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The start of something extraordinary

End of a lengthy career for Hawkes Bay coach

The 2016 national age group championships last month marked the end of an era for Hawkes Bay’s Noel Hardgrave-Booth.

Noel announced his retirement earlier in the year with the national age group championships to be his final meet after more than 45 years as a professional coach.

A journey that began in 1963 while working as an office manager in Wairoa, he was approached by the coach of his local pool where he regularly swam and asked if he had ever thought about coaching.

“I thought sitting in an office for the rest of my life or being out on pool deck? Yeah, good idea, so I applied for the job and got it.

From there his passion grew and through the years he has not only coached some of the best but been able to learn from some of the best.

“Duncan Laing, Bob Francombe, Doug Lions, those are three that come to mind immediately and Morry Doidge,” Noel says when asked of those who have influenced him.

“The thing that they installed in me was the importance of technique and repetition, just repetition, repetition, that’s what it was all about with all of those guys.”

Now after a long and successful career Noel has his own advice and knowledge to pass on.

“Treat every swimmer with respect and expect them to treat you with respect, and enjoy it. Enjoyment is a huge part of it for both swimmer and coach.”

Back to those that he has coached and two swimmers in particular come to mind.

“One of the main career highlights was Gillian Pollock in 2000 winning her silver medal at the Paralympics in the 200m IM. That was really a major career highlight because that’s pretty special and of course Bobbi Gichard. The stuff that Bobbi has done over the last three years has been incredible for a girl of her age.”

Noel still recalls when Bobbi began her own journey under his guidance.

“She was seven years old and all she wanted to was jump up and down off the bottom and have fun and she did that for probably the next three or four years. That is maybe why she is so happy to keep going now because she had so much fun when she was young.

“I think that she has got it all in front of her, it’s got nothing to do with physicality it’s got to do with the mind and whatever she believes she can do it.”

Under Noel’s supervision Bobbi has become one of the rising stars of swimming in New Zealand. At the 2016 Swimming New Zealand Awards Noel received the Swimming New Zealand Coach of the Year award recognising a standout year for the pair.

In 2015 Bobbi won two golds and a silver at the Commonwealth Youth Games as well as a bronze at the FINA World Junior Championships where Noel was also the coach. In 2015 Bobbi was also selected for her first senior international team competing at the FINA World Championships in Kazan.

While his official coach status is now retired Noel still has a few final coaching duties helping out at the Napier Aquahawks club over the winter while they look to appoint a new coach.

Then next summer will be “a heck of a lot of sitting on the boat with the line hanging over the side, a bit of diving, a few crayfish, a few paua, a lot of fun”.

“I have really enjoyed my coaching life and I can really say that it’s hard to stop, it’s a real wrench to pull away from it. However, nobody can go on forever and it’s just time to move on and do some other stuff.”

Swimming New Zealand’s High Performance Development Coach Donna Bouzaid says Noel’s contribution to the sport over the years has been invaluable.

“Our sport relies on people like Noel who have so much passion and knowledge and dedicate so much of their time to developing and helping our future swimmers.

“Noel has certainly been a much loved coach in the swimming community throughout his career and has also achieved some fantastic results; we wish him all the best.”

A brief timeline of Noel’s career:

1963-1970:    Coach at Wairoa

1970-1976:    Coach at Rangiora
Mid 1980’s:    Coach at Napier Aquahawks
1990-2016:    Coach at Greendale
2000:            NZ Swim Coaches & Teachers Association Coach of the Year for Swimmer with a Disability
2001-2003:    Head Coach NZ Paralympics
2007:            NZ Swim Coaches & Teachers Association Provincial Coach of the Year
2012:            Trans-Tasman Tri Series – Coach
2012:            NZ Swim Coaches & Teachers Association Provincial Coach of the Year
2013:            FINA World Junior Championships – Coach
2013:            NZ Swim Coaches & Teachers Association Provincial Coach of the Year
2014:            Oceania Championships - Coach
2015:            FINA World Junior Championship - Coach
2016:            Swimming New Zealand Coach of the Year