IN MEMORY OF COACH KEN WOOD (AUS)
—Tribute and Eulogy By Coach Bill Sweetenham
“I am speaking today in support of a truly great coach and an even greater friend. It is said by many that in life you have a total of between 5 and 10 really good friends. I have not been so lucky as at best I have enjoyed the true friendship outside my family of 9 people and in the last 2 months this has taken a massive hit and I am now down to 7. Only just 3 weeks ago Kim , myself and Ken enjoyed “happy hour” actually 3 hours with a Crown larger and a packet of bar b que shapes. A celebration of Kens life and lots of remembrance of good times past.
Ken was a great friend to me from commencing as a 15 year old athlete competing from Mount Isa and without a coach. Ken was aware of this and stepped in to offer me support and advice. Ken was 20 years my senior and I greatly appreciated his intrusion into my competitive swimming career.
This friendship, advice , support and shared vision lasted 5 decades. It went from a coach/ athlete relationship into a very much valued coach/ coach relationship which has lasted over this extended period of time. I travelled by car many times between 1968 to 1974 from Mount Isa to observe and listen to ken on all things teaching and coaching. I was always welcome. Ken for me was a master mentor. During this period onwards ken had many great coaching friends in Jack Foster,Otto Sonnleitner, Graeme Brown , Peter Tibbs, Glen Evans, Ken Seymour, Phil McLeod etc etc and I was privy to their thinking and knowledge at a very young age.
It is said of Coach Wood that he was a “comic” as well as being a fantastic coach. His story telling and joke telling is of a legendary status amongst his peers. However I never saw or witnessed this side of Ken. Ken obviously thought that I had no sense of humour or did not appreciate his jokes.
There was only one exception to this when as a result of my snake bite he arranged a mock trial at the annual coaching clinic where I was tried and found guilty of poisoning the snake as a result of the bite as the snake died. And I lived. Ken looked the part in his judge’s wig (something akin to Oliver Cromwell and with the same righteous principles). Apart from this I shared no humour with Ken. Whenever we met which was often it was always very serious and centered on coaching and training athletes and how to gain a winning edge.
The interview I did with Ken on Bindi Cussen’s iPad some two years ago was as close to humour as we ever managed.
Ken Wood was a genius of a coach. Ken even into today’s world is one of the very few coaches who can out coach his training knowledge and experience. Coaching being the man management and neural aspect of athlete development and training being the physical development.
One of Ken’s closest coaching friends in Peter Carswell tells the story that he was on deck with Ken as an understudy situation when a gangly 12 year old female walked on the deck for a training practice and Ken stated that she would be on the next Olympic team. Many coaches say this but very few can deliver. Watching this young lady Peter thought that Ken had lost his marbles until after a period she got around to Breaststroke. I might add here that Peter was a great friend to Ken and apologises that he cannot be here. She made the Olympic team and went on to be one of the greatest swimmers/ Breaststrokers to ever live. Ken had a great eye for talent. Ken identified and developed talent as good or better than any coach I know. This was his winning point of difference.
Like all committed and devoted coaches Ken gave the demanding challenge of international excellence in Swim Coaching everything. Whilst coaching wasn’t the only thing in his life it was by far and away all consuming above and beyond nearly all else. Few understand. There is a price for this and families quite often are the ones who suffer. More often than not there exists a significant and unrecognised and unrewarding price to pay.
I believe Kimy and Kim must be thanked and recognised all that they did for Ken. I can only offer my prayers and best wishes for Lisa who I know but also to Boyd and Denise and their extended and significant other family members.
In October 1981 I was conducting a camp at Maroochydore with several Australian athletes and the current Hong Kong team and Ken came to visit and observe as well as seeking my opinion on his current coaching employment and professional situation. We discussed both his and my situation in both life and work. Ken at this time was challenged both personally and professionally. He , on this one off situation discussed openly his life and swore me to secrecy never to share or repeat this extremely confidential information no matter what. I am pleased to say I never shared or repeated this information with anyone and never will. There were no unexpected surprises for me in Ken’s situation as I knew him extremely well over this extended passage of time. This trust was built up over many years of shared work especially during his time working with me at the AIS.
During this time I endured an horrific road accident whilst on tour in Germany. This is when I knew Ken was a true and trusted friend like no other.
I was asked by a respected non-sporting person in the corporate world to describe Ken Wood in non-swimming terms. This was 3 days ago. I thought it would be good to share.
Ken reminded me of the world’s greatest orchestra conductors and the world’s greatest artists/ painters. They painted that which they felt in preference to that which they saw.
Ken was the lead conductor in the orchestra of swimming excellence at the Redcliffe program which had positive influences not only on Redcliffe swimmers but also Queensland , Australia and across the world.
Ken conducted his swimming orchestra like the renowned and brilliant Hector Berlioz who could hear every single instrument in any orchestral performance and be intuitive and creative within his own genius and created similar within every member of the orchestra. Ken did found similar genius within his own orchestra of excellence at Redcliffe. Or perhaps Ken had the genius of Loren Maazel who could individualise his hand motion that would resonate and respond to a particular player at a particular moment. His orchestra was relaxed , confident and could concentrate on the beauty of the tone of both the musical piece and their own instrument. Given his continual learning, perhaps Ken was today’s equivalent of perhaps a Nadia Boulanger or even a Mirga Tyla – a leader at the highest level.
Ken had the unique skill to always have his experience based learning and knowledge in advance of his age.
Coach Woods skill in building beautiful music and performance within a team effort where individual passion and belief was an essential element in the delivery of excellence for all who could enjoy this challenge.
Ken was a Vincent Van Gogh, a Claude Monet or a Raphael in that he could start from a blank canvas and create a master piece as he had an art for coaching that is uncommon in today’s world. A true rare genius of the coaching world who on a daily and hourly basis not only delivered but where his genius dictated the final outcome. Coach Wood was a true masterful artist.
I have made certain that I did not personalise this eulogy by mentioning names as there are so many I would surely miss one and offend, however if you as an athlete or coach or swimming officiado you know that you will have experienced something extraordinary and exceptional by working with coach Wood. Georgie I can tell you that Ken really liked your email. It put a smile on his face.
Ken I thank you for all that you did for Swimming.
Your good friend, Bill”