If coaching is the hardest job in sport, then Graeme Rees must love a challenge.
Across all sports there’s a generally accepted truism that nothing happens without good coaches but finding and developing those people that have the time, the energy and the talent isn’t easy, especially within our increasingly busy lives.
That’s where Rees comes in.
The Cantabrian is charged with unearthing, nurturing and improving the Bowls coach network in this country. He has done well, so well that the Burnside bowler has been recognised as the 2021 Summerset Bowls New Zealand Coach of the Year.
It’s the second time Rees has been honoured in the last three years but no less special.
“I was fairly elated actually,” said Rees. “I put a bit into coaching in the last 12 months so it is certainly nice to be recognised.”
The award continues a stellar Bowls career for Rees, who began as a teenager at the Morrison Avenue club in Christchurch, playing with his parents. After a decade at the Papanui club, Rees joined Burnside, an association that continues to this day.
He has eight club titles to his name, along with a centre pairs title. Around the turn of the century Rees got the coaching bug and was fortunate to be mentored by the legendary Stewart Buttar.
The Canterbury men’s and women’s teams claimed national titles under his watch, before he joined the New Zealand set up for the 2008 Bowls World Championships, which was an exceptional tournament for the hosts. Rees was also Blackjacks assistant coach at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.
After a break, Rees returned to the sport in 2018, enthused by the High-Performance Programme developed by Mark Cameron and Kaushik Patel.
“I’m excited about what we have achieved,” said Rees. “We have a lot more coaches than we have ever had.”
100 coaches were qualified through Bowls New Zealand in 2020, and Rees expects a similar number this year, even with the Covid related operational challenges.
His biggest achievement over the last 12 months Rees has been developing and leading the first Bowls Performance Coach Advance Programme, a significant body of work.
It’s a two-year course, involving 18 performance coaches from Auckland to Inver cargill, with two coaches presenting each month on a particular topic. Rees also engaged specialists to assist each duo.
“Everybody has really bought into it,” says Rees. “In the early stages no one was used to Zoom, so we didn’t do a flash job initially. But as it has grown, we have got more competent and we now also present to the wider bowls community.”
“It’s had a two-fold effect of enhancing coaching and also enhancing the presentation skills of those performance coaches.”
It’s extremely comprehensive. Topics so far have included mental skills, communication, leadership, planning, skill acquisition, conflict resolution and coaching athletes with a disability. Sharon Sims, John Quinn, Kaushik Patel and Kelly Curr (Sport New Zealand) are among the experts utilised.
Rees is excited by the programme’s impact.
“All those involved will go back and work with representative teams, clubs and school children – they will have their own specialist area - and will grow and put their skills to use, as well as spreading the knowledge.”
Rees has also run Coach Development courses in Auckland and Christchurch – putting more than 30 coaches through their paces. He also oversees a network of 12 coach developers around the country.
Adding to his schedule, Rees is a Bowls New Zealand performance coach – with regular catch ups with athletes aiming for the Birmingham Commonwealth Games next year.
If all that wasn’t enough, Rees also looked after the Canterbury Men’s team this season, taking them to the quarter finals of the Inter-entre, before they were knocked out by the eventual winners Southland.