SWIMNEWS ONLINE: June 1996 Magazine Articles

Shopping Media Kit Trial Issue Swim Camp Directory



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 and internationally."

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.

Home | E-Mail | Top of Page | June 96 Contents | Magazine
Mag Archives | Calendar | World Rankings | Meet Results | Links to Sites
Photo Library | Biographies | Forums | Shopping | Classifieds

COPYRIGHT © 1995-1998 SWIMNEWS MAGAZINE, All Rights Reserved.
URL: http://swimnews.com