SUMMARY: No matter what grade your team plays in, your team will not improve and perform at its best if it doesn’t have a winning culture. This article details how Perth Football Club Coach Simon Eastaugh (former player with the Fremantle Dockers and Essendon and ruck coach at the Dockers) set about changing the culture at his club. Includes several tips on how you can change the culture of your club and the initial planning stages all new coaches should take when they first take on the job.

The Challenge

While one season ends, and  footballers are seeking time away from the game to relax and rest aching bodies, coaches around the country are already thinking about the next season.Some coaches will inevitably take the reigns of a team that has struggled recently.

For some, the remuneration makes the job worth-while, some think the challenge is exciting, and some are using the step to further their coaching careers.

Whatever the reason, coaches will need to plan meticulously to start rebuilding the team and club, and take it on to finals action.

Former Essendon and Fremantle player Simon Eastaugh is one such coach.

The former AFL ruckman retired from the game as a player and immediately stepped into the relatively secure world of an AFL assistant coaching role.

Eastaugh took the job as a ruck coach at the Fremantle Dockers, and quickly established himself as articulate coach, with a reputation as an innovative thinker and excellent communicator. Both pre-requisites to be a successful coach.

After three years working with young players such as Aaron Sandilands and Justin Longmuir, Eastaugh began to think about his future and contemplated the move to an outright senior coaching position.

Eastaugh’s proposed pathway to a future position as head of an AFL team has lead him to the role as head coach of the Perth Football Club in the Western Australian Football League.

The WAFL is a professionally run second tier competition to the AFL and an excellent pathway for aspiring coaches and players, who one day, dream of participating at the elite level.

The Perth Football Club, known as the Demons, is a club with a rich history, being a member of the WAFL for over 100 years. However, the past quarter of a century has delivered very little success to the club and its suffering supporters.

The position, made vacant after the retirement of former Collingwood and South Fremantle hard man, Stan Magro, seemed an unusual step, even a backwards one, for a young coach to reach the pinnacle, at the AFL level.

Eastaugh assumed the role as head coach at Perth and as the club’s first full time coach, quickly set about putting in place a plan that would ultimately reap success for the club.

He immediately set about creating a new environment, and establishing a culture that is professional and intoxicating, and which is essential for change.

The Initial Planning

Planning is an essential component of being successful, not only as a coach, but in life in general.

It is the first of the “three P’s” of success, that being planning.

It is important to take a holistic view of the club which you are about to join and do your home work. It is essential to have a thorough look at the entire club, from its players to the area in which the club resides.

Eastaugh’s approach was thorough to say the least, with an extensive background search on the club and its football operations.

“It was my first thought to do an exhaustive review of the entire club,” said Eastaugh. “I looked at the entire club from the history, past success through to the current playing group.”

Eastaugh also did homework on other aspects of the Perth Football Club, including the Premiership years, Sandover Medialists, and recent history.

Eastaugh then turned his attention to the football administration area of the club, which is ultimately the one area that will determine success or failure.

Eastaugh continues, “My major focus then turned to the playing group and I conducted a full review, identifying the marquee players, the established regular senior players, the succession player, (those who consistently played Reserves football) and then the younger players, including those graduating from the Colts, (under 18’s program).”

Player deficiencies were identified and the discussions with the club turned to its recruiting needs.

While the level of homework Eastaugh had conducted at Perth, was extensive, it gave a great insight into the professionalism of not only himself as an aspiring AFL coach, but showed what is required to succeed at this level of the sport.

For this to be expected of a amateur coach, or one that is about to take the reigns of a country club, is unrealistic, but it would be of benefit to any coach about to apply for an advertised position, to have a look at certain aspects of the club which you have visions of coaching.

The first area suggested to be examined of course is the club itself, with a brief overview of its recent history.

This would indicate if there are any underlying issues with the club and its football operations that may need to be addressed.

Secondly, and as mentioned earlier, a full review of the current playing list is essential. Try to ascertain what type of players are at the club, study the players that have left and attempt to find any reasons why they may have to decided to move on.

Implementing Change

It is important to have a vision on what you want to achieve, and have a clear plan set out on how to achieve the changes.

Having a series of major focuses to implement gives you a clear pathway to success.

Simon Eastaugh was very clear with his vision, and identified 7 major changes he wished to instil on his players when he was the successful applicant for the job.

“From my review of the club, I identified that we needed to implement several key areas of change. Those areas were professionalism, club culture, skill level and overall fitness levels. I also realised that these areas could be improved by showing faith in the current playing group and encouraging their efforts.”

These aspects of the need for change were implemented within days of Eastaugh securing the job.

# 1 – Enhance the Appearance of the Football Facilities

The environment can have a huge influence on people’s perceptions and actions, as proven by in-depth studies in fields such as marketing and security. For example, atmospherics such as lighting, décor and music in a restaurant setting have been proven to increase customer satisfaction and worker output.

One of the first things Eastaugh set about changing was the facilities players trained and prepared in. Even something as simple as a new coat of paint in the change-rooms was found to have a huge influence on how the players feel about the club and themselves. As did adding inspirational quotes on signage in the change-rooms, which encourages players to think and play the way the club wanted them to.

The club improved the facilities for both the coaching staff and the players and this had a noticeable, immediate influence.

Firstly, the players saw the change as a very real and physical presence and their mindset changed overnight.

Secondly, players and staff saw that the new coached cared for them, and showed them he was serious about providing the best possible facilities for them to work in.

“The reaction from the players on the physical change to the club has been very positive.” Eastaugh says. “They have all embraced the change and see it as an important aspect if we are going to show improvement.”

# 2 – Reinforce The Club’s Rich History

The club as a whole has also set to reinforce the club’s proud history to the players to influence culture.

The club has constructed of a “dynamic” (Changing) Museum to house the club’s rich history. The club has sicen invited the playing group to educate them on this history , as well as local schools – whose students could represent the club in the future -in an effort to garner their support for the club.

The club has also added club and player photos around the club and especially inside the change rooms and player area to educate players on the feats of past champions.

The gymnasium has a personalised decorative design to give it that “club” feel.

The club has also sought to better promote their past Sandover Medialists and club legends. Past players such as Sandover Medalists Ian Miller and Bryan Cousins have come back to the club to assist in training sessions and talks to players. Perth legends Barry Cable and Robert Wiley are also assisting the club as mentors.

# 3 – Create Development Plans For Players

Aside from these environmental changes, Eastaugh also created development plans for first year players and the senior leadership group. This gave the players a very clear and precise picture of what was required and how they were going to achieve it.

It is imperative that the players understand what you want them to achieve and how you will help them achieve the end result (known as path-goal leadership). If the players understand your message, they are more then willing to embrace it and follow you along the journey.

# 4 – Recruit To Fill Deficiencies

Another thing Eastaugh set out to do was recruit the types of players that could make his team better. Every team has its deficiencies and one of the other options available to a coach (other than developing its current player list) is to recruit players that fill that deficiency.

When looking for new recruits, Eastaugh recommends that you identify the types of players that would fill the deficiencies in your current playing group, make a list of prospective recruits and then target the best options.

# 6 – Identify Reasons Why Past Players Left And Try to Eliminate Them

Eastaugh also wanted to maximise the retention rate of current players. So one of the things he included in his planning process was an investigation into the reasons why past players had left the club. Eastaugh is now in the process to eliminate as many of these reasons as possible to prevent more players from leaving.

The Results

While it is certainly to early to gauge the level of success of Eastaugh’s plans, the level of change and excitement around the club is obvious.

An early measure of the success in Eastaugh’s program and the key element of proof that the players have embraced his message is that they players have increased their training sessions to 5 per week in a bid to turn around the on-field performances of the club.

The players have also committed to a tough intensive fitness program designed and implemented by fitness and conditioning coach Warren Andrews. The fitness aspect of the program was very intense and required the players to complete 3 gruelling sessions of running per week, on top of weights and strength programs.

Club supporters hungry for success also seemed buoyed by the new enthusiasm and feeling around the club.

Final Thoughts

Coaches at lower levels should introduce their own individuality on the clubs they coach. Make the changes early and show the players you are serious about the task at hand and what is required to succeed in the way you see it.

Don’t be fooled that providing fitter and stronger players are the sole ingredients to successful football teams. The small things such as the way players perceive their club and themselves can have a huge bearing on performances.

Posted by Simon Eastaugh

Simon is the current Ruck Coach for the Fremantle Dockers in the AFL and has also been involved in a coaching capacity for the West Coast Eagles. During his playing days Simon played 29 AFL games for Essendon and Fremantle during 1998-2002.

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