The West

Hockey super coach ready for new challenge
Ric Charlesworth relaxing at home.

After a career dominated by an unrivalled record of achievements, hockey super coach Ric Charlesworth is game enough to admit something: even his own players think he is too tough.

"I wouldn't be doing the job properly if they didn't," he said after announcing his time as coach of the all-conquering Australian men's team, the Kookaburras, was nearing an end.

"My job is to keep lifting the bar, expect more and raise the standard. Most of the players in my team I don't think recognise how good they can be.

"My job is to open their eyes to that and to stretch them and to require and demand more and better."

It is a philosophy that he has applied equally to his own life.

He has been at various times doctor, first-class cricketer, champion international hockey player, Federal Labor MP and coach of the national women's team, the Hockeyroos, before putting an exclamation mark on his CV by taking the Kookaburras to World Cup glory again with a 6-1 demolition of the Netherlands on Sunday.

Afterwards, Charlesworth announced that he would leave the job earlier than had been expected and would not lead the Kookaburras at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow next month.

The 24/7 demands of the job he had taken on in 2008 had taken him away from home regularly and he now wanted to have more family time.

"You put other things in your life down the scale, you give them less priority because you are doing this, and now I want to change those priorities," he said.

"I think you have a life span as a national coach anyway and I have always thought that about six or seven years was about right.

"There is a time when a team needs to be refreshed."

But despite his record of achievement as a coach, he said that in the final analysis success as a player was up to the player and that the coaching staff provided the means for them to achieve their goals.

And he insisted he had been lucky.

"If you want to succeed as a coach, first thing on the list, get good players," he said.

"If you get to be the national coach in Australia, it's an honour and an opportunity because you know you have access to the players in Australia and they are good."

To go further required teamwork and just plain old hard work.

"If you are about being outstanding, exceptional, if you are about being world champions, you have to have a focus on quality, you can't accept second best, short cuts," he said.

After finding the quality players there was then a need to develop their technical skills and physical capacities.

"Then you have to create an environment in which co-operation and teamwork happens," he said.

"That's the environment that the athletes have to sync in to, and study it if you like. It's the university of hockey."

Charlesworth said the biggest asset his teams carried was their playing style.

"Our aim is to dominate our opponents," he said. "We play an aggressive pressing game, which I think fits with our Australian psyche and how you should play.

"We try to score and when we lose the ball we want to get it back straight away, you smother the other team. My aim has always been you win the game as quickly as you can by as much as you can.

"One of the things I love about sport is generally it is a meritocracy. You usually get what you deserve. They say luck is the intersection of opportunity and preparation and if you are prepared and opportunity comes along you take it, that is true, but also you make your own luck."

After he helped prepare the team for the Commonwealth Games he would be packing up his office and would "watch it on telly, like everyone else".

And then he would move on again.

"I don't think you can have a life which is one-dimensional," he said. "What I have liked about my life is that it has been multifaceted and I have been willing to change and shift and I expect there will be more of that ahead.

"The best thing about my life has been that I haven't been pigeonholed."

It had allowed him to apply skills from one part of his life to other areas, he said.

For example, lessons from his medical training, such as the need for teamwork, have been applied to his role as a coach.

"If you work in a ward, if you are caring for patients, if you are in an operating theatre, teamwork is writ large in everything that happens there," he said.

Ask what he does next and the answers will suggest that Charlesworth the Labor MP is still very much alive.

As well as prioritising his family he wanted to "try to make this place better".

"I am not going to go back into politics but there are a lot of things you can be involved in," he said, and rattled them off.

They include dealing with climate change, showing more compassion for refugees, developing better medical drugs and improving the education system.

"I am going to get involved in tissue transplant and those sorts of things," he said.

"There is not a community awareness of how important that can be."

And no doubt through it all he will apply his guiding principle.

"You have to commit yourself to what you are doing and do it the very best you can," he said.

Charlesworth said that though he was demanding of his players, he believed they ended up appreciating it was in their best interests.

"Quite a lot of them have sent me little messages, saying 'thanks very much I have learnt a lot'," he said, and pulled out his mobile phone and read out one such message: "I have learnt many life lessons and skills from yourself that I will carry with me for ever. Thanks again."

Charlesworth said though he was stepping aside from the elite level, he was not turning his back on hockey. He would not be coaching a national team but he had two young sons who were "mad keen players".

"I am sure I will have an involvement," he said.

And he is learning the piano. Perhaps it would be wise to prepare for his first recital.

The West Australian

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