Having read Martin Flanagan’s recent article, “Players are the ones who makes games great” where he sides with Shane Warne’s view that coaches are virtually irrelevant for good teams, or possibly any teams. I must say that he does get some aspects of professional sport correct.
He uses the examples of Ronaldo and Shane Warne as two geniuses in their respective sports who did not need, or did not want, the game analytics and game plans to help deliver their skills onfield.
In my time as coach of the Australian Cricket team, Warne and teammate Glenn McGrath were two athletes who had an amazing ability to not only store information in their heads about opposition, events, conditions; but also had the capacity to drag those ‘memory files’ to the surface when necessary in games. I did not see any other players come close to this skill.
So it is only natural that the likes of Warne or Ronaldo would rail against team meetings which involved detail of opposition, game plans and match scenarios as they already have access in their ‘memory banks’ – just let me go and play coach, don’t make it too complicated…..
Coaches like all leaders, managers, business owners want to win, want to succeed so that they can continue to achieve results either on the pitch or grow the bottom line. Those who succeed over the long haul, which is the difference between being a high performing outfit ( intermittent or short term success) and one that strives for high performance (long term success in the market) know that there are a number of key factors to get right.
Flanagan in his article points out one of these – talent.
Good coaches plus good coaching and leadership totally understand this point. No matter how good the planning, the preparation, the team culture, the data analysis, without ‘the cattle’, only moderate performance results can be delivered.
Stakeholders in any sport do not come to watch the coach perform. They come to watch a contest of skill between sets of athletes who are desperately seeking a favourable outcome, while trying to entertain as well.
Flanagan also touches on another important point about team success – leadership culture.
He refers to AFL examples of Luke Beveridge gaining ‘buy-in’ from his squad at Western Bulldogs. He adds Alastair Clarkson too, but rightly alludes to his close working relationship with captain Luke Hodge. And then broadens the sporting context by including the coaching of Bill Belichick of New England Patriots fame, and his close association with allstar quarterback, Tom Brady.
However, herein lies the extent and depth of the article. Either Martin Flanagan was cut short on column space to continue to expand on his agreeance with Shane Warne on the role of players verses the role of the coach in producing outstanding results onfield. Or, neither he nor Shane Warne, really have a grasp on what coaching, leading, managing is all about in professional sport.
Notwithstanding which is right or wrong, Martin Flanagan has provided the kindling for further debate on the subject – a valuable outcome from good journalism.
In a few brief sentences, I would like to expand on the topic of coaching.
1994-95 saw Queensland win its first ever Sheffield Shield after 69 years of trying, coming close on many occasions. It was my first year as coach. I had introduced computer technology for the first time in cricket. The purpose was twofold – to provide far more precise and accurate feedback to the players so that they could become ‘their own best coach’.
And secondly, it was to be more precise and accurate in our opposition analysis. We used the data and vision in a way that gave each player greater confidence in their ability to play at the level we wanted as a team; and was designed to ‘plug into’, not replace all the knowledge, experience and intuition that was abundant in the dressing room.
We wanted to create an environment of learning for players and support staff alike, whether it was hardened warriors such as Allan Border, Carl Rackemann, Ian Healy, Stuart Law, or young emerging players such as Martin Love, Andrew Symonds, Jimmy Maher, Michael Kasprowicz, or Andy Bichel.
Sport is fortunate in some respects compared with business, in that the individual has an absolute passion for what they are doing, and has done, since they were playing sport in the backyard.
Sport also provides regular measures on performance at training, and in games. This measurement in games is all about a result and it comes around every week. In business, such measurement takes a lot longer and generally does not arrive till the annual performance review.
So sports people and teams can ride an emotional roller coaster, unless they can understand that as well as performance or results, what is essential, is that they also have other success measures for their sport and outside sport life. These measures are about understanding their process of success.
Leadership Culture which was mentioned in Martin Flanagan’s article is more than just a very tight relationship between the two principal leaders of a team (captain and coach). It is also about creating an environment where everyone wants to make decisions on behalf of the team according to their roles; be responsible for those decisions; and be held to account to the team for the consequences, good and bad.
The third element to a powerful leadership culture is to scan the horizons for best (world’s best, pending the team) practice in all the systems and processes used by the team. So with Queensland, I overhauled the training system, the information system, the feedback process, the planning system, inclusion of families and so on.
Carlton were also successful in winning the AFL premiership flag in 1995 which sparked a longtime friendship with David Parkin. Apart from the fact that it is always necessary and healthy to talk with people, mentors, coaches from outside your sport or business, David reinforced two things for me.
In 1995 Carlton all jumped on board the “Northbound locomotive”. For the Queensland Bulls in 1994, my vision had been that Queensland should ‘dominate domestic cricket for the next decade’. Having a vision for a group of passionate young sportsmen provides them a direction, albeit in the distance – nonetheless every step taken in the present is a step taken towards the future, which like Carlton’s picture, can help build an unstoppable momentum.
The other factor in Carlton’s 1995 win was that the backroom staff recorded ‘sacrificial acts’ – individual actions on the field that were in the main, not recorded by normal statistics. And even more importantly, if they recorded a certain number of ‘sacrificial acts’ per game, they never lost!
So as coach, the role is to put all these together every day, every week, for every player, and for each selected team.
It is the desire of every coach to find ways of giving the team a competitive advantage before the game starts.
It is the hope that each player has trained and prepared well through the week, so that he or she can just go out and play on the weekend – respond to what each moment requires, again and again.
And come the end of the game, as players & support staff go through recovery procedures, this time marks the beginning of the next week for the coach.
There is increasing evidence of unemployed coaches who have fallen victim to executives who also do not understand the role of the coach, and look only at those amazing athletes performing on their stage.
I have attached a couple of links which may be useful for further insights to leadership, coaching managing.