The Coaching Philosophy of Bill Furniss

Fig. 1. Coach Bill Furniss taking a group of prospective ASA Level 3 coaches

The following notes were taken at a talk given by Swimming Coach Bill Furniss, Nova Centurion Head Coach and Coach to Olympians such as Rebecca Adlington.

This talk was part of the UKCC/ASA Senior Club Coach course.


Produced a great long list between us which Bill simplified to being performance driven. i.e. if you’re not improving competitive performance you are not coaching, you are teaching (or supervising).

‘Coaching is a process which involves a rational approach to the improvement of competitive performance through a planned and coordinated programme of preparing and competition.’  Bill Furniss

‘This process embraces both direct intervention strategies and the manipulation of contextual variable affecting player preparation and performance.’  Bill Furniss

e.g. A swimmer doing 20 x 100 reps on 65 dong them on 67 told to increase stroke count, reduce weight work and/or go faster over the last 15m

Only two people count; the coach and the athlete.

Some Essential skills:

  • Plan
  • Organise
  • Direct
  • Observe
  • Evaluate
  • Instruct
  • Communicate
  • Demonstrate
  • Share Knowledge
  • Strategies
  • Counselling
  • Motivator

Some Personality traits:

  • Having total belief
  • Being intuitive

(Realise why directing & coaching have so much in common, the targets of the coach working with athletes to produce a result like the targets the director has working with actors to produce a result).

‘Coaching is NOT a haphazard, trial and error affair, but involves a series of orderly, inter-related steps.’  Bill Furniss

‘The coaching process designates the steps the coach takes in determining, planning and implementing coaching action.’  Bill Furniss

The steps involved in the coaching process:

  • Data Collection
  • Diagnosis
  • Prescribed plan of action
  • Implementation
  • Evaluation
  • Adaptation
  • Overload
  • Progression
  • Specificity
  • Both short & long term

Where have all the boys gone?

They find it too structured and  methodical

It does n’t allow boys to be boys.

‘Swimming is becoming a girls’ sport.’  Bill Furniss

CF the US College System.

Coaching Philosophy

‘Your philosophy and style doesn’t matter … as long as it works and it works for you … and is appropriate for the context in which it will be applied.’  Bill Furniss

‘It is superhuman what we ask them to do – everything hurts, even their hair hurts.’ Bill Furniss

Ref: Coach: A Season with Lombardi. Tom Dowling. 1970.

The appropriateness of your philosophy to the context within which it will be applied.

Swimmers are starting to move around and leave coaches because they want a particular style.

‘This coaching lark is a bit more complex than you thought.’ Bill Furniss


Coach training with Bill Furniss, Nova Centurion

Saturday 25th October 2008

After yesterday’s efforts today I make it to the pool in good time … in too good time, I’m there 30 mins early and try to catch up on lost sleep in the car. It is too cold, the rain to hard, the wind too strong even for the radio to drown out

Poolside we have the Nova Centurion A1 squad across all eight lanes of this 25m pool.

Bill Furniss talks to us during the warm up, we then take down the main set and go and deliver it.

I picked out the swimmer whose technique I most liked, a guy called Andy Mayor who was going up and down FC in 16 strokes.

He had in the lane with him the Paralympic swimmer Sam Hynde. I woked with M. We introduced ourselves then assisted them to meet the various targets on the set.

Level 3 Senior Club Coach. Unit 1 with Olympic and Nova Centurion Coach Bill Furniss

Friday 24th October 2008

Level 3 Senior Club Coach. Unit 1 with Olympic and Nova Centurion Coach Bill Furniss

Unit 1. The Senior Club Coach.

Arrive in ludicrously good time as I was uncertain of the route to Nottingham or how to find the university & specific lecture room. Just as well! I made the mistake of going through Nottingham during the rush hour, end up back on the ring road going south to the M1 so if I hadn’t given myself an hour or more to play with I would have been late.

Park next to a guy stepping out of soft top Black Porsche with the registration H20.

Trim, Mark Foster in his Fifties fit looking with grey hair. He had a bag with a projector in it so I guessed he was the guy. Half an hour later I meet Bill Furniss, the GB & Nova Centurion Swimming Coach who helped Rebecca Adlington to a couple of gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Colin Huffen introduced himself.

The voice on the phone didn’t marry with up the young, preppy, clean-cut tall young man who introduced himself. His excuse for my hearing back from the IoS about the course work I submitted in June is that they have 250 in the Coaching Programme but had planned for only 100. So they’ve taken on more than they can manage. They’ve had £25,000 in registration fees alone so they ought to have a administrator at least. Colin trained under Bill.

Immediately felt I was with the right person.

Bill. Early 50s. Athletic. Looks good in a T-shirt & shorts & drives a black soft top Porsche.

Like anybody I am inspired by and inclined to listen with a more attentive ear to somebody at the top of their game, someone with 28 years experience, who proves his ability with athletes in the pool and has gone through all the academic hoops:

Coach, Club Coach, Level 4 & Level 5 … as well as picking up a Sports Science Degree from the Open University on the way.

He was a competitive swimmer in his day (200m Fly), and for a period was a successful salesman (he says) before getting into coaching. He was an assistant coach for a mere 4 months and has been with Nova in Nottingham for 28 years. A County Council funded role which has enabled him to produce 300 internationals over 20 years and 10 Olympians. 13 of the 24 in A Squad are internationals.

“Knowledge is nothing if you can’t apply it.”

“It sticks a lot better if you do it.”

“I’m a Devil’s Advocate. You will knock it around.”

“I need you to make the connection.”

Which can mean they have no plan and from past experience could mean long breaks and a good deal of waffle, or simply reading from the manual. BF was quite the opposite, he is in command of the subject, talk in detail without notes and has the authority to question what the ASA is putting out.

“If I think there’s nothing more to learn I’ll give up and become a milkman.”

The Group

A A mum whose son swims. Leicester County Development Coach  & Occupational Paediatrics. Coaching 8 years.

J Northampton SC Took over from Mark Perry Admits to being pushy and finds it hard to resist palling up to BF and plugging  her brilliance.

M An Ex-Swimmer and Coach from Birmingham. Early or mid twenties and got himself digs in a Nottingham Uni Hall of Residence. Jackie wants him to join Northampton SC as an assistant Coach on £18k.

A Level 1 in 1998. A parent. Coaching 6 months at City of Coventry. Formerly Int. Trampolening & diving.  A Qualified Teacher.

M A milkman from & an assistant coach and ex-footballer. Parent, committee, chairman, poolside helper & assistant coach. Taking time out of work, i.e. holiday,  to do this. Usually gets up at 2.30am. Hopes to quit his milkman job in April 2009.

A group of parent poolside helpers, teachers and wannabe coaches. A few have it, several don’t. Some have the personality, several don’t.

J Hoddoston SC. (As Michael I think). 15 National Swimmers, I think. Ex. County Swimmer herself. Secretary & conference Organiser. 2004 Club Coach & Diving Level I. Has a sports study degree.

T Glossop. Coaching 10 hours week. Rugby Player. Til          daughter born. Teaching/coaching rugby.

J Lives & breathes swimming. Father was terrified of water. (Dropped in the deep end as a child). Raised in Swansea where she swam competitively to age 13. Dropped it for 10 years +. Now back with a vengeance as a volunteer with a local development squad.

H Retired bloke with an IQ of 90 who looks like he used to smoke, lives in a mobile home & will soon need a zimmer frame & a hearing horn.

As a set up this bunch of characters reminds me of the Vicar of Dibley. Just as we rarely see the Vicar with her congregation, we rarely need to see the coaches/teachers poolside with kids.

Joined by Olympian Mel Marshall who is thinking of becoming a coach.

She is part of the programme ‘Athletes into Coaching’.

Initiative directed at young athletes coming out of their sport orientated to what they’ve just done and will be doing with a mind set to suit them rather than the oddballs from the amateur/volunteer club based circuit).