The Man Who Taught Me to Swim – Bill Sweetenham

From Wikipedia:

William Sweetenham (born 23 March 1950) AM is an elite swimming coach. He has coached swimming teams of Australia, Britain, Hong Kong and the Argentina national swimming team. During his career, Sweetenham was Head National Team Coach at five Olympic Games, coached 27 medalists at the Olympic Games and World Championships, and nine world record holders.



Sweetenham began his coaching career in his hometown of Mount Isa. He then replaced Laurie Lawrence at the Carina Swimming Club in Brisbane, Queensland. Whilst at the club he coached three of the greatest distance swimmers – Stephen Holland, Tracey Wickham and Michelle Ford. Sweetenham then became the first Queensland Director of Coaching.

In 1980, Sweetenham was appointed inaugural Women’s Head Swimming Coach at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS). From late 1985 to 1991, he was Head Coach. During his time at the AIS, Sweetenham was involved in coaching Olympic and Commonwealth Games medallists – Michelle Pearson, Karen Phillips, Suzanne Landells, Georgina Parkes and Rob Woodhouse. In 1983, whilst at the AIS, he suffered serious leg injuries as a result of a car accident in West Germany. From 1995 to 2001, he was the National Youth Coach for Swimming Australia and during this period the programme produced a number of future Australian national team members including Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett. He managed the Australian swim team for four Olympic Games and five Commonwealth Games.

Hong Kong

In 1991, he was Head Swimming Coach at the Hong Kong Sports Institute and Hong Kong’s Head Olympic Swim Coach. He returned to Australia in 1995 to become Swimming Australia’s National Youth Coach.

Great Britain National Performance Director

Sweetenham’s tenure with Great Britain was marked by medal success at World Championship level, Olympic disappointment, and recurring controversy on his man-management methods. He was the National Performance Director for British Swimming from November 2000 to September 2007. Prior to the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, Sweetenham’s tenure as Director marked considerable progress in British swimming. Britain won as many medals at the 2001, 2003 and 2005 Swimming World Championships as it had at all previous World Championships back to 1973.

On 3 September 2007, British Swimming announced that Bill Sweetenham had stood down as NPD citing personal reasons. Sweetenham had previously indicated that he would not renew his contract, which was due for renewal following the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.


From the Independent

“I don’t think the team would be where it is today if it had not been for Bill Sweetenham,” said Dennis Pursley, Britain’s American head coach. “He did the hard work, he turned the ship around and had a lot of resistance to deal with.”

Sweetenham’s methods, including 6am starts, rigorous training regimes and a reorganisation of the coaching set-up, alienated many of the more experienced swimmers, but the generation who succeeded them are quick to praise the Australian’s influence. “He’s one of my favourites,” said Fran Halsall, one of the Smart Track group of young swimmers identified by Sweetenham. “He did so much for me – I’m not sure if I would still be swimming now if Bill hadn’t taken us away and integrated us into the senior team at such a young age. He had belief in me.”


At the Mount Isa Swimming club, it was not unusual for us, aged below ten years in my case, to swim/train before school, at lunchtimes and after school, 4-5 days a week. Every weekend there was a competition on Sundays.