Coaching Dilemma

The telephone number flashed up on the screen and I recognised it immediately. Mark Hunter is an ex- Bulldogs player – 130 senior games. And he has demonstrated over the past few years that he is also a very good junior coach. His boy Lachlan and my son Bill share a year of birth and have therefore shared sporting achievements. They both go into Under 16s as bottom age players. Lachlan as a walk-up start into the number one team. Bill as someone who enjoys his football but his aspirations are no higher than the number two team. The twos may end up in D Division of the Western Region Football League but more likely C Division. Bill and Lachlan are coming off a successful year – Mark coached the Williamstown Juniors Under 14s A Division to a Premiership. Lachlan was a key contributor to the team success. As Bill said last week: “Mum -I think I was only in the team because they wanted to keep you as the team trainer.” His mother and I were both far too slow with our contradictory statements of support.

I don’t normally fear phone calls from Mark. This Monday morning he was probably ringing to congratulate me on my seven winners compared to his five. Our annual footy-tipping side bet of the past two years has seen his beer stocks rise by two slabs. Under the terms and conditions of the competition, he has to beat both Helen and me. Two years in a row he has done just that. Fortunately the rule is the beer must be shared. But they would taste so much nicer if I hadn’t paid for them.

I started the conversation breezily. But Mark wasn’t in for small talk. Straight to the point. How would I feel about coaching the second Under 16 team? It was a question I had feared. Mark and I had previously discussed potential coaches for the team. Peter Lane is the number one team coach with Mark as his assistant. We had mentioned a few names. A number were discounted because their boy would probably be in the ones. However, we certainly hadn’t exhausted the list. Until now. But what about Dicky? No he is playing Super Rules and can’t always make the games. Rick? Wants to have a break. Michael? David will be in the ones. A pregnant pause. But I can’t make training. That’s okay – as number one coach Lanie will look after the training, and if the teams have to break away on the Friday, then Mark will look after the twos.

I had run out of excuses. Except one. I am a crap football coach. I have been coaching junior sport for nearly thirty years, but it has always been basketball. I know that game and still play. From a football point of view I am a brilliant couch-bound tactician, but none of my theories or approaches have ever been tested. Two years ago, for one game in under 12s, Mark handed over the coaching reins to Michael Iaccarino and me. Michael would be coach and I would be assistant as well as runner. It was a Sunday morning game, away to Flemington. A good team but no real danger. Mark was runner for the Bulldogs and they were playing in Darwin on the Saturday evening. He set things up for Michael and me and we took on the challenge.

Mark arrived at the game just after half time. He walked around the ground thinking that they should take more care to get the scores right on the scoreboard. Unfortunately they were taking care. The scores were right. With no resistance from Michael, Mark took over operations. I let Michael be runner and quietly skulked away. A few set-up changes, positional adjustments and relayed instructions, and the game transformed. By the end the natural order had been restored. Michael and I still pretend to laugh about it.

Time is running out. I have to give my answer. I have consulted Helen. It means she won’t be Under 16s trainer but she can be trainer for our other boy Herb’s Under 12s. They play in the time-slot before the Under 16s but not always at the same venue. And for me there is an upside. If I coach it means I won’t be able to be the club umpire for either the 12s or the 16s. I have umpired for the last five or six years and often I am the only one who thinks I do a reasonable job. Coaching duties take precedence. Someone else can have the joys of whistle-blowing. That could just about be the clincher. I wonder if the Club will put out a press release like they did to announce the appointment of Greg Swann as coach of the Under 13s. Somehow I doubt it.

About Andrew Fithall

Probably the most rational, level-headed Collingwood supporter in existence. Not a lot of competition mind you.

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