Laurie Lawrence is a former Australian Rugby Union Representative, and Olympic and World Champion Gold Medal Swim Coach. He was born in Townsville, tropical North Queensland. Laurie Lawrence turns 80 years old this week and here, we look back on some of the highlights of his career.
Laurie has coached Australia’s elite swimmers at Brisbane’s 1982 and Edinburgh’s 1986 Commonwealth Games. As well as Los Angeles 1984, Seoul’s 1988 and Barcelona’s 1992 Olympic Games. His coaching achievements boasts 10 gold, 11 silver and 12 bronze medals from Swimmers he directly assisted at Olympic level. He has also coached Swimmers with a combined total of 23 world records. Some of his best known protégé’s include; Jon Sieben, Duncan Armstrong, Tracey Wickham and Steven Holland.
Where it all Began
As a young coach starting out, winning was everything to Laurie. It was a competitive environment and Laurie recalls how kids would retire from swimming after winning silver at state championships. In fact, Helen Gray, got second and he threw her silver medal over the fence onto the train line. He said to her, “You come back with a silver medal? Don’t be complacent. You can be a medalist at the Commonwealth Games if you re-focus and work hard.”
He also recalls how he nearly got killed later that day by the express train to Redcliffe when he was searching for it on the train tracks!
He got a wrap on the knuckles for that stint, but knows his educated in coaching at that time could be improved. Helen Gray did in fact make it to the Commonwealth Games that winter. While she was gone, Laurie packed his bags for America to observe Mark Spitz in training with Sherm Chavoor. Sherm was the head coach of US Swimming team and studied under Don Gambril. Laurie managed to stay doing odd jobs, so he could learn everything he could about coaching.
A Method to the Madness
His method involved writing down all the results and training methods in a book, which he still has to this day. He kept track of every length, every stroke… he watched and recorded it all, looking for the techniques they used to produce champions. The one thing he learned more than anything else was that “They were great communicators”. They explained exactly what is important, and why it is required. Coaches make mistakes, but great communication makes up for these mistakes.
By 1972, he ended up with 27 state champions but winter training was hard. The kids wouldn’t turn up as the pool was too cold, so he got an opportunity to coach in Don Talbot’s pool. Despite the lack of accreditation, Lawrence managed to sneak into Talbot’s pool.
During this time, he pushed Swimmer Stephen Holland, and soon he was breaking world records in training. He worked so hard that as a 15-year- old kid, he became the youngest ever world champion at the World Aquatic Championships in Yugoslavia. Stephen was so fired up for that event, that he didn’t stop at 1,500 metres and swam another 100 metres before finally stopping. “He was fast but math’s wasn’t his strong suit”, Laurie joked.
With the skill and knowledge that he witnessed at the beginning of his swimming journey, Laurie Lawrence became the national swim coach, and a lot more than he is celebrated for to date.
Dedicating his Life to Training Champions
During training for the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane, he had 12 kids on the team. They all agreed that if you missed a training session, you were out, and he had a 1,500 metre swimmer called Gary Watson. He told Laurie that he couldn’t make 2 training sessions, but said he would make them up and true to his word, he did.
Laurie was really pleased with his efforts and when he finished up missing out on the team, Laurie was gutted. He saw Laurie outside and said “what are you worried about? I haven’t made the team but I have passed my university exams and did everything I could. So there is nothing to worry about. I’ve enrolled as an usher so I’ll be there with the team anyway.”
Laurie’s Turning Point
This was a turning point for Laurie Lawrence. He showed him there are two ways to win. Be first and touch first, but you also win by performing at your best time. You are a winner only if you have prepared properly.
Laurie dedicated eight years to training the under-10 state champion swim classes. His team trained and competed annually at Queensland Championships in his hometown in Brisbane. Lawrence had 27 state champions that he had trained from Townsville.
How Laurie Started World Wide Swim School
Laurie Lawrence isn’t slowing down any time soon. Laurie turns 80 this week and still gets down to the swim school each week to check it out. Many people have said he should franchise his schools, but as he says “I didn’t want to franchise my school, my name’s on the door, but what I can do is share my methods.” So he created a product called World Wide Swim School, which teaches parents, teachers and swim school owners the skills required to be successful.
He has have videoed his grandchildren every month since they were born, to measure their physical and cognitive growth and development. This clearly shows what you can teach children at appropriately developmental times. WWSS has now grown to 15,000 members in over 120 countries, and we have over 8,000 video clips on the products, which can be viewed on any device.
Kids Alive do the Five
In 1988, Laurie launched the “Kids Alive” Drowning Prevention Campaign to combat the problem. Today, with support from the Federal Government and community service advertising, the program runs nationally. As a result, drowning statistics have reduced significantly. But according to Laurie, there is still a long way to go, saying “our target is zero deaths by drowning”.
Infant water safety is a big focus for Laurie and with the help of his daughter, Emma. In the year 2000, drowning stats were 63, but they dropped to 26 five years ago. This is a joint effort with Surf Life Saving, and other organisations, but the Kids Alive – Do The Five program has been a major drive for this change. In 2014, the lowest ever stats were recorded, with 20 pre-school drownings. But the team is adamant they will work hard to get that number even lower.
A Children’s Study Led to More Funding
In the process of the Kids Alive program, Laurie worked with Professor Robyn Jorgensen. She completed a longitudinal study on infant aquatics in 2013. She found that children who took swimming lessons were up to 10 months ahead of their peers. By the time they went to prep, they were more further along in social, emotional, physical and intellectual areas. Based on her work, Laurie went to the Government and got funding to create a Water Safety DVD. They now go to the parents of every newborn in Australia via the Bounty Bag. Over 1.5 million DVD’s have now been given out.
Accidents are going to happen as no parent can watch their children 24 hours a day. But as a nation, we are still pushing for zero pre-school drownings for the year. Laurie was brought up in swimming pools and pubs and his Dad used to tell him, “as you go through life, you’re are going to meet all sorts. Be prepared to walk with beggars and dine with kings. On the other hand, sometimes you have to dine with beggars and walk with kings.”
To find out more about Laurie Lawrence, and listen to his podcasts, click here.