to complete a physical education degree.
“I could follow my passion. I loved sport, I loved
football, I loved rowing and I loved watching sport.”
an environment that when they needed to
perform, they could,” said Donaldson of a coaching
methodology he honed for the elite ranks.
Coaching and teaching at school level through the
early 1980s, Donaldson soon added club coaching
responsibilities at Mercantile to his workload. Taking
the reins of the club’s under- 23 squad, and then
later of the senior programme, it was at Mercantile
that he first teamed with the athlete group that
would play a part in the ‘Oarsome Era’.
Scraping through to the Olympic final in 1996,
following a lacklustre third place semifinal finish,
things were not right in the defending Olympic
Champions’ boat. An ill-executed race plan and
post-race distractions, Donaldson could see the
minds of the athletes beginning to wander.
Donaldson made the switch to the professional
coaching ranks in 1992, when he was appointed
head rowing coach at the Victorian Institute of
Sport. Previously he had juggled teaching and
coaching commitments. An early priority in his
new appointment was formulating a strategy for
the defence of the Oarsome Foursome’s Olympic
title at the Atlanta Olympic Games.
“People talk about defining moments in sport,
and there was a period of 48 hours there that
would be one of those. I felt my role there was to
try and bring them back to reality. I did it pretty
harshly. I walked in on a television interview and
told it to stop. I ordered one of them to recovery,
one to lunch, told the parents to leave.”
“The key thing I had to focus on was not necessarily
coaching them, it was more managing them.
Managing their minds, their lifestyles, and creating
After an unnerving silence and awkward car trip
to the athlete village, Donaldson levelled with his
crew in their semifinal debrief. “I told them that
we’re going to win the thing, but we have to keep
our minds in the right space. And they agreed.” >