Coaching Reality

Upon appointment as coach to St Kilda in 2001 I immediately set about defining the structure that I believe gives a team it’s best chance of success.
Let’s be clear on one thing, you are in the premiership business – that’s an undeniable fact.

As Club Coach/Manager I oversaw the entire football operation similar to a General Manager within any corporate business. All coaches were put on employment contracts and were seen as managers not assistant coaches. They were all given a portfolio on top of their usual duties. List Management (including recruiting & draft), Contracts (TPP), Tribunal, AFL administration, VFL Liaison etc. Each of these responsibilities were given to an “assistant coach” as part of their personal development and to ensure all decisions were in line with the agreed strategic direction of the football club. We insisted that EVERY duty or decision made that impacted football must be made by the people charged with the responsibility to deliver the success – the coaches.

Of course their normal duties also required their focus such as; player development, tactical and strategic decisioning, opposition analysis, general training drills, player performance feedback, offence & defence management, team meetings, stoppage structures, ball movement and game plan implementation, leadership group involvement etc

We knocked down all walls within the environment and had a completely “open” room policy where all managers worked from work stations giving players 100% accessibility and transparency. We had a few break out rooms for private one on one meetings, selection and planning etc as well as a “War Room” where we devised our plans, plotted against opponents, had our pre-game team meetings and conducted leadership meetings in. We had a player theatre where we conducted video analysis, game reviews and club sessions involving all players on the list.

I actually only took training about 6 times each season. Every session was devised on collective agreement of the managers and implemented by a “coach” who ran the session. We all had roles to perform during training.
The AFL became incensed that we did not have a designated football manager and that Matt “Bundy” Rendell who in their eyes was “only” an assistant coach was our AFL Football Manager. This came about because the AFL insisted that every club had a person who would liaise with them – generally the Football Manager. When they heard we didn’t have a footy manager they insisted we have one, so we appointed Bundy into that position to satisfy City Hall. They were furious. He also oversaw List Management working closely with John Beveridge on draft, recruiting etc. Tribunal was another role he performed. He is forever indebted for the learnings and experiences he gained under that structure where he developed into something more than just an assistant coach.

“Bundy” also was in charge of the opposition and strategic/tactical operations.

It is my view that there can be a significant disconnection between the current Football Manager role who performs some/most of these aforementioned duties and the agreed strategically defined charter undertaken by the coach/manager and his assistants. There is an undeniable tug of war that erupts within clubs, between the Football manager, CEO and Coach. It creates an unnecessary and unworkable environment which confuses staff and creates constraints in the agreed goals. 

Let’s remember, each has a different mandate and in many cases they conflict with each other. Broadly, CEO’s are in the revenue and brand business, Coaches are in the premiership business and Football Managers sit somewhere in the middle trying to juggle the expectations of both as well as provide the necessary information and support required to facilitate the role. It’s a mess in my opinion. Fortunately most footy managers of late only have to deal with recently retired players, or relatively inexperienced coaches so confrontation and challenging of decisions remain minimal – unfortunately results are sometimes commensurate with these structural inadequacies.

Of course there are exceptions to the rule, I am speaking generally here. 
Clearly the experience, talent and skills of ALL of the coaches needs to be significantly raised if they are to assume the responsibilities outlined in the structure we adopted from 2001-2006. You would not be able to appoint a recently retired player without some sort of coaching/manager experience.

Coaching your own team in your own right at senior level would be mandatory. Business or corporate experience would also be a valuable commodity. This would in turn mean that AFL coaches may reach 40 before they would be considered experienced and competent to perform the duty successfully. The upside is the elimination of the stabs in the dark or the dart throwing exercises recently experienced.

Whenever I talk to assistant coaches I get similar messages from them. They cite boredom, have too much time on their hands and are not engaged enough in responsibilities outside players and their development. Training services do not allow coaches to have access to players for long enough periods of time and frankly the players get bored and disinterested if their time at the club is extended. 

Perhaps clubs could look at their existing structures and implement a more rigorous and entrepreneurial regime to future appointments. They may avoid some of the dilemmas we are currently seeing and would definitely provide a more sustainable, enriching experience for coaches within a currently stale environment. We are habitual creatures and the AFL is no different. Time to be brave and reposition, relaunch some traditional structures?

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