MAKING AVERAGE SWIMMERS INTO GOOD SWIMMERS
AND WE OCCASIONALLY MAKE GOOD SWIMMERS INTO VERY GOOD SWIMMERS
Viv Firman and Peter Hassall
Terry Denison is the most successful coach in British swimming. He has been
Chief Coach of the City of Leeds club since 1972, Chief Coach of the England
and Great Britain Teams, and was GB Head Coach of the 1992 Olympic Team.
In 1988, Terry Denison coached Adrian Moorhouse to Olympic gold in the men's
100 breaststroke-Britain's only other swimming gold of the decade going
to Duncan Goodhew in 1980. Over the years, Terry has led the City of Leeds
Club to all of the major titles in Britain. In 1995 the Club won the Great
Britain Club Team Championships for the 12th time, were once again Top Club
at the National Championships, secured the Top Club position in the boys
and girls sections of the National Age Group Competition and won the National
Speedo Inter-League Final for the 11th time.
In conversation, this quietly spoken Yorkshire man leaves the listener in
no doubt about his all-consuming passion for swimming, but that passion
is almost a private thing, masked on deck by a business- like, methodical,
thorough approach to every swimmer's ultimate dream-winning. True he's been
in swimming man and boy, but at very different levels. "I was a very
average swimmer myself. I was school swimming captain at West Leeds Boys
High School, but was involved in most sports at school, and even had a trial
at Headingly Nets (Mecca for cricketers). After University I returned to
Leeds in 1962 and started teaching History and Swimming, but it was teaching
swimming and not coaching, and in fact I coached Rugby in those days. My
wife coached swimming at that time with Leeds Central. I had an interest
because she was involved, but more in rugby.
In 1967 we did the English Schools Championships at Leeds, and I was on
the Schools' Committee. Deryk Snelling came and stayed at our house, and
he and I sat up literally all one night talking about swimming, and I was
so enthused by his passion for the coaching of swimming, which at that time
I knew very little about, and that's what really got me interested. It was
his influence from the beginning. I did a Coaches Certificate Course in
1970 or 1971 and then became Chief Coach at City of Leeds in September 1972.
I was unpaid and still teaching (history at school). I taught and coached
swimming both together until 1982. I was Head of Upper School by that time
in Leeds and swimming had taken me over basically; I was already on the
International Team, been to the 1980 Olympics and I was really doing more
swimming than I was teaching. It had come to the point where it was one
thing or the other and fortunately I decided to commit myself to swim coaching.
I probably would have made more money if I had stayed in teaching but I
have had a lot more fun, and many great experiences in swimming."
City of Leeds head coach Terry Denison
For larger 64k photo click on image.
New careers present hurdles. In Terry's case, the biggest problem was overcoming
attitude, "persuading people that this is worth doing, and that if
they're going to do it, they've got to do it full time, they've got to make
the commitment to do it. 'Have you got what it takes?'-that's on my notice
board. In our society now, we want things today don't we? We're not prepared
to work for tomorrow. Many of the old disciplines and values have gone,
and they've not been replaced by anything of similar standing."
So what are the greatest changes witnessed by the Denison eyes in British
and World swimming? "In British swimming, the development of professional
coaching since 1972, when the Coventry team was first formed; we've got
Hammy (Hamilton Bland) to thank for that. The infra-structure is in place.
The greatest changes world-wide, I think, have been in the levelling out
of success across the world. Up to '88 if you look at Olympic results, most
of the medals went to 7 or 8 nations. In 1988 it suddenly went to 22 nations,
and again in 1992, I think that 19 or 20 nations won the medals. So there's
been a great levelling. I think that's because there's access to information
and there's more people with organization and an improved structure. Technology
as well, but it's more about getting organized, deciding that swimming is
worth doing and that there is a value in having elite medal success in World
Competitions. If (our) government started awarding knighthoods to swimming
coaches and swimming people then it would suddenly become more important.
It's not just the fact of having money-it's what it says about the sport.
If you're putting money into it, you're saying it's important."
After more than 14 years with one club, the most successful club in Great
Britain, Terry's achievement list is very long. His response under interrogation
about the achievements that have brought the greatest satisfaction: "So
many things. I think Andrew Astbury winning the gold medal in Brisbane (1982)
was a very early major thing. The first time we won the Club Team Championships,
that was a real high point, and then there's Adrian's success of course.
Breaking the minute in Bonn was a high point; winning the gold medal in
Seoul afterwards was a high point, not at the time, because, at the time,
I was disappointed with the performance and when I first saw the time I
thought it could have been better. So the immediate reaction to winning
the gold was one of disappointment; I realised afterwards what an enormity
it was. I wouldn't like to take out any one moment because equally down
at lower level there are great moments when swimmers do magic things."
This order of priority on viewing success is quite deliberate. "Because
Andrew (Astbury) was much earlier in my coaching career and I got a tremendous
thrill and pleasure out of Andrew's exploits and he was never a high flyer
like Adrian was from the start. Adrian was totally single minded about the
things he wanted to do and, from day one, he knew he wanted to be an Olympic
champion. He never contemplated being beaten by anybody in any race he was
ever in; he never started other than being the winner. So it was his own
drive and ambition, his own determination. You can often tell with swimmers
when they've hurt themselves either in training or in a race, and sometimes
you wonder if they'll do that again. Adrian did. Time and time again he
gave 110% in his races and you could see that at the end of a race he was
drained, because he didn't stand up and smile like lots of swimmers do,
he was always drained. The Olympic final he stood up and smiled, but that
was the emotion of it. To give two metres to somebody at the 50 and not
give up but to keep going, that was tremendous-the spirit and determination."
With this kind of track record, is there anything for Terry Denison still
to achieve in swimming? "I would like to coach another Olympic gold
medallist, because it's inevitable that people will say, maybe he was lucky,
maybe Adrian was just a good swimmer who could have succeeded anywhere.
I can say in my favour that my Club has produced world class swimmers for
the last 10 or 12 years now. That's not coincidence and that's not just
one or two good people walking through the door, that's got something to
do with the system and what we do at Leeds. We make average swimmers into
good swimmers and we occasionally make good swimmers into very good swimmers.
Now whether you can then go the next step and make a very good swimmer into
a World Champion, that's another big step, a quantum leap again. That's
what drives me on at the moment. I'd refer again to attitude counting-a
belief that success is possible and that quitters never win. I fervently
hope that the success at Leeds will encourage and motivate other clubs to
get up and compete, thereby raising the standard of swimming nationally
But winning takes time, and success can come packaged with some regrets.
Does Terry have any regrets about the time he has spent coaching? "I've
loved every minute of it. My only regret is that I haven't been in it longer
at that level and, thinking back, I wish I had started coaching as soon
as I had left University and had that extra 10 years because that would
have made a difference. It takes time to build up the experience and knowledge;
just the knowledge of dealing with people and situations and I think I'm
only really beginning to get to grips with that. I think I'm coaching better
now than I've ever done." Terry sites his wife, Mona, as a major influence
and supporter throughout the years. Of her he says, "She was coaching
long before I was, and is an excellent coach, much better than I am as far
as technique is concerned."
But what's really in it for the swimmer? Is this just a game of times and
gold medals, or does this enthusiast see a clear role for swimming in developing
character? "You have to be able to accept the ups and downs of life.
It teaches people to deal with the disappointments in a way that's not a
major thing, because losing a swimming race is not like losing your arm
or seeing a loved one die. I think young people learn that there's going
to be some knocks and some good times. You've got to live with both of them
and at the end of the day they'll both even themselves out. I think it teaches
people to be disciplined and that's most important in this life. I do think
it makes people organised as well. They learn to apportion time to certain
things in their life and they know that, whatever they are going to do,
they've got to give a whole lot of time to do it. One of the things that
employers and Universities ought to see in our athletes is that you've got
real strong people here, who will do well for you anywhere. They'll be dependable
and reliable, they won't be phased out and they'll overcome difficulties,
they'll be great people to have around you."
Atlanta is just around the corner. Terry will be there (of course!) as a
vital part of the British Team, and two swimmers from the City of Leeds
Club-Andrew Clayton and Claire Huddart -are part of the 28 -strong British
contingent (15 men and 13 women). Of the even,t he says "I'm looking
forward to it, and I'm looking forward to a good performance from our swimmers."
When asked for a word about the Chinese he says "How about trepidation!
I say let's wait and see. I hope they are 'clean' but we've got to go out there and race them anyway."
This article, written by Viv Firman and Peter Hassall, appears with the
kind permission of Swimming Times.
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