Finish line in sight but Max Debnam turns to coaching coaches

MAX Debnam has reached the finish line after 52 years of coaching track and field in Newcastle.

But for the region’s most accomplished athletics mentor, there is now another race to be run and won.

The 74-year-old grandfather of five has this week stepped away from a coaching career that has taken in Olympic and Commonwealth Games and more than 30 Australian representatives at junior and senior level.

The proud Novocastrian is now keen to help foster the next generation of coaches in the region, which he believes has ground to make up in track and field development.

‘‘It’s not in the shape that I’d like to see it in,’’ Debnam said of athletics in the Hunter.

‘‘Things sort of go in cycles and that’s why I want to stay involved with coaching education.

‘‘We need more younger coaches coming through. That’s got to happen.

‘‘We’ve still got quite a few very talented athletes, but we need to build up more depth, I think.

‘‘Hopefully that will happen. I’m sure it will.’’

Debnam, a life member of the Hunter Academy of Sport, Athletics NSW and Athletics Australia, is the only athletics coach from the region to be appointed a national coach.

In recent years he has lessened his workload in readiness for retirement and now has only a small squad, including world junior championship representative sprinter Emily Coppins and Shaun Fletcher, who finished runner-up in the long jump at the national titles in April.

‘‘After all that time I thought it was about now to make the move,’’ he said of finally calling it quits.

‘‘I’ve been saying I was going to do it each year and people kept telling me, ‘You won’t retire,’ so I thought I’ll let them know I am.’’

His remarkable career has included many highlights but one of his greatest came in only his second year of coaching.

‘‘I’ve been lucky over the years, I’ve had a lot of good athletes to help and coach and share their talents,’’ he said.

‘‘Probably Linda Garden making the long jump finals at the Olympics in ’84. That was a big highlight.

‘‘Also one of the first girls I ever coached, Janet Knee, I’d only been coaching a year or so and she won bronze in the long jump at the Commonwealth Games in ’62 in Perth.’’

The Adamstown Heights resident has also worked as a Newcastle Herald columnist and as a trainer with the Newcastle Knights.

He also served at international level as a manager and lecturer.

But of all his accomplishments, Debnam said getting the best out of every athlete under his care and helping them grow on and off the track were perhaps his greatest sources of pride.

‘‘I’ve had a heck of a lot of athletes who’ve been keen and dedicated and haven’t made it to that level, but they’ve all reached their potential, I’ve thought, and that’s given a great deal of pleasure as well to see that happen,’’ he said.

‘‘I often say to coaches that we’ve got a lot of responsibility in that you’ve got to earn respect, you can’t just say I’m a level-five coach and you’ve got to respect me.

‘‘You’ve got to earn it and you realise that you are not just someone who is trying to improve their fitness and skills, whether you like it or not, you become a counsellor, a father figure and those things, and that keeps the passion going as well.

‘‘You feel like you are contributing something.’’

He said he made many lifelong friends out of the sport and admitted it would be difficult getting used to not heading to the track six days a week.

‘‘You’ve got to have the passion for it to go that long, and I’ve had that and it’s been very rewarding,’’ he said.

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