In a finger pointing society, why are we quick to blame coaches/managers for the failings for our team’s on field performance?
With the finances involved within the entire sporting landscape it is hardly the fault of just one person. If you look at a professional top league football club you have quite a large number of positions that you could point the finger at. Just a few that spring to mind: Director of Football, Head of Youth Development, Technical Director, Chief Scout, Head of Performance along with many performance and transfer analysts. So as you can see the success and failure of a side is hardly the fault of one person.
We live in a society that is used to instant gratification, where everything we want is right there at our finger tips. Sporting results are not exempt from this and when teams fail to deliver this instant uplifting results then it is the coach/manager that is hung drawn and quartered, and then shown the door and left to lick his wounds. Some coaches/managers never recover from a sacking.
Why do we coach? It’s a question I have asked myself quite a bit. I turned to coaching after I turned 30. I spent my teenage years aspiring to be a professional player, I never made it. Unfortunately problematic knee and ankle injuries made me realise that I didn’t have the body to make it. At that time I was on the cusp of making the 1st grade of a semi professional side. I was only 19 and once the realisation hit me and saw that I had just become a number in the squad that it was time to walk away. My own mother had told me that I was never good enough to play and my own skill never matched my dreams. The injuries I had were probably only minor if I sought the support and correct rehabilitation. Alas I allowed myself to become disillusioned with the sport and chose activities that were so removed from football.
I chose to come back to the sport in my late 20’s and quickly remembered how much I loved it. The passion quickly returned but so did the injuries, a torn hamstring before my wedding, constant swelling of my problem knee. All of these were just war wounds and I proceeded to keep striving away. The year I turned 30 I was asked to play in my local team’s reserve grade to help out with the squad as they were made up of u/21’s. Unbeknownst to me a few weeks into the season and I am captaining the side and filling in for the 1st Grade side. I knew that this would be my last ever season as a competitive player.
Here is a small story of how I became a coach and why.
I had never thought about coaching until during that last year when I was serving a suspension and our 1st grade coach approached me and asked me my opinion on our squad and if I would be his assistant whilst I served my sentence.
I took that and ran with it, I began studying different playing philosophies and I was looking at our squad as individual pieces in a chess game. In that moment I knew I had found my calling, my chance to be apart of the sport I loved.
The following year I was asked to coach a Women’s Div 1 side. The squad at it’s core was a talented one that lacked confidence and drive. To say that there was teething problems would be the understatement of the year. I felt out of my depth in terms of getting my philosophy across, but the main issue was getting the new recruits whom weren’t considered great players to work well among the core group.
We did limp into the finals of that year (Australian Football for those of you not familiar, play a league format where depending on the league size the top 8 or 6 teams play off in a round robin style series to determine the winner for the year) The ladies played hard all year and were unfortunately knocked out in the semi finals. It wasn’t all doom and gloom for my coaching development, Yes my confidence took a major hit and I questioned if whether or not that my tactics actually worked or if my coaching style was sufficient but I took joy in many team and individual performances that would keep the fire and passion burning. Two highlights was watching a new recruit who had never played the sport, but was selected due to her straight line speed score a very unorthodox hattrick – knee, shin and back of the head. My other highlight was that of the Captain. She was a couple of years older than me and was struggling with self doubt, she was an amazing player as a younger woman but now she felt her body giving up. I would try to reassure her and play her in roles where she could still stamp her authority and conserve the toll it was taking on her body – fast forward a few years and she led that very same year to a championship victory. Although I was no longer their coach and can take zero credit for their success, I am quietly proud of them and that they recaptured what I always knew they still had.
After taking a year off I was hungry. Being a fairly new coach in the local landscape it is very hard to get noticed or even offered a team. But then one fell into my lap. A very young team who was entering their first senior year of football. I was told that they were a very talented side and that not much work was needed.
Day 1 of preseason – Imagine for those of you that has seen the original Might Ducks movie, where Gordon Bombay turns up for his first training session of pee wee hockey – kids unable to skate, keeper who couldn’t save a shot, air swings, collisions – This was exactly what I was welcomed with. So the so called talented side had finished dead last in the previous season which was u/18’s and barely scored a goal let alone won a game. So I had my work cut out.
Many team meetings and a very tough preseason (we couldn’t even be given a preseason game) we were ready to tackle the big boys. An opening day 8-1 win blew me away. Wow, was this a fluke? Nope, we followed that up with another two straight victories. After 3 games we were 3 wins, 21 goals for and 3 against. The team that I met that couldn’t kick a ball had completely turned themselves around.
At the conclusion of the home and away season – Played 21 – Won 17 – Lost 2 – Drew 1 – Goals 83 – Against 21 – Pts 55 ——— WE WERE PREMIERS!!!!!! Even just writing this gives me all those feelings once again. The boys who started the season were now men. I couldn’t have been prouder, I still am today. We had created something special that should have carried on.
The next three weeks were the most humbling and heartbreaking of weeks. The sharpest learning curve of my coaching career ever.
After scoring in the first minute of the first game of the finals, We all (Me Included) thought it was a cakewalk. The Premiership/Grand Final double was ours. I was seeing red flags everywhere but the score was still in our favour. We lost that game 6-3, our biggest losing margin all year and the most goals we conceded in one game!! Wasn’t the time to be making negative records.
We trained just as hard as we had always done throughout the season, I was careful not to change a thing. After that stumble in the first game, we were given a second chance to make the Grand Final. The second chance was a tight affair, a narrow 2-1 win in extra time. Our back up keeper making a penalty save in the last minute of normal time to keep us in the match. Still red flags were raised. But it didn’t matter, we were through to the Grand Final. The double awaited us.
Half time in the Grand Final and we are 2-0 down. It’s the same team that put 6 past us two weeks earlier. My stubborn mentality was costing us the game. I switched two players around (In hindsight, I should have done this weeks earlier) I took my centre back and played him higher up the pitch and took my best centre midfielder and put him down back. The next 45 minutes the opposition never touched the ball. We chased every loose ball, attacked and defended like we had all year. 1 minute to go we were down 2-1, awarded a free kick just outside the box. The ball is delivered in, all I know there was a flick towards the keeper, who turned it into the crossbar. The ball speared at such an angle and with no chance of moving hit my player in the shin……….. The net rustles………. Yes we are going to extra time, We have this. They have no answer….
Hang on… Why is the ref signalling the end of the match. The ball hit the side netting.
Why didn’t I make the changes earlier? Why was I so stubborn? Almost 4 years on and I still dream about what could have been. That team broke up after that game. Some because of my coaching methods and some followed me to a higher division where they are still plying their trade to this day. As for me, I currently with a junior team and looking to learn from my mistakes and take them one step further.
So let’s go back to my question about why do we coach?
It’s not a simple answer. I love to see the development and growth of my players. See if I can help them reach the level of play that they want. But come game day, selfishly they are all apart of my chess game. I thrive on the pressure to make the correct decisions and to outsmart the opposition coach. Don’t get me wrong my players will always come first, but I played to win and I certainly wouldn’t coach in a different manner. A win as a coach means players, parents, partners, club all want that happy feeling. As a player as hard as it is I could find the silver lining in a loss if I played well. But as a coach the wins are for the team and everyone associated and the loss is yours and yours only to bare.
All that being said we are too quick to blame coaches/managers. Give them a chance to create magic. It doesn’t always happen instantly. The magic that is developed and nurtured is worth being patient for.
The photos attached. 1. Our premiership award night. 2. The final free kick in the Grand Final 3. The opposition celebrating the win, my best player who I changed to play in defence that changed the game. He was also the player who had the reflex shin hit into the side netting. Those three photos are the reason I will coach for the rest of my life.