INSTEAD of just writing about coaching and footy in general I also still do plenty of coaching, so I’m not just all talk!
I have a young team at the minute and I see them several times a day, both in the gym and on the field.
COVID has ripped through them, with plenty of players WHO come from interstate or overseas having to stay put. When we had that pesky outbreak they were granted leave to go home and spend time with loved ones, for obvious reasons, but some of them haven’t come back for a variety of other reasons.
Nothing bad, just life reasons.
It has left our team depleted but such was our depth we still have plenty of strength and numbers.
We are in that middle ground where, if we choose to work hard, they will get to a semi or final and maybe even win the comp. If they don’t commit to work, then it could be a long season. It’s such a fine margin this year.
As a coach, sometimes you have squads where talent will keep them in the mix all the time, other times you have squads that – no matter how much work they do – will struggle. This squad is right, smack bang in the middle of that, it really is up to them and their effort how far they go.
I got to a breaking point with the team this week. There was a training session that was great but I said to them that their attendance and commitment had to stay at that level. It lasted less than 24 hours. In our next session some players were missing (either late or not to arrive). We were in the circle at the start of training, I saw that some blokes were missing. So I cancelled training and made all players attend an impromptu meeting.
In the meeting I asked them to articulate what needed to change for us to be the best version of ourselves. I put it squarely on them and said that if I wasn’t getting the commitment I needed they could sit in meetings when they should be in the gym and on the field and they could go into round one under prepared.
The players, almost to a man, said…
Some people weren’t pulling their weight;
A few individuals were made to realise that their efforts were impacting others, not just
There was a ‘perceived hierarchy’ in the group and that those who were meant to be role
models weren’t doing it very well;
They said they needed discipline, attendance, team work and work ethic in order to succeed.
What I didn’t know or plan for was that, overnight, after our cancelled session, they got in touch with each other via phone and social media to rally round and start the next day fresh. The session the day after was the best for a long, long time.
As I’m writing, time will tell if it’s a false dawn or the start of a new era of focussed training. What does remain though is what the boys all thought needed to change. What mattered.
What matters in this sport are things like……
1) Constant commitment to your task;
2) Mateship, doing it for your mates;
3) Togetherness/shared endeavour;
4) Team first (no egos);
5) Working as hard as possible;
6) Doing point five every time you train.
Different coaches will have different terms for the above, but essentially the message is very similar.
I remember Ricky Stuart talking about ‘Want and Care’ or essentially “how much does a player want it?” and “how much does a player care?”.
A read of Wayne Bennett’s books over the years also talk about similar messages that, on face value, sound quite generic but actually mean so much. Des Hasler is huge on “1 percenters” – those are a lot easier to do if you have the desire, the want and care to do them. I could go on and list several coaches from several eras and several sports.
I found it very interesting that, when given a chance to be honest with each other and share whatthey felt we were lacking, my team basically gave the answers that you’d also hear from seasoned campaigners.
When I think of grand ginal winning teams of past years, it always seems to be the team that goes the extra mile for each other that reigns supreme. When you have two teams that do that, you end up with epic finals or memorable moments that turn a game, last years’ NRL grand final a case in point. As I write, both Hasler and Stuart got their teams over more fancied opposition this last weekend despite recent poor form. It was vintage Manly under Hasler and Canberra under Stuart, backs to the wall, everyone digging in.
For over a century, our sport has been the most brutal, up there with the fighting sports
such as boxing. As a result, when the players play, it doesn’t pay to fill their heads with too many tactical or technical things. A players’ ‘flight or flight’ response is on show and survival instincts kick in. Let’s face it, you’re essentially carrying a ball against 13 people who want to hurt you. Einstein would have trouble processing lots of information in that environment.
To me, its one of the reasons that Wayne Bennett and Jack Gibson have been premiership
accumulators over the last few decades. Gibson once said “kick it to the seagulls” to Peter Sterling in a tense grand final dressing room. When Sterlo went out and saw all the seagulls camped out at one end of the Sydney Cricket Ground, he knew what it meant. Bennett, when his St George Illawarra team was down at half time in the decider to the Roosters, apparently said “Can you play like the Dragons in the second half, please?”
In my own coaching career, there are a few examples I can use where I’ve channelled that kind of approach. I used to just tell James Tedesco to ‘Let it Flow’ before each game. What that meant was, I just wanted him to unleash what he had on the opposition (I just asked him to reduce the chip kicks in our own half). His team-mates got a lot more information from me pre match. With another one, Matthew Groat (formerly of Wests Tigers), I had to push some other buttons. I once told him that David Klemmer bashed him around the park the last time they played each other. It would be enough for Groaty to go out and be the best forward on the field in a crunch game.
I had another player a few years later up in Queensland who could tear the top opposition in the competition up all on his own, I just unleashed him off the bench when the opposition forwards were tired and he would create all manner of havoc. But could he defend? Not a chance. Didn’t know where to stand half the time, never mind follow a defensive structure. To that end, before each game, I’d remind him that he had to stand 10 metres back when the opposition had a play the ball and that kind of thing, but in attack he could “do what the (insert expletive) he wanted”. He appreciated that and flourished.
The key is simplicity of instruction for players to be able to carry out under pressure. Of course, there’s an awful lot more to it that that but it’s a superb starting point and should thread through everything a coach does. One of the best managers ever to coach the round ball game once said: “there’s no room for confusion in my dressing room.” Also, more famously, when one of his players was going through all the permutations that could happen during a free kick in training, Brian Clough famously responded “I pay you to shoot, son”.
On the current professional circuit, your Roosters, Raiders, Sea Eagles, Panthers and Storm all seem to have that well learned and rehearsed simplicity to what they do under pressure. It also gives an indication as to why the Broncos are seemingly the exact opposite.
No doubt in the weeks to come I will elaborate on that “rehearsed” part of the coaching process. That’s a topic all on it’s own.
But for now, I go into Round One this week expecting not to coach too many ‘X’s and O’s’. I’ll be reminding them of the simple things that they said were important and holding them to account in that regard.
Can you think of a struggling NRL coach who should be doing something similar?
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.