Foreman's new job "a hiding to nothing"
By Bevan Eakins,
The West Australian
October 27, 2012
Lyn Foreman never considered herself much of an athlete.
Sure, she was a triple national champion in the 400m hurdles and represented Australia at Commonwealth Games and world titles.
But she got there only through "persistence and patience".
"It took me 10 years to make my first Australian team," Foreman said this week as she prepared to finish up as head track coach at the WA Institute of Sport.
It is, perhaps, that role where she will be best remembered … as the "most successful athletics coach in WA in the last 20 years", according to WAIS director Steve Lawrence.
In 1987, Foreman, then 30, ruptured an Achilles - which would end her running career - and slipped into coaching.
"I didn't want to do it but Wally said I could. He believed in me," Foreman said.
"One week I was competing, next week I was coaching."
Wally, of course, is late husband Wally Foreman. The driving force behind WAIS, its first director in 1984 and an ABC commentator died in 2006.
For 20 years, Lyn Foreman has been a full-time coach at WAIS, but a national change of direction has made her role redundant.
She won't be lost to athletics.
At 55, she's signed a two-year contract to head Athletic WA's targeted talent program as part of a new national pathway to international success.
Breaking the bond with WAIS has not been easy.
Over a coffee in North Beach, our conversation is peppered with "Wally" references and she would much rather do the new job under the institute's umbrella.
But the move was made inevitable with WAIS and Athletics Australia agreeing that the institute's athletics program would concentrate on the technical disciplines of pole vault and the three throws - javelin, shot put and discus.
She steps into one of the most difficult roles in athletics: talent identification and retention.
"Talent is easy to find but hard to retain," she said.
"It's a hard gig and … I'm on a bit of a hiding to nothing."
Foreman points to a 1979 UK study of a junior championship where 43 titles were up for grabs and 129 medals on offer. Ten years later, only one of the athletes at that carnival was still competing at a comparable level.
Nothing much has changed, she believes.
A crucial part of her job is to change the "culture" of the sport, opening up a pathway for talent to progress from Little Athletics to the elite level.
And that includes working with coaches at all levels, even encouraging those in Little Aths to move through the system if they so desire.
"My contract is for two years and it's very hard to change a culture in two years. It takes six to 10 years to be an overnight success," she said, pointing to her own experience at national level.
The basics have to start in the schools and she has already been working on that with the introduction of her "run, jump, throw" program which she believes should be compulsory.
"Kids don't know how to endure and that's not their fault," Foreman said, pointing a finger squarely at modern culture.
"They don't walk, they don't climb and they don't know how to run, jump and throw. Some kids don't even have a ball at home."
Foreman looks around the cafe, points to one young couple and says they are the only ones of about 20 customers who are not fat.
The world has passed by those customers and the rest of Australia. She cites New York as an example of a fitter population where, because of congestion and economic factors, people walk everywhere. Eventually that makes them fitter, stronger and more able to "endure", a key word in her philosophy.
Today's Australian kids don't know how to set and attain goals, are not strong enough and, again, do not endure.
Foreman smiles at her next theoretical proposal - a boot camp on Rottnest Island for talented kids.
"You don't tell them how long it is going to last for and the ones that fail, you airlift off the island," she said.
"If you started with 20 kids you would have one left at the end."
Foreman has seen only two Australian athletes who fit her criteria of strength and endurance, and both have succeeded at the elite level - Olympic gold medallists Cathy Freeman and Sally Pearson.
"The difference between them and all other athletes is that the 'what-ifs' are not there. They get up when they are knocked down, they don't give up," she said.
However, the athletics scene is not all doom and gloom.
Foreman is a national youth event coach for under-19s and 17s, in charge of the hurdles.
"It's the best program I have seen in my lifetime and I've been involved since I was 12," she said.
"It holds the key to changing the sport. This year we had our most successful world junior team (in July) since Sydney in 1996."
It's a pathway to success for an athlete and gold medals.
It's also Foreman's new pathway.
"I still have a passion for the sport and I still have something to offer," she said.
"I don't know if I can do this in two years but at least I hope to have something in place we can continue to grow with."
"They don't walk, they don't climb and they don't know how to run, jump and throw." " Outgoing WAIS coach *Lyn Foreman *