Team Behind the Team – Paddle Australia’s National Men’s Head Coach for Sprint Canoe Kayaking

Jimmy Owens has come a long way since he worked as a roofer in his early career, a time in his life long before he coached paddling great Ken Wallace to Olympic gold in 2008.

Having traded his tools and his own Olympic athlete ambitions for coaching at the age of just 27, Owens is now building towards an incredible fifth Olympic campaign in Paris 2024; an achievement reached by only the very best of our Australian High Performance Sport System Coaches.

Under Owens’ guidance, Australia’s men’s canoe sprint teams have claimed medals at every Olympics from 2008 onwards, including three gold, and two bronze.

“Through ’08 to where we are today, from my experience, there’s been a lot that’s stayed as a blueprint, but there’s been a lot that’s evolved,” Owens says.

A consistent part of Owens’ coaching philosophy has been treating his athletes and support staff as “family”. The art of coaching and building relationships is key to Jimmy’ success, his priority is building a culture of trust.

When Owens looks at the next generation of paddlers preparing for Paris 2024 and beyond, his confidence is high and he couldn’t be happier. He describes a seamless changing of the guard, and can see his established and emerging athletes supporting each other and driving for further success.

“I think what I’ve noticed through this period is the way they interact outside the sport, it brings energy into the sport and moment,” Owens said.

“Training alongside each other in the morning and afternoon, some of what we are working on can get really frustrating when you’re looking for performances all the time. So the care and nurturing they provide each other, to check in and support, has been really good. I can feel the positive energy there, as they support each other as they are coming through.

“I’m pretty optimistic that the young guys are going to fast-track really quickly and I think what we see with some of our stabilised athletes that have come off the back of Tokyo… they’re going to do very well also.”

Australia’s defending Olympic champions Tom Green and Jean van der Westhuyzen will be aged just 25 by Paris next year.

Owens wasn’t much older when, after missing Olympic selection as an athlete, he turned to coaching.

Owens encourages his own athletes to balance their sporting ambition with other pursuits, ensuring “they have something to look forward to after life in sport.”

Asked how he maintains his own coaching motivation after four Olympic campaigns, Owens says he’s never taken his career in sport and coaching for granted.

“I never stop learning – its always about how can I continuously improve myself,” Owens said. “I’ve been a hard worker personally and I wouldn’t expect anyone to do what I wouldn’t do myself. The quality of staff we have around the athletes is also critical. I treat them as coaches, so they need to embed themselves and also be on the journey. The athletes feel that, they feel the strength and momentum around them. There’s a team to lean on.

“One of the biggest things I’ve taken out of the four-year [Olympics cycles] that’s created success is about enjoying the journey. The big point I don’t take for granted is that working in sport isn’t a right, it’s an honour. We are not 9-5, typical hours, being in sport you’ve got to have an invested interest that it’s your passion and purpose.

“I think staff make just as big a sacrifice as athletes, if not more at times, by being away from family, missing special events, first steps and first days of school… whilst it is part of our DNA, it is looking for different ways to be able to sustain yourself.”

“[An athlete’s] window in their sporting world in so short, we need to all work hard to manage change, grow and be on point as a group because that time goes too quickly.”

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