THIS is not an article about the Bulldogs and Trent Barrett, but……
Dean Pay falls on his sword at Canterbury and the name in the frame is Trent Barrett.
Trent Barrett the coach who, when in charge of Manly, didn’t do too great did he?
That is not to doom Barrett to being a bad coach for life. That isn’t the point of this article and indeed, the issue may be sorted by the time you read this. No doubt he’s learned from his Brookvale experience. I actually want him to succeed. His alma mater is the place I was head coach of between 2010 and 2012.
The point I’m trying to make here is the criteria clubs and media apply to selecting anointed coaches. The media (who all seem in unison) talk about Barrett’s skills as an ‘attack coach’ and call on the success he has had with the current Penrith attack and previously, the Sea Eagles attack.
Firstly, to suggest that is all Trent Barrett can excel in would be a fallacy. Also, Buzz Rothfield wrote a column last weekend with a photo suggesting that “Trent Barrett is coaching the Panthers, not Ivan Cleary, who looks more like he’s on a relaxing day off.”
What a load of bunkum.
So, dear clubs and media, here is my offering as to what a head coach actually does….
When you’re the head coach, in most organisations everything in the football department basically revolves around you. If you’re a one or two man band on the side of the community field or the head coach of an NRL club, you can be guaranteed that your day to day job will include (list not exhaustive)…..
Being the one ultimately responsible for the team’s performance
Picking or at least having the final say on the team line up each week
Planning how training will work * (potentially in conjunction with other staff)
Having the final say on tactics and strategy, if not, being the one who determines it entirely **
Dealing with & being the team’s spokesperson with those ‘outside’ the organisation ***
Dealing with the ‘fall out’ of all the above****
You will notice there were several asterisks attached to the above statements, that because we are now going to unpack each one that includes an asterisk!
- Planning how training will work (potentially in conjunction with other staff)
If you’re a community coach then it could literally ALL be on you. You might have time in your life to work it out before the session on a weekday night, but you may also be so strapped for time and ideas that you are working it out in your head on the way to training or, as so many have seen in the past, work it out while your team are warming up! (shameless plug – if you need pre-planned training for any circumstance as a coach including videos head to rugbyleaguecoach.com.au/coach/ )
Now let’s go straight to the other end of the scale, the NRL or Super League head coach.
You’re planning training, at least, at the back end of the week before, if not, a full month or even more in advance. Working under Des Hasler and Matthew Elliott, you knew weeks in advance what training would be from a ‘big picture’ perspective, namely, what time the field sessions were, gym sessions and ancillary tasks a full four to six weeks in advance.
Then of course, you have to work in conjunction with other staff. An NRL or Super League head coach will normally have two or three assistant coaches, a strength and conditioning coach or two (or more) plus sports scientists, video analysts, maybe psychologists and much, much more dependent on budget. There’s also the work to do alongside the football manager who (basically) organises everything off the training or playing field so that the coach can focus on what happens on it.
You can now see how deep and detailed a head coach job can be purely from a human resources perspective when it comes to managing all these off-field people. To give you an idea, each NRL club currently has to adhere to a COVID ‘bubble’ of 50 players and staff. Apparently the Gold Coast Titans head of performance and culture Mal Meninga isn’t in their bubble. So that basically makes Justin Holbrook in charge of the group, you’d assume. In other walks of life, with so many people reporting to him, Holbrook and his fellow head coaches would be considered in the same realm as CEOs, heads of departments etc. That’s why they get paid the big bucks.
So, why would you employ someone in that role only considering if they are good at the Xs and Os of football? It actually doesn’t make sense and probably explains why so many coaches struggle and lose their jobs and why the board of directors are so confused as to why it didn’t work out. They’re assessing too much of the wrong thing.
Also, please don’t get me started on those who pick the talented or influential former players as head coach straight after their playing career finishes and with no coaching experience. That’s like taking a kid straight out of school and making him or her head teacher of that school.
As someone a lot wiser than me once said….”You don’t have to have been a horse to be a good jockey”.
- Having the final say on tactics and strategy, if not, being the one who determines it entirely <
The community coach has to deal with parents or maybe even a local journalist. It’s often the coach that acts as the spokesperson for a team be it in the newspaper, on the radio, online or even at the post match or post season presentations. Someone’s got a problem, they call the coach. You know the drill.
At the elite levels, a coach can expect to front at the VERY least one pre-match press conference and one post-match press conference. Of course the media landscape in England and France is far less intense and competitive than the antipodean equivalent.
In the UK, they’re reasonably lucky in the sense that the speculation cycle isn’t too intense, but down here in Australia, the 24-hour news channels, social media, radio and the like are hungry, thirsty and on the hunt for content and – if you’re unlucky or unprepared – it could derail your week or even worse, the season. You don’t need me to elaborate here, just Google “NRL off-season scandals”
Then once the coach has dealt with the fall-out from the off season, the circus then starts about off contract players. David Fifita is the one currently doing the rounds over here and Anthony Seibold has to try to bat off the questions but also manage someone who is in his squad, to keep him focussed and help him perform at his best.
That then brings me on to agents – a group of people who have received a reasonable percentage of the sports turnover for the last few decades. It’s in their interests to drive prices up for their clients and themselves. Agents and players have been known to tip journalists off (or make stuff up) about other clubs showing interest or how negotiations are panning out with their current club. It’s all a game and the coaches have to play it too.
As long as professional rugby league exists, the players and coach will always be in demand for community appearances, be it a hospital visit, school visit and the like. The coach in conjunction with other staff, has to co-ordinate the players’ schedules so as to not scupper performance.
There are so many things that could come up in this category, that this could be a tale all on its own.
It really is a minefield all this and a lot for the coach to deal with. Another reason why picking coaches based on their perceived tactical nous is ludicrous, if indeed it is the main consideration.
- Dealing with the ‘fall out’ of all the above
The main thing I always say to people about being a head coach is that, if you’re truly invested, you live and breathe the team and its fortunes every waking minute. You’re thinking about all of the above, and more, most, if not, all of the time. It’s extremely hard to switch off. If the pressure torch is applied due to defeats, then this can be even more intense.
Also remember, we’ve not even mentioned recruitment!
The skills and abilities required to be a head coach are numerous and varied. It’s a LOT more than just being good tactically. An awful lot more.
Lee Addison is the Head of Performance for Spain Rugby League but any views expressed in this column are his own. You can find him at rugbyleaguecoach.com.au. He is also offering FREE 4 week training programs for Coaches and Players to help recover from COVID. Please visit the ‘Rugby League Coach’ YouTube page, click subscribe and send a screenshot to firstname.lastname@example.org for your free programs.