Coaching as an Occupation



I received two excellent alerts today. Both helped me think more about coaching as an occupation.
I am feeling very reflective at the moment, more so than usual. The death of a coaching friend, Dean Bailey, is a significant part of this.

John’s Mum

In the first alert, John Kessel writes delightfully about why his Mom would have been a GREAT volleyball coach.
Why My Mom Would Picture 3John’s Mom taught first grade pupils for over thirty years. He writes about how the lessons he learned from her shaped his coaching. His Mom:

  • made sure every student knew how artistic and creative they were.
  • taught to 25 individuals, not making them be the same, but discovered quickly how each student learned best.
  • kept EVERY child active/hands on.
  • had high expectations of her class and students.
  • focused on leadership skills.
  • ALWAYS had a smile on and made class fun.

AFL Coaches

The second alert came from Mark Upton (a retweet from AFL Coaching).
Mark took me to Mandy Ruddock-Hudson and Sophie Knights’ research at La Trobe University. Mandy works with The AFL Coaches’ Association on coaches’ welfare and personal development. Their research was shared with the AFL Coaches’ Association Conference in Adelaide earlier this month.
Samantha Lane wrote about their work in The Age (9 March).
Mandy and Sophie interviewed 12 of the 18 senior AFL coaches. The Age summarises the study’s findings that:

collate the innermost thoughts of a driven and passionate group who love the game, innermost thoughts of a driven and passionate group who love the game, but it also highlights how the role of an AFL head coach is an ever-expanding, increasingly demanding brief involving more responsibility than ever.

Three points from The Age’s reporting of the study struck me forcefully.

  • Coaches are experiencing high levels of stress that lead to insomnia and feeling physically ill.
  • Some coaches do not always know who their true football allies are and whom they can trust.
  • Some coaches feel vulnerable, lonely and isolated.

These experiences take their toll on close family members.
The 2014 AFL season commences with a third of the senior coaches from 2013 no longer in the same posts.


I found the juxtaposition of the celebration of teaching and coaching in John’s post with Mandy and Sophie’s research to be very powerful.
I am a profound optimist and believe we can transform coaching as an occupational culture.
Most coaches spend most of their professional lives losing championships.
Accepting this reality and then coaching to develop performances that give supporters hope is my antidote to the pressures that are heaped upon coaches and their families.
I do believe that coaching is about developing athletes’ and teams’ performances of understanding.
We have to uncouple the financial imperatives placed on coaches by Boards from the opportunities that should be available to expert pedagogues.
Transforming and sustaining performance is a long-term undertaking. John’s Mom developed her practice over thirty years. Professional sports have decided that two years is too long for some coaches.
A 2013 paper from Italian football noted:

the firing of the manager has to be explained in relation to other reasons rather than for the expected improvement in team performance. For example, team boards may overestimate their own ability to undertake optimal replacement decisions, or as suggested by the scapegoating theory, firing the manager may represent a convenient tool for owners in order to placate frustrated stakeholders and supporters and displace blame for the poor performance away from themselves.
We can show with an unprecedented small statistical error for the German soccer league that dismissing the coach within the season has basically no effect on the subsequent performance of a team. Changing the coach between two seasons has no effect either.


I understand that all professional coaches accept a voluntary risk when they are appointed. But we can do much better to alleviate the stresses indicated in Mandy and Sophie’s research.

The Age article quotes Danny Frawley, the AFLCA’s Chief Executive:

We’ve just got to make sure that clubs understand that this job is becoming more difficult by the day. It is a great industry to be involved in, but I think we’re in an industry now where the pressures are becoming greater. Let’s not tip people over the edge just for the sake of it.
All edges need a fine sense of balance.

Photo Credits

Coach Wagner drenched by victorious Garnets (Eric Behrens, CC BY 2.0)
John and his Mom (John Kessel)
Melbourne, Australia (Betsy Weber, CC BY 2.0)


  1. I read the AFL story and could make many parallels to my own experiences.
    However, the point about balance is not a simple one to address. And mandating free days will have no effect on it. The reality is I almost never stop thinking about the team etc even if I am often doing things that would considered to provide balance to my life. I can’t imagine these guys are any different.

    • Hello, Mark
      I was thinking about your work when I wrote the post.
      You bring a very special approach to your coaching.
      I have been wondering how we support a coaching culture that enables a quiet mind. I think this has immense implications for family flourishing.
      Thank you for finding the post.
      Best wishes

  2. The point about the ever-expanding brief on an AFL coach is an interesting one to me. In a job as demanding as this I suspect that the number of truly great coaches is similar to the number of truly great players. That is, not necessarily enough for each team to have one.

    • Agreed. Perhaps this is the argument to transform long-term coach development … leave coaches to coach?
      Thanks for finding the post, Alexis.


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