14 August 2017
“He has been a father figure to me,” says Stevens about coach-Knowles
The performance by Dani Stevens to win a world title in 2009 and silver medal in 2017, has been a outcome of a coach-athlete relationship that has developed and been refined for nearly 20 years. Just prior to departing for London for the world championships, Stevens spoke fondly about her special relationship with coach Knowles, who along with Stevens received a silver medal at the world championships.
Dani Stevens was introduced to athletics in Little Athletics tiny tots aged about six.
“I took a liking to the power events like throws and hurdles high jumping and throwing,” recalled Stevens recently.
“When I was about eight, my friend in the group said she was going along to the local coach who was Hayden Knowles. Then Hayden got a job at Parramatta and ‘us littles’ moved up to the senior throwing group with Denis Knowles when I was about 10.”
Five years later, in 2003, Stevens made her national team debut at the IAAF World Youth Championships. In 2005 at her second world youth championships, she won the discus and a year later in 2006, she won the world junior title. Prior to that win, Stevens had made her senior debut, at the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games, winning a bronze medal. Her coach Denis Knowles had been by her side every step of the way, often at the team coach, through these key transition years from junior to senior athlete.
Also, in 2004, Stevens lost her father, Mark, in a cycling accident. He was preparing for his second Ironman. Knowles and the sport of athletics were there when Stevens was getting through this tragedy.
Over the ensuring 11 years Stevens has been one of the most consistent performers on the national team and Knowles has just about done it all to assist her.
“He has been the sports psych, taxi driver, nutritionist, throwing coach and drink bottle getter. He is awesome,” Stevens recalled.
“He lives in the next suburb and started coaching me since I was 10 and has taken me to three Olympic Games, world champion, Commonwealth champion and hopefully a few more things.
“I think we work well together because we give each other feedback and neither of us are too proud to say I think I’m 100% right. We work through everything together. Mainly technique stuff, programming and when to have a day off.”
Coach-Knowles has educated Stevens in many ways and guided into a well-rounded young lady to be proud of.
“Denis has taught me so much, not just about discus throwing but about everything like attention to detail, discipline setting the standard at training to be a professional athlete and not just a good athlete, but a good human being.
“I know a lot of the time he has said to me, ‘it doesn’t matter what you achieve in athletics or your throwing it is the person you have turned into or turned out to be that makes me the proudest. Our relationship goes beyond throwing. He has been a father figure to me. It is amazing to think how perfect it has worked out. He has been amazing and he has always supported me even when things haven’t been going right. Or a lot of the times he could see something is up and he has been there to bounce ideas off. It is a very close relationship.”
After Stevens won her silver medal on the weekend in London, she was given another medal for her coach - simple but powerful recognition for the endless hours and dedication Knowles has given in the mounding of Dani Stevens.
David Tarbotton and Ron Bendall for Athletics NSW
Images: Deni Knowles and Dani Stevens in her teens and last weekend in London.