Smith's commitment well beyond the call of duty

Last updated 05:00 04/09/2014
Lance Smith
JOHN HAWKINS/Fairfax NZ

MAJOR PLAYER: Athletics stalwart Lance Smith is this week’s Southland Times Legend of Sport.

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Athletics has been one of Southland's more successful sports in recent years and Lance Smith has played a major part. DON WRIGHT explains why he is a prime candidate for The Southland Times Legend of Sport honour.

Lance Smith's part-time administrative position as Athletics Southland sports manager for the last 12 years has been accompanied by outstanding success as a coach.

It has driven him to further voluntary service in that area well beyond the course of duty.

Significantly, he is the only athletics coach to win the prestigious coach of the year recognition, at the Southland Sports Award dinner in 2012.

One of the judges for more than 30 years, esteemed Invercargill distance running identity Mike Piper, said at the accompanying presentation that Lance's remarkable contribution and success meant that on a population basis, Southland had been New Zealand's most successful province and breeding ground of young track and field athletes.

To that stage Smith had nurtured 16 athletes to represent New Zealand with two more in the interim.

Piper was moved to say: "The past five years [2008-2012] have seen performances of Southland athletes attain heights never before seen in the province and to a large extent can be attributed to the efforts either directly or indirectly to Lance."

Many Southlanders involved with athletics had come to acclaim Lance as not only a successful coach but also a "hugely competent athletics manager" with the publication of over 500 weekly bulletins testifying to his tireless hours of input, Piper observed recently.

Lance has placed a high priority on communication in his athletic endeavours, capitalising on 29 years (1961-1990) as an advertising copywriter on radio stations, major advertising agencies and working freelance.

Lance outlined he had been fulltime coach for the Counties Athletic Club during 1999-2002 before moving south to work for Athletics Southland as a sports manager (administrative) until the present day.

"This is a part-time role that allows me time to spend on coaching and coach education."

To make it easier for more people to try, enjoy and succeed was his main focus, he said.

Lance believes that individual athletes know themselves better than he as a coach and that his coaching improved when athletes knew themselves better, contributed to the coaching process and had ownership of their sport.

His goal as a coach is to make himself redundant, to help athletes reach a stage where they are able to make the important decisions and take responsibility for their sport.

A snapshot glance of his achievements and highlights illustrates how successfully he has involved himself in Southland athletics, indeed New Zealand and beyond.

His prowess could be reflected in his being appointed New Zealand team coach to the Oceania Championships in Samoa 2008, Cairns in 2011, Rarotonga earlier this year, New Zealand Athletics team manager and coach to the Commonwealth Youth Games in Isle of Man in 2011 and New Zealand Athletics team manager at the Australian Youth Olympics in Sydney last year.

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"I feel I have achieved as a coach of an athlete if he or she leaves me a better person than when they started . . . The purpose of our training is to compete and the purpose of competing is to win," he explained.

"But winning is not necessarily coming first, it can be learning more about yourself, gaining in confidence, pushing boundaries, learning teamwork, any number of things."

Career high spots have included his guiding Central Southland College student Atipa Mabonga to being the present top-ranked New Zealand under-18 triple jumper and similarly the success of Charlotte Muschamp, presently on a USA scholarship, being a former New Zealand champion triple jumper in under-18 and under-20 grades.

The Edendale athlete who attended Southland Girls' High School recently visited Lance and his partner Debbie and later wrote on a thank-you card: "Lance, I can't thank you enough for all the opportunities you've given me and what you do for Southland, the greatest place in the world. When in doubt, do what a Southlander would do. I'll be back again soon enough."

Greer Alsop, also on an athletics scholarship in the USA at the same university as Muschamp, provided Lance with a career highlight winning silver in the triple jump at the Commonwealth Youth Games.

"It was an emotional moment for both of us, two Southlanders on the other side of the world after months of hard work at Surrey Park," he said.

"Watching the New Zealand flag fly and an athlete I had worked closely with standing on the medal dais was a memorable moment."

However, Greer had to largely pay her own way, although she had considerable assistance from the Invercargill Licensing Trust Foundation.

"Ideally, I would like to see Southland athletes have more financial opportunities to compete more often at a higher level, so they benefited from tougher competition and gained more exposure than what they would achieve at Surrey Park."

Community support, Invercargill Licensing Trust and Community of Southland assistance were invaluable but didn't go far enough, he said.

Distinguished middle distance protege Jordan Rackham had to travel regularly to the North Island for appropriate competition and improvement, he said.

"And Jordan is not the only one, as most of the training squad has had to dig deep into their pockets or those of their parents for flights to major meetings.

"If an athlete was the best in Southland, then who was going to push him [or her] to keep improving?" he queried.

- The Southland Times

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