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Coaches Learning Abroad – Reflections of the 2022 ASCTA Conference

2022 ASCTA Conference

Coaches David Lyles and Ryan Lockwood of Phoenix Aquatics attended the ASCTA in September this year. David has taken the time to share his experiences from the 3-day conference.

Why did I attend?

I have attended this conference several times in the past, and after being starved of opportunities to learn and interact with other international coaches over the past 2-3 years, I felt it was imperative to attend and reconnect with coaches across the ditch and re-establish old acquaintances. You can choose different packages across the 3-days, so we stayed for the duration and took the 3-day package to get most value and the cost was around $700 AUD.

What did the conference look like?

Apart from the beautiful location and weather of the Gold Coast, the fact that this event was held at Sea World just shows the lengths that the organisation goes to and the thought put in to giving delegates the best possible experience.

When you arrived, there were trade stands along both walls with approximately 15m – 20m long on both sides displaying a range of pool equipment, swim wear, software and any other swim school/club related items you could wish for. There were plenty opportunities to break, stretch and re-fuel. The room was enormous but was able to be divided into 3 separate smaller rooms depending on which stream you were attending.

Day 1

The day opened with an address from the professional MC who was clearly well known in Australia and well-versed in hosting conferences and managing delegates. The first speaker was Lisa McInnes-Smith, she was a motivational speaker who really got the audience involved from the start. She was very interactive, quite intrusive and very “Aussie” in the way she spoke and presented. She was the perfect opener and broke the ice with everyone.

We were then divided off and we were in the HP Coaching stream with Leigh Nugent and Gary Barclay. They dove straight into presenting from a British Swimming perspective on the Australian Swimming Performance Pathways. It was insightful and amazing to see the detail and how structured their models are. They had groups of swimmers from State to Olympic level all with clearly defined roles and functions and you could see how they overlapped, interlinked and related to each other. As a coach, or as a swimmer or parent, it would be easy to see what you have to do to get to the next level and what it takes to make it to the very top. Staff, support crew, venues, dates etc were all presented for the next several years.

Towards the end of the morning, we were joined by Brett Hawke and Herbie Behm online and they discussed speed training for front end speed. 2 coaches with different ideas discussing and debating live on the screen was an interesting new twist for me but very interesting to see their perspectives on this topic.

Following this, Darren Holder, who is a consultant with Australian Swimming with a background in cricket coaching, talked about becoming the best possible coach you can. This was interesting and insightful but a bit dry for my taste and quite clinical.

We then got back to coaches presenting. David Proud, someone I have known since he weas a swimmer at TSS, talked about para coaching with Will Martin, 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Gold Medallist. For a young coach to get up and talk in front of a room full of such esteemed coaches was admirable and he did a great job of entertaining and informing.

The final session of the day was a lady called Kirsten Norden, who is a conditioning coach with a background in gymnastics. She was amazing and really picked everyone’s energy up. She had such simple ideas but executed and presented them so well. Her programmes seem to be running in most states across Australia as well on national junior teams and camps. She was awesome and easily the most useful and inspiring classroom presenter of the entire conference in my opinion.

Day 2

The next day started early as we had made arrangements to visit the Griffith University squad at the pool built in 2017 for the 2018 Comm Games on the Gold Coast. Coach to the squad is former World and Olympic finalist Thomas Fraser-Holmes. It was great to be outside at 5am to watch swimmers and coaches interact and prepare for the workout. There is something about coaching outdoors that makes the whole experience more enjoyable and I am convinced it is a major factor in the success of Aussie swimming down the years.

Back at the conference, we were treated to a who’s who of current Aussie coaches with Michael Bohl talking about Emma McKeon, and Chris Mooney on Kaylee McKeown and Simon Cusack who has coached Cate and Bronte Campbell since they were young girls together. Peter Bishop then talked about sprint training. The last presenter of the session was Vince Raleigh who brought so much energy and entertainment to his presentation on coaching Zac Stubblety-Cook. It would take too long to go through everything that was talked about by these highly successful coaches but what struck me were 3 main things: their honestly, their commitment and how they kept everything simple in terms of their approach to coaching and working with their athletes. There was no show-boating, and more importantly, each coach stayed in the room to listen to the coaches before and after them. They displayed a real feeling of camaraderie.

Day 3

The final day was possibly the best of the 3 days which was partly due to its location, the Gold Coast Aquatic Centre, and partly due to its practical set up, but mainly due to the fact it gave all delegates the opportunity to work with, talk to and seek advice from a team of world class coaches, up close and personal. The pool was set up and we were divided into 4 groups. At each corner of the pool, 1 coach was working with swimmers in the water on 1 of the 4 strokes. For a 1 hour session, they coached through drills and skills, many of them never having met the swimmers before and with a range of ages and abilities of swimmers for them to work with.

The leading coaches for the session were: Barry Prime (Breaststroke), David Proud and Ian Pope (Freestyle), Michael Bohl (Butterfly) and Brant Best (Backstroke). 1 hour listening, watching, asking and learning from coaches were only too willing to give time and answers to any question, no matter at what level it was pitched. We had 2 sessions before lunch and 2 sessions after lunch, then when everyone else had gone home, by prior arrangement we went through to the main competition pool and watch Michael Bohl coach his group of 18-20 senior swimmers including Emma McKeon and Cody Simpson. “Bohly” invited us down to pool deck and stood with us explaining the set and the progression of his group through to Worlds. He talked about a range of swim-related matters and for someone of Ryan’s age, this was an amazing end to a spectacular 3 days.

What were some key reflections?

The conference reminded me why Australia are so good at swimming. They love the sport, they work tirelessly at it and they work collaboratively together. Whilst we were at the conference, 2 pools – Somerset College and TSS – closed at very short notice for maintenance. Both clubs were able to ring round other local clubs and get sufficient lane space and help to keep their programmes going. I wondered if that would be the case in NZ and how many clubs would go to such lengths to help out other coaches and clubs if they needed pool space.

Swimmers were at the pool on time, workouts were methodical, skilful and purposeful and everyone understood what they were doing and why they were there; they encouraged each other and recognised each other’s achievements and seemed genuinely engaged in their sport no matter the level of their personal performance.

We will be definitely going back for next year where it will be held at the Star Hotel & Casino on the Gold Coast from 16 – 19 September 2023.

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