Chris Wright’s studies were always going to play a part once he called time on life as an elite swimmer. And so it has come to pass with his Bachelor of Environmental Design if not quite as he originally planned.
“A lot of architecture is about thinking outside the box,” Chris (29) says. “And it’s not just about thinking outside the box but also thinking about over there, somewhere different; thinking about and solving a problem for someone else. In many ways that’s what coaching is about.”
Working out what makes them tick
The former Olympic Games and Commonwealth Games swimmer has just taken up the role of assistant coach at the Griffith University pool at the Gold Coast campus, supporting the work of Olympic super coach Michael Bohl.
He is now focused on developing a feeder squad of talented up-and-coming young swimmers who could potentially graduate to Michael Bohl’s high-performance program in the future. He graduated from Griffith University at a formal ceremony at the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre this week.
“My architecture studies have definitely taught me skills I would never have learned otherwise. I see myself as having an edge on other coaches in similar situations. It certainly helps me to think differently about the job.
“A big part of coaching is figuring each individual out, working out what makes them tick. What makes me tick will have a completely different effect on someone else.”
After 21 seasons of high-performance swimming in the most competitive pools on the planet, Chris has stepped out of the pool one last time. However, he remains poolside as a new chapter starts – if not the chapter he envisaged when he started his degree at Griffith in 2011.
“There was a point around that time where I thought when I finish swimming I’ll want nothing to do with it. I had been surrounded by engineers in my family and had a keen interest in how buildings function and how people move through their spaces and that led me to study architecture.”
How others move through 50m-lane spaces will occupy his thinking for the foreseeable future and he will also lean on a wealth of experience from a lifetime of top-class competition.
“Physically my body was still capable. Mentally, I was done. It’s not the racing, getting in the pool and seeing what you’ve got against seven others (that triggered retirement). It was the constant need to ask myself if I should go to the movies when the film finishes after eleven o’clock, if I should have that coffee, if I should play indoor cricket and risk injury? Mentally that part of it has been draining over the years.
“You have to swim for the right reasons and in the end I wasn’t able to mentally give 100% in every session. Having experienced this from an athlete’s perspective, I am well equipped to assist my swimmers through such challenges.”
Australian champ three years in a row
He aims to incorporate a fun element into his coaching regime at Griffith where high pressure is counterbalanced by team support. “Come race time it’s the individual swimmer who is on the block doing it himself or herself, but the more you can make it a team event beforehand the better that individual is going to perform.”
Competing against the world’s best – including Michael Phelps – at the 2012 London Games remains the high point for the Cairns native who is now very much settled on the Gold Coast.
He was an Australian 100m butterfly champion three years in a row from 2012 to 2014, and remains the Australian record holder for the 200m butterfly, a record unbroken since 2009.
He has competed at short course and long course world championships and successive Commonwealth Games in Delhi (2010) and Glasgow (2014).
“Delhi was an eye opener for me. There were so many different things happening, it made the experience for me. To be lucky enough to be selected and be a part of the Commonwealth Games was a dream.”