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Raylene Bates receives Arthur Eustace Award for Coaching
Athletics NZ Para athletics coach Raylene Bates is the latest recipient of the annual Arthur Eustace Award for Coaching. Steve Landells charts her coaching journey and her selfless work in the sport which has inspired so many.
To very few people could the presentation of the Arthur Eustace Award for Coaching mean quite so much as to Raylene Bates. The Dunedin-based coach has helped and assisted countless athletes – both able-bodied and Para – achieve their goals and become better versions of themselves over the past 30 years.
Yet while she is “honoured” to win the 2021 award another reason for her pride in winning the prestigious accolade is her personal relationship with Arthur Eustace.
“It means a lot not just because of the award but because of how much respect I had for Arthur as a person,” she explains. “I got to know Arthur when he was an Oceania rep for the IAAF (now World Athletics), he was such a gentleman who completely epitomised the values which his award stands for. I recall in Daegu (South Korea) for the 2011 World Championships when he met the New Zealand team and wished them all good luck. He made sure he watched them all and was very encouraging – he just loved the sport. I had a lot of respect for him, for the gentleman that he was not just from a coaching perspective but an administrative perspective too.”
A former New Zealand senior women’s hammer champion and medallist in the shot put and discus, Raylene began her coaching journey by chance in the early 1990s when she was asked to coach emerging ten-year-old Pacific Schools Games-bound thrower Scott McLaren, who would later go on to represent his New Zealand in decathlon at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, by his mum.
That relationship would continue until Scott developed into one of New Zealand’s leading multi-eventers and other athletes quickly followed with a Para athlete John Osbourne from Mosgiel, who wanted to use athletics to aid his rehab another early athlete coached by Raylene.
But why was coaching so appealing for Raylene?
“I just always liked helping people pursue their dreams,” explains Raylene. “I think in the early years I had a couple of big breaks. In the early 90’s Kerry Hill, who was then the national coaching director, asked me to attend a coaching clinic in Australia with Margaret Whitbread (coach and adopted mother of Fatima Whitbread, the 1987 world javelin gold medallist). I saw that as a big break because I was presented with a great chance to learn and be educated. Also, around this time, I met the national throws coach, Sam Johnson. He epitomised everything around values he was really supportive and along with Debbie Strange (current coach to Tori Peeters) was very encouraging and open to sharing ideas.”
Raylene has long had a connection as a leading coach of Para athletes and currently serves as Athletics NZ Lead Coach for Para Athletes. Besides her early flirtations with coaching Para athletes in the 1990s this longstanding affiliation stepped up during the early 2000s with Paralympics NZ keen to integrate the Para side of the sport into Athletics NZ. With the benefit of hindsight Raylene admits the sport was not quite ready for the change at that point but through her coaching of Jess Hamill, who won 2016 Rio Paralympic bronze in the shot put F34, and with a natural inquisitive nature she found the challenge of coaching Para athletics attractive.
“I think with Para athletics you have to think outside the square, and as I like to look at things differently and experiment, I found this appealing,” she says. “For three years in a row I changed Jess’ throwing frame, it must have drove her family crazy but I was determined to get Jess in the best position to throw as far as possible. The coaching basics for Para athletes are the same as for able-bodied, it just sometimes means to utilise their strengths you need to think outside of the square.”
Current coach to reigning Paralympic F46 javelin champion Holly Robinson, Raylene has also developed the likes of McLaren, and formerly coached New Zealand champions Marshall Hall, Tori Peeters, Hayley Wilson, Hannah Blair and Laura Overton. She has guided current New Zealand javelin record-holder Tori Peeters and while picking out personal highlights is tough when pushed she describes coaching three medallists to the podium – Holly Robinson javelin F46 silver, Rory McSweeney javelin F44 bronze and Jess Hamill shot put F34 bronze – at the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games as “the pinnacle.”
Mentored and very close to Debbie Strange, current coach to Tori, and Athletics NZ Coach Development Leader Kirsten Hellier, she has also learned a lot from former Silver Ferns coach Dame Lois Muir.
Raylene’s personal coaching philosophy is that every athlete is different and needs to be treated accordingly to help harness their strengths and develop any weaknesses.
Maximising every opportunity to learn more about her craft, she would actively encourage others to step into coaching.
“If you are passionate about something you ride the wave a lot better than if you treat it as a job,” explains Raylene. “Initially when I took a fully paid coaching role, I was frightened I would lose that passion. But if you put your heart and soul into something you are passionate about, it never becomes a job or a chore.
“Yet for me it is not about outcome or performance it is knowing that you helped someone become a better person and achieve a goal in their life. To have been a part of that pathway is a huge privilege.”
*** Arthur Eustace was one of Athletics New Zealand’s leading administrators, having served on the Oceania and IAAF Councils and was a life member of Oceania, IAAF and Athletics NZ. A champion hurdler and Empire Games bronze medallist he started his post athlete career as a coach and was passionate about coaching through until his death in April 2018.
Arthur was a founding member of the Athletics NZ Coaches Association and an inaugural inductee into the NZ Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2006. He was instrumental in the IAAF (now World Athletics) establishing a Coaches Commission. As a teacher he understood the need for lifelong learning and encouraged innovation, collaboration and advocated always putting the pupil, participant or athlete at the centre of decision making and practise.
Arthur was Athletics New Zealand’s Patron from 2009 until 2018. This award is given in his honour to recognise coaches who are integral to athletics. It can form an ongoing legacy by valuing and recognising a coach on an annual basis.