Ingrid Dunkerley: from Elite Athlete to FIG Accredited Coach

Ingrid Dunkerley is no stranger is to success.  Along with teammates Annelise Olsson and Melanie Byrne, she is one of Australia’s most successful Acrobatic athletes, with their Women’s Senior Trio finishing 5th at the 2012 Acrobatic Gymnastics World Championships.  In the same year the Trio secured the bronze medal at the International Cup in Belgium, and were selected to compete in the 2013 World Games in Colombia – the ‘Olympics for non-Olympic sports’ – but after reaching all the pinnacle events of their sport, the Trio decided to hang up their leotards.

For Dunkerley though, she was back in the gym the day after she returned to Australia from Colombia.

“It’s my home and I love being in there…I couldn’t think of not having it as a part of my life,” Dunkerley said, reflecting on her transition from her role in gymnastics as an international competitor to part time coach.

Her commitment and passion to the sport is likely one of the factors that has made her such a high achiever.  As a coach she is just as motivated as she was as an athlete, topping the class along with 2012 MAG Olympian, Josh Jefferis, with 97% at the FIG Level 2 Academy Coaching Course held at the Australian Institute of Sport in December, the first course of its kind to be held in Australia.

Dunkerley has an extensive background in gymnastics, partaking in both the WAG and Acrobatic National Stream programs at her club, Gladesville RSL Gymnastics in Sydney, before transferring over to the Acrobatics International Stream in 2009.

However even as a young gymnast, Dunkerley was also involved in coaching.

“I started coaching when I was about 14, just with recreational and lower level WAG gymnasts,” she explained.  “I first got my WAG accreditation and then my Acrobatic accreditation, and [from then on] I coached mainly Acrobatics.  In 2009 when I went into the International Stream [as an athlete] I didn’t have time - I was training all the time! - so I stopped coaching between 2009, and then towards the end of 2013 I picked it up again, and I began coaching our high performance stream with my coaches, Agnes Sajgal and Mia Romano.”

For Dunkerley, a lot of the lessons she learnt as a gymnast, particularly during her time training and competing as an elite athlete, stood her in great stead for when she turned her focus to coaching.  She says that she and her coach Agnes (fondly knows as Agi) – a Hungarian former world-level Acrobat – had a great two-way relationship.

“At the start of my international career… I said ‘I’m ready, give me the challenge,’ and she came back and said ‘this is the challenge, and this is how we’re going to do it’.  I think we worked really well as a team, the three of us athletes and Agi as our main coach…we worked as a team to get the best success we could.”
Before contesting World Games in Colombia in 2013, Dunkerley, Olsson and Byrne all decided that it would be their competition swansong.

“It’s funny because after we finished in Colombia…both my other Acro partners were quite reluctant to come back to the gym,” Dunkerley recalled.  “We decided before we went that this was going to our last competition, and they met that goal and that was it, that was what wanted to achieve.”

“In terms of the coaching, I had always coached,” Dunkerley continued, “and it’s funny in Acrobatics, because it’s a team sport, but just naturally there’s going to be someone in that group of two or three or whoever your working with, who’s going to take that leadership role, and I think even from when I was a young Acrobat at 14 or 15, I was always in that leadership position.  With my Senior Trio I had a lot to do with training my top and coaching her on handstand work.  It is a team effort of course, but I think that’s always been in me and the coaching at teaching.”

Coaching and teaching seems to be something that is an inherent part of Dunkerley’s mantra.  The University of Sydney graduate, who holds both a Bachelor of Applied Science (Exercise and Sports Science) and a Masters of Nursing, as well as working Monday to Friday as a scrub nurse in surgery, also teaches Acrobatics six days a week.

“I coach the high level Acrobatics at our club four times a week…and then I teach Acro at a couple of dance schools on Wednesdays and Fridays…so I’m pretty busy!” Dunkerley explained.  “I work about 50 hours a week, but I’m used to a busy schedule so it doesn’t bother me.”

“I’ve been a dance teacher in the past and coached gymnastics and [also been an] Acrobatics all fits. I’ve just learnt so much in my time as an athlete.  2010 was my first international competition at World Championships - it wasn’t the best for us in terms of outcome, but we learnt so much and…I wanted to be a part of it and I wanted to bring back all of the things that I learnt from my international experience and pass it on to all of the kids in my club.  I always had people I looked up to in my club, for years and years I was a national stream athlete and there were the ‘big girls’ that you look up to, and then I became that and that was a dream come true.  Now I can pass that on to other people.”

A busy life as an international athlete and then a work schedule heavily laden with commitments seems to work well for Dunkerley.  And like with all other aspects of her life, Dunkerley threw herself into the FIG Academy Course when she attended in Canberra – once again with an incredibly successful result.
“The FIG course has been fantastic - it’s basically my whole university degree in one week!” she laughed.  “It’s basically been gymnastics-orientated university in a week, as well as learning from two incredible coaches with an amazing wealth of knowledge behind them.  Lourenço (França) and Yuriy (Stepchenko) are both incredible technicians and…it’s great to reinforce that what I’ve been coaching and that what I’ve learnt from my coach Agi is pretty much on track.  There’s not been too many ‘ah ha’ moments where I’ve thought ‘oh that’s not what I’ve been doing’, but at the same time there’s probably a thousand drills and technique issues that, in combination with the theoretical lectures, that I’ve gone ‘ah ok that’s so why this works’ or ‘I’ve been teaching this drill so that makes sense as to why this works now.’  Lourenço and Yuriy have both been fantastic in educating us in the skills and development of the sport.”

So with 97% in the first-ever FIG Level 2 Academy Course held in Australia, what’s next for Dunkerley?

“Well, the Acrobatic World Championships works in a two year cycle so we have a World Championships this year which we [Gladesville RSL Gymnastics] have two women’s pairs competing at.  The five year plan is to have our high performance program develop more, and after this week [at the FIG course] …I’ve got a few ideas I want to take back to our club.  There’s also a lot of skill development and preparation process that I would like to put in place so that maybe in two years instead of two groups we have five or six groups qualifying for the World Championships.”