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
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."
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.
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.
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'
"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.