The Australian Swimming Coaches Association has an executive of 15 people, plus a National Head Coach who is automatically on the board. The National Coaching Development officer (employed by Australian Swimming Inc.) and the National Youth Coach are also on the board, but these two do not have a vote. ASCA's Chairman, Otto Sonnleitner, describes the ASCA board as "a varied group of people. Some are Olympic Team coaches, others are not on the Olympic Team."
Sonnleitner said that ASCA places particular emphasis on education and the dissemination of information. "ASCA publishes a bimonthly journal that has probably developed into one of the best magazines in the world for coaching information. We give scholarships to coaches who are progressing through the ranks from age group to national senior level. Our scholarships take them further into coaching by giving them access to our national events camps, high performance centres, as well as training opportunities under our appointed tutor coaches. Every year we spend money on sixteen to twenty coaches, trying to bring them to a higher level where they become able to coach elite swimmers."
Sonnleitner says that ASCA has multiple sources of income that enable it to implement various educational and developmental programs. "Firstly, our membership fee is an important part of our income. Secondly, it's no secret that Australian Swimming Inc subsidizes us to the tune of $60,000 a year, so we are able to have our own full-time Executive Director. We also receive $15,000 a year from Australian Swimming, which goes directly to scholarships. A great source of our income is from our annual national conference that we are attending right now. The money we make goes into our coffers so that we can advance the learning of our coaches."
Tutor coaches are appointed from anywhere in Australia. Generally speaking, tutor coaches are at level three, which is the highest level (apart from master coaches who've achieved Olympic and international fame).
Questioned on who appoints the tutor coaches to lead the coaching development programs, Sonnleitner said that they are appointed by ASCA. "This year our head coach decreed that he didn't want scholarship coaches working at the national event camps, because the Olympic swimmers would be there, and this would crowd the camp too much and hinder its efficient operation. So we decided that they could go to the high performance centres instead. The high performance centres are situated at the venues where the top ten Australian coaches train their teams."
Sonnleitner said he has seen many people come to the national event camps since he became a national event coach in 1988. Many of them basically knew very little when they started, and now some are coaching national champions. "So the system does work. The idea of apprentice coaches working under a tutor has been the traditional way in which many great coaches have been developed; for example, Don Talbot under Frank Guthrie, Forbes Carlile under Professor Cotton, and so on. Every great coach has had a mentor somewhere along the line."
Sonnleitner says both apprenticeship and certification programs are needed in a national development program.
"You need the academic education to provide a base for the work done in the pool, but you also need the adaptability of the pool-deck coach. I commented last night at the dinner given to commemorate Forbes Carliles' 50 th year as a coach, that Ursula Carlile was one of the best on-deck coaches I've ever seen. I mean that. Ursula is an academic. She understands what is going on physiologically, and biomechanically, as well as in all the other areas, but she really works; she works the kids, she works herself. She never stops moving on the pool-deck. She's moving flat out with those kids, five hours of the day, telling them what to do, telling them where they're going right, where they're going wrong. She puts everything into it. That's what it's all about, being a top coach."
Sonnleitner believes that the days are gone when a coach could arrive on deck, and dream up a program just before a workout starts. Today's swimmers are too intelligent to accept such an approach. He says, "Today's coaches need to be able to plan thoroughly."
Sonnleitner said that one National Events Camp is held every year for each of the four strokes. "Last year, I ran the national event camp for butterfly swimming, and also the sprint camp, in conjunction with Ken Wood. We had 63 people at the camp at the Sydney International Aquatic Centre, using eight lanes in the morning, sometimes ten lanes, and occasionally twelve lanes in the short course. Let me tell you, there wasn't a thing a swimmer could do without being observed."
"We give each coach a task. They just don't stand around and observe people. The coaches have a daily conference to discuss whether or not they are achieving their set goals, and then they decide the next day's program. The national team physiologists, Bob Treffene, David Pyne, and Buddy Portier, are involved in these discussions. They help us determine where we're at physiologically. Then, of course, the coaches come in with their gut feelings, and generally, this works out really well."
Asked the extent of ASCA's influence on Australian Swimming's program planning, Sonnleitner said that his Association has input "into anything that affects the swimmer or coach." For example, ASCA has a say in planning the annual calendar of events involving state, national, and international competitions.
Sonnleitner doesn't believe that the annual calendar is too long. Many Australian Olympic team members come from country districts, and the need to travel long distances prevents their attending enough meets. Therefore, looking at the average 12-to-14 -week cycle, it was up to the individual coaches to select the competitions they needed for their respective swimmers.
Sonnleitner felt that, if a coach wanted his swimmers to attend every meet, "that was the coach's problem, but, realistically, it was important for the coach to be selective."
(This interview took place at the 1996 Australian Swimming Coaches Association's Annual Conference, held in Coollangatta, Queensland.)