As a student Rocco Meiring coached kids in his neighbourhood for extra money. In 1992, after completing his military service, Meiring worked full time in coaching, where he developed swimmers and coaches from stroke teaching to senior national level in Pretoria.
Five years later, he took up the position as national coaching director at Swimming South Africa where he was tasked to improve the standard of the sport in the country.
His first successes came at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. These were followed by a strong showing at the 2002 Commonwealth Games, a three-medal haul at the 2004 Olympics, the first locally produced national training centre swimmers at the finals of the 2005 World Championships and the record medal count at the 2006 Commonwealth Games.
What has it been like preparing for the Olympic qualifiers in Covid-19 times?
The experience was obviously very unusual but my team I are lucky to be at the University of Pretoria where the TuksSport management did everything they could to facilitate maximum and optimal preparation and support for their athletes and coaches.
Swimming SA did a fantastic job in getting us started as early into the pandemic as possible and to provide their swimmers and coaches with training camp opportunities and competitions … So, we have more to be grateful for than to complain about and my swimmers and I have no excuses if we don’t deliver good results.
How has the pandemic challenged you and the way that you manage your swimmers?
It challenged my coaching skills immensely, especially my ability to change my technical planning and the way I had to keep my swimmers focused and motivated.
What have been some of the difficult moments that you have experienced as coach?
My most difficult experiences are with parents that interfere in many ways and then destroy the potential careers or positive experiences their kids could have had in the sport. I can handle most of the other challenges that cross my path, but I cannot beat the destructive power of the ‘dinnertable talk’.
What are some of your highlights?
My career highlights are obviously Tatjana Schoenmaker making history at Commonwealth Games and World Championships as well as Kaylene Corbett making the finals at Worlds, against all expectations … but my personal highlights are also the expression of joy any swimmer has when they break through the barriers of what they actually believed they could achieve, be it in training or in competition.
When you get to work with swimmers for the first time, what advice do you give them?
Be patient, cherish the opportunity you have to develop your talent, learn to deal with knocks you are going to experience along the way, celebrate your achievements and don’t compare yourself to others when everyone is still growing. Stay in the game for the long haul, because nobody really cares if you were a junior champion or not.
What makes a successful swimmer?
A combination of genetics, love of the water, ability to step up when pressure racing is on and ability to train very diligently.
What needs to be improved from development structures to national level?
SA needs more and better-maintained year-round swimming pools; we need more tidal pools on our coast that are 25m or 50m long and where local kids can learn to swim or train in. We need our best coaches in the best facilities across SA and we need to continually train our next generation of coaches better by placing the most promising young coaches with the most experienced coaches for a couple of weeks every year, until they are ready to go at it alone. SwimSA needs more funding, and the top swimmers need financial support to stay in sport longer.
What are you aiming to achieve in your career?
I want to know that I am continually improving as a coach and that my offering to my swimmers stays at world standard until I retire. I believe that if I do what I ask of my swimmers — and more — the rest will be in God’s hands.
Interview by Celine Abrahams of gsport4girls