SO to tie up the loose end of the last Coach’s Office column…. We won! (read the last one dated July 31 st if you don’t understand).
It’s been a big month for me personally when it comes to coaching and to that extent, it’s helped come up with ideas to share with you in this column.
This week, I want to look at the issue of coaching mind games and motivational moments.
This is inspired by the so called “Bennett and Seibold” feud but also my own coaching and experiences of recent weeks.
There’s a team I used to coach a few years ago and we had excellent success. They are having some difficulty lately and currently sit on the bottom of the ladder without a win. My mates still coach there and I care deeply for the organisation and my mates so I watch how they travel as much as I can.
I started looking for the reasons they might be struggling. One of the reasons is I believe
they’ve started to create too much propaganda about themselves and the players are falling for their own, self-created hype.
Maurice Lindsay, the former Wigan chairman and everything else, used to teach me so much about this when I was a young coach who also worked in the media and marketing department there. He knew I had a desire to go deep into the coaching world so used to embellish me with tales of the Wigan glory days and this tied in nicely because I was in charge of a lot of the information that the Wigan club sent out day-to-day.
He used to basically say that you should never give the opposition something to help them get motivated. Never put a target on your own head. So we used to talk the opposition up and talk ourselves down.
Well basically, my old team have been doing the exact opposite. They’ve been talking themselves up about what they do, in public. Showing off a little bit. But stupidly, they are doing this at the START of the season and it’s all over social media. I can just imagine the fuel this has given to all their opponents. Their opponents will have prepared for a mammoth task when facing them and it would have been all the motivation they would have needed.
Rule 101 of coaching if you ask me… don’t put a target on your own head.
I’ve been the beneficiary of this too. I remember once struggling a little bit for something to give my players before a local derby game where we were favourites. As I was walking to the meeting room to see the players, somebody handed me that day’s local newspaper.
The headline and the story underneath was to provide a script for my team talk!
My opposition coach had spouted off to the local journo about how good his squad was and how they were going to give us a really tough game. I duly read the contents of our local news source to my players and said no more after it. You could hear a pin drop on the bus going to the game. I also arranged for photocopies of the article to decorate our changing room wall.
What followed was one of the most one sided matches I have ever seen. The referee blew the full time whistle a few minutes early when we had reached 100 points and the opposition had yet to score. I could not believe the motivation my team had been provided and still can’t to this day.
There’s an old tale about Wayne Bennett falsifying some ‘tip sheets’ that he said were from his grand final coaching opponent Brian Smith in the early ‘90s. Wayne allegedly slipped them under the players’ hotel room doors the night before the game. True, false, embellished or otherwise, what this teaches us is that nothing motivates a player more than how good his opponent thinks he/she is and how they think you have weaknesses.
This links into my last column somewhat, about the base instincts that our game relies on so much.
Another coach trick you will have seen (sometimes without realising it) is the team sheet trick.
Some coaches don’t play any games at all with their team sheet, others sometimes do.
The most famous ducks and drakes tale of recent memory was the 2018 grand final.
Roosters coach Trent Robinson kept everyone guessing as to whether a partially fit Cooper Cronk was going to play. To cover this up in rugby league, a sport that leaks like a sieve, is almost a miracle!
Why is a team sheet so important? Well, as an opposition coach, if you know that a certain player is playing, you can look to either exploit or counter that said person.
There’s one team I may or may not be coaching against soon and, if they keep playing a certain two defenders on that same edge, then I know where my team will be targeting all sets. They are both OK in attack, these players, but the coach is crazily making them defend together. Both of them are very good at missing tackles and to put them on the same side and next to each other is like manna from heaven for opposition coaches. It’s that obvious I don’t understand why he hasn’t noticed.
So the team sheet will be important ahead of that match! If a coach doesn’t brief his players and those in and around the squad to ‘keep their traps shut’ then this stuff often leaks. It can be the difference between a four-point win and a two-point loss.
My attitude to team sheets in crunch scenarios has been varied, I’ll be honest! Much to the chagrin of administrators and public announcers everywhere!
Once I listed all 30 players in my squad for a grand final and if I remember rightly, it was in alphabetical order too. Other times I have said a player was on the bench and then started him.
Other times, I have genuinely had a different formation. Once I played half a season with a half who also played at fullback in defence. I also used him as my only half which meant I played with four props on the field. The six and seven jersey didn’t fit those extra props so we had to just get players in jerseys that fit them. The opposition coach would not have known what was going on.
You see there are no rules that say you have to have one fullback, two wingers, two centres, two in the halves, two props, a hooker, two second rows and a lock. So it has always baffled me when official governing body team sheets ask you to name someone in those positions. What if a team wants to play with 13 props? 13 half backs?
Personally, I’ve started with no hooker before now and used my second rows on each side to do the dummy half duties. Worked a treat. Also allowed us to play a third prop.
Countless times, my fullback has played as a half, giving me an extra prop. Having more than two props gives a team a great opportunity to get that all important initiative you always hear about in the middle of the field.
Last week my fullback had to play in number 12….we’d left the number one jersey on the floor when we left to go to the ground! I’m sure the opposition thought we were playing mind games…..
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.