For anyone aspiring to become an outstanding coach in their chosen sport, the initial mindset they’d have would surely be an unrequited passion for the sport itself- as opposed to seeing their work as solely a vocation. The only time they’d ever be caught clock-watching would be in the final few minutes of their team trying to eke out a victory in a close one.
Aside from that (and having a few outstanding players at their disposal), is a high emotional IQ another strong requisite that is sometimes overlooked for becoming a coaching guru in such a world full of complexity, as it was even before Covid darkened our door?
What does a higher emotional intelligence/EQ encompass as a sports coach? At face value, this literally reads as being attuned to the psychology of individual players and how to get the best from them.
It would seem a great deal more than that though. Liverpool FC’s Jurgen Klopp is a coach that seems to have a connection with his players that goes far beyond the average. How and why? A read of the following excellent piece gives some clues as to Klopp’s greatness and high EQ. (I tend to think Klopp is bordering on genius as a man manager and coach). The only question that possibly remains is whether serial opportunists Real Madrid are going to almost bankrupt themselves for his signature one day:
Then there’s the seemingly indefatigable Wayne Bennett. Bennett started coaching in the now-NRL of Australian Rugby League when some of the parents of his current progeny were still at high school. Now into his 70s, he holds the scarcely believable record of twenty-one consecutive seasons of teams he coached making the NRL play-offs- the run was only broken in 2012. That’s not to mention the most Grand Final wins of any coach (seven), and transforming St George-Illawarra from also-rans to Premiership winners in 2010, on top of two minor premierships with that club.
The major secret of Bennett’s success, apart from being a great strategist? According to his son-in-law, the former Brisbane Broncos and Queenland representative Ben Ikin (these days the host of the popular show NRL 360), Bennett has always made it his business right from the start to get to know his players intimately, including how they are doing in their personal and family situations. Ikin once explained it was this influence that made the players almost want to die for their coach.
Netball NZ’s own Noeline Taurua also has qualities beyond the usual. Katrina Grant and others have alluded to Taurua’s management style; how the players at the 2019 World Cup become galvanised into a unit that was so cohesive to be almost impenetrable.
Grant explained on the Sky series ‘The Pod’ of Taurua’s ability to have a plan and process that was so clear that the players bought into everything completely. That Taurua also told the players to enjoy every moment of what they were doing and achieving. Those around netball also speak of Taurua’s ability to get it exactly right with selections; to see the potential of untried combinations and even players moving positions. That surely requires a very innate and highly-attuned feel for a chosen sport.
It took the Australians to properly see Taurua’s special qualities first though. In a feat not much mentioned in the general sports media here, Taurua achieved the incredible in guiding the newly-formed Sunshine Coast Lightning to three consecutive Australian Super League netball finals in 2017,18 and 19- winning back-to-back in 2017 and 18. Imagine if she had stayed on across the ditch indefinitely and eventually been offered the Australian national team post- the resultant blood-letting at NZ Netball would have made a vampire’s convention look tame.
Another tenet of coaching greatness? Probably being open-minded enough to draw on the expertise of people in other codes for developing their team. One of, if not the, greatest club coach in the history of Australasian professional sport, Rugby League’s Jack Gibson, was an acolyte of looking elsewhere for ideas.
Gibson’s first professional coaching gig was at Eastern Suburbs (nowadays the Sydney Roosters), in 1967. In 1966 the club had lost every single match in the premiership. But Gibson took them straight to the play-offs in his first season.
To hone his skills, he made several trips to the United States to study different training methods in Gridiron. He began forms of video analysis and pored over match stats at least a generation before such things became common practice.
In a report within the Independent newspaper from Britain following Gibson’s death in 2008, Wayne Bennett said, “He changed the face of our game. That’s his greatest legacy- he brought it out of the Dark Ages.”
The report also went on to say that Gibson was the polar opposite of most coaches of the day- preferring meticulous preparation and a genial word in the ear of his players, instead of the oft-used rant and rave approach.
Gibson’s successes were simply incredible. In 1968 Easts again reached the play-offs. His next club was St George, looking to re-capture the glories of winning ELEVEN straight premierships from the mid 50s to the mid 60s. Gibson got them back into the play-offs in consecutive years as soon as he took charge. In 1973 he went for a season to the lowly Newtown Jets and the team secured sixteen wins and a draw from their twenty-six matches. And of course made the play-offs- it was only the top five who did in those days.
The only thing missing now were titles. Which was immediately rectified on his return to Eastern Suburbs in 1974 and ‘75, with back-to-back premierships. They hadn’t won anything for forty years. The only times Gibson couldn’t work his magic was at Souths and Cronulla. But those stints were hardly abject failures, with an overall slightly less than fifty percent winning record.
In 1981 he took over at Parramatta. The club had been founded in 1946, but had still to win a Grand Final premiership. They not only won the title in 1981, they won it the next two years also. Under Gibson, obviously fantastically talented, but young novices like Peter Sterling, Brett Kenny, Eric Grothe and Steve Ella would go on to become true greats. Kenny in fact scored a brace of Grand Final tries three years in a row- a feat never achieved before or since. And his position was stand-off, not wing.
After the first Grand Final triumph, Gibson said in an interview straight after the end, “Ding-dong, the witch is dead.” It’s almost certainly the most famous quote in the history of rugby league in Australia.
In fact, Jack Gibson had so many pithy, on point utterances that a whole chapter was devoted to Gibson-isms in the book ‘Sports Quotable Quotes’ (Michael Butler). One that isn’t actually in the book, but which occurred when Gibson was co-commentating the 1988 State of Origin series for Channel Nine, happened when he referred to the second-season Queensland halfback (and future great) Allan Langer as being “Smarter than the average kitchen appliance.”
Gibson was also famous for his ubiquitous fur coat, which he wore for all of Parramatta’s Grand Final wins. He believed it to be a lucky charm, but unfortunately it disappeared in transit baggage at Los Angeles airport sometime in the mid 80s. In a subsequent report, Gibson’s wife Judy (who outlived him by eight years) once said “I hated the bloody thing; it weighed a tonne. He was very upset when it got lost, but I couldn’t have been happier.”
Jack Gibson was a thoroughly uncomplicated genius. There’s no better summing up of his great sporting intellect than his words on how coaches and parents should best view kids in sport. So simply put, but so brilliant (and so pertinent right at this time):
Some final thoughts on coaching greats:
- Probably the greatest coach in all of American sports was this guy:
- Wayne Bennett would have to have been sedated for anyone to have gotten a fur coat over his shoulders.
- British football’s Brian Clough defied the rant and rave/not successful argument. But then he always was absolutely one of a kind.