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Joe King - Part 2


Appointed to National Teams

"At that time the officials were responsible for appointing the team coaches. It was not until the 1976 Montreal Olympics that I was appointed manager of the swimming team. In 1978 I was a coach for the Edmonton Commonwealth Games team. That was a rare mile-stone in my coaching career. After that, I was on every Australian team, and had some great experiences."

"One tour that stands out in my mind was a six-nation meet in 1983 at Chundo-do, 3000 kilometers deep into China. It was quite a revelation. I can't remember the point score, because this was some time ago. The meet was efficiently conducted, and they were eager to learn. They invited Coach John Rogers and myself to give an in-depth coaching seminar.

"One of the things that I thought would influence their swimming was that the Chinese people from the countryside were brought up on very basic sustinence foods. They were living very close to the earth, and I felt that they had the physical resources to become great swimmers. At that stage, their team was under the charge of a Chinese coach; East German coaches had yet to visit China. After that, their women's performances seemed to predominate."

King said that he was coach of the Australian Commonwealth team in 1986 at Edinburgh. He didn't represent Australia again until 1992 at Barcelona. "But, even though I wasn't officially on any team at that time, I travelled at my own expense to meets where my swimmers were competing on the Australian team."

Training to Race Well

King's swimmers produced some outstanding performances at the 1990 Commonwealth Games, where his swimmers won 9 gold medals, and Hayley Lewis became the first woman to win 5 golds.

King said that, although he wasn't on the team, he coached his swimmers to be self-sufficient and capable of performing well on their own.

Joe at work
For larger 64k photo click on image. Photo © SPORT The Library Mike Larder

King coaches on the basis that a swimmer needs two things to win a race: speed and endurance. "In my squad, everything they do has to be oriented towards racing. I want them to do the job absolutely perfectly all the way."

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Joe King's approach to coaching is that he never loses sight of the fact that he is not only training swimmers to swim fast, but also to be able to race well. He says: "All your training should be devoted to the end goal of racing. A swimmer should develop good habits, not bad habits. Good habits should become engrained in the subconscious mind so that the swimmer will not be able to do it in any other way.

"It is remarkable to what extent lack of concentration will adversely affect a swimmer's performance. For example, you see a large number of swimmers who swim around the black line, instead of on it, and, as a result, they will swim further than they have to do; inevitably this sloppiness will add to their racing times."

Asked how he impressed these important aspects of racing upon a swimmer's mind, King said that he achieved this goal by having the swimmer swim a time trial at the start of a training session. This becomes an actual rehearsal of the race, to be done with error-free swimming. This means having the swimmer swim straight down the centre of the lane, insisting that the turn be absolutely "spot on," and that the finish also be as perfect as possible, with no breathing once the swimmer has passed under the flags, doing everything as absolutely perfect as possible.

King says that when his swimmers enter the water to start a training session, they have to dive off the starting block as if they are actually starting a race for the gold medal.

Genetic Superiority of Champions

King doesn't believe it possible to coach an average, ordinary individual to a championship standard. "They need to have genetic superiority over other individuals in the sport of swimming. The funny thing about it is that the genes are passed down over the years, and all of a sudden, they match up, and a supreme athlete is born. It spreads away again, and it never seems to happen again in the same family. It's amazing; there's only one instance I know of in Australian sport where this has been contradicted, and that was with the two Konrads, and they were different sexes. There was never another boy the same, and never another girl the same."

King believes that, at the present time, Australia's level one coaches are not applying enough attention to stroke correction. "They are tied up with the modern terminology of stroke rate, etc. Now, I cannot come to terms with stroke rate unless you have stroke distance at the same time, because, if your stroke length is not relevant, stroke rate is entirely unrelated to speed through the water. I believe that the most important factor is stroke length: the application of force against the water. For instance, if you double your stroke rate and decrease your stroke length by half, all that you are doing is that you're burning yourself out faster, with no gain in speed."

Still talking about stroke rate, Joe King said: "I've developed a reputation for knowing a little bit more about breaststroke. What I find is that in about 90% of young breaststroke swimmers, they don't apply the hand and forearm efficiently against the water. The reason is that they slide the hand across the water without really catching the water, and they turn over too fast. In the case of Rebecca Brown, I changed her arm-stroke completely by making her roll her arm right over until her thumbs were pointed down, with the whole of the hand and forearm against the water. Then she squeezes the elbows down and inward, in front of the body. I felt that gave her greater application against the water."

When asked about what we can do in the future to make swimming more efficient and more fish-like, and what our swimmers will be doing in another 40 or 50 years time, King replied: "I don't know. If I knew, I would be applying it today, but it makes me wonder what will happen in the search for greater application on the water."

King came back to represent Australia as a coach at Don Talbot's request. "I had four swimmers on the 1992 Barcelona Team. Don wanted me on the team and asked me to put my name forward for nomination, and I did, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Barcelona was a great meet, and I enjoyed the experience all over again."

Postscript: As you read this, Joe King is critically ill and fighting the battle of his life in a Brisbane hospital, with most of Australia's swimming family saying a prayer for him.

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