IT'S been a big month for Taree's Tony Lewis.
The local hockey stalwart recently returned from his first State coaching experience in Adelaide, where he led the under 45s NSW women's team to a gold medal at the Australian Masters Hockey Championships.
After more than 30 years of hockey, playing, mentoring, managing and coaching at a local and representative level, Tony decided to offer his services for a State coaching job this year.
"This is the first time I've nominated for a State job and I was lucky enough to get the gig,'' he said recently.
But even with his many years of experience with the sport, Tony was blown away by the size of the tournament and the professionalism by all involved.
"It was magnificent," he beamed this week.
"I've never experienced anything like it, the sheer scale of the tournament and the professionalism was incredible.
"My team alone had myself, a manager, field officials, a physio and a massage therapist, we had everything we needed."
Tony oversaw a team of 16 women, all former Australian representatives, who he said would have easily matched it with Taree's first grade men.
"They were amazing, so dedicated and just consummate professionals," he said.
He was blown away by the talent and skill of all the teams and admitted that it is some of the best hockey he has seen.
Tony is an innovative coach and firmly believes that getting to know the players on a personal level contributed to the team's success.
"I decided to take a bit of a different approach with my team and I held interviews with all of the girls to try and get to know them and what makes them tick, what drives them, why they were there," Tony explained.
"I don't believe that method had been used in State coaching before and the feedback I've received since has been really positive, I understand that they're looking at implementing this in the future."
Tony takes the same approach on a local level where he is the coach of the Taree Tigers A-grade men's and womens teams, as well as an under 15s girls indoor hockey team.
But no matter what level Tony is working with, the crux of his coaching is always the same and he invests a lot of time into helping people believe in themselves.
"I believe that one of the key attributes of a successful coach is not to see winning as the focus, and to get the best out of your players you have to get to know them first as individuals. Players are often very different on the sporting field as to how they are off it and it is important to have an understanding and a relationship with both, that way you can provide the right environment for players to achieve their best.
"Teams always perform best when they have an understanding of each other and a respect for each other and for who they are and I feel this is very important for a team to succeed," he said.
The trip to Adelaide is a highlight of Tony's hockey career, but he admits that there's not much he hasn't enjoyed from the last 30 years.
"I've been very fortunate over a long period of time to win over 35 hockey premierships locally and around six State titles and you can't separate any of these achievements because they're all special, and as a coach the best victory is seeing what it means to the players as they have put so much into the result.
"I think that's why this gold medal means so much, because the players were so committed to supporting me and each other and these special opportunities don't come along often."
Following the successful Masters tournament Tony's one year contract has now been extended and he's looking forward to heading off to Darwin next year in another State coaching role, with plans to take what he's learnt from this trip and implement it locally.
"I learnt so much from the experience that I have notes everywhere," he laughed.
"It's given me a greater understanding of what's required to reach that level as a player and that great skills are only a part of what is required.
"Fitness, professionalism, mental strength and game knowledge are all areas I know we can develop further with our players and this applies to all levels of the game."
He'll head to Sydney soon to complete Level II in coaching that will enable him to coach higher level teams and work with other coaches and from there he's happy to see where it all takes him.
"Hockey's just a great sport, it brings people together," Tony said.
"Personally for me the proudest I have been as a coach has been in seeing players achieve their goals and dreams whether it be winning the premiership in Taree or playing for Australia. You do not have to reach the top of a sport to have achieved great things, reaching your true potential in anything makes you a champion."
"I'd like to say a huge thank you to everyone that has supported me over the years as their support has made this possible for me, particularly my family at Tigers Hockey Club who are all brilliant people.
"Most importantly to my wife Tanya and children Olivia and Hannah who are my life and have given the love and support to achieve so much in hockey, I am blessed."