool on Townsville’s foreshore and that’s where I got my real passion and love for swimming. During 1956 and 1960, Tobruk was the training pool for the Australian Olympic Team and for me, this was the golden era of Australian Swimming. I was just a snotty nosed kid running around getting autographs from greats like Dawn Fraser, Murray Rose and John Devitt. It was amazing to be in Townsville, at the last carnival before they were to go away and then see 13 world records in one night. It just fantastic.
Dad suggested, as I was a teacher, that I start to teach swimming and so I started coaching. Things moved very fast and before I knew it, we were at the North Queensland championships, then the State championships, then the nationals.
As a young coach in Townsville, winning was everything. I had kids retire from swimming after winning silver at state championships. In fact, Helen Gray, got second and I threw her silver medal over the fence onto the train line. I said “You come back with a silver medal? Don’t be complacent. You can be a medallist at the Commonwealth Games if you re-focus and work hard.” I nearly got killed later that day by the express to Redcliffe when I was searching for it on the train tracks.
Learning the Trade
I got into trouble for that but I was not educated in coaching back then. Helen Gray did make it to the Commonwealth Games that winter and while she was gone, I packed up and went to Phillips 66 in America to watch Mark Spitz train with Sherm Chavoor. Mark Spitz won 6 Olympic Gold Medals, a feat now bettered by Phelps but I wanted to see how he was trained. Sherm was the head coach of US Swimming team and studied under Don Gambril. I told him I would pick up kickboards, clean the pool, anything, if I could watch what he was doing, so he arranged for me to stay at the dormitories in California University.
While there, I wrote down all his results and training methods in a book which I still have to this day. I kept track of every length, every stroke, I watched and recorded it all, looking for the techniques they used to produce champions. I also went up to see Flip Darr train Olympian Gary Hall Snr.
The one thing I learnt more than anything else was that “They were great communicators”. They explained exactly what was important and why it is required. Coaches make mistakes, but great communication makes up for these mistakes.
At state and national events, I would talk to all the coaches whose kids were winning races. I would search out those that were winning and find out what they were doing. There was a lot of knowledge sharing at state and national championships.
When my swimmers travelled to competitions, I would often not go with them. My philosophy is, when the kids get into the arena, I cannot be there holding their hand. They must be independent and prepared enough so that they don’t need me. My job is to make sure that they are ready before they get there. Of course, it’s a different story for those eight Olympic Games.
By 1972 I ended up with 27 state champions but winter training was hard. The kids wouldn’t turn up, so I got an opportunity to coach in Don Talbot’s pool.
He was so fired up for that event, that he didn’t stop at 1,500 metres and did another 100 metres before finally stopping.
Working there I pushed Stephen Holland like Sherm Chavoor and soon he was breaking world records in training. He worked so hard that as a 15-year- old kid, he became the youngest ever world champion at the World Aquatic Championships in Yugoslavia. He was so fired up for that event, that he didn’t stop at 1,500 metres and did another 100 metres before finally stopping. He was fast but maths wasn’t his strong suit.
Training for the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane we had 12 kids on the team. We had all agreed that if you missed a training session you were out and I had a 1,500 swimmer called Gary Watson. He told me that he couldn’t make 2 training sessions, but said he would make them up and true to his word, he made up the sessions. I was really pleased with his efforts and when he finished up missing out on the team I was gutted. He saw me outside and came up to me. “What are you worried about?” he said. “I haven’t made the team but I have passed my university exams. I did everything I could have so there is nothing to worry about. I have enrolled as an usher so I’ll be there with the team anyway.” This was another turning point for me. He showed me there are two ways to win. Be first and touch first, but you also win by performing at your best time. You are winner only if you have prepared properly.
To win, I needed a team around me to help and if I didn’t have that full team around me then I couldn’t be successful. Young swimmers that were with me then are now successful coaches on the Australian Team. Michael Bohl just got recognised as one of the world’s best coaches from FINA. He swam with me in those Commonwealth Games and now he coaches Mitch Larkin.
One of the main reasons I was successful was that I like to win. I cannot swim, so I have to have my athletes swim and that’s how I win.
World Wide Swim School
While I’m 75 this year, I’m still working. I still get down to the swim school each week and check it out. Many people have said I should franchise my schools. I didn’t want to franchise my school, my name’s on the door, but what I can do is share my methods, so about nine years ago I went online and created a product called World Wide Swim School. It shows parents, teachers and swim school owners the skills required to be successful. I have videoed my grandchildren every month since they were born to measure their physical and cognitive growth and development. This clearly shows what you can teach these children at appropriately developmental times.
I’m still building this now and it’s grown to 15,000 members in over 120 countries. We now have over 8,000 video clips in the product which can be viewed on any device.
Kids Alive – Do The Five
Infant water safety is still a big focus for me. With the help of my daughter, since the year 2000 when drowning stats were 63 they have dropped to 26 last year. This is joint effort with Surf Life Saving and other organisations but the Kids Alive – Do The Five program has been a major driver of this change. In 2014 we had the lowest stats ever with 20 preschool drownings but we will work hard to get the number even lower.
I developed the five main points and my cousin came up with the idea of Kids Alive – Do the Five. Then Robert Draftery, a poet friend of mine, added the little touches that made it so memorable. Dave Avery, who wrote the famous George Thorogood song, “Get a haircut and get a real job” created the music for the jingle and away we went.
In the process of the Kids Alive program I worked with Professor Robyn Jorgensen who did do a longitudinal study on infant aquatics in 2013. She found that children who were taught swimming were up to 10 months ahead of their peers by the time they went to prep in social, emotional, physical and intellectual areas. Based on her work, I went to the Government and got funding to create a Water Safety DVD. These go to the parents of every newborn in Australia via the Bounty Bag. Over 1.5 million DVD’s have now been given out.
Accidents are going to happen. No parent can watch their children 24 hours a day but as a nation, we are still pushing for zero preschool drownings for the year.
I was brought up in swimming pools and pubs and my Dad said “As you go through life, you’re are going to meet all sorts. Be prepared to walk with beggars and dine kings. On the other hand, sometimes you have to dine with beggars and walk with kings.”
We all have the opportunity to be successful.
Laurie Lawrence, a former Australian Rugby Union Representative and Olympic and World Champion Gold Medal Swim Coach was born in Townsville, tropical North Queensland.
Laurie has coached Australia’s elite swimmers at Brisbane’s 1982 and Edinburgh’s 1986 Commonwealth Games, as well as Los Angeles 1984, Seoul’s 1988 and Barcelona’s 1992 Olympic Games. His coaching achievements boast 10 gold, 11 silver and 12 bronze medals from swimmers he has directly assisted at Olympic level, swimmers he has coached boast a combined 23 world records. Some of his best known protégé’s include; Jon Sieben, Duncan Armstrong, Tracey Wickham and Steven Holland.
In 1988, Laurie launched the “Kids Alive” Drowning Prevention Campaign to combat the problem. Today, with support from the Federal Government and community service advertising, the program runs nationally. As a result drowning statistics have reduced significantly. According to Laurie there is still a long way to go. “Our target is zero deaths by drowning”.
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