What I Know at Seventy That I Wished I’d Known at Thirty – Relative to Coaching

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

By David Parkin
AFL Coaching Ambassador 

Be yourself

Whilst we are often the sum total of the people, including coaches who have influenced us significantly, you should not mimic others. We must remain true to the values and behaviours which are integral to our character and personality.

John Kilpatrick, my fitness advisor at the Hawthorn Football Club, visited me during my first year of senior coaching at Subiaco WA. On his departure, his succinct advice was “stop trying to be John Kennedy and start being David Parkin”. Quickly I got better, and so did the team.

Understand the motives and drives of yourself and others

Keep asking the three basic questions of yourself and your players:

  1. Why am I/you here?
  2. Where am I/are you going?
  3. How will I/you get there?

It’s the best platform for building empathetic relationships and working to achieve mutually agreed outcomes.

These conversations, with both support staff and my players, in relation to both their on and off field commitments, became a key factor in my coaching life.

If it ain’t broke – smash it!

Sounds a stupid philosophy, especially if you and your teams are having success. Too often the attitude is focussed on just repeating what we have done well previously. There is always a better way of doing tomorrow, what we have done effectively today.

If you just repeat tomorrow (especially in Australian Football), what you did successfully today, someone will add something different and better, which means all you can do is come a good second. Challenge your staff and players to provide those new and better inputs.

Leadership competencies and emotional intelligence are both learned

Choosing your parents well does have significance, but whilst it may assist, it’s not fundamental to developing strong leadership or emotional intelligence. Both these personal attributes are a direct result of your experiential pathway.

It is though, critical to provide those who aspire and exhibit potential to lead, the opportunities to take responsibility and become accountable for their own and others performance.

Along with effective leadership, emotional intelligence usually takes decades of life’s learnings to become a powerful individual attribute.

Great leadership

Whilst there are a myriad of factors which underpin effective leadership (much research into and a multitude of publications about), three critical components have become evident to me:

  1. Real passion for the outcome (what I term ‘professional will’) is required for your leadership to be really effective. People must see, hear and feel your genuine emotional commitment to achieving the task. Without that you are nothing!
  2. The best leaders really care about their people in a holistic sense. That is, an interest in and concern for them, well beyond the role or position they are employed to do. Football, like most institutions/organizations, is a people business, and that element must be your key focus.
  3. Having a flexible approach or style to the role, is another crucial element.  Leadership is situational specific. Your ability to understand the circumstances, the person or people you are dealing with, and acting appropriately is extremely important. To say, this is my personality, experience and leadership style, and apply it to all people in all places at all times, is fundamentally flawed.
Teams and Teamwork

An essential element of good coaching is developing team oriented attitudes. This needs to be evident in your behaviours, and continually reinforced and affirmed in others.

The critical attitudes centre on two basic inputs. Team members need both a ‘with’ and ‘for’ orientation.

  1. A ‘with’ person does what they are supposed to do, when they are supposed to do it – all the time. From this, they build a predictability about their performance, and in the finish – trust. Trust is the foundation block of all teamwork. Without it, effective, consistently high performing teams can’t exist.
  2. A ‘for’ person not only is accountable and responsible for their own performance, but constantly makes sacrifices for their teammates’ benefit

It’s vital that both these team orientations are reinforced/affirmed for individuals, as often as circumstances allow..

Learn to Engage

Most coaches are very good at telling. Effective communication starts with real engagement with others. Become an expert in asking good questions. Get better at listening to, and really hearing the answers to your questions. Then do the crucial thing of acting upon the replies you receive from your questions.

Become an Expert Teacher

All coaches are teachers in reality. It’s not just a matter of instructing i.e. showing how, but a real two way process, with the learner (player) being the key focus. As Al Clarkson would recommend, know what ‘fun’ really is for the learner. Whether it’s an Auskick or AFL player, it assists you to set up an appropriate learning environment for all those involved. These well structured environments can then satisfy the basic reasons for the participants being there, however they define ‘fun’.

Understand the theories of how people learn, and the difference between teaching techniques and game sense. If possible, take courses in teaching pedagogy. The competencies learnt are very transferable across numerous vocational pursuits.

Manage well

Another very important set of competencies, required by the coach at all levels, is the skills of management.

  1. Plan and prepare stringently
  2. Be ultra organised
  3. Review and evaluate whatever is possible
  4. Measure and validate what you can
  5. Provide immediate and accurate performance feedback constantly
Stay balanced – if possible

My four elements have always included:

  1. Work/Recreate – your employment obligation is balanced with involvement which allow you to recreate in whatever form you love
  2. Mental/Physical – I work out in various ways, almost every day. At the same time, I read about people, their experiences and impacts, almost every day too
  3. Self/Others – Whilst most of my endeavours fulfil selfish needs and desires, I try every day to do something for others who may need my support/encouragement
  4. Stress/Stress-free – I deliberately choose to pursue challenges which place me under reasonable stress levels.  At the same time, I have multiple pursuits which are very meaningful and stress-free.

This article was based on the theme of David Parkin's Keynote Address at the 2015 AFL National Coaching Conference held in Melbourne.

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