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The Coach shares his wisdom

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Coaches and hockey lovers were in for a treat when they logged onto the Hockey Today Coaching Clinic for the inaugural online series of hockey seminars. The keynote speech was delivered by one of the greatest hockey coaches of all time, former Australia head coach Ric Charlesworth.

Over his international coaching career, which ran from 1993 to 2014, Charlesworth led the women’s Australian hockey team to four Champions Trophies, two World Cups, two Olympic gold medals and one Commonwealth Games gold medal. During his tenure, the Hockeyroos cemented their place in history as one of a ‘golden generation’ of players, moving to the world number one ranking and staying there throughout the years they were coached by Charlesworth.
In 2009, Charlesworth moved across to coach the men’s team, where the winning just kept happening. His Kookaburra team won Olympic bronze, two World Cups and two Commonwealth Games gold medals.


Now the man known as The Coach, lectures and mentors, with the likes of the Australia Institute of Sport, the Australia Football League and Cricket Australia among his client list. People who tuned in for the live lecture facilitated by Hockey Today, were taken on an entertaining, inspirational and informative whirl through what The Coach feels are the key points to successful coaching. His main message was: ‘whatever level of coaching you are at, the principles remain the same.”


Much of what Charlesworth has to say is firmly planted in the realms of common sense. There are ways of behaving and ways of thinking that should underpin all that we do as both coaches but also as human beings. The difference is whether we stick by these principles when the going gets stressful or tough.
For Charlesworth, there are five key qualities that a good coach will possess or learn to possess. These are: knowledge of the game; being diligent in preparation; being willing and able to listen; being consistent at all times; and being honest. In addition, he says, a coach must be enthusiastic, alive and take on the responsibility of lifting the environment.


“You have to make it fun and interesting,” says the multi medal-winning coach, who also found time to be both a doctor and a politician over the course of his career. “But you also have to know what you want and stand up for it, because you will be found out if you don’t. There is no point saying you believe in something, if you don’t. “That said, you also have to be prepared to change and move on. What was a good idea ten or five years ago, might not work anymore. You have to have the capacity to change.”


Much of Charlesworth’s thinking over the course of his coaching career centred around the culture surrounding the team. It is something that has become part and parcel of most international coaches’ thinking now and is prevalent in business and industry. But Charlesworth was there first and as every coach caught up, so he took his thinking to a new level. Here are his thoughts on team culture: “When I say I want a healthy team, I am not talking about fitness. It is about the culture, the way you interact, the relationships in the team and the team’s capacity to connect with each other. “We always tried to keep confusion or politics to a minimum, but we always encouraged candour. We tried to create a listening and learning culture. And sometimes the things that were said were hard to listen to, but that led to deeper connections.


“You have to be able to say what you think and you have to be prepared to have difficult conversations. Normally we run away from difficult conversations – we either argue or run away. We must be able to give our opinions. “For example, we might say to a player: “‘When you do that it hurts our team. What might you do to change that? Or, ‘you have not been living up to the expectations of your team mates’. That is hard for a player to hear.” Charlesworth also revealed the steely resolve that every successful coach must possess. “Cultural change gets real when your aim is execution; you need to change people’s behaviour so they produce results. As a team, you must discuss how you will get those results.


“For players who achieve the results, then it is right to reward them, but if the results don’t come, then add in some additional coaching to give the players every opportunity of achieving the results. If the player or team still comes up short, then you have to replace players with people who can get to the point you are aiming for.” The coach also spoke about dealing with different players in different ways. “I always say: ‘Comfort the troubled and trouble the comfortable.’ There are players who are over-confident and there are players who need assistance. That is what coaching is. You reward, redirect and reprimand - as a coach you constantly doing that and at the same time, you are developing a culture that allows you to do that.”


Charlesworth uses the example of Kieron Govers at the 2016 Champions Trophy. The player scored a cracking goal to put his side ahead in the semi-final. Instantly Govers hand shot up and he admitted to the umpire that the ball had hit his foot. The action went viral as a great example of sportsmanship but at the same time, there were many players who said they would never have admitted to the foot, saying that such things were part and parcel of the game.
For Charlesworth, the action by Govers was absolutely correct as it fitted so neatly with the Australian principle of ‘no short cuts’. “If that goal had stood, we would have cheated our way into the lead. We set a standard and one of the tenets of the standard is that we never, never cheat. That standard stretched us and it didn't allow anyone to take short cut. There were players who disagreed with Keiron’s actions but that is how we did it."


The ‘no short cuts principle’ works for coaches and players. Many players look to the coach for comfort, stability and solutions. For Charlesworth that is not coaching, it is “baby-sitting”. “Real leaders ask questions and knock people out of their comfort zones. Then they manage the resulting distress. As a coach, you take players to a place that they didn't know they could go. You might challenge them to learn a new skill. If they fail, you push them to get there. A good coach will use patience and persistence to get the players past the difficult skill and the player will have reached a level they never thought they could achieve.”


The many international coaches who fell before Charlesworth’s medal winning teams would have loved to know the secrets of his success. But it seems, the formula couldn’t have been simpler. “Get the ball, keep it, penetrate and try to score. Get it back and start again.” For Charlesworth, the basic key to success was a good defence but the bit that excited the players was scoring goals. For that reason, much of the coaching practice was dedicated to always look to make goals. He cites an example where there were 30 seconds left before the half-time whistle so one of his players took the ball to the corner and just held onto it to count down the clock.


In the half-time team talk, Charlesworth berated the player, saying that the team should always be looking to score. With just a few seconds left on the clock before the final whistle, Australia scored a wonder goal – they had listened to their coach and acted on his wisdom.

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