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Malthouse rues costly mistakes

11:44pm Mar 27, 2014

Hot Gospel: You burn and learn

John Worsfold  April 17, 2013 6:45 AM

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Making mistakes is the best way to become a better coach, says John Worsfold

Whether the criticism is right or wrong, it's based on somebody else's perception and you should try and read into it and understand it so you can use it as a tool
In 2013, all coaches will be writing exclusively for AFL.com.au in partnership with the AFL Coaches Association.

ONE OF the biggest mistakes you can make as a coach is grouping people together and thinking they will all interpret your message exactly how you want them to.

As a team, you want to create a culture of having one mind, one voice and one shared vision, but everyone has different filters and they see things differently.

It's a really important lesson in coaching, particularly when you are dealing with players on game day.

When a player goes out and does something that you think is directly against your message and you barrel them, then that can be a mistake.

If you really aggressively go them and you don't give them an opportunity to explain why, they're just shell-shocked. They still don't understand what they've done wrong, and they think 'I've just been barrelled for what I thought I did well'.

If you never give them an opportunity to put their perspective across, you don't understand why they've done that. That's a critical part of coaching.

We have a term here at West Coast: social constructivism. It's a process of getting together with key people when a mistake has been made and reconstructing the situation to see how it could have worked.

Rather than me just saying I should have done it that way, we'll ask what happened? Why didn't it work? How could it have worked better? We find that works really well.

In the 2007 extra time semi-final against Collingwood, we took Darren Glass off the ground midway through the third quarter when he had done an excellent job of keeping Anthony Rocca quiet.

Rocca kicked two goals while Glass was off the ground, but whether that was a mistake or not, I would still argue both ways.

The key is to remember what processes you put in place to try and make better decisions all the time.

Dean Cox was either forward or off at the same time as Darren, and Mark Seaby was in the ruck, so potentially we didn't have quite the same advantage in the midfield.  

So you learn you've got to avoid having key players like Glass and Cox both not in their key positions at the same time.

I found early on as a coach that any criticism felt like a real personal attack, but you learn to see it as something to take onboard and use in your decision making going forward.

Whether the criticism is right or wrong, it's based on somebody else's perception and you should try and read into it and understand it so you can use it as a tool.

Making mistakes can force people to avoid making decisions that they have to make because they're worried, and that's not a good way to operate.

You have to overcome that as a coach and when there are decisions to make you have to make them.  We are in a profession where you have to make some calls with a lot of options.

You could just say, 'No I'm not taking anyone off because I've been criticised for taking Darren Glass off once', but that's not going to work.

You have to say, 'I've learnt from that, every situation is different and let's make those decisions based on that'.

The key thing for young coaches is to work out what their decision-making process is, back it in, and probably have some guidelines in place around why they make the decisions.

As they progress through and see a lot of those situations unfold, decision-making will become a bit more instinctive for them. It becomes a lot more gut feel.

Expert coaches have seen so many things time and time again, they will instinctively react and say, 'I know this works; we can do this'.  

An example might be a coach going into his first Grand Final not sure how to address the media and what to put out and what to hold back.

Mick Malthouse, meanwhile, knows clearly what he's going to say and how he's going to address all those press conferences he's going to face.

You can only gain that experience over time, so it's good to have some guidelines in place.

You can make them yourself or by seeking the guidance of mentors.

It's really important not to get too down about making a mistake because it's about learning.

So many of the things that are integral in life took three or four efforts, or 100 or 500 efforts, to develop.

Things like light globes and now iPhones, you hear stories about how their inventors initially failed and could have got despondent and given up.

Instead they work hard and they iterate things constantly, and they come up with something they believe in.

It's a lesson that applies to coaching.