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Tribute To A Rare Jewel “Heart Rate Bob”

Brief History:

I have had the pleasure of knowing and working with Dr. Robert Treffene since 1984. During this time, I was not only lucky enough to work with him on a professional level, but was proud to have him as a mentor in science, coaching and life.

“I have no reservations in admitting that of the thousands of people I have met in my 45years in the sport of swimming, nobody had as much influence on me, or contributed to my success as a coach, as Dr. Bob Treffene!”

When I first met Dr. Bob, he was a successful university professor in physics and had already conducted lectures and presentations in most major educational institutions throughout Australia. Being an accomplished athlete himself in a wide variety of sports, Bob had a passion for sports science, of which in the mid-to-late 70’s he decided to focus more of his energies on. It did not take long before his knowledge and innovative nature, saw him rise to the top of his field and be selected as the Head Sports Scientist of the Australian Swimming Team. At the risk of embarrassing Bob, he played major roles in the programs of athletes like, Stephen Holland… Tracey Wickham… Glen Housman and Kieran Perkins, just to name a few. I don’t think any of the successful coaches during the 80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s, could claim that they were not influenced in some way by Bob and his conditioning philosophies.

As usual, I will probably upset a few people by saying this, but…

“There is absolutely no coincidence that Australia’s decline on the world swimming scene coincided with Bob Treffene’s retirement from working for Swimming Australia!”

Initial Meeting:

Out of the countless situations that I could write about to give an insight into Dr. Bob, I think that my first introduction to him would best represent why he had such a positive influence on so many athletes and coaches.

It was 1986, and I had been selected as a development coach for NSW and invited to attend a National Team training camp at the AIS in Canberra. During the first training session, I watched Bob bounce from lane to lane taking heart rates with his monitors and relaying the scores to both the athletes and their coaches. Then, just after lunch, Bob was conducting a lecture for the team coaches… little did I know, that this presentation would have such a profound effect on my future coaching career.

The complete silence in the room, along with his obvious influence on pool-deck, instantly brought to my attention the enormous respect that the whole team had for both him and his methods. Besides this, it was the way in which Bob delivered the presentation that really blew me away. Yes, it was informative… yes, it was innovative… and yes, it was certainly entertaining and thought provoking… all the ingredients for a great lecture. But it was the way in which he delivered it, that really intrigued me more than anything else. His enthusiasm and total belief of what he was presenting was amazing… and looking around the room, of which there were plenty of successful senior coaches, there were plenty of confused faces that weren’t quite sure if they were in full agreement with his findings.

That may have swayed most people to tread a little lightly, but Bob kept firing away as if there was absolutely no doubt that what he was suggesting was the only way to go. As it turned out, he was right!

During the afternoon session, all I could think about was how in the hell could I get this bloke one-on-one to get inside his head. Having studied under my last swim coach Dr. Jan Prins, a professor in Exercise Physiology at the University of Hawaii, this bloke (Dr. Bob) was the first person since Dr. Jan, who had made sense to me and was looking to improve on the “status-quo” when it came to conditioning sprint, middle-distance and distance swimmers.

Being a young upstart in the coaching ranks, I kept thinking… there is no way this guy, who was held in such high regard in the sport, would have the time or the desire to spend any time with an inexperienced coach like myself.

Comment: "Wow, maybe my self esteem was a little low back then!"

Anyway, as we were all walking to the mess-hall for dinner, I summoned up the courage and went up to Bob and introduced myself… well… within 15seconds, he made me feel as if we were old mates and proceeded in asking me a barage of questions on my background, where I was coaching etc., etc.

After making me feel comfortable, I decided to go for it and said that I would love to sit down with him at some stage in the future and talk about some of his concepts. He immediately replied…

“Well my lad, why don’t we grab our meals and find a quiet table so we can get started!”

Wow, you could have knocked me over with a feather!

To cut a long story short, we spoke right through dinner and then went back to his room and continued looking at data he had collected, along with discussing a myriad of coach related subjects and philosophies. As it turned out, we talked all night and went straight to the morning workout without any sleep… To say I was blown away would be a gross understatement.

What a “true educator”… in every sense of the word!

In the following 25years, we had countless meetings like this, all over the world, as on many occasions we were room mates on various Australian Swim Teams. Not only did Bob fast track my coaching success, but many others as well… he was also a pillar of strength for countless athletes who could always ask him for his opinion on how they were going and what they needed to do to improve their performances.

His laid back, grandfather type demeanour would not only settle most athletes down when they were under pressure, but would also inject them with confidence knowing he was always looking out for them.

As I alluded to before, if Swimming Australia was looking for reasons why they have struggled for the past decade or so, they need not look much further than their idiotic decision to let Dr. Bob Treffene retire…

“A Rare Jewel” indeed!


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