Technician or Manager? Coach Model Flawed.

The following views will not be popular.

They fly in the face of nearly 100% of previous decisions when appointing a coach.

Nevertheless my personal view is the formula is broken. Boards and executives are either in denial or plain dumb when it comes to appointing coaches to lead their clubs. Given the sycophantic involvement of part-time boards and the never-ending revolving door of industry executives the chances of radical change is remote. In fact the current leaders of the industry will not even concede the formula is broken because they firstly do not know an alternative exists and secondly do not have anything to measure their decisions on.

If coaches endure their tenure long enough and win a premiership or two along the way (after all someone has to win them), clubs immediately think the current model is right. It’s terribly narrow-minded thinking.

Currently coaches are appointed because they were either former great players from successful clubs or have been highly rated assistant coaches. Neither of those two experiences have the slightest correlation with the reqiuirements to be a successful leader, manager, coach. In fact it is my view that the former is completely irrelevant and the latter – whilst seducing – is equally fraught with danger.

The key components to be an astute and competent assistant coach are attention to detail, data analysis, technical competence, tactical nous, opposition evaluation and player development to name a few. In summary a football “technician”. On the other hand the traits of a successful coach are people management, devising and managing  strategy, leading cultural change, entrepreneurial thinking, delivering breakthrough performance, dealing with confrontation, decision-making and leadership. In summary a “manager”.

The technician stays involved in his craft; data, tactics, information and it’s usually at the expense of what he is not competent or experienced in – people, leadership, culture, management.

So many of the rookie and inexperienced coaches within the AFL think the game revolves around strategy and tactics, game plans and structures. They pay scant regard to people, culture, leadership, attitude and effort standards. It’s understandable because it’s all they know – it’s effectively their world.

They have never hired anyone, fired anyone, devised and driven a business plan, directed a groundbreaking organisational or industry strategy or led significant cultural change. Nor should they have. They went to school until 18yo, got drafted, played to 32yo, appointed as an assistant coach, learn on the job until relative competency for 4-8 years and then become a senior AFL coach in the premiership business, leading 50 players, 75 staff, $20M budget and expected to deliver success. 

Illogical, irrational, ridiculous. 

The problem is this; if everyone is from that background SOMEONE has to succeed. Every year a team is premiers and they have a coach who has come through the aforementioned system.

I’m going to say something and you are not going to like it. There are MANY executives out there who would make a much better fist at coaching your club than the incumbents. I find it inexcusable that former players without any prior coaching experience are appointed and let me make this clear, being an assistant is not coaching. Outside management and leadership experience should be mandatory.

Until we adopt more of the overseas coaching/manager models we will continue to flounder and appoint former players that are utterly out of their depth and competency. 

Unfortunately I cannot see a club with the gonads to break the mould and revolutionise coaching as we currently know it.

As such, expect more of the frightful experiences some coaches are going through such a Justin Leppitsch.

14 thoughts on “Technician or Manager? Coach Model Flawed.

  1. The Hawks have been very fortunate that Clarko has been able to grow into this kind of role (though he is an ex teacher and does have an MBA) where he acts more as the CEO of the on field activities of the club, and appoints specialists into those roles you outline above. It has been successful because his deeds in the past have allowed him the flexibility to provide a framework for his delegates to work within. So far, we are yet to see a rookie coach have the confidence to provide this higher level co-ordinating role, but there is probably an argument to suggest Don Pyke is doing so.

    In any case though, this was a great read Grant.

  2. Totally agree Grant. The system is flawed. Players live in insestuous industry, have never worked a 9-5 job, they have never coached, never run a business, do a “mickey mouse” level 4 coaches course and suddenly, they are rattling off cliches … “the group been resilient, the galvanised group…. ” we’re not getting in front of ourselves”. It’s frightening some of the cardboard cut-outs the game is producing.

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