Port Adelaide coach Matthew Primus is taking part in the Strategic Leadership Thinking course

Crash course
Friday, February 03, 2012 - 2:52 PM

PORT Adelaide's Matt Primus is one of seven AFL coaches taking part in a new AFL leadership course.

The Strategic Leadership Thinking course, developed by Ray McLean in consultation with the AFL Coaches' Association, held its first two-day workshop at Creswick in mid-January.

"(We were) able to go through scenario-based things that can happen at football clubs - different ways you can lead your club in different situations," Primus said.

Attending the course alongside Primus were Collingwood's Robert Harvey, Carlton's Paul Williams, Melbourne's Josh Mahoney, Adelaide's Mark Bickley, North Melbourne's Darren Crocker and the Sydney Swans' Peter Berbakov.

The course recognises the multi-layered, managerial aspects of the coaching role as its maturation into a job more aptly described as the CEO of football.

The group will meet monthly throughout 2012 to examine case studies, engage in role-playing scenarios related to coaching and share experiences. They will then be applying what they learn within their own club environment when the opportunity arises.

"Being able to have more strategies (to draw on) is the key," McLean said. "In certain situations they would feel as though they have more options."

Primus, 37, has coached Port Adelaide in 29 games and he says he has already benefited from the chance to get an insight into the range of environments that constitute an AFL club.

"While as individuals we don't go into specific things that happen within our football clubs, it (the course) can open my eyes as to what can make me a better coach and what can make us into a better football club and a better environment to work in," Primus said.

AFL Coaches' Association coaching development manager Paul Armstrong, who is also attending the course to assess whether it should be recommended to other coaches, says the course will complement other qualifications such as the four-year degree course Bachelor of High Performance (Sport and Business).

"The scenarios put to coaches are relevant, practical, worthwhile and can be actioned straight away back at their clubs," he said.

The structure of the course also has the added benefit of fitting into AFL coaches' incredibly tight schedule.

McLean, who runs similar courses for corporate leaders as part of Leading Teams, expects the course's practical component to include the input of guests from the business world as well as AFL leaders.

In a twist to the trend of books suggesting ways businesses can learn from sporting environments, more and more football departments are recognising they can learn from business environments. After all, as the numbers within such departments increase, they have become more akin to corporate environments than the old-fashioned coach and his assistants.

That provides a challenge to those entering the world of coaching, says McLean. Footballers still, more often than not, obtain coaching positions straight out of the game because they are football experts. Many have not been exposed to the skills needed within a business environment to lead and manage.

But in the rapidly expanding roles they are being appointed to, such components are vital to job success and satisfaction. "In football what becomes pivotal are the relationships that exist between key centres of influence," McLean said.

Recruiting, psychology, conditioning are just three sub-areas within expanding football departments that coaches need to manage.

For those reasons, the new course focuses on the dynamics of a coaching job rather than the mechanics.

Coaches will work with McLean to understand their own business model better, and discuss and learn methods that will assist them to drive the culture of the organisation they are leading, to manage relationships and conflict, hire people and manage performance.

An example McLean gives of the type of questions coaches considered on the weekend was how they actually assess whether an assistant coach is performing or not.

Primus agrees coaching is about managing and leading.

"In the end a lot of the values (at successful football clubs) are similar, and it's a matter of how quickly you get those values instilled into your football club, not just the playing group," he said. "(We) had a vigorous discussion and debate on different ways of going about things."

Such recognition as to the broad nature of the coaching role and the skills required is understood better at some clubs than others. The selection criteria Geelong used to appoint its premiership coach Chris Scott at the end of 2010 reflected the latest thinking. When assessing the merits of the applicants, the Cats allocated just 20 per cent value to technical ability and 50 per cent to personal qualities, management ability and the capacity to show leadership and cultural development.

The number of assistant coaches in the AFL has expanded to 148, a growth of nearly 40 per cent in three years, so finding ways to develop the skills of those in the system is critical.

It's also a way to progress a profession that requires skills more aligned to senior positions outside football than the ability to kick a footy.

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