By Peter Schwab
Years ago when I was first appointed as an assistant coach of Richmond we had a camp to the Gold Coast. We were lucky enough to have Guy Leech talk to the team. Leech at one stage was Australia’s number one Iron man competitor.
He told a story to illustrate how he viewed team work. In essence he was in a surf boat with a team of others. He was seated near the back of the boat so he had a clear view of the work rate of his fellow teammates as they rowed almost 2 kilometres off shore.
Leech called for everyone to stop rowing and then stood up in the boat and demanded a person in the boat to get out. I could only imagine the look on that man’s face when confronted by Leech telling him to get out of the boat a long way off shore.
“Why?” asked the man. Leech’s response is the key to his view of being part of a team. “If you are going to get in the boat you have to row as much and as hard as everyone else. If you can’t or won’t do it, you don’t deserve to be in the boat.”
It is a good as analogy as you can find. Simply put if you join a team you commit to whatever is required and expected of you to be part of the team, otherwise don’t join in the first place. And if you happen to already be there then you have a choice as to whether you stay or go.
This brings me to the point of loyalty. As a coach you must have a position on loyalty and it will be defined by how you respond to situations where your view of loyalty is tested.
In recent years in the AFL we have seen when a player has announced he is leaving his Club to play with someone else next year and what action his coach took. Neil Craig, then coach of Adelaide when told by his key defender Nathan Bock, that Bock would be leaving to play with Gold Coast the following season, immediately dropped him from the team never to be played again for the remainder of the season.
As coach this was Craig’s prerogative to do this. I am sure Craig’s position on loyalty was well known to his players prior to this situation, and as coach he saw Bock’s action as being disloyal. At a similar time former Sydney Swans coach Paul Roos went on record as saying if any Sydney player announced or if he found out he was leaving to play elsewhere next year then he would also drop him from the team and possibly the Club.
In NFL or rugby league it seems an accepted part of their culture that when a player or coach announces during the season he will move to another club, it does not appear to be of any great concern. It also seems both coach and player continue to give their best effort for their current club.
Currently in the AFL there is speculation about several out of contract players and what they will do. Travis Boak of Port Adelaide is one player in this situation. He is fulfilling the final year of his contract and may leave the Port Adelaide Football Club at the end of the year. Should Boak announce he will leave at the end of the season before the season ends it will force Port coach Matthew Primus’ to reveal his position on loyalty.
Primus may bring it to a head by demanding Boak answer the question of whether he will stay or go. If he wants an answer before the season ends then surely he has already made a decision on what he will do should Boak say he is leaving.
Would Boak be disloyal to Port Adelaide if he announced he was leaving? He may be seen that way, particularly by Port Adelaide people. But this is not the point of my argument.
At this point I would like to return to Leech’s boat analogy. Boak is in the Port Adelaide boat for the 2012 season. He appears to be rowing just as hard and as often as any other Port Adelaide player. He may however be getting out of it after the season ends. So for me there are a couple of issues should any player in Boak’s situation announce he is leaving before the year ends.
As a coach I was a great believer and I still am that in elite sport in particular and even at community sport level, that as a coach you are best to demand loyalty for the season and address loyalty on a season by season basis with those who jump in the boat each year.
It’s an easier way to manage. You know who is with you on a season basis. If you look around you realise all you have is each other and you must commit to each other. Everyone needs to be rowing as hard and as often as they have to in the same direction.
Next year is irrelevant because some people may not be there due to retirement, injury, or they have been delisted or traded at AFL level or simply move on at community level. For me I’d ignore the future when it comes to loyalty and demand it and expect it from each other for the season being played.
For that very reason I would accept a player or person telling me they were leaving once the season was over. But certain considerations would need to be taken into account.
I would make a decision based on two factors. The first is they would need to show their commitment to the team and club in the current season and never waiver in that commitment if they were to stay and play.
Secondly I would need to decide whether it was still worth them playing for the team regardless of their commitment.
On this second consideration a lot has to do with where the team is placed on the ladder and whether the player would be holding up the development of another player who would benefit from playing and would be around for the following season, and hopefully the foreseeable future. If I felt the exiting player would stifle another’s development then he would not play.
However, if the player is integral to the team’s and club’s success in the current season and they will help the whole team and club possibly win finals or even the Grand Final then I would play them. I would not want to ruin the opportunities of everyone else by not playing them.
And if the player’s commitment deteriorated (they stopped rowing) at any stage then it is an easy decision, you drop them from the team and quite possibly the Club (kick them out of the boat), but only on that basis, not because they wouldn’t be there next season.
All this shows just how challenging the coach’s role can be and how critical it is for any leader to have a position on loyalty and a position that is clear to their players, staff and organisation.