What is a good coach?

by Chris Riordan

I’m back bagging coaches again after Sunday night’s debacle.

The question of what makes a good coach, and on what they should be measured, has been prominent since the passing of “Yabby” Jeans.

It is a big role at any level. I spoke to a bloke yesterday about his son’s footy experience at a new Club.

“Great”, he said. “We’re lucky. He has a really good coach”. I’ve seen the same for my son in junior sport and, unfortunately, watched the not-so-fortunate.

Think back on people you’ve experienced as a player or watcher.

What’s the magic ingredient?

What makes Barassi, Ferguson, Bennett, Mourinho exceptional?

What is a good coach?


  1. John Butler says


    I reckon you could draw the dividing line somewhere around the vicinity of Tim Watson.

    With Royce Hart as outlier at the wrong end.

  2. thefreeak says

    The best coaches are 50% strategist, 50% salesman. You need a plan you believe in fiercely. But you need to be able to sell that conviction through all levels of the club. Everyone has to believe in it, and understand their role in making it happen. A great coach also understands that they don’t necessarily always have the answer, but they know it when it is presented to them.

  3. What seperates a good coach from a bad coach?

    One row of seats between front and back of the Bombers coaches box.

  4. A good from bad coach? About 400K a year and unlimited football department cash. My father used to say the every good team, and in turn, a coach needs special one player in which to build a team around.
    One W Carey comes to mind and Pagan Paddock. Good coach must be able to reach individual aned not just he team as whole. How Barassi got into Brent Crosswells head is amazing

  5. Probably the same thing that separates great leaders from poor ones – the ability to communicate clearly, the ability to win respect, and dumb luck.

  6. Doesn’t matter what skills the coach has if he doesn’t have the cattle.

  7. Mark Doyle says

    A good coach must have all the following: a passion for the game, especially it’s history and technical aspects, good players, a good administration, be a good listener, be a fair manager, have a good sense of humour and have a supportive family. These attributes also apply for any management position in any industry.
    What they should not have, Chris, is irrational behavior on Sunday night!

  8. Really interesting subject, Crio. Thanks for raising it. I agree with the Freeak. Strategy and salesmanship are what discern the great/successful coaches from the good/capable ones. Mark D’s list is what makes you capable of coaching at that level, not what determines success. To be successful in the modern world (sport, politics, business) where information and analysis is so freely available you have to have “an edge”. Something that you are doing differently or distinctly better than the rest of your competition. Great players can provide the edge but that is not essential. I argued on JB’s thread from the Collingwood game that the Pies don’t have that many great players. I mean that as a sincere compliment. The team is breathtaking, much more than the individuals within it (allowing for occasional Thomas, Pendlebury, OBssrien moments). To mind the current Pie team’s edge comes from superior strength and fitness, combined with effectiveness and adherence to team structures (game plan). I was in Melbourne last year and saw Jarrod Blair play his first game against the Eagles. I don’t believe he would be remotely as good in any other team. But he consistently and methodically plays to a structure that provides him space and opportunity as a small forward. That is really hard to do (as an individual and a team) in a process as fast, complex and multi-dimensional as AFL.
    The strategic difficulty with obtaining the edge is that you are never planning and implementing in current time. Think Julia Gillard and the Carbon Tax. If she and the ALP had it to implement 3 years ago when Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” was all the rage she would be regarded as a genius. But the GFC and KRudd (circumstances always intervene) meant that by the time Electoral Chance and the Greens Balance of Power force implementation – the opportune moment has passed (even though I would argue that the policy has long term validity). Coaches and Prime Ministers are like generals – not so much fighting the last war – as fighting the current one with the forces and tactics at hand, which come from the last war.
    What I would guess a DHardwick is doing now, because I think he is a smart person/coach – is asking himself with input from a small circle :
    -What game styles will other teams be playing in 2014/15 when I have got this lot ready to do something? If everyone else adopts the Collingwood press, what game plan will be effective against it? Do I want to do the same others but better, or adopt a different approach?
    -What sort of team can I assemble and train given the stock on hand and readily available in the next draft/trade? Will we be small/tall; fast/strong; good kicks/good tacklers/good marks? What game plan that might be effective in 2-3 years time, fits with the resources that I have at hand – so I can develop them to play it over that time frame?
    I can remember commentators (Sam comes to mind) mocking Clarkson and Bomber when they were in the early stages of developing players and game plans that won them premierships a few years down the track. I can remember myself foaming at Woosha’s incompetence last year.
    That is why they are better men than me. Strategy (planning for the future) and Salesmanship (to get acceptance from the club and playing group during the implementation lead time struggles) allowed them to keep their heads, while others (coaches, commentators and fans) were losing theirs.

  9. Alovesupreme says

    Most respondents have focussed on coaching at AFL level (or its equivalent in other games). I would argue that the role of a “good coach” has changed dramatically over the past 30 years. A good coach in the seventies was essentially a one man band, who was judged on his ability to communicate a simple plan to players and have them effectively carry it out.
    With an increased emphasis on tactical complexity, and increased professionalization of the game, the role of assistants and support staff has become crucial. So the 2011 Head Coach is more like a manager in any business or enterprise, or even a headmaster of a school (at the risk of patronising the players!)
    The relationship with the recruiting team, the fitness staff and the subordinate coaches must be managed as well as that with the players.
    Because so much of the role is conducted in public, the good coach also needs a sensitivity to public relations and good advice in this area, as well as an awareness of seemingly peripheral functions such as player welfare.

    Crio mentions junior coaches in his preamble: in my mind there are two key criteria for under age coaches, fairness and encouragement, treat the kids fairly and encourage all to work at improvement of their skills. The junior coach needs also to provide an example of good sportsmanship to teach his charges to play ethically.

  10. Danielle says

    i think id be a great coach ;)

  11. Alovesupreme says

    In the words of a reputedly great coach (1960s-1980s) “Don’t think, do!”
    I realise that you’re speaking tongue in cheek, but I’d encourage you to have a go.
    Do the relevant coaching courses and then find a local team that needs a coach. The same principles apply across a variety of team sports, so you can put your belief to the test in any sport in which you have an interest and the relevant knowledge base. I’m sure that’s not confined to football.

  12. The best made plans of mice and men Alovesupreme.

    What happens if Danni ends up coaching a team with different colours?

    I would love to hear Danni yelling “Come on you Blue Boys really take the squawk out of those Magpies this quarter” at a suburban ground.

  13. Danielle says

    Alovesupreme- ill be taking Sports Management as an elective this semester, ill see how it goes…

    Phantom- Id be happy to coach anywhere EXCEPT Carlton and St.Kilda, however…..
    Im already about to take over North Melbourne, and Susie is taking over at Geelong- we are the female answer to the Scott Brothers, just ask Josh Barney :P

  14. I can vouch for Danni.

  15. Steve Healy says

    Barassi was exceptional because he used to live with Norm Smith early in his career.

    The things he would’ve learnt then…

  16. Alovesupreme says

    While that’s true, it can also be a limiting factor. Bart Cummings’ son Anthony laments that his father has taught him everything he (Anthony) knows, but he hasn’t taught him everything Bart knows.

  17. Right message, right place, right time.

  18. Clough was “Old Big ‘Ed”
    Mourinho the self-appointed “Special One”
    On pretty good terms with themselves.

  19. Skip of Skipton says

    Swooper Northey’s Melbourne in 1987/88 were the least talented team I have seen get so deep into a finals series. He also took Richmond to the finals in 1995 after a 13 year drought. Then he was strangely shunted to Brisbane in a swap for Walls, who was going to put the polish on the Tiges and take them to a flag. Hmm. Something to ponder.

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