PORTMARNOCK Penguins head coach Anne Burdis has made history after becoming the first women to be named SwimIreland’s ‘Club Coach of the Year’ at the Swim Ireland Annual Awards at the Titanic Centre, Belfast.
Anne Burdis and Fiona Doyle with their awards.
It was one half of an impressive haul for Portmarnock Swim Team as Olympic hopeful Fiona Doyle, who is also attached to the club, was named
‘Senior Performance Athlete of the Year’.
The highly experienced coach found out about the award a week before the ceremony.
‘I was coaching on Monday night – it was the same as any Monday really,’ she recalled. ‘The kids, however, were wishing me a happy birthday and this happened a few different times and each time I told them, No, my birthday is in January,’ she laughs.
‘It wasn’t until after practice that I went upstairs and walked into a room with all the parents there and I was presented with a big bouquet of flowers, and again I said it wasn’t my birthday.
‘But they explained that they had nominated me for ‘Club Coach of the Year’ and I won, but they weren’t allowed to make it known until the actual ceremony. However, they had a big function for me and presented me with a framed picture of thoughts from the kids and the confirmation from Swim Ireland.’
There is a process in place that once the nomination has been made, it must go through several different phases before it’s finally confirmed by Swim Ireland, but the decision to award it to Burdis was a unanimous one.
At the ceremony Burdis and Doyle complimented about each other. ‘Fiona spoke about how I was one of the main reasons she is where she is and I in turn couldn’t praise her enough for all she has accomplished – it was just really nice to hear from her.
‘The fact that I’m the first female coach to get it was a bonus and a half,’ admitted Burdis. ‘When I meet other coaches they never look upon me as a woman no more than I view them as men. We are just coaches and that’s the end of it, yet it’s the first time a female coach has ever been given the award.’
Not only does Anne work almost six nights a week with Portmarnock Swim Team, she’s a lead coach for Leinster and regularly takes charge of the squad when they are heading away to various meets.
‘I’ve been up at the Ulsters for the last two years and this year we had a much younger squad than before. The finals are eight-lane races and we are only allowed two swimmers in each final. Last year we came away with 82 medals from the three days and this year we came back with 77.
‘I didn’t expect that because the kids were much younger, but in every single final we had one swimmer. I have this way, so they tell me, of getting the best out of the kids no matter where we go or no matter what the challenges are.’
In many ways Burdis feels that it’s a recognition for female coaches in the sport and hopes this can pioneer the way for more females.
‘I feel now that female coaches can be recognised, even though I’ve always just been a coach. There are a lot of other female coaches out there who don’t put themselves forward enough to be recognised as just a coach, not a female coach. I’m hoping this will give them the confidence to put themselves forward more in the future.’
Women in sports is a real passion for Burdis – her 16-year-old granddaughter Katie Burdis is making a name for herself in the world of football, something which Anne is incredibly proud of.
In the pursuit of inspiring and promoting women, Burdis currently works alongside Swim Ireland CEO Sarah Keane and together they travel the country giving talks to help promote women in sport. While Burdis won’t be in Rio to watch Doyle compete, she will be in touch with the swimmer every day.
‘We are in touch on viber or Skype every day and she will keep me informed of her times or if she needs to just blow off steam, but she has been a huge inspiration to the kids in the club and she comes back to visit us whenever she can.
‘She recently brought in her World medals to show the kids and it really shows them what they can achieve.’