Insights from the mind of John Horan

This week we seek some insight into Head Coach, John Horan, or as the team would say, Jo-Ho.


John was first introduced to ultimate at high school in 1999. He was on the cross-country ski team when a new teacher arrived who started an ultimate team. We could say Nikki Shires (co-coach of the Australian Mixed Team) is responsible for a lot as she was that teacher. In the first year of the team John was using ultimate as cross-training for skiing, but by the time the second year rolled round he was using skiing as cross-training for ultimate. One of John’s early teams was Team POV, made up of Year 9 students whose uniforms were classics of that era – white cotton shirts which had POV painted on them with fabric paint. Team POV had great cheers and played terrible Frisbee.


After a few ACL reconstructions, John turned his interest to coaching. The first all-female team he coached was Factory from Canberra in 2009. He has also coached men’s and mixed teams, including Kaboom from Canberra for WUCC 2010.


What’s the biggest challenge in coaching a women’s team relative to a men’s or mixed team?

Being unable to jump into a game and demonstrate via playing how I want something done.

I get asked this question all the time and people expect me to talk about the emotional aspects or mood management but all teams have those issues – in some ways a women’s team is easier because they acknowledge the issues whereas men like to pretend they don’t exist.


Why did you take on coaching the National Women’s Team? What are you trying to achieve?

I initially didn’t want to coach a National Team as my interest is in coaching “big stuff” that I didn’t think worked within a training camp environment. But after working with STBAU from Melbourne for their WUCC2014 campaign I realised that it was possible to develop the technical skills I was interested in through a campaign-style program. Fundamentally I just really, really hate bad ultimate and saw a chance to lift the standard across the whole women’s division in Australia. For WUGC2016 my goal is to close the technical gap with the USA and Japan, or at least give the tools to close the gap by WUGC2020. That’s why we have had such a long campaign – our first selection/training camp was in May 2015. In some areas we have achieved this and in others we need more time or more people involved.


So you’re interested in coaching the 2020 team then?

It’s not part of my current plan – ideally I want to be obsolete – I want to put systems in place that the technical skills are being taught through clubs in Australia and I don’t need to be continually involved.


At a personal level what were you hoping to get out of the WUGC2016 campaign?

My life outside of ultimate is very individual – I spend most of my time skiing. Being part of a team is awesome but my lifestyle is incompatible with playing on a team, so this gives an opportunity to be part of the team experience without compromising my lifestyle.


So where do you get your money from?

I’m bankrolled by the Australian Women’s Masters Team Coach, Pete Hemphill.*


Is that why we’ve had our last two training camps with the Flying Foxes (the Women’s Masters team)? Because you’re under Pete’s thumb?

(laughs) Pete wishes


At one of the Firetails selection camps some of the players were made to run 80 shuttles to close out the day. What’s the most sadistic thing you’ve ever inflicted on a team?

I’ve done stress testing with a few teams – particularly teams with low skill levels and I’ve broken them. When I was coaching Kaboom we didn’t really understand much about fitness and some of the sessions we did were simply designed to inflict pain rather than being good fitness work.


Is Jo-Ho your favourite nickname?

(grimaces) No, I prefer variants on Bags – my favourite two being Mr Bags or Bagsathon


You like to make out that you are a constantly angry man but I don’t believe that. What makes you happy?

Skiing, climbing and very occasionally ultimate.


So moving onto the actual tournament part of the campaign… I hear you made a commitment to be the least chubby coach at worlds. How’s that commitment going?

Hmm, not so well. Maybe we should move on…


Ok, I also heard you were planning on wearing a suit on the sidelines at worlds is this true? And if so, where are you going to get your suit from?

Yeah, we did talk about it at one point but I’ve gone off the idea. If I do wear a suit it will be the one I bought from an Op-Shop in Wangaratta the day before Nationals this year, for a wedding I attended that weekend.


What are you most looking forward to at Worlds?

Well there’s two things – firstly seeing the Firetails play against the best teams in the world, competing with them and potentially beating them. And secondly – it being over! One of the biggest risks to this campaign is that I might do something to stuff it up – and once it’s over that risk no longer exists.


Who’s your favourite Firetail?

(no hesitation) Hannah Monty **



* Pete & John run ThePowderProject (, and less interestingly John does something resembling a legitimate job for Pete’s environmental consulting company.

** This was later revoked after John found out Hannah had never had a tapeworm. We know Miki Dignam is really his favourite due to her ability and willingness to frequently sing songs from musicals like Oliver.

*** In case you haven’t seen it already this is worth a look


Interviewed by Rachel Grindlay & Michelle Phillips