Sunday Session: Ric Charlesworth
Posted by Dean Holden at July 8th, 2014
by Robert Craddock, 24 June 2012
AUSTRALIAN men’s hockey coach Ric Charlesworth has led an extraordinary life … first-class cricketer for WA, doctor, 10-year Labor member of Federal Parliament, coaching or consulting roles with Indian hockey, New Zealand cricket and the Fremantle AFL team.
Oh, and he guided the Australian women’s hockey team to two Olympic golds and will steer the men’s Kookaburras bid for glory in London.
Q: You once said your 10 years as a politician was your toughest job. Why?
A: I wrote a chapter in my book titled Interesting Job, Terrible Lifestyle. That was my spin. Travelling across the country from Perth to be involved in Federal Parliament was very difficult. You don’t have a personal life. Sometimes you get invited to seven functions, go to three but you are not there long enough, and the other four want to know why you did not attend. You can never keep everyone happy.
Q: Obviously you did a lot of doorknocking as a politician. I just can’t imagine you doing that.
A: I was OK with that … sometimes it’s actually more daunting for the person opening the door. We did a lot of that. I was in a marginal seat and we had to work hard to establish a profile. I had been working as a locum in that area and had been to maybe 500 houses as a doctor. I think we doorknocked 20,000 houses in a year.
Q: Any hairy moments?
A: If you saw a Liberal card in the letterbox, you might remove it (laughs). You met people who were really angry and in the end you would have to say “sorry, we disagree about this”.
Q: You have made the tough call to leave son Jono out of the Olympic squad. How did he find out?
A: They all got the same email at 10am on Friday morning.
Q: Did you tip him off?
A: No. That would have not been appropriate.
Q: You have been very stoic and fair on this issue. But as a father, it must have been a harrowing experience to drop your son?
A: I would have loved for him to be able to make it. But it would not have been fair on anybody else to give him special consideration – maybe the bar is higher for him because of who he is. For him to make it, everything had to go right for him this year. He was playing pretty well but got injured in April and May and that took momentum out of his season. He is bitterly disappointed. I am sure they all are. There are some very good players who have missed out, including three past Olympians.
Q: You seem to be brutally frank with your players but there is also an undercurrent of uncertainty in which they fear for their futures. How do you strike the balance?
A: I used the expression recently the interesting thing about coaching is troubling the comfortable and comforting the troubled. It is about supporting and nurturing but avoiding complacency. I have great confidence in this group. At our best we can beat anybody but we don’t always get our best in any particular game. Finding the right tone for the group.
Q: West Australian teammates remember you playing Sheffield Shield cricket while bleary-eyed after working overnight as a doctor. That must have been tough?
A: I remember doing my final medical exams in the midst of a Shield match. The exams went from 9am-noon and the cricket game started at 11am. But I started at 7am, went to 10am, then went out and played cricket. Other times I worked the night shift at hospital, then played. You don’t function perfectly.
Q: That would not have helped your cricket?
A: No, but cricket was always secondary. I stopped playing when I was 27. I never went to England or trained during the winter.
Q: Was there much difference between coaching the Australian men’s and women’s teams? Do you go softer on the women?
A: I don’t think so. You make a mistake if you do that. The game is the same, the rules are the same. You treat individuals as it is appropriate to treat them. There may be some differences at times between how you treat men and women, but in the end the expectation for quality is the same.
Q: The first time you addressed the Kookaburras, you promised to treat them fairly but not equally. What did that mean?
A: Everyone’s circumstances are different, so you can’t treat them the same. Somebody who has performed better in the past might be treated differently to someone who is a newcomer. History means something. Someone who is married with kids is treated differently to someone who is single because they have different pressures. There may be someone who has a sick parent.
Q: That selection process in whittling 28 names down to 16 must be brutal?
A: It is. It’s not like there is another club they can join, or next season there is another premiership, or a game next week. This is once every four years. If you had to sack 10 people in a day at work, it would not be a very pleasant experience.
Q: You and Jamie Dwyer have been champions of different eras. Who has been the better player?
A: Jamie is much better – he is the more gifted athlete. The game progresses. In 10 years’ time, there will be a bunch of guys better than this lot. Don Bradman was special in cricket. How would he go now? … Jamie has been the best, or one of the best, players of the past decade, but we have other players who are very special as well.
Q: You once said flair was overrated. Do you stand by that?
A: Yes. I think it is important that people have the opportunity to express themselves and be creative, but you make a mistake when you go searching for that. The stuff that makes your game solid is the everyday essential skills. The best players have the best basics and what some people see as flair is superior practised skill. Roger Federer is an example of that. No one scores a goal against our team unless generally we get four or five consecutive things wrong. If any of those errors are not made, we have the ball and it’s heading in our direction.
Q: What did you make of politics?
A: I was proud to be in our government in the ’80s – I thought a lot of things we put in place were sustainable and lasting. We established Medicare and floated the dollar. My belief was that I never thought there had to be equality of outcomes because some people worked harder, but there should be equality of opportunity with health care and education.
Q: You once took on a senior coaching role in India. How tough was that?
A: India doing well in our game is critical. Twenty-five years ago, the game in India was as big as cricket, but it has fallen away. India won the cricket World Cup in 1983 and gave that game a boost. Cricket was privatised and hockey stayed in the public sector. It’s still an issue. They (cricket) have 3000 players in centralised training, we have 50. They have 300 professional players, we have none.
<Check out Ric’s website – www.riccharlesworth.com/ – where you can order books and a DVD. They come highly recommended and I reckon I will soon be springing for all three of his books! – DH>