News

Charlesworth to step down as Kookaburras coach

26 March 2014

HOCKEY: World renowned hockey coach Ric Charlesworth has announced today that he will step down from his position as National Coach to the Australian men’s hockey team, the Kookaburras, following the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. 

Charlesworth, who has led the way in sports coaching for more than two decades, will relinquish his position after six years in the role during which he led the Kookaburras to World Cup and Commonwealth Games titles, an Olympic bronze medal and four Champions Trophy gold medals.  

In announcing his decision, Charlesworth said, “I believe it is the right time to reassign my priorities for my family; my wife, children and grandchildren. I am no longer keen on spending up to three months a year away and overseas as one must do as the national coach of the Kookaburras. I have long believed that coaches can stay too long. The Kookaburras are in good shape and can be further refreshed by a new head coach as they head towards the Rio Olympics."

Hockey Australia Chief Executive Cam Vale paid tribute to Charlesworth. “Ric’s working life as an elite athlete, elite coach, federal politician and doctor is remarkable and is unlikely ever to be repeated. Although I have only worked with Ric for a short time, he is without doubt one of the greatest coaches in Australian sporting history and on behalf of every athlete and official who has worked with him, I say thanks.

“It’s incredibly rare in coaching sport, particularly at the very top level, that someone gets the opportunity to make such a decision for themselves. This is Ric’s decision and his decision alone. The Board and I were keen for Ric to continue beyond the Commonwealth Games but we respect his decision.”

Under Charlesworth, the Kookaburras returned to the top of the world rankings in 2010, five years after they had last held the number one spot. It was a golden year for the team as they won both the World Cup and Commonwealth Games. In leading the Kookaburras to World Cup glory Charlesworth became the first person to win the men’s World Cup as both an athlete and a coach. Adding the title to that of the women’s World Cups he won as coach of the Hockeyroos, Charlesworth completed a unique treble.

At the 2012 Olympic Games in London, Australia’s men beat the hosts Great Britain to claim the bronze medal having lost the semi-final to eventual winners Germany. Four months later on home turf in Melbourne, he led the Kookaburras to an unprecedented fifth consecutive Champions Trophy, his fourth win as coach. 

In addition to his on-field successes, Charlesworth’s cutting edge approach to coaching has been fundamental to many of hockey’s greatest evolutionary developments. 

He was one of the first coaches to demand positional flexibility to such a degree that field players had the ability to play in several positions right across the pitch. Such an approach has allowed his teams to play new structures that were initially foreign to Australian hockey. His revolutionary approach to training has been ground-breaking, placing a great emphasis on small game play, problem solving, technical excellence and performance under fatigue. 

He was at the forefront of the technological revolution in hockey, driving the application of video and performance analysis that is now commonplace in the sport. His adoption of techniques from other sports, including Australian football’s tracking of performance through statistical data, has been central to the continued improvements shown by his teams. 

Off the field Charlesworth has always lobbied passionately for changes that he believes make the game more entertaining. He pushed hard for the change that saw tied knock-out matches decided by an eight second one-on-one shoot-out as opposed to penalty strokes. And his input was central to the nine-a-side format developed by Hockey Australia that spawned the innovative International Super Series well ahead of other modified formats of the sport. 
His outspoken approach has at times brought criticism and misunderstanding, but he has never backed down from wanting to improve the game and to keep it contemporary in an ever changing sporting landscape.  

With the courage to change his starting line-up every match, he was the first coach to truly maximise the impact of player rotation and rolling substitutions. He did away with the concept of a starting XI and reserves in favour of full squad rotation, including goalkeepers, which enabled superior physical capacity to be used as a tactic against an opposition. It was an approach that paid dividends in extreme heat such as that experienced during the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta when he was coach of the Australian women’s hockey team.

Charlesworth achieved legendary status when he coached the Hockeyroos to consecutive gold medals at the Olympic Games in 1996 and on home turf at Sydney 2000, and to back-to-back World Cup titles in 1994 and 1998. 

Following his seven years in charge of the Hockeyroos, he worked as a performance consultant to the Fremantle Dockers Football Club and was a mentor coach to Australian Institute of Sport coaches. In October 2005 he became High Performance Manager with the New Zealand cricket team before being appointed as technical advisor to the Indian hockey teams in late 2007. He returned to Australian hockey in September 2008 to lead the Kookaburras. 

Acknowledged as the best hockey player of his generation, Charlesworth represented Australia 227 times in an illustrious playing career spanning 17 years from his debut in 1972 to his retirement following the 1988 Olympic Games. In all, he was selected for five Olympic Games and competed at four [Australia boycotted the 1980 Games in Moscow], winning the silver medal in 1976 in Montreal. He was appointed captain of the Kookaburras in 1977 and led the team through to the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. 

In 1986, he played a critical role in Australia’s first ever World Cup title win, finishing as the tournament’s leading scorer and being named ‘player of the tournament’. 

A doctor of medicine, from 1972-1979 Charlesworth combined his hockey career with one playing state cricket for Western Australia in which he scored 2327 runs in 47 First Class matches.

In 1983, while playing for the Kookaburras, Charlesworth, representing the Australian Labor Party, was elected as the Federal Member for Perth. He served as a Member of Parliament until 1993 when he left politics to become coach of the Hockeyroos. 

Hockey Australia