Community Coaching Challenges

Thursday, September 03, 2015

By Brad Moore 

Senior Coaching is a very rewarding profession that requires a huge amount of time and mental commitment. The extent of that commitment is often only realised once you are no longer in the position.

Success

To achieve success, or even work towards achieving success, requires a devotion to the cause that only those who have been in the position could understand. 

Not only are you trying to develop game styles and structures, but you are also managing people, players, and assistant coaches. 

Then there is the club as a whole. You are the face of the club and are working to follow the vision of the board as well as having them understand your goals and aspirations in the coaching role.

All of this is being done with success of the team the key to how long you are able to stay in the position of senior coach.

Unfortunately at community level, clubs generally change coaches on a relatively regular basis. It is a rarity for a coach, without success for the club, to remain as senior coach for anymore than 3-4 years maximum.

This is due to the fact that community clubs are very success driven - success being finals and premierships. This is no fault of the club as without success, stake holders (including sponsors) are harder to get on board and without stake holders, clubs are not able to sustain the financial obligations required to field a football team and more importantly, a football team with elite level personnel.

When success is not achieved

So, with all that is required in the role of a senior coach, what happens when success is not achieved in the short term at a community club level?

Firstly, the coach needs to maintain and portray confidence in their role and the goals they had originally set out to achieve when first appointed in the position. If self-doubt creeps in and a coach starts to question him/herself and what they are trying to accomplish, players and committee members will pick up on this and also start to question whether the right person is leading the club.

Coach cannot control what others may think about them, but they can control what they think of themselves and this will determine how a high level of self-confidence in their coaching ability will be maintained.

Secondly, the coach and board need to communicate frequently to ensure both parties are aware of the clubís immediate position in relation to success and, more importantly, to make sure both parties share the same vision and plans to achieve success in the future.

A coach can often feel very isolated when success is not being achieved and the pressure of achieving success can be very stressful when it is not happening. This needs to be identified by both club and coach, and discussions had to ensure the coach can maintain a healthy mental state in order to remain focused on the job at hand.

Finally, the club should review its current position independently and revisit the traits; attributes and qualifications of the current coach, which were the basis for their  initial employment. Always keeping in mind that, at community level, the person in the position is generally a part time employee, juggling a full time job and perhaps family and other personal issues. All of this while committing the time and effort to achieve success for the club and everyone involved with the club.

Generally coaches will always remain confident in themselves and their vision for success although it is not unusual for them to question themselves at times.

It is the second two points that will ultimately decide the fate of the coach, with success being the major factor. Without the success, the coach will likely be replaced in the clubís hunt for success and unfortunately a club can only wait so long.

When replaced as a coach Ė how to respond

So what of the coach? What happens to them once they have been replaced? What happens with all of that time and effort that was put in? Are all of the visions and aspirations never to be realized?

These questions can only be answered by how the coach responds to their replacement as senior coach.

Within the first 24 hours of being informed that they will no longer be the senior coach of the team they had put so much time and effort in, there is a very big feeling of disappointment and even resentment and anger towards those who have made the decision.

These feelings are very natural, as a coach always believes in their ability to turn things around. But if resentment and anger are left to manifest and not discussed openly with those they trust, moving on can be difficult and further coaching opportunities might be missed.

While we are coaching we understand the importance in having mentors to bounce ideas off and to discuss an array of issues with. This allows validation for what we are doing well, and also gives us another point of view from which to look at situations and events that arise during our tenure.

So when we lose our position as senior coach it is just as important to be confident in using a mentor to confide in and discuss the feelings we have towards being replaced as senior coach. This is another perspective to view the situation and assist in reflecting on what has happened, what has been achieved and what the next steps forward will be for the coach.

Support systems

Regional coaching managers are also a great resource to be able to utilize during this time. Not only are they there to give an objective point of view, but they are talking with coaches at all levels and have an understanding of what a coach can go through. They are also in a position to assist with coaching roles/positions at other clubs if that is what the coach wishes to pursue.

At the elite level (AFL) the coaches are fortunate to have a coaches association (AFLCA) through which the wellbeing of all coaches is looked after whether they are currently in the job or have been replaced. It is also a great way of networking with other coaches.

This would be great to have at the community level to allow coaches to establish better relationships with each other and to share experiences, which are very similar within each club. While in the coaching position we have discussions with opposition coaches on the day we are playing but very rarely any more than that and so this type of network of support would be invaluable for coaches. It would allow for stronger relationships to be formed which could provide another avenue for future employment in a coaching position.

As mentioned, the first 24 hours to even the first week can be very tough and emotional for a coach who has lost their position at a club. 

Apart from having others to discuss things with, in this initial period it is vital for the coach to reflect and provide themselves with open and honest feedback as to why they are no longer the senior coach. This will usually lead to the realisation that there may have been things they could have done better or differently, but ultimately the decision that has been made was out of their control.

Staying in the game

Fundamentally, people begin to get involved in coaching as a way of staying in the game. Then the thrill of leading teams and clubs with their own ideas and thoughts about the game as well as developing players and teams to achieve success take over. It becomes a passion.

As long as the coach is confident in themselves and their ability to coach, and realize that decisions made by a club are out of their control, then their passion for coaching should remain. As coaches we instill in our players resilience and the power of bouncing back from adversity. Well, as coaches we need to also instill this in ourselves when a club may not see us continuing to occupy the coach position.

There is a story of a Hungarian Army officer who was one of the top pistol shooters in the world in 1938. His name was Karoly Takacs. He was expected to win the gold in the 1940 Tokyo Olympic Games. Tragically while training in the army, a hand grenade went off in his right hand and his shooting hand was blown off. You would be forgiven for thinking that this would end his Olympic dream however, Takacs was passionate about shooting and so after spending a month in hospital he decided to practice shooting with the hand he had left and he qualified for the 1940 Olympic Games. More set backs were to occur for Takacs. Due to World War II the 1940 and 1944 Olympic Games were cancelled. Takacs did not give up on his passion and continued to practice and eventually competed in the 1948 London Olympics, winning the gold medal and also setting a new world record in pistol shooting. He won another gold medal 4 years later at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics.

Itís the resilience and power of bouncing back highlighted in this story that all coaches need to realise, as coaching positions will come and go for the vast majority. Not many get to determine how long they coach a club for. This decision is often in the hands of others. But if the passion to coach still burns and if the confidence in their own ability remains, opportunities will present themselves.

Brad Moore is a former senior coach in the NEAFL and is currently assisting with the coaching program at the Gold Coast Suns Academy. Brad has been through the experience of being replaced as a coach mid-season.

This article was written as part of the requirement for AFL High Performance Coach Accreditation.

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