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SUPER BOHL: the Olympic coach's secrets to solving the puzzle of success

Michael Bohl is wearing a yellow t-shirt and green shorts. He is in the centre of the image pointing to a whiteboard on the right. Coach Amanda Issac (left) is listening to the planned session from Michael

Sport

7 days ago

5 min

SUPER BOHL: Michael Bohl – having coached swimmers to 10 individual Olympic medals – reveals his secrets to solving the puzzle of success

To achieve success on the world’s biggest sporting stage requires pieces of a jigsaw puzzle to fit seamlessly together at the perfect moment in time, according to Queensland and Australian Olympic swim coach, Michael Bohl.

The Griffith University Swim Club Head Coach has worked with some of the world’s most successful athletes, including Australia’s Olympic medal record holder Emma McKeon and Queenslander Stephanie Rice, who made history in 2008 when she won three gold medals with three world records (200m IM, 400m IM, 4x200m free relay) at the Beijing Olympics.

Heading towards the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, Bohl’s roster features McKeon, World Aquatics’ 2023 'Best Female Swimmer of the Year' Kaylee McKeown, World Championship gold medallist Lani Pallister, Tokyo 2020 bronze medallist Brendon Smith, and Paris hopeful Cody Simpson.

With close to four decades of coaching experience, Bohl understands the personal traits of the most successful athletes, what drives them and helps make their dream a reality.

While Olympic gold is not the dream for everyone, thousands of Queenslanders will be looking ahead to the Olympic and Paralympic opportunities of 2032, and wondering how they can make their mark – either on the field, in the pool, in coaching, business, hospitality, tourism, new innovations and in industry.

The qualities of the country’s most successful swimmers can be considered universal ingredients of success that could be applied to any goal. Bohl shares his top tips for chasing greatness and creating an environment that nurtures success.

Enthusiasm

Based on famous American basketball coach John Wooden’s ‘Pyramid of Success’ one of the two most important successful behaviours for competitive greatness is enthusiasm.

“The athletes have to display enthusiasm,” Bohl says, “they can’t walk into the pool saying, ‘what am I doing here, this is terrible’, they’ve got to be enthusiastic and want to work hard.

“Of course, they have days or sessions individually where they’re not particularly motivated but the critical mass of the sessions they do, there’s that enthusiasm, there is that curiousness, that want to work really hard.”

Bohl adds it's important to surround yourself with positive support, to create a holistic environment that is “enthusiastic about the day-to-day grind that you have to go through.”

Industriousness

The other crucial cornerstone of the Pyramid of Success is ‘industriousness’.

“At first, I wasn’t sure what this word meant,” Bohl explains. “But John Wooden explained it as the athlete and the coach have to understand that to get to the very highest level, you have to work pretty bloody hard.”

A champion’s industriousness - or work ethic - can’t slow down once they have reached the top– not if they want to stay there, as Bohl explains in regard to Emma McKeon, who famously won 11 medals at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

“For Emma [McKeon] to exceed what she did in Tokyo – she has to work very hard to do it. She can’t just rock up behind the blocks and say ‘where’s my gold medal?’

“She has to get herself on the team, she has to work very hard to beat all the other Australians who are vying for her position and at the Olympics, she’s got another hundred girls who are trying to win that hundred freestyle.

“To get better you have to work hard, that industrious part is very important to me.”

 A female swimmer is standing on the blocks ready to dive into the pool. A second female is swimming towards the wall under the diving athlete.  Michael Bohl is wearing a yellow t-shirt and standing behind the diving swimmer observing.

The three P’s: Patience, Perseverance and Persistence

Chasing greatness is not always smooth sailing, and Bohl encourages everyone to be prepared for setbacks.

“You have to have patience, perseverance and persistence,” he says.

“Success doesn’t happen exponentially; you don’t just get better and better and better… sometimes you do really well and sometimes you’re on the downhill slide and you have to climb your way out of the downhill slide.

“We all have different pieces of the jigsaw puzzle. Some people have trouble fitting those jigsaw pieces together and forming the puzzle, while others are able to put the jigsaw puzzle together well in combination with their coach and support staff.”

In the swimming context, completing the very intricate puzzle is the difference between standing on a podium or not.

“You have to have everything lined up. For swimming it’s speed, it’s endurance, it’s skills… it’s making sure your rest and recovery are very good, it’s making sure your strength and conditioning, your diet and nutrition are good," he says.

“It’s all these different ducks that have to line up in a row and if one duck is out of alignment, you won’t win the gold medal at the Olympics.

“If you can get them lined up at the right time, there’s a chance – there’s no guarantee – but there’s a chance you can hop up onto that podium when the Olympics come around once every four years.”

Michael Bohl is wearing a dark shirt and looking to the left as he writes on a whiteboard.

Going the extra mile

Finally, Bohl says being prepared to go above and beyond is the difference between good and great.

“The ones that are highly successful are incredibly motivated, they’re prepared to do what other people aren’t prepared to do,” he says.

“[Successful athletes] are extremely dedicated, focused, diligent, with great attitudes.

“I think the athletes I have now, Kaylee [McKeown] and Emma [McKeon] for example, they definitely show these qualities. They’re prepared to do what other people aren’t prepared to do and they’re painstakingly trying to get to a better level.

“They’re exploring every avenue, and they’re really pushing themselves, but they’re also pushing me as their coach to try to get them that winning point of difference.”

Identifying the pieces of your unique puzzle and chasing your dream with the right attitude and positive mindset might not take you to the Olympics, but it will set you on the path to success in whatever you’re passionate about.