13 May 2017
Coaching legend Max Debnam
For over 55 years, legendary coach Max Debnam has been developing generations of athletes in Newcastle. Although he ‘retired’ five years ago, he continues to mentor coaches and guide a small squad of athletes.
During a long and distinguished career, he has achieved so much. Coached medallist at major international championships, coached for 57 years, coached over 25 internationals, coached over 100 athletes, served as national coach on dozens of Australian teams, a leading and sort-after lecturer for coaching courses domestically and internationally, published author on coaching, head coach Hunter Academy of Sport and, newspaper columnist. Phew !
But Max Debnam was so much more to so many. He was a mentor, confidant, role model, comedian, supporter and respected and treasured friend.
One of his overlooked abilities was he tremendous manner with our youth. He developed a great rapport and respect and was appointed to five consecutive Australian teams for the IAAF world juniors (1992 to 2000). This was a golden period in Australian junior development and Debnam was honoured with a key role for a decade.
“Being a national team coach for a number of years has been a great honour and working with these elite athletes is also a special privilege,” recalled Debnam this week. “I love the interaction with athletes, coaches and their families.”
Debnam started coaching in 1960, but how did he get involved in coaching so young?
“In my early years as an athlete I had great difficulty in obtaining a coach to assist. As a result, being determined to improve, I undertook to gather as much information on all aspects of coaching and training available. My thirst for knowledge proved a stimulus for my life-long coaching career.”
As a coach, he had almost instant success when Janet Knee won a bronze at the 1962 Commonwealth Games in Perth.
“Janet was my first athlete I coached to international level and this helped me realise I may have an ability to eventually improve my knowledge to greater effect. Janet was a talented athlete with great potential and with this talent and my inexperience things still worked out well,” said a modest Debnam.
Debnam’s association with Commonwealth Games continued placing an athlete on each occasion the Games came to Australia. After Janet Knee in 1962 (Perth), he coached Linda Garden in 1982 (Brisbane) and in 2006 Michael Perry (Melbourne).
For over 20 years he was involved in the Hunter Academy of Sport. He setup the track and field program and worked in administration and coaching of the program.
“The track and field program commenced in 1989. This was one of the first sports to be admitted. The program was considered the best academy squad for years. Over the decades several squad members were selected to national teams, including five Olympians.”
He was also heavily involved at club level. President for three years and secretary for 16 of the Myer’s Park club, now part of Macquarie Hunter club. At Branch level he was assistant secretary, coaching coordinator and publicity officer. For a lifetime of dedication Debnam has been recognised with life memberships of Athletics Australia, Athletics NSW, Hunter Academy of Sport and Macquarie Hunter Club (formerly Myers Park).
He was NSW team coach, state coach and NSW coaching director (jumps). For eight years, he was head coach and coordinator of athletics at the Hunter Sports High School. He wrote a track and field column in the Newcastle Herald for 16 years. He also contributed to many coaching publications including Modern Coach and Athlete and The Jumps (TAFNEWS).
He managed and coached on the 1989 Australian team to the world indoors and over the ensuring decade was on numerous national teams, from junior to senior, primarily as the jumps coach.
His coach education work for over 35 years has been extensive. He has lectured around Australia, the Pacific and Asia. In Australia he was a lecturer, assessor, mentor, and correspondence coach administrator.
“In my coach education role, I have gained great pleasure in being involved with coaches just beginning their coaching journey with others who are moving on to higher levels. Helping other coaches has provided me with much satisfaction. I have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to educate coaches locally, nationally and internationally.”
Surprisingly away from administration and management he found time to coach dozens of athletes, making a different in their lives, helping them to achieve and fulfil their goals. Undoubtly assisting them to be better people.
What would Debnam define as his greatest coaching moment?
“In 1984 Linda Garden competed in the Olympic Games in Los Angeles and made the final. This performance in the ultimate competition is indelibly written in my mind. Linda was a joy to coach and a very tough competitor. My admiration for her and close friendship exists to this day.”
“I have had a close association with many athletes and we have developed mutual respect to a high degree developing “lifeskills” for my athletes has always been a vital responsibility to my coaching process.”
“I have had the pleasure of being on teams with many of my athletes. Also with my athletes who have not reached this level I have experienced the great emotions of seeing their joyful reactions to their greater results. Our greatest moments and disappointments are shared whatever their abilities.”
“I have a great passion for the sport and coaching has always been an important part of my life. To share in the success of many of my athletes I feel so proud and thank them for sharing their talents with me.”
David Tarbotton and Ron Bendall for Athletics NSW
Image: Max Debnam with Fiona McCarthy (image courtesy of David Tarbotton
To encourage more people into coaching, we recently mentioned Max Debnam on the Athletics NSW Facebook and received many beautiful comments about him. Here are some:
Chad Stephenson: "Max is more than a coach. He is a true gentleman, he is mentor, he is a guide for young athletes and someone I consider to be a good friend. He has coached for over 50 years and has travelled the world as a team coach for many Australian teams and not just because of his qualifications but because of his contribution to the sport of Athletics and his innate ability to make athletes feel at ease. He tells terrible jokes but the way he delivers them is what makes them special. Hats off to Max Debnam. If only the next generation of coaches is half the mentor he is our sport will be very lucky".
Lauren Carey (nee Jackson): "Max is a wonderful man. Trained me in triple jump and got me to nationals quite a few times. Miss seeing him and my training buddies. Hoping my tiny tot son will follow in mummies footsteps and love athletics too.”
Fiona Gonzalez (nee McCarthy): "Max Debnam is unique, one of a kind. Simple put he is the epitome of what a coach should be. He is compassionate, knowledgeable, selfless, practical, patient and always has his athletes' best interest at heart. He cares about his athletes both on and off the track. He is not just an athletics coach he is a life coach. Guiding his athletes with the skills to compete in life and sport. As a young athlete with dreams and goals, I was absolutely blessed to have been coached by Max. As an adult I often think of the values and morals I have and believe apart from my parents, Max undoubtedly taught me the essence of sportsmanship, determination, pride, being grateful and the list goes on. Max thank you isn't enough. You are the best and I love you".
Darren Jones: "Max always has the best advice to improve your performance, focus your efforts and motivate your mind and body to perform, followed by some of the most average jokes going. An inspiration for athletes and aspiring coaches".
Liz Gilchrist: "Max Debnam.. One of the most lovely men I have ever met and I was lucky enough to have him as my coach".
Max Debnam has coached many athletes during the 55+ years. Here are just some:
Janet Knee – 1962 CG bronze LJ
Linda Garden – 1984 Olympic, 1982 CG LJ finalist and 1985 World Cup
Glenn Carroll – Australian indoor record holder LJ
Paralympians - Joe Egan, Eliza Stankovic and Mark Whiteman
World Juniors – Paul Henderson, Alicia Spencer, Emily Coppins
World Championships – Paul Henderson
World Cup – Kerry Waite, Chad Stephenson
Commonwealth Games – Janet Knee, Linda Garden, Michael Perry, Mark Taylor and Sophie Stanwell
World University Games – Shaun Fletcher
Junior Tours – Nicole Gale, Grant Bransgrove, Geoff Davies, Brad Schrader
And more on senior tours, East Asian Games etc – including Amanda Thomas.
Others he coached included: Janelle Spradley (Knight), Apollo Pearce, Anne Drinkwater, Ces D’Amico, Rachel Klein (Rundle), Joanne Harris, Peter McGrae, Darren Jones, Liz Gilchrist, Sharon and Julie Gyselhart, Liana Smith, Shelley Peters, Fiona McCarthy (Gonzalez), Belinda Conroy, Kate O’Donnell, Alison and Steve Baylash, Carly Sandall, Ben Mathison, Todd Shanahan, Hayley McPherson, Andrew Reid, Nicole and Vanessa Linabury.