The Coach as a Leader
Australian Boomers Assistant Coach Luc Longley was aggrieved, probably still angry and bitterly disappointed. Yet he spoke calmly in his observations that Philippines Head Coach, Chot Reyes, incited the violent brawl in the Boomers V Philippines match and laid the blame pretty closely at his feet.
Whether this is true (and there is some evidence to say Reyes at least encouraged a physical approach from his players), it brings into focus the role the coach plays as a leader. Too often we get drawn into the hyperbole of coaches as ‘tactical geniuses’ and the importance of structure and forget what the role of the coach really is – to develop people.
Jean Cote and Wade Gilbert explored what effective coaching was in their 2009 paper ‘An Integrative Definition of Coaching Effectiveness and Expertise’. Succinctly, this centred around three things – Coach Knowledge, Athlete Outcomes and Coaching Context.
Coaches need a level of professional knowledge, that of tactics and skills of the sport. But to be effective they must complement this with interpersonal knowledge(knowledge of and engagement with others) and intrapersonal knowledge(knowledge of self).
A slow shift in coach education recognises the need to provide coaches with the tools to develop interpersonal and intrapersonal knowledge. Self-awareness and Emotional Intelligence are two key areas which, pleasingly, are starting to infiltrate into some mainstream coach education programs.
So, getting back to Reyes. How self-aware was he? Did he have the intrapersonal knowledge to understand what ramifications his instructions might lead to? Did the situation of the game cause his emotions to boil over? Perhaps we’ll never know, but his instructions to ‘hit somebody’ demonstrate a lack of effective leadership and awareness around the impact of his decisions.
When we look at Athlete Outcomes it centres around the 4 C’s – Competence, Character, Confidence, Connection.
At this elite level it is fair to assume most coaches are able to influence an athlete’s competence, that is their ability to play the game and improve. But it would seem only the great coaches can positively influence the character and confidence of their players and a sense of connection within the team.
Recent example? Darren Lehmann fell on his sword after the ‘Sandpaper Gate’ drama in South Africa. From afar you would have to question his capacity to develop the character of certain players.
Culture and character go hand in hand and with this example it was clear that mistakes had been made or at the very least behaviours were excused. How else could players get to that point and think what they were doing was ok? With more effective leadership and the education to help the players also develop self-awareness it’s possible a different outcome may have resulted.
It ain’t all bad though. Brad Fittler recently banned phones in the training environment for the State of Origin series in order to develop relationships and greater connection between players and staff. 2-0 up in the series says he has done something right – perhaps this level of interpersonal knowledge was just what the team needed.
Richmond Football Club won last year’s AFL Premiership off the back of one important word – connection. Check out this article from July last year (eight weeks before finals) for evidence of what was to come. Famously the club engaged in their HHH Sessions last year – Hardship, Hero, Highlight in order to strengthen the emotional connection of the group.
Coaching is hard at any level. If we were to analyse what needs to be developed within the areas of Coach Knowledge and Athlete Outcomes we have a painstaking task ahead of us. Coaches should be supported and applauded (mostly) for the work they put in.
The vision from the Philippines demonstrates how literally players are prepared to take instructions from their coach and what the ramifications of that can be. If this is what we see at the absolute elite level, what does this say about how aware coaches at the junior and grassroots level need to be of their message?
Only one team can win the championship in any given season. If that is the coaches only measuring stick many are going to be left looking for new jobs at seasons end. Focusing on their own development (professional/interpersonal/intrapersonal) and the outcomes of their athletes provide a balanced scorecard and much fairer measure of success.
Let’s hope the disaster we witnessed in Manilla only encourages more organisations to invest in the development of their coaches.
Outside of the X’s and O’s.
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