Graeme Rees – coaching the coaches


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Graeme Rees has been an instrumental part in the recent success of the Blackjacks at the Asia Pacific Championships on the Gold Coast. A stellar 12-months has seen him named the 2018/19 Bowls New Zealand Coach of the Year.

There’s got to be something unusual about a guy that spends his day job chasing debts to his employer … presumably with a big stick, then spends his ‘night’ job coaching those in the bowls fraternity … presumably with a big carrot!

But Graeme Rees, recently awarded Bowls New Zealand Coach of the Year, is just such a bloke.

A born and bred Cantab, Graeme has been working at online accounting and payroll software company, MYOB, in Christchurch for 11 years. “I have great flexible working options with MYOB which has really helped with being able to continue my bowls coaching work,” says Graeme. “I feel lucky to have such a great employer.”

Graeme has been involved with bowls for 40 years … right from the age of 14 when he used to front up with his mum and dad for nightly roll-ups at the Morrison Avenue Bowling Club in the suburb of Papanui in Christchurch. At the time, bowls had to share his sporting commitments with cricket … a game he still loves today, and will be enjoying as a spectator at the Melbourne Cricket Ground this coming Boxing Day for the Black Caps test against Australia.

“I was a member at the Morrison Avenue Club for 10 years,” says Graeme, “before moving to Burnside in 1989.”

Graeme still plays out of Burnside today. “I’ve won 8 club titles. The fours, the triples and the pairs … but have never won the club singles.” Graeme’s also won a centre pairs title, but never a national title. “I’ve got down to the last 32 and the last 16, but never got to a final.”

And may never.

“I’ve pulled back from playing these days,” says Graeme, “With all the coaching I’m involved with, I just don’t have the time to play a lot of bowls like I used to.”

Bowls New Zealand Coach of the Year Graeme Rees, of Burnside.

Around 20 years ago, the idea was put in his head that he might want to have a look at coaching. “I was at the right place at the right time,” recalls Graeme, “and Stewart Buttar took me under his wing and became a great coaching mentor to me.”

Soon Graeme was coaching the Canterbury Women’s and Canterbury Men’s teams and took them to national title wins.

“My big breakthrough came in 2007, when I won a Prime Minister’s Scholarship to Malaysia to understand how the Malaysian team had moved so quickly up the bowls rankings. That lead to being involved with the Bowls World Championships in Christchurch the following year. We did really well … winning 6 out of the 8 medals on offer.” The Men’s team won the Leonard Trophy for being the best in the world and the Women finished a close second.

Graeme then accompanied the Blackjacks team to the Commonwealth Games in Delhi in 2010. “It was extremely hot – around 40 degrees. The carpet greens were running about 9 seconds. We came away with just a silver medal. The environment was a coach killer, and I found out why coaches come and go! I gave it a rest for a bit …”

But in the last few years he’s come back stronger than ever.

He attributes his newly revived enthusiasm for coaching to the development of the Bowls High Performance Programme by Mark Cameron and Kaushik Patel. “It’s fabulous to be part of the set-up,”.

This year Graeme was the Rink Coach for the Men’s Singles and Pairs at the Asia Pacific Championships on the Gold Coast. “We had our most successful Asia Pacific’s ever – it’s been a great comeback from the patchy performance at the Comm Games on the Coast the previous year.”

Now Graeme has settled in to doing what he feels he does best – coaching the coaches. He’s the ‘official’ Bowls New Zealand Coach Developer. He’s recognised by Sport New Zealand as a Lead Coach Trainer.

“I’ve found that coaching in bowls has very little difference to coaching in other sports. That’s what they’re practising now in countries like Britain – a coaching credential is good for any sport. We’re gradually moving that way in New Zealand as well.”

It could even be argued that coaching in bowls is not only no different than coaching in sport, but coaching in any pastime … or even coaching for business … or for that matter, life.

Whatever the case, there’s no doubt that Graeme Rees is a coaching treasure for bowls to hang on to.

Who knows … one day he could even be coaching the coaches who coach the coaches who coach the athletes !

by Rob Davis