This lesson was highlighted during the Australian Cricket Team’s Ashes tour of England in 2005. We had a very experienced group of players, a team that was expected to continue its winning ways against the old foe. I had a new assistant coach for the tour, Jamie Siddons, who had replaced my previous assistant, Tim Nielsen. I had encouraged Tim to leave the team to broaden his coaching credentials so that when my time came to leave, he was in a much better position to apply for the job if he chose.
There was also two other key support staff changes that tour including the team physiotherapist and the team Strength and conditioner.
My coaching strategy for the tour was to pull back from the players so I could spend more time being strategic about our preparation, our opposition and about finding tasks and experiences to expand the horizons of the players.
At the same time, I wanted to ensure that Jamie spent a lot of time with the players so that his relationship with each of them, and his understanding of how the team worked, were accelerated. This way, I felt Jamie would be able to replace the role that Tim had played far more quickly. With Jamie, I was going to pull back, make myself redundant – become a coaching mentor. This was to allow him to get to know the players without my interference, without having to look over his shoulder and wonder whether I would approve or not.
In hindsight, my strategy was incorrect. Jamie did get to know the players far better than he otherwise would have, and developed a strong rapport with them by the end of the trip. The players were given great autonomy as I encouraged them to work closely with Jamie and be responsible for themselves.
However, the situation demanded the opposite approach. England was ready to play. They had a bowling attack which was enthusiastic, disciplined, quick and which utilised swing as a key penetrative weapon. We began the series not fully prepared for what lay ahead for a range of reasons – some in our control, some not. It was Ricky Ponting’s first Ashes series as captain, which added an extra added dimension to the whole tour.
So instead of making myself redundant and creating distance between myself and the playing group, I should have made redundancy a low priority and become intimately involved with the players and all the issues they faced. I needed to be ‘in the moment’ with the players and not distracted by the challenging external environment.
I still, however, very much subscribe to the redundancy principle. What I learnt from the whole experience was not about compromising my principles. It was about being very aware of maintaining close contact with the total group so that I could make better decisions about the best mix of coaching principles to be employed.
1. Every coach’s role is to make themselves redundant.
2. Making the athlete ‘their own best coach’, allows a coach to pull back and move towards redundancy.
3. There is a constant process of being redundant, then moving back close to an athlete, then realising when it is time to pull back again.
4. When you make yourself redundant, ensure you still have good rich contact with your athletes so that danger signals to athlete or team can be quickly identified.
5. Redundancy is one of a set of principles, and its priority for implementation will always vary between low and high.