Tuesday 21 May 2013

How to, and definitely how not to, coach a children's sporting team.

Richard Dreyfuss in Jaws, when you look you can see the
madness burning off the screen.
As I write this I should point out I haven't been very happy recently.
I don't want this blog to be self-indulgent, but then I don't want Tony Abbott to be the prime minister, and as the Stones famously sang, "You can't always get what you want".
However I'll ask you to bear with me as I take my usual five hours and multiple discursions to get to the point.
I was quite surprised when I did a post in March in which I explained about my anxiety disorder, I honestly thought people would read this blog to be entertained with humourous anecdotes, but discovered that more people read that post than any other, I guess many of you who read it had/have trouble with anxiety yourselves.
Anyway, a few years ago Stephen Fry did a very good documentary about bipolar disorder.
It began with Stephen describing how he tried to kill himself after a stage show he put on in the west end of London bombed big time.
Thankfully he was unsuccessful and he is with us today, but the major benefit for him was finally being diagnosed.
Just for the record, bipolar disorder is what used to be called manic depression, Spike Milligan is one of the better known sufferers of this mental malady.
In Stephen's doco he visited with some famous sufferers of bipolar, the most stark example was Richard Dreyfuss, and if you look again at him performing in Jaws, you see his feverish, manic intensity burning from the screen.
Carrie Fisher was another Stephen described, when he interviewed her at home she couldn't sit still.
Then the doco went on to visit with other, non-celebrity sufferers and here the stories took on a more harrowing hue.
Mainly because as non-celebrities, the families and partners of these sufferers had little or no money to get the help they needed.
Then Stephen went on to say that in the end the only way these sufferers could be helped was to completely remove stress from their lives.
And here is the point I have been building up to, the moment he said that, I was riveted to the screen hoping he would explain how!
Sadly, only those with decent support can have a few weeks, or preferably months, of stress free existence.
And to close the this textual loop the reason I have been unhappy is mainly because I have been working too hard.
When I came out of rehab (booze mainly, but pot was part of it), I realised that I had to set up a sustainable schedule otherwise I would collapse like a deadstar.
So I set out to work four hours a day maximum, see my health professional Paula and not smoke pot.
I have generally been successful, but recently I've been working off a debt to my friend Pete and because the renovations on his place have been approaching a crescendo and I found myself round there for full days.
However, I got there, with indeed a little help from my friends and now am able to go back to my preferred four hours a day.
The other area of dissatisfaction I have been having is with my soccer team and so I want to record here how (in my opinion) to coach a sporting team, either adult or children.
And before I set sail on this tale of the seventies, I'll digress to say this.
As a boy I loved sport and in country Australia at the time this meant football, either rugby league or Aussie rules, depending on state.
My mother wouldn't let me play either of these codes and therefore condemned me to an adolescence branded a poof.
She said that these codes were too rough for her delicate boy, but now I realise that there were more devious motives afoot.
My parents thought that being middle class, whatever that means, was important. Those of you reading this who suffered through Bathurst in the seventies with me will no that no-one, I mean NO-ONE gave a flying fucking rat's arse whether you were middle, upper or any class.
You see, only lower class, yob types played rugby league and my mother couldn't have that as it would not fit her image as a refined person and mother of aesthetes.
I think what she really wanted was for me to go to the opera and then come home and spend my time practising the violin before graduating semma cum laude in Physics from Cambridge and walking around saying 'ectually'.
Anyway, enough of her.
Grudgingly I was allowed to play soccer and began my competitive soccer aged five for Bathurst City Redtops under eights.
The guy who coached the team who I won't name for legal reasons was really bad.
I don't know why he did it, as he hated kids, or maybe he just hated me, he was certainly one of the first adults I can remember telling me, at the top of his voice mind you, to "BE QUIET".
After some years I made the move to Bathurst Pandas and met someone who really knew how to coach.
His name was Alec Lamberton and he was a scotsman with, dare I say typically, three teeth missing from the front left side of his mouth.
He can't have inspired confidence in any parent who saw him and realised he was in loco parentis of their children for two hours a week, but he turned out to be the saviour of my young life.
With my parents smashing up, in turn, each other, the house and me, Alec was the first adult who treated me with respect. Often he would give me a lift home from training and would discuss tactics for the team with me as an equal.
Additionally, I believe now, he could tell when life at home was particularly bad for me because of how upset I would get in the game if I made a mistake.
He spent more time telling me "it's OK, calm down, just control the ball and it will be allright".
In retrospect he was my first mental health counsellor, and grateful I was, I can tell you.
Alec had very few rules for the soccer team, but they were simple and staggeringly effective.
I am still surprised, nay staggered, by adult men on sporting teams who yell at someone on their own team if they made a mistake.
Do you know of anyone who goes to play sport, or work, saying to themselves, "today I am going to make as many mistakes as possible and deliberately stuff as many things up as I can?"
No, I don't either.
But Alec's simple rule, once he got us trained to do it, turned Pandas into a really good boys soccer team.
If someone did make a mistake, the whole team would get behind that player and say things like, "head up", "let's go again", "it's Ok" and such like.
Additionally, for the technical, the way to tell a good sporting team, certainly one with good team morale, is if they can come back from behind to win.
This was demonstrated to me most forcibly in a semi-final that involved (from Kelso High) Adam Yates and myself for Pandas, against Churches Eagles, with Russell Meadley, Wayne Beatty and famous golfer, Peter O'Malley for them.
Late in the second half, Eagles scored and went to a 2-1 lead.
But when I talked with Russell and Wayne on Monday at school they said that all the goal did was make us, Pandas, come back harder.
We went on to win 3-2 and would not have done that without Alec's simple rule of support for other players.
There was no question of yelling at our goalkeeper or dropping our head's, just "time to go hard".
Another rule of Alec's that I wish, also, that modern players of any code would take more notice of was this. If you score a goal, don't run around pulling your shirt over your head and screaming how great you are, but instead find the player who passed you the ball for the goal and shake their hand.
Simple, but another cornerstone of playing as a team, not for yourself.
So enough, if you coach a team and you can install these two simple rules, you will have a winning team on your hands.
My next task is to see if I can get anyone on my team to take any notice.

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