Vale Stan Nicholes

Stan Nicholes, one of the most influential coaches in recent Australian rowing, passed away today, aged 91.
Stan was not a rowing coach, but a strength and conditioning coach.  He was involved in strength and conditioning his entire life, and until the Australian and Victorian institutes of sport were established, he was the go-to strength coach for Australian crews in the 1970s and 1980s.  Operating from city gyms and then his home in Caulfield, Stan trained many of our leading scullers and rowers including Peter Antonie.  In turn, they have spread his methods and philosophy.  The MUBC and Melbourne Rowing Club gyms (and indeed clubs) have been heavily influenced by Stan’s approach, as is now Essendon via Stan’s last formal assistant.  Even in my schoolboy rowing days, our land training was heavily based on Stan’s work.  Neville Smith at Melbourne Rowing Club trained with Stan for years, and incorporates this experience into his training.
Besides training rowers, Stan was perhaps even more famous for training tennis players and runners, including legends like Rod Laver and John Newcombe.  He was very open to new ideas and even up until his 90s was still experimenting on us with different exercises, different sequences, different rest intervals and different approaches.  As an example of his creativity, in the 1960s, the men of the Australian Ballet came to see him after feedback from the Bolshoi ballet’s female dancers that they weren’t good lifters – Stan had the insight to put weights into dummies to customise their training!  Stan was also influential in the 1980s when AFL clubs began to take strength training seriously.  He trained St Kilda and Richmond for several years.
Stan was a very strong man, holding several Australian records.  He was never able to represent Australia at an Olympic or Empire Games, as he worked in a gym and was therefore seen to be a “professional” rather than an “amateur”.  To give you some idea of his work ethic, one of the many photos in the gym was of him in the Air Force in on active service in New Guinea during World War II, doing weights with a set of railway carriage wheels.
The gym had a very inspiring collection of your predecessors, using the same equiptment we used.  The most amazing photo of all was of Stan doing a bench press with a massive weight AND a person on the bar doing a hand stand!
Stan retired officially several times, but continued with a select band of clients even up to his death.  Carolyn and I have been going to his gym classes for 10 years, and have so much to thank him for as a coach and mentor.  Sally Nicholes, a former member of RRC and Stan’s granddaughter, introduced us when I was coaching her when she started rowing.  When he first met Carolyn, he said that the only way to get a lightweight to be competitive was to build them up, or as he put it, to turn her from a four to an eight cylinder!  Under Stan’s guidance, Carolyn has got to lifting international athlete-level weights.
Of all the coaches I have had, Stan has had a profound influence on me. Besides all the technical training about strength and conditioning, he emphasised development as an athlete – not just a rower.  Qualities like determination, persistence, patience and actively seeking out hard work.
One of his common saying when we used to half heartedly complain about his latest exercise prescription was “Would you want it any other way?” and he was right.   Stan’s rose bushes out the front of his house were famous for where athletes would vomit!  Most recently, several English rowers out here for some challenge races used the bushes, not able to keep up with one of our 60 year old golfers!  The guys were brought there by Paul Reedy, one of Stan’s long term disciples.  Well known international tennis coach Bob Brett is also one of Stan’s long standing friends, and always used to bring out his players in Australia for the Australian Open.
Besides training people, Stan was also a national champion breeder of Yorkshire canaries, approaching this with the same thoroughness he did for the gym.  Breeders from all over Australia came to seek his advice, and it was funny when the canary crowd occasionally met up with the gym crowd at his house!
With a wealth of experience, and an extremely good judge of athletic character, Stan had a knack of inspiring the best effort from people.  He also treated everyone equally, from the Wimbledon stars we had at the gym to world champions to long term clients who had been coming to him for over 30 years.
He is survived by his partner Ann, his five children and many grand children and great-grand children.
Tom Appleby (Richmond Life Member, Coach, Rower and friend of Stan Nicholes)