Thanks Coach! Hayden Stoeckel and Matthew Cowdrey to Peter Bishop

Peter Bishop and Matt Cowdrey
Peter Bishop and Matt Cowdrey. Credit: South Australian Sports Institute, Photographer Damian Leonard.
Author:  Sharon Phillips
Issue: Volume 30 Number 3
Peter Bishop, the man described by many swimmers as the ‘go to coach’ in Adelaide, did not go to the Beijing Olympics or Paralympics.

Yet one of his star performers, 100-metre backstroke bronze medallist and 4 x 100-metre medley silver medallist Hayden Stoeckel, likes to speculate about how much better his performance might have been if the man he calls ‘Bish’ had been there.

‘It’s a different story when your coach is around,’ Stoeckel said. ‘He knows how I’m feeling and how I’m swimming, how I can do things differently. It’s harder to coach when you’re watching it on TV.’

Another of Bishop’s squad, Paralympian Matthew Cowdrey left the Beijing Paralympics with five gold medals. He agreed that having Bishop on the pool deck might have had a calming effect, but added that his coach’s words echoed in his head. ‘He told me to really relax and enjoy it, and I was able to do that because I knew we’d put in the work,’ the 19-year-old said.

Both swimmers said Bishop had been the defining element in their Beijing success.

Yet for Stoeckel, it all could have been so much different. He first met Bishop at the age of 13 as a promising junior swimmer from the South Australian country town of Berri. However, Stoeckel’s star dimmed as he moved from coach to coach and then state to state trying to ignite his potential.

A last desperate move back ‘home’ to Adelaide and to Bishop’s Norwood squad just ten months before the Olympics provided the essential mix of family, friends and discipline that he needed.

Working with Bishop, Stoeckel’s times dropped and he went into Beijing ranked sixth in the world in the 100-metre backstroke and fifth in the 200 metres.

Stoeckel said that Bishop was an inspiration not just in the pool but out of it. ‘When I get to the pool at 4.30 half asleep, he’s always raring to go. He has three young kids and I don’t know how he does it, but his enthusiasm filters through the squad and particularly all the young ones and it’s even starting to work on me.’

He said Bishop’s training sessions were incredibly tough and there was no recovery time. ‘You just go all out as hard as you can because he wants you to make every session count, but when it comes down to the competition he tells you, “Don’t worry too much about the outcome because the outcome will take care of itself”.’

Stoeckel said Bishop’s biggest disappointment in Beijing came from the mis-spelling of Stoeckel’s name on his cap and swim gear. ‘They left out the “c” in my name and Bish was straight away on the phone. I think he was worried how it might affect me. It was pretty disappointing but I just worked off it.’

Meanwhile Cowdrey had Bishop’s regular training outburst ‘wooshka’ ringing in his ears as he racked up five Paralympic gold medals — all in world-record time — and three silver medals.

‘This is a word Bish uses all the time,’ Cowdrey laughed. ‘I’m not sure where it all comes from and it drives us all crazy. It’s one of his little annoying things.’

Born with a congenital amputation below his left elbow, the 19-year-old said there was little else annoying about Bishop’s training habits. Since meeting Cowdrey at the age of 11 he had been treated no differently from any of his coach’s other swimmers. ‘The whole way through I’ve been treated as an equal. Bish never made an exception for me. I think that’s the difference … that’s the reason I’ve been so successful. Other coaches could take a leaf out of his book.

‘Saying thank you to him is just too few words. He has my absolute respect in the way he relates to young people, in his work as a physio as well as a coach, and in his attitude towards his swimmers.’