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Real coaching more important than ever before, says Ric Charlesworth

Ric Charlesworth
Ric Charlesworth at the AIS.

05 Nov 2015

Coaching great Ric Charlesworth writes:

There has been a paradigm shift in the way head coaches need to approach their jobs of preparing teams and athletes for success in today’s competitive world.

We are now part of sporting environment where specialist skill coaches are abundant, where there is often little that separates the innovation and technology being used by rival athletes or professional teams.

So now is an era when “real coaching”, as I like to call it, is critical.

Australia has made a lot of progress developing coaches in the past three decades.

Prior to the establishment of the AIS, many coaches were alone, to gradually find a way to develop skills and remain contemporary.

The foundation of the AIS, in 1981, for the first time gave status and support to coaches. Coaching gained credence.

I saw this evolution first-hand, as an Australian hockey player in the 1980s and a coach – primarily of Australia’s women’s and men’s hockey teams - between 1993 and 2014.

The biggest progress though was in areas of technique, analysis, tactics and strength and conditioning.

When I coached the Hockeyroos from 1993-2000 our support staff included input from nutritionists, strength and conditioning coaches, biomechanists, video analysts, medical specialists, physiotherapists, psychologists, welfare and educations officers.

They all played a part adding value to the athletes and the team.

Advances in technology also contributed. We’ve seen how boat, bike and even swimming costume designs have provided a winning edge.

The financial resources available to professional sport at the start of this century means it’s tougher to make gains by innovation, given rivals are likely doing it too – or will soon catch on. World best practice is becoming standard practice - everyone is doing a lot of the same stuff.

So how do coaches stand themselves and their athletes apart?

It’s my firm belief that competitive advantages in team sports come from the ability to connect and cooperate in ways to make them unique and special.

The challenge for head coaches is to allocate time to “team building and management” activities, while still remaining at the cutting edge in terms of technique and tactics.

Specialist coaches will maintain their place: goalkeeping coaches, positional specialists, attack and defence analysts.

There are experts in almost every area but seldom experts in human behavior, creating an ideal learning environment and managing the complexity that modern sport thrusts upon head coaches.

What most programs don’t have is expertise in time allocation, business methods, management and leadership. This is what will assist them to work collaboratively, understand themselves and their increasingly complicated environment. Most importantly, it empowers them to better understand the motivations and actions of their players.

In some sports, such as English Premier League soccer, head coaches are referred to as managers. But, in general, this is a sport where teams with the most money win, where the business of buying and retaining players is extremely important to the end result.

But in terms of adding value to an existing group of players, “real coaching” as I referred to before, is the best investment is to accelerate a coach’s skills. The task is to ensure coaches are equipped to get the best value out of their resources, give them the tools to manage and lead in what is a very disruptive and complex environment.

For this purpose the AIS established the Centre for Performance Coaching and Leadership in 2013, launching a suite of highly customised programs focused on developing and supporting (the next version or shifting role) of high performance coaches and leaders.

The AIS Centre recognises the critical role of the coach, to deliver ‘next’ practice in coaching but also the need to provide pathways for professional development and create sporting leaders of the future.

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