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Business, Olympic Edition Preparing for another fairytale ending

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By: Chava Sobrino •  4 years ago •  

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I WAS ORIGINALLY A DIVER MYSELF FOR MEXICO. I STARTED OFF AS A SWIMMER, BUT NOT BEING TALL OR FAST ENOUGH, I MOVED ONTO DIVING IN 1974. SWIMMING IN MEXICO IS NOT FANTASTIC, THEY DON’T HAVE BIG INTERNATIONAL RESULTS AT ALL, BUT DIVING IS COMPLETELY THE OPPOSITE. IN DIVING, MEXICO HAS ALWAYS BEEN VERY COMPETITIVE AND HAVE WON A FEW OLYMPIC MEDALS AND HAD SOME WORLD CHAMPIONS. DIVING FOR MEXICO IS LIKE SWIMMING FOR AUSTRALIA! ALL THE TV NETWORKS FIGHT FOR THE RIGHTS TO SHOW NATIONALS AND INTERNATIONAL TRIALS EVENTS.

I

ended up representing Mexico at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, where I was 11th in the 10m platform event. I was only 19 years old and it was huge. For any young athlete, it is a dream come true to represent your country at an Olympics. After the Olympics, I had an injury to my left shoulder, so I started helping out and coaching in order to keep my sports scholarship as financial aid. I managed to compete for another year before retiring in 1981 and turning to coaching. Since taking up coaching, I have not looked back. Although my induction to coaching was circumstantial, I realised that I really enjoyed it and I was lucky to have started with a really good group. Some of that group ended up going to the Olympics and winning medals.

At the time, Mexico had good ties with Cuba – one of the Communist countries who had a large amount of money invested into sport research. Therefore, we always had good coaching courses. I also had a great mentor, a Bulgarian sports scientist called Stoyanka Dovreva who was a “methodologist”. She studied training methods for better performance, and from her I learned how to do all the programming, planning, volumes and intensities. I still use a lot of these planning principals to this day.

As an athlete, I didn’t understand that the programs were all planned and controlled. I thought I just walked up to a pool and trained. What seemed random was actually very well planned. Soon, I found it very interesting that you could control and predict results by setting goals and developing training programs. Even athletes in this day and age won’t realise just how much their coaches have put into their preparation.

In 1994, I moved to Brisbane to coach for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. It’s very hard as you have to leave your family, friends, culture, everything. I had initially thought to come to Australia for only 2 years, but I’m still here (22 years later)! I am glad, however, as the situation in Mexico is very dangerous now with the drugs and crimes.

Since 1996, the sport has opened up and I saw the opportunity to move to Sydney and the NSW Institute of Sport (NSWIS). At NSWIS, I developed really good relationships with other sport coaches, for example, Gary Sutton, the National Coach for Cycling, and Kenneth Graham, the Senior Sport Scientist at NSWIS, as well as all the coaches from swimming who have helped me develop and mature. I’ve learned to create a network of people and a team that will work for my squad and program. I can also compare our programs with other sports and types of training.

I am almost finished the Podium Coaches Course with the Australian Institute of Sport, which runs for a year. It builds creative networks, interpersonal relationships, and brings in experts on personal development and administration. It’s probably the best course I’ve ever seen. We have a hub of approximately 15 coaches for a wide variety of sports, and I now have a network to call and talk through ideas and solutions with.

DEVELOPING ATHLETE SELF-BELIEF

Comparing Olympic preparation in Australia to that in Mexico, much of the planning is the same, but I’m more experienced and mature now and don’t feel I have to do everything myself. In Mexico, we didn’t use of cameras, delay systems and biomechanics and I have introduced more technology and sports medicine into diving but I don’t need to be an expert in everything. So much is provided by NSWIS to help facilitate my job and make it easier for me to concentrate on the technical and competition aspects of the sport. Although there are more people to coordinate, a ‘service team’, it’s actually easier to manage. We have 4 coaches now at the Institute and we all help each other out and provide new ideas, which is refreshing. With maturity comes mellowing and I just want the best result for Australia, which removes a lot of pressure and gives the staff the freedom to be creative, innovative and motivated.

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To prepare the athletes for the challenges of Olympic competition, I try to use my experience to give them self-belief. I don’t want them to depend on me 100%. For example, we have Melissa Wu and Esther Qin competing in Canada and Russia at the moment. They went with my assistant coach, Joel Rodriguez. I feel like he’s capable and has coached these girls for a long time alongside me. Another of our coaches, Vyninka Arlow is with the junior teams, who are currently competing in Germany and Holland. I don’t want to take all the trips, as the younger coaches need to develop as well and stay motivated. Otherwise you don’t generate a good environment and longevity in the team. All the athletes believe they have 4 coaches, which is perhaps peculiar to our sport. We respect our athletes for who and what they are, and help them to develop professionally as well.

Across Australia, Diving Australia has three national diving centres, and I am one of 3 national coaches. The others are Michel Larouche from Canada, and Tong Hui from China. We all have different techniques, ideas and training methods, which makes for very interesting meetings. Diving Australia has done a very good job in bringing us and the centres together, along with a talent identification program at each centre to develop our next Olympic medallists.

WILL RIO HAVE ANOTHER FAIRYTALE ENDING?

The Rio Olympics are coming up very fast. Our first hurdle is to get our top 4 NSWIS team members selected: Melissa Wu (silver medallist at the 2008 Beijing Olympics), Esther Qin, Brittany Broben (silver medallist at the 2012 London Olympics) and Kevin Chavez. The other diving programs also have strong teams, so the competition nationally is very tough. In Adelaide, they have Grant Nel (Men’s springboard), and in Brisbane they have Maddison Keeney (Women’s springboard) and Dominic Bedggood (Men’s platform). But there’s also a strong group of new, younger athletes who are also very keen for selection.

Whoever makes the team, we prepare them to aim for a medal and say, “Whatever happens, you will be ok at the end.” That’s what I did with Matthew Mitcham, for example, at the Beijing Olympics. When he first arrived, he didn’t believe he could be a medal contender. That changed very quickly and in the end it was a gold medal result which was great, especially because he achieved a perfect 10 score in China. China is the number 1 nation in the world for diving.

When he scored a perfect 10, it was like a movie ending. He was 30-odd points behind in the last round on the last day, so it was very difficult to make up the ground in a single day. When he got a very high degree of difficulty dive, he achieved 112 points in that day, and won gold. It was simply amazing.

https://youtube.com/watch?v=Az4w32d20SY

THE REALITY OF COACHING AT THE TOP

Some of the hardest things for me as a coach are:

1

TRAVEL One of the hardest things for me, is the fact that I have to travel so much when I have a 10 year-old daughter, Maya. Leaving your family behind is always one of the biggest sacrifices as a coach.

2

HEALTH The other major sacrifice is probably your health. It’s very stressful work, with a lot of pressure, expectations and long hours. After the London Olympics, I ended up having a mild heart attack and had a stent put in my heart. I’m great now, but when you’re younger, you think you’re invincible and can take anything.

3

EFFORT DOES NOT ALWAYS EQUAL SUCCESS With the team, one of the most awful things for a coach is when your athletes work hard and still don’t do well. You love them as if they’re your own kids, so when they genuinely struggle, it’s difficult to see.

4

MORNINGS! As a Mexican, coaching mornings is also very difficult! If I won Lotto, I’d drop morning coaching completely and just do afternoons. We start training at 6am in the mornings, but swimming starts training at 5am, and poor guys, I just look at them and go, “Oh my God, you’ve been here for 1 hour coaching already.” I’ve had to adapt to this life, the culture in Mexico is very different!

I still love coaching as much as I did in Mexico. I love the competition, the training and seeing kids go from nothing to an amazing athlete. I’ll continue on, but at the same time, I would like my program to continue on for another cycle with Diving Australia and NSWIS.

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ONES TO WATCH

Our top Australian athletes: Esther Qin, Brittany Broben, Melissa Wu, Grant Nel, Kevin Chavez, Maddison Keeney, Dominic Bedggood.

2 TOP TIPS

1

Believe in yourself and what you’re doing. You always have to believe it. Sometimes there will be situations that will make you doubt, but just 100% believe in what you are capable of because you’re capable of doing amazing things.

2

The best route to get to the brain is through the heart. You need to really connect with your athletes. If the heart is not there in the relationship, it’s not going to happen. You will get better results if you are able to connect well with your athletes.

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