2014 National Coaching Conference Reflection

Friday, February 21, 2014

As we move into the new football season and produce our first community newsletter for the year, it is worth reflecting on what we have done in the off-season to become better coaches in 2014. For some it was to attend the 12th edition of the AFL National Coaching Conference in Adelaide on the first weekend of February.

The AFL 2014 National Coaching Conference took on a fresh new look as the first official AFL event at the iconic  and recently redeveloped Adelaide Oval, fresh from its opening for the Test match and one day game during the summer’s Ashes series. The conference kicked off on Friday night 21st January in the resplendent William Magarey Room overlooking the Torrens River and Adelaide skyline on one side and the surface of the oval from the other.

On behalf of the AFL Commission and Executive, AFL General Manager - People, Customer and Community, Dorothy Hisgrove, welcomed the 400 coaches in attendance, stating that from an industry perspective the coaching conference is held in the highest regard. “In many ways it is a unique event in sport, with the coming together of AFL club coaching staff and community coaches from all levels of the game to present, discuss and exchange ideas for making the game better.“

Adelaide Crows senior coach, Brenton Sanderson, presented the opening keynote address of the conference, sharing his personal journey in football to the current day and the things that have influenced his coaching philosophy and methods. One key observation was about perfection “You can’t get perfection, but if you go hard for it you may get excellence.”

AFL General Manager - Football Operations, Mark Evans, outlined and discussed a range of issues facing the game and coaching at AFL level and their links to community football. Mark’s bigger picture discussion about these issues and their implications was very well received by the coaches in attendance.

Saturday morning promised a very hot day and the privilege of being addressed by key Port Adelaide duo, chairman David Koch and senior coach Ken Hinkley, about their roles in the fundamental re-shaping of Port Adelaide Football Club in 2013. A key feature was a focus on the culture within the club and their messages included “Play brave and get what you deserve”; “Recruit character and you will get talent”; and “Values will beat strategy every day of the week.”

Other keynote presentations included an international flavour. Port Adelaide Head of High Performance Darren Burgess, compared the preparation and coaching in the AFL and English Premier League clubs, based on his recent time in charge of training at Liverpool. Niall Moyna, a Professor in the Centre for Preventative Medicine of at Dublin City University and a long time GAA Coach, offered some comparisons between the Australian and Gaelic Football codes and presented some of the ground breaking research they are involved in, particularly around player monitoring and the value of modified (small-sided) games.  The value of small sided games in training, conditioning and teaching players, including juniors, to really play the game, was reinforced in a number of different presentations during the conference. The international/high performance flavour was further demonstrated by the Australian Opals, World Championship winning coach, Jan Stirling, in her engaging presentation on elite mindsets. Jan used some excellent video material to examine the way in which a number of consistent high performers in different sports and walks of life, including football codes, motor racing, cycling, tennis, golf and neurosurgery prepared and went about pursuing excellence in their training and performance. A key lesson is to “Be a sponge for knowledge and source help from others thinking outside the box. You must lead in the area of continual learning; your mindset with this will influence your athletes.” 

Thirty-three breakout sessions were presented over the weekend. A wide range of coaching and football related topics, including practical sessions on game sense, fitness for juniors, kicking, effective training sessions, talking, anxiety control and body contact were offered. Popular sessions included Coaching Your Club and Building a Game Plan (Peter Schwab – Brisbane Lions), Coaching Ruckwork and Tall Players (Matthew Clarke – Adelaide Crows), Coaching Stoppages (Josh Carr - Port Adelaide), Presentation and Communication for Coaches (Michelle Cowan – South Fremantle), Coaching Defence (Peta Searle – AFL Vic Women’s Academy), Body contact for Junior & Youth Players (Les Fabre), Running Patterns in the Game (Adrian Fletcher - AFL Queensland), Developing On-field Leadership (Mark Bickley - Adelaide Crows) and Effective Training Sessions (Stan Alves).

A number of sessions also focused on the conference sub-theme of inclusion, aimed at demonstrating from a coaching perspective, the ability to create a football environment in which anyone who wishes to participate in game can do so feeling welcome and comfortable. 

A series of AFL snapshots were placed throughout the program to provide short overviews on specific AFL programs or projects and the responsibilities and opportunities for coaches around those programs. The Junior Football Match Program, Women’s Football, International Football and Concussion Management were featured. 

A feature of the 2014 conference was the great work of a number of female presenters including Michelle Cowan, Peta Searle, who presented the key topic of Coaching Defence to a very large audience, Jan Stirling and Jenny Williams.

The Conference dinner remains a highlight with a terrific level of interaction between coaches throughout the evening. SANFL Executive Commissioner Leigh Whicker presented an outline of the history of football at Adelaide Oval and the various periods of development of both the Oval and AAMI Stadium. Participants also enjoyed some light-hearted reminiscing about playing and coaching from conference participants Stan Alves, Adrian Fletcher, Derek Kickett and Robert Oatey.

The conference concluded with AFL coach development program regular presenter and skill acquisition expert Damian Farrow (AIS/Victoria University) leading the audience through a light-hearted look at “What Walt Disney Can Teach AFL Coaches”, reflecting on an approach to the use of systematic training and modern science to develop expertise, innovation and creativity – a fitting finale to a couple of great days “talking footy”.

The AFL National Coaching Conference has continued to evolve since the first edition in 2003. Delegates from all levels of the game from junior football to AFL clubs were able to take away invaluable and immediately useable knowledge from some of the best coaches, practitioners and thinkers in the game.

There is much looking forward to the 2015 conference.

Good luck for the coming season and keep developing yourself to become a better coach.



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