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Cecil M. Colwin

Dr Ralph Richards, Co-ordinator of Australian Coaching Development, says that Australia has "moved away from written exams."

Richards believes that coaches should concentrate on developing practical ability, rather than moving from one certification level to the next.

The Australians have done away with such traditional methods as pen-and-paper tests, with the aim of developing more practical values, such as how coaches run their programs, and develop professional skills. As a result, Australia's coaches are now assessed according to their ability to take swimmers to higher levels of ability, and to help them make qualifying standards.

While Richards concedes that certification provides coaches with professional status, and legal protection as well, he says that academic knowledge is valuable only if it can be put into practice.

Richards says that people learn and progress in different ways, and that accreditation is not the end product, but just a piece of paper that tells you where you are along the road. "We know that between point A and point B, you might take a turn, and do a few loops before you get to your destination, or you might go directly."


Practical Emphasis

For example, student coaches might be asked to develop a seasonal training model in which they explain why they have included certain types of training sets, and how they would use sports psychology principles as part of their program.

Dr. Ralph Richards, Australian Swimming's Coaching and Development Co-ordinator.
For larger 64k photo click on image.

Richards says, "This can be as simple as having team meetings to discuss specific topics. The coach combines several items of knowledge into something as basic as a seasonal plan: a living, breathing document that the coach can put to practical use."

Richards and his department work closely with the Australian Swimming Coaches Association, staging regular clinics where coaches meet to exchange ideas and perhaps even develop new ones. Both coaches and swimmers participate in these clinics, where many of Australia's top seniors are brought together with some of the country's most promising youngsters.


National Event Camps

Dr Ralph Richards says that national event camps are conducted to concentrate on one particular stroke and competitive event. These are more than just training camps they are important learning experiences in which there are as many coaches as swimmers. Members of the national support staff are also presentphysiotherapists, nutritionists, sports psychologists, sports scientists, physiologists, and medical peopleand they help to provide a practical educational component to the program.

"One of the unique aspects of this program is that we don't just invite the senior national team members. For example, if we have twenty butterfly swimmers at a camp, we might have twelve who are senior elite athletes, but we'll also bring in eight or ten developing age groupers," says Richards.

"Whenever you bring coaches together you are bound to have a stimulating exchange of ideas. We're willing to listen, and share and debate these ideas, quite vigorously at times; always with the intent of ensuring a non-threatening situation."

Richards says that two things take place when swimmers and coaches participate in the national event camps. "First, through discussion with their peers, coaches often find support, or confirmation, of ideas they had believed to be correct.

"The second fundamental is to identify differences between athletes, and this opens up discussions in which coaches and their athletes are apt to explore different training methods, especially those that seem to work for other people."

Richards says that this process helps coaches to identify the practical elements that most closely fit the requirements of the individual athlete. "The principle we work on is `maintain your strengths but improve your weaknesses.' We work at it from both ends.

"This helps them to observe how other people train, and to develop role models and bonding. Sometimes we have senior coaches who still want to coach younger swimmers. So it's not always the case that the young swimmers have young coaches. This provides a good mixture of youth and experience, on the swimmers' side as well as on the coaches' side.

"Part of the interaction in our national event program is that we have a mixture of people who've coached on international teams as well as people who haven't yet reached that level. This exchange of information helps the progress of our coaches into the next generation. We're preparing coaches for periods well beyond 2000."



Dr Ralph Richards is the Coaching and Development Co-ordinator for Australian Swimming Inc. Richards completed a Doctoral Degree program in Human Performance Studies at Indiana University in 1982, under the direction of James "Doc" Counsilman. Over a seven-year period at Indiana University, he served as a research assistant and helped Counsilman run summer camp and club programs.

During his senior coaching career Richards placed Australian swimmers on Olympic Games, Commonwealth Games, World Championship, and Pan Pacific teams. Richards was the Head Coach of the Victorian State Team on its tour of China in 1985, an Assistant Coach of the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games team, and headed Australia's altitude training program in 1992. He coached backstroker Nicole Stevenson (nee Livingstone) throughout her age group career and took her to a world short-course record (200 backstroke) and Olympic bronze medal (1992 in Barcelona) as a senior.

Prior to his current appointment, Dr Ralph Richards held the following positions in Australia:
Director of the National Sports Research Centre of the Australian Sports Commission.
Senior Women's Swimming Coach at the Australian Institute of Sport for three years.
Head Swimming Coach of the South Australian Institute of Sport for two years.
Head Coach of the Melbourne Vicentre Swimming Club for six years.

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