SOS Coach of The Year To The Taylor Troop For World’s Top Team & Women’s Bounty Led By Bohl & Boxall Swim Sorority + Bowman Muscles In
SOS departs from the standard model this year to grant the overall Coach of the Year to a collective: Australia, a nation that emerged from the 2023 World Championships ahead of the United States on the swimming medals table for the first time in 22 years.
It was Fukuoka 2001 when Don-Talbot-led Australia topped the long-term world No1 swim nation on gold count at the global showcase. Rohan Taylor‘s 2023 Dolphins matched the feat in the same city last year, the success story not exclusively female but the gold-count victory relying on the soaring success story of the Aussie swim sorority.
A nod to tradition:
Women’s Coach of the Year: Dean Boxall and Michael Bohl. Boxall for Mollie O’Callaghan, Ariarne Titmus, their freestyle relay mates, all of them World-record setters in 2023; Bohl for Kaylee McKeown, also a multiple World-record setter 2021-2023. O’Callaghan, McKeown and Titmus feature in starring roles in our SOS swimmers of the year awards.
Marchand claimed a trio of World titles, the 200m butterfly and both medleys, the 400m the performance of the year, a 4:02.50 taking down Michael Phelps’ 2008 global standard and drawing plaudits from the American GOAT and mentor to both medley aces, Bowman.
The link between them all is Jacco Verhaeren: former Dutch and Australian head coach, he heads to Paris at the helm of the host nation’s team, with Bowman own the French, not USA, staff. Fascinating dynamics head.
The Overall Coach of The Year Award goes to the Australian collective led by Taylor, who was at the helm when the writing was branded on the end wall at the Tokyo 2020ne Covid-delayed Olympics, the Australian women’s team one of the big leaps of the Games across all sports.
Times have changed down the decades since Talbot led the triumph of 2001 a year after a home Games for Australia at Sydney 2000, and all the more so since Bill Sweetenham led Australia at the Olympics more than 40 years ago as one of two coaches for the entire team and having a podium shot was no ticket to selection or even permission to work with anyone on the Olympic team.
There were 10 coaches with the Dolphins in Fukuoka. Alongside Taylor, Boxall and Bohl were Peter Bishop, Amanda Isaac, Damien Jones, Adam Kable, Ina Mills, Chris Nesbit, Mick Palfrey, Vince Raleigh and Mel Tantrum.
They, those who went before them and the unsung heroes of the development days of champions, the likes of Paul Sandsby, O’Callaghan’s youth swim teacher at Waterworx Swimming Club Paul Sandsby, among those seldom heard of. Sandsby cut his coaching teeth under the tutelage of Sweetenham in the days when teenagers Olympic champion Michelle Ford and World champion Tracey Wickham were setting the global pace over 800m freestyle way ahead of the curve of progress among peers.
As the outstanding success of the United States has shown us along the course of the past century, standing ion the shoulders of those who went before is a critical part of the balancing act that underpins the blue thread of wave-after-wave success.
Related and relevant:
With that in mind, SOS also recognises two coaches as representative of two sides of a coin of coaching experience in pursuit of the kind of excellence that is funded, encouraged and even expected of and in nations far and wide in the highly subsidised world of Olympic sport, the Bank of Mum and Dad the foundation stone of a Movement that largely ignores the parental contribution and pays scant regard to the coaching contribution, too.
Any who doubt that: go to the official profile pages of swimmers far and wide and count how many times the CV fails to include a coach and coach name credit. Bravo to those federations and organisations who get it and list coach next to swimmer name.
Meanwhile, we should add a note on Germany’s Bernd Berkhahn, who takes the Open Water SOS Coach of the Year for Germany’s double-double at the World Championships, already noted on this file:
Coach Appreciation Awards: Marshall & Bircher
Both of our named recipients, whose stories are reflective (bot not the same) as those of other coaches and the challenges they face and deal with, are British.
Mel Marshall: a great deal of great work done by coaches never makes it to the media coverage, mainstream and niche, lack of space, budget and knowledge among the reasons why. Here is a story, Marshall at the centre of excellence and leadership, that provides insight into the lengths coaches and those they work with go to when commitment and recommitment is agreed on and a plan is set:
A great story of perseverance and transformation in the course of a long and outstanding career, swimmer and swimmer to coach. The lessons to be learned from Marshall’s journey are legion and we’ll be returning to those in due course. This day, we celebrate Marshall and other coaches who have committed to getting the best out of their charges, club night to Olympic heights, year after year after year, generation of athlete come and go.
Alan Bircher: a torrid tale of governance gone wrong underpins the story of a man who, like Marshall, represented and excelled for Britain at global level before becoming a coach. Bircher worked at The Ellesemere College Titans, one of the top programs in Britain for feeding talent through the junior ranks into the national senior team – until the club was stripped of its England registration and its swim families and swimmers told they must find alternative clubs if they wanted to compete at official, qualification, events.
Some of the more than 50 children affected later complained that not only did they have a happy and thriving experience at the Titans and were unaware of any form of ‘abuse’, but were directed to send their children to a club where one of the coaches had indeed ended up in jail for abuse ended. Further, the Titans children, the parents noted in their complaints, had been bullied by children from other clubs on grounds that they were “abused by their coaches” at their previous club.
That was untrue but the damage was done, say the families. The full story is yet to emerge but one this we can say is that Bircher was dropped from the Olympic coaching staff for Tokyo and placed on indefinite suspension without access to professional, independent judicial process.
Legal sources tell SOS that Bircher is now free to return to coaching. What he, among several other coaches in England, have endured is not something you are likely to witness in your own professional places of work governed by human resources procedures that simply have not applied and/or have not been applied in certain cases in swimming.
The Titans story was one of the cases highlighted in the independent Weston report that lambasted Swim England and its governance. Safeguarding if, of course, an essential part of the guardiashianship role of sports organisations but concerns over Swim England’s handling of such matters continue to be the subject of complaint and procedures far from over.
The lessons to be learned from Bircher’s journey are critical to the experience of swimming stakeholders and members and an investigation is currently underway.