Reflections on the lot of the club coach in the amateur environment …

posted in: Coaching News, Heritage

“Coaching has only a little to do with beating the other team …” So wrote larger-than-life North Shore United coach Don Jones in 1980.

Jones’ thoughts on the lot of the club coach in the amateur New Zealand environment were insightful then — and are worth recalling today, writes Waikato blogger and Melville United diehard Grigor Griffin whose occasional blogs can be found at Badly Parked site here >>>>

By Grigor Griffin

You’d have to file Melville’s exit from the 2022 Chatham Cup at the hands of Waiheke United in the “shock loss” category.

At home, against a team they’d humped 6-1 away in April, and which has yet to win a match in the northern premier league, you kind of fancied Melville to make the quarter-finals for a second successive year.

But it is axiomatic of cup football that the “wrong” team often wins, which is why we are now wishing Waiheke good luck in not being drawn away to Dunedin City Royals.

However, on reflection, I was less frustrated by a cup exit than I was by either our away quarterfinal loss to Western Suburbs last year — when we failed to fire a shot — or even by the 2019 cup final loss to Napier City Rovers when we had a decent squad and were so well placed to win.

Partially that is to do with the fact that this latest loss may yet be a blessing in disguise if Melville make the top four and the national league round (and then endure a season cramping into December).

‘… a first-rate example of how the buck always stops with the coach’

But the thing I was most taken with in the mournful aftermath was coach Sam Wilkinson’s post-match mea culpa, where he apologised for not having got the job done and setting out how it was his fault there had been a shortfall in the standards we normally expect. It was as if he had personally laced his boots and fired in a farrago of misjudged crosses.

It’s a first-rate example of how the buck always stops with the coach — and that is the essence of today’s blog.

Author James Michener once defined the coach as “a special kind of athlete, the quintessence of the breed. If you take the salient characteristics of the athlete and cube them, forcing them all into the mold of one hypertensive man, you have the foundation for a coach.”

That was written in 1976, but even today nobody sensitive or retiring has any chance of being a coach.

Don Jones. Photo: Dave Barker.

It got me thinking about a column former North Shore United coach Don Jones had penned on the role of the coach for the Rothmans Soccer League Ten Year History 1970-79 back in 1980 (before Sam was even born).

Jones was a larger-than-life and often controversial character on our domestic scene at a time when you measured the seniority of coaches by the length of the trenchcoats they wore.

And in this column he reflected on the fine line coaches forever walked in an environment where failure was always more mathematically likely than triumph and the constant juggling of players’ demands and needs in the amateur environment.

Here are a few extracts…

Coaching has only a little to do with beating the other team.

It is a lot more to do with surviving on a tightrope, between the players, their parents and other assorted relatives, the administrators of the club, the association and the national body, as well as your sponsors and the people commonly known as supporters of the club — and the newspaper men.

In the middle of this collection stands the lonely coach. The happy days are when the team is winning. Then the coach has the support of everyone, apart from the substitutes on the bench, who think that they should be part of the winning combination, and their parents.

But the coach can’t win every season so there are bound to be problems more often than there is unity. That’s the simple number one fact of life for anyone who fancies himself taking his team to the top.

Take the players. Before I try to coach them I have to recognise the types. One kind comes right out and asks for money. You need him, so you get the committee to pay. If they can’t, or won’t, then you have to find a sponsor among the supporters.

Of course, it is all confidential at first but the player compares amounts with the others. Everyone ends up knowing what the others receive, so why not be honest at the start and save the fuss…

Another type of player you take to lunch; help him out with his family problems by knowing life in general just a little better than he does. This man becomes the coach’s friend. He knows that the coach is only getting a pittance for the effort that is put in and plays for enjoyment and the mutual relationship which develops between two grown men.

The third kind is the worst. He comes and asks how much, then goes off to try to get a better offer from another club. After seven years of coaching my instinct tells me not to sign this kind of guy. They are trouble, play only for themselves and to hell with the team. They are the flash-in-the-pan, one-year wonders…

When I don’t want a player, or don’t need him, then I tell him straight out, the way that Ken Armstrong told me when he was Shore coach. It doesn’t matter that he is a great club man. That makes it a heartless job and forces the coach to live a lonely life.

‘The people watching, each see something different’

He can’t get too close, but then he cannot be too far away. And it is harder with amateur players…

If my players want to move then they can. There are no threats made. But good club players take three years to mature and you have to put them in the top team one or two at a time, not in a big group to sink or swim …

The coach has to be visible. The people watching, each see something different. Some see the Lone Ranger or the town marshall. Others see a tactical genius. Some think that is publicity seeking. Others see a fool persisting with his obstinate ways, poor tactics and with a misguided selection system which always Ieaves out the best players or puts them in the wrong positions.

All things to all men. The coach has to battle with those on his side just as much as with the opposition. The coach has to make his statements. He has to live with them. And he has to know how to make them work.

The football is something else again.

That’s way better than anything this blogster could possibly offer on the subject.

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