Manchester 2002 Commonwealth Games lawn bowls team member Gary Willis has been named the successor to Steve Glasson OAM for the position of Bowls Australia National Coach, following the latter’s resignation last week.
Willis, previously the National Assistant Coach, brings a wealth of coaching experience to the role, which oversees the sport’s national High Performance program and all squads known as the Jackaroos, having been recognised twice as the national Coach of the Year, in 2018 and 2020.
The position comes after multiple decades of dedication to the sport Willis loves, having himself been a member of the Australian Jackaroos squad from 2000 to 2002, making his debut for the green and gold as an ACT representative in 2001.
Following strong form in the 1999 Multi-Nations Championships in Zimbabwe, where he won gold in the men’s pairs and a silver in men’s fours, he was rewarded with a spot in the national team and eventually men’s cap number 113.
Arguably the highlight of Willis’ playing days come in 2002, when he was selected to participate in the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, where he competed valiantly in the men’s fours.
His international career ended following Manchester but he would continue to ply his trade, claiming gold in the men’s pairs at the 2004 Champion of Champions and state championship success in NSW in 2013 in the men’s triples.
From his playing days he transitioned seamlessly into coaching, and quickly gained recognition within his home state, as he elevated himself into one of the best tacticians and mentors in the country.
Willis would coach the NSW women’s state team, men’s team, the Sydney Lions in the Bowls Premier League (BPL), in addition to his former role as NSW National Training Centre Coach, which led to the National Assistant Coach appointment.
He began with the Jackaroos in a minor coaching role during the 2012 World Championships in Adelaide and again at the 2016 event in Christchurch.
His milestone successes as a coach have included leading the Lions to its first BPL title in 2014, and taking New South Wales to the title in the men’s and overall trophy honours at the 2019 Australian Sides Championships.
Over time, Willis has become an integral part of the Jackaroos set up, helping to instil the team-first ethos and humble culture of the national squad that saw gold medals in five disciplines, as well as an additional two silvers at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.
This led to his first national Coast Coach of the Year award in 2018, one which he shared with fellow coaches Steve Glasson OAM and Kelvin Kerkow OAM.
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Willis achieved his first award while still playing, as he took home a third straight New South Wales State Number One Pennant title in 2019.
The form continued as the 46-year-old was again given the honour in the most challenging of years that was 2020, thanks to his success in guiding his state’s open, junior and over-60 teams, while continuing to build a strong culture.
BA President Bob Boorman expressed his confidence in Willis’ appointment, stating that his pedigree will hold the Jackaroos in great stead.
“Gary has shown over his tenure as National Assistant Coach that he has the capabilities to lead the team, he has established strong relationships with the Jackaroos and we look forward to seeing where he can lead the total High Performance team,” Boorman said.
“His exceptional coaching success at state level gives us the greatest of confidence that Gary is the right man to take us to the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and beyond.”
Willis said he was appreciative of the appointment and is humbled by the overwhelming support from BA.
“I am honoured to be given such a wonderful opportunity and I would like to thank the BA Board, CEO Neil Dalrymple and President Bob Boorman for their ongoing support,” Willis said.
“No one will ever replace Steve (Glasson) and i am determined to work with the team to maintain and build on the legacy that Steve has created with our staff and athletes over the last ten years for the BA high performance program.
“It is such a challenging time around COVID-19, but the program will remain athlete-focussed and I aim to continue to instil our culture of support and wellbeing, which is certainly a combined team effort.
“I look forward to leading the squad to the World Championships and the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and beyond.”
With thanks Bowls Australia.