SUMMARY: Imagine getting twelve of Australia’s leading coaches into a room and asking them all to reveal their closely guarded secrets to success. Imagine the amazing insights and wisdom you would discover. And the potential success these secrets could bring.

Well that’s exactly what high performance coach David Becker and his friend, former Australian rugby league international Scott Hill recently had the pleasure to do. And we convinced them to share five of the success secrets they uncovered for the benefit of our Coach AFL subscribers. And what they told us is guaranteed to boost your chances of coaching success.

Background

David Becker

David Becker, high performance coach, physiotherapist and co-author of “Secrets of Winning Coaches Revealed”.

David Becker, high performance coach, physiotherapist and co-author of “Secrets of Winning Coaches Revealed”.

A few years ago, high performance coach David Becker had just finished a contract with the Leeds Rugby Club as their high performance director in the UK.

After growing up as an elite junior swimmer in South Africa and having been involved with the South African National Rugby Team, as well as being involved with the Durban Sharks and Johannesburg Lions in the Rugby Super 15s, David and his partner Pam decided to take a short break from it all and fulfill a life-long dream by moving to Australia.

Shortly after, David stumbled upon a book called “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill.

In this book, Napoleon Hill interviewed some of the richest men in America and published what he found to be their common “laws of success”. It has been a literary classic in the business world since 1937 and to this day remains a perennial best-seller.

At around this time, David also had a chance meeting with former Australian Rugby League International Scott Hill.

Ironically, they had both taken their kids fishing on the Sunshine Coast and after meeting as complete strangers, they realized they had both been involved in rugby in the UK at around the same time period – David with Leeds and Scott as a player with the London Harlequins – and immediately formed a bond.

Somehow Napoleon Hill’s book was mentioned a short time later and the idea for developing a similar book series with Australia’s greatest coaches and athletes emerged.

After months of hard work and being able to draw on many of their contacts in the elite sporting arena, Scott and David eventually convinced many of Australia’s greatest coaches to participate.

Their list of champion coaches was impressive to say the least and included:

  • Ric Charlesworth – 3 World Cup Trophies; 2 Olympic Gold Medals; 4 Hockey Championships
  • Wayne Bennett – 7 NRL Premierships; 2 World Club Challenge Trophies; 2 Origin Series; 1 Tri-Nation Series
  • Norma Plummer – 1 World Netball Championship; 2 National Netball Championships; 2 World Youth Cup Trophies
  • Johnny Lewis – Trained 5 World Boxing Champions
  • Laurie Lawrence – 23 World Swimming Records; 33 Olympic Medals (Assisted)
  • Phil McNamara – 7 World Surfing Titles
  • Frank Farina – NSL Grand Final Winner; Oceania Cup Winner
  • Rod Macqueen – Bledisloe Cup; Tri-Nations Cup; World Cup Trophy Winner
  • Chris Anderson – 2 NRL Premierships; World Cup Trophy Winner
  • Geoff Marsh – Cricket World Cup Trophy Winner
  • Lindsay Gaze – Coached 689 games; 2 Basketball Championship Trophies
  • Ron Barassi – Coached 515 games; 4 AFL Premierships

After interviewing these coaches about their philosophies and strategies, David and Scott eventually published their findings into a book they called “Secrets of  Winning Coaches Revealed”.

After stumbling upon the book one day in a bookstore shortly after release, we managed to track David down for an interview about their book. In particular, we convinced him to share five of the major success secrets they were able to wrench from these amazing coaching minds. Here is what David had to share with us.

Great Coaches Have A Clear Coaching Philosophy

The first thing that really hit home for David during his project was that each of the leading coaches they interviewed had their own coaching philosophy – that is, they each had their own system of beliefs, values and ideas which act as a blueprint for their success.

As Dave told us, “You only have to look at the Wayne Bennetts and Ric Charlesworths of the world. Whatever organization they move to, they just take their philosophies and apply it, starting at point A and moving to point Z. It acts as their own blueprint for success and is one of the main reasons why their teams are always so successful.”

So what is a coaching philosophy?

Perhaps one of the best examples comes from legendary American basketball coach John Wooden and his “Pyramid of Success”. The story goes that Wooden, at the time an English and sports teacher, was frustrated with the grading system he was required to use and felt compelled to help his students better understand success as a result of effort.

So he spent the next 14 years identifying 25 behaviors he believed were necessary to achieve his idea of success. This search culminated in a simple but profound diagram Wooden called “The Pyramid of Success” which outlined his coaching philosophy. Completed in 1948, this philosophy became the cornerstone of his coaching and helped him lead his UCLA Bruins to a record 10 NCAA National Basketball Championships in 12 years during the 60s and 70s, a feat which later lead to him being named Coach of the 20th Century by ESPN.

It is one of the earliest (and most famous) examples of a coaching philosophy and later inspired the philosophies of many other great coaches in the US and from around the world.

John Wooden's Pyramid of Success

The Famous John Wooden “Pyramid of Success”

# 1 – Build Your Own Philosophy

To begin with, it was obvious to David that the great coaches whom they interviewed hadn’t gone out and adopted someone else’s philosophies as their own. Instead, they developed their own philosophies based on their own personal life experiences.

“A lot of these coaches had to learn the hard way and through the school of hard knocks they’ve picked up what has worked for them and incorporated it into their coaching philosophy… It’s not something that you can just copy from someone else. It’s something that has got to resonate with you as a coach. Something you have to build by yourself.”

David also noticed that these great coaches didn’t just draw from their experiences from within their sport; they also drew from their life experiences outside of their sport as well.

As David explained, “Ric Charlesworth told us in his interview that his coaching philosophy was incorporated from all his experiences in life including in politics and medicine, not just sport. In fact, Ric told us that he learnt the most about teamwork from his experiences in medicine, working in a theatre with theatre nurses and anesthetists etcetera.”

It’s no secret that the philosophies of Ruby League’s Wayne Bennett and Hawthorn great Allen Jeans were also heavily shaped from their experiences as Police Officers.

# 2 – Clearly Define Your Philosophy

Another key point that David uncovered during his project was that the great coaches whom they interviewed had all clearly defined what their philosophies were.
Let’s face it, as a coach you no doubt draw on your previous experiences, knowledge and beliefs when performing your role. This in itself is a philosophy, even if it is drawn upon subconsciously.

The question is, do you actually know yourself well enough to understand what your core values and coaching methods are? Do your players know what your philosophies and plans are?

A coaching philosophy that is well thought through clarifies many aspects of the coach’s delivery and presents a consistent and positive message to the athletes being coached.

Great Coaches Are Great Technicians and Tacticians

Regardless of the profession, a leader who lacks full knowledge of their sport will soon be exposed.

So it should come as no surprise then that David found these great coaches all had a very deep understanding of both the technical and tactical components of their games.

As David summed up, “Regardless of your sport, you have got to know it backwards if you want to succeed as a coach.”

In AFL terms, this would mean having an understanding of technical components of our game such as kicking, handballing, marking and spoiling, along with the tactical components of winning stoppages, defensive set ups and forward structures.

# 1 – Courses, Books and DVDs

One way to acquire knowledge of course is to do the industry training courses for your sport. For Australian rules football, this means doing your Level 1, 2 and 3 coaching courses and attending events such as the AFL’s Annual Coaching Conferences. It also means getting your hands on as many coaching books, DVDs and other learning resources as you can.

# 2 – Recruit a Mentor

While training courses and books are a great way to learn the technical and tactical components of your sport, David also discovered that the great coaches whom they interviewed had another secret weapon up their sleeves that gave them a clear advantage over their competition.

That secret weapon was a mentor — that is, each of these great coaches had a great mentor (or mentors) guiding them at various points in their careers.

As David rightly pointed out, “Wayne Bennett had Bob Bax and Jack Gibson if I remember rightly. Ron Barassi had Norm and Len Smith. And Lindsay Gaze had Ken Watson in basketball.

“I think what really struck home during the course of this project was that all great coaches have found themselves a great mentor and tapped into their wisdom and experience along the journey. While others have had to learn from the school of hard knocks, they have fast tracked their journeys by learning from those who have done it before them.”

The immense benefit that mentors give you should not be underestimated. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find an AFL or state league coach who doesn’t at least have one (or several in most cases).

Great Coaches Are Great Teachers

Of course, knowledge is one thing. But you should never confuse your subject-matter expertise with your ability to teach it. There’s a big difference in knowing what you’re doing and knowing how to teach to others.

This is no doubt why David found that all of the inspirational coaches whom they interviewed were all great teachers; in fact amongst the best teachers in their sport.

“I’ve worked with 23 coaches both in the UK and South Africa and I’d say most of them who were successful were good teachers and come from a teaching background, which I’ve always found interesting.”

“The coaches who we interviewed for this project were no different. They all weren’t just great technicians and tacticians, there were great teachers as well.”

This should come as no surprise. After all, what good is a coach’s knowledge if he can’t pass it on to his players?

We asked David if he picked up any tips on becoming a great teacher from these coaches.

“One of the coaches gave me some advice that resonated with me, and that is when you are coaching players (young kids especially) you have to make sure that you teach them on all three levels of audio, visual and kinesthetic.”

This of course is known as VAK (visual, auditory and kinesthetic) and in football coaching terms could include:

#1 – Visual

This could be showing your players a drill on a white board, and then getting the coaches to demonstrate the drill before the players begin to practice it.

#2 – Auditory

This would be the verbal instructions you give to your players while you explain the drill, along with the verbal feedback you provide them during and after they perform it.

#3 – Kinesthetic

This involves your players practicing the drill slowly while the coach coaches them through it, then allowing your players to practice it again at full pace with more instruction.

David also gave us a great example of these teaching styles in action involving his son.

“My son Matthew was swimming for six months with a young coach who was mainly telling him on what to do from a distance (audio), rather than demonstrating to him what he meant. Unfortunately my son was going backwards and after six months we decided to change coaches.”

“I’m a kinesthetic learner meaning I need something to be demonstrated on my body to properly learn it. So I told my son’s new coach, ‘If you’re going to show Matthew any new skill or technique, demonstrate it on his body’ (kinesthetic).  Within three weeks this kid was like a different child in the water, and this really drove home what that coach told me; that unless you are coaching on all three levels, some of your athletes are not going to develop.”

Of course the feedback we hear from coaches at the AFL and state league level has also been that players tend to learn more from 10 minute of video analysis than 50 minutes of training. So you can add video analysis to this teaching toolbox, which interestingly makes use of all 3 learning styles.

Great Coaches Create The Right Environments

Something that David also discovered was that great coaches all create the right environments for their players to succeed in.

What does this entail? Well according to David it means this in a nutshell:

# 1 – Vision/Values

One of the first things that great coaches do according to David is establish their team’s vision and values (also known as vision/value based leadership).

“To start with, you need to establish what you want to achieve as a team for the season (team goals). I think we all know in a youth coaching environment it’s very much about athlete development, and in an elite coaching environment it’s all about winning where coaches are fired based on the performances of their team.”

“Once you set those goals, you then need to establish the behaviours required to achieve them. You know, what behaviours are going to marry with where you want to go?  And how are you going to actually get the players to behave accordingly to get there?”

“And then you’ve got to entrench those behaviours in the team so that, whatever the values and whatever the standards you set as a team, your players live those values every day.”

Of course David admits that how you apply this depends on the level you are coaching at.

“Youth coaching is quite unique for example, because you’re only seeing your kids maybe once or twice a week and you’re trying to create an environment for development, not success. So it would be very different to an elite training environment.”

# 2 – Recruit and Develop Strong Leaders

These great coaches also recruit the leaders in their playing groups to adopt the team vision, live and sell the team behaviours, and deliver the coach’s messages to the players.

As David explained, “All these great coaches have senior leadership groups that are very strong. They make sure that their senior leadership groups consist of the captain and some of the influential players in the team so that they can deliver the key messages to players at all levels.”

Of course, leadership groups exist now throughout the AFL and state leagues. Looking back it would be difficult to find any modern-day AFL Premiership team that didn’t have a champion coach and strong team leaders driving the agenda.

# 3 – Create The Environment Early

Finally, great coaches create their environments early in their seasons.

“When I look at two of the great coaches that have come out of Australia in the last decades – Ric Charlesworth and Wayne Bennett – both said straight away that you need to be able to set boundaries in order to get the environment geared for success. You’ve got to have guidelines and expectations, and set those very early.”

In AFL and state league terms, this has meant teams voting in their leadership groups in January after the Christmas break (ad normally at a team camp), establishing team goals and team rules for the season shortly after, and regularly meeting with the coaching staff throughout the season.

Great Coaches Build Great Relationships

Could you be a great parent without love? Probably not! And the same answer is true in bringing out the best in your players.

Having an open door policy is one thing. Being able to build relationships with players so they feel comfortable enough to walk through that door is another – as David discovered with these great coaches.

“Great coaches know how to foster good relationships with their players. They make sure they don’t just have an open door policy but they actually go and make time with individuals.”

“But it takes a certain trait I suppose, a personality trait to do that, and these great coaches seem to have it. Their players can go talk to them; they’re approachable. I’ve been in teams where there is an open policy, but the players don’t want to go into that door. They just don’t trust the coach enough, or they don’t feel they have that relationship with the coach so don’t do it. So the players end up talking to other players and what you end up with is corridor talk, which spirals out of control over time.”

# 1 – Seek Out Opportunities To Show You Care

According to David, the great coaches whom they spoke with regularly searched for opportunities to show their players they cared about them. He shared this example to drive home his point.

“In a professional team, coaches are with their players for most of the day. When travelling on a bus to a game, good coaches will often walk around and sit next to their players instead of just sitting in the front of the bus.”

“They’ll talk to them about their life. They find out a little bit about their family, they take an interest and they show empathy and that they care. So when a player does have a problem, these great coaches are there for them and the players feel comfortable in going to them for advice.”

# 2 – Great Coaches Are Great Communicators

Great coaches are almost always great communicators as well, according to David.

“They have great people skills. They know how to deliver clear messages, and in such a way that players listen and respond to them.”

“As Wayne Bennett said he doesn’t sugar coat his messages and he certainly won’t tell you anything unless you need to know it, and I think you don’t need to talk that much, you only need to talk when it’s necessary. So from the people and communications skills I think they’ve certainly mastered that art.”

Conclusion

All great coaches must have a deep understanding of the technical and tactical elements of their game. You can acquire this knowledge through the traditional means – courses, books and dvds – but the most successful coaches also draw on the knowledge and experiences of mentors as well, allowing them to shortcut the learning curve, avoid the costly mistakes and dramatically increase their chances of success in the process.

Of course knowledge is of no value to you as a coach unless you have the skills to teach it to your players. So in your ongoing efforts to increase your knowledge within the profession, don’t forget to seek out opportunities to improve your knowledge as a teacher as well.

Great coaches also have a clearly defined philosophy, which spell out their values and belief system and act as a blueprint for success. They also create the right environment for their teams to succeed in and work hard to develop meaningful relationships with their players and staff.

Without mastery of these five ingredients – coaching philosophy, technical and tactical knowledge, teaching ability, successful environments and player relationships – it would be hard to imagine any coach having sustained success at any level.

SIDEBAR: If you want to find out more about David’s book Secrets of Winning Coaches Revealed as well as his other fantastic books you can find them by clicking here.

You’ll discover a lifetime of coaching insights and experience that can benefit any coach in any sport at any level.

Even the great Jonathan Brown, captain of the Brisbane Lions, gives it a plug:

The biggest influences in my football career and life have been my coaches; from father Brian through to Leigh Matthews and Michael Voss. The knowledge and will to succeed that they have imparted on me has been invaluable. So to get 12 of Australia’s finest coaches to unlock their secrets in the first book of the series ‘The Coaches’ is priceless. It was a great read.

Jonathan Brown
Brisbane Lions AFL Captain Captain
Title photo by Tom Reynolds via: freeforcommercialuse.org.

Posted by David Johnson

David “Johnno” Johnson is our chief football researcher and writer. With over 20 years of coaching experience in all grades of football David was also a prominent footballer himself, having played at Teal Cup level and was even recruited by the Essendon Football Club. The pinnacle of David's coaching experience saw him as the assistant coach of the East Fremantle Shark Football Club in the WAFL for a number of years.

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