By Peter Ryan, AFL.com.au
The ninth AFL National Coaching Conference’s raw numbers are impressive. More than 500 delegates, seven keynote addresses, one workshop and 32 concurrent presentations spread over five areas on topics ranging from Positive Psychology to Building a Gameplan to Game Sense Training rounded out a full weekend of football discussion at Melbourne’s Etihad Stadium.
The conference, attended by community coaches and AFL assistant coaches as well as community umpire coaches, is part of the AFL’s commitment to coach education in order to create quality club environments from the elite level to the grass roots.
Such is the reputation it has built in the past nine years (and such is the breadth of topics covered) it is beginning to attract delegates from overseas.
In general terms, the themes were clear: no matter what level of AFL a person coaches they are always learning, off-field culture is critical to on-field performance and everyone from on-field to off-field needs to work smarter rather than harder.
The presenters, most from AFL clubs, were able to pass on their knowledge and suggestions with an appreciation of the limited resources most community clubs operate under.
The attendance of many community umpire coaches was some recognition of their importance in creating a quality football environment. The presence of umpires as presenters - the AFL’s elite were on a pre-season camp at the time of the conference - is sure to be a next step.
The tone was set early with quality presentations on Friday evening from North Melbourne coach Brad Scott and Australian hockey coach Ric Charlesworth.
Scott told the audience he was initially reluctant to speak at the conference, as he didn’t think he had earned the right after just one year as a senior AFL coach. However, his presentation about the pathway he’d taken to become a senior coach showed why he is considered such a promising young mentor.
He provided an informative appraisal of the value he attached to his playing experience, his knowledge accumulation and the environments in which he worked to progress to the job of senior coach. Still the youngest coach in the AFL - by three minutes to his twin brother Chris - the 34-year-old Scott was most impressive.
Charlesworth, regarded by many as Australia’s best sporting coach, threw nuggets to the crowd at every point with his presentation ‘Building a Champion Team’. He explained that his job as coach was to prepare players to make the right decisions and to keep lifting the bar at training. Training, said Charlesworth, was the source of good habits and he admitted he pushed his players hard.
But the lessons weren’t confined to those coaching at the elite level with Charlesworth admitting the most powerful words he could say to players were words anyone could use: “I believe you can do it. I trust you. You are good enough.”
The Friday night set a cracking pace that continued for the weekend. The five keynote presentations from Collingwood’s director of sports science David Buttifant, North Melbourne assistant coach Darren Crocker, AFL Director of coaching Peter Schwab, Melbourne coach Dean Bailey and a panel discussion involving Gold Coast’s manager of list strategy, Scott Clayton, Geelong’s CEO Brian Cook, coaching legend David Parkin and AFL Game Analysis Manager Andrew McKay all provided high quality insights into the game at the elite level and what is required to succeed.
Bailey’s suggestion that all sporting coaches have an influence beyond many others in the community rang true. Holding such a position at any level, he said, was both a privilege and a responsibility. Recognising that fact was why so many gave up their time to talk footy with footy people.
It was that sort of weekend, an annual event growing in stature and one that will surely create better clubs at every level around the country.