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Hot Gospel: Building greatness through selflessness

Brendan McCartney  April 24, 2013 7:01 AM

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Dogs coach Brendan McCartney gets his message across during a game

Once you create a selfless environment in any club, then great players emerge off the back of that. If you try and create great players to take the club forward as individuals, that's when you get into trouble

Every week an AFL senior coach will write an exclusive column for AFL.com.au in partnership with the AFL Coaches Association.

ONE OF the key things I have learned during my long career in grassroots and AFL football is that selfless teams are the ones who prosper.

As I have seen time and time again, once you create a selfless environment in any club, then great players emerge off the back of that. If you try and create great players to take the club forward as individuals, that's when you get into trouble. You end up in the scenario where some players end up with a gold pass – a licence to do whatever they want.

That's why at the Western Bulldogs we're really keen to build a group in which everyone is treated equally. We understand that players have different levels of talent and ability, but once they put their jumpers on we expect them to all do their bit for the team and their bit for the club.

Everything takes time in this game, especially the construction of a selfless team, and everyone's in a hurry, unfortunately. No one has any patience, but I understand that because the need to win and perform well is at the forefront of everyone's minds.

At the Bulldogs, we have instituted a leadership model where every player on the list takes part. We don't have a leadership group as such, we have Matthew Boyd as our captain and we expect all of our other players to help drive the development of the team. We're quite sure that is going to open us up to some conjecture at times, but the players are adamant that they don't want a hierarchy; they want everyone on a level playing field, and we believe this will lead to the creation of a selfless team.

During the time I spent working as part of the coaching staff at Geelong, I witnessed first-hand the creation of a truly a selfless team. When it was all said and done, everyone at Geelong made a commitment to leave no stone unturned to be the best. The edict flowed down from Brian Cook, the chief executive, and it permeated through the whole club.

The Cats went on and won the 2007 premiership, then, as you all know, they won two more flags in 2009 and 2011. The players became the best example of a selfless team that I've seen in footy.

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Being selfless can be hard. Even the great teams drift in and out of selflessness from week to week and month to month. But the great teams have a mechanism to bring themselves back to being selfless again.

For coaches, when you're talking about moulding players, it about letting them be unique in their own way but also fitting into the team. It's a delicate balance sometimes, especially with young people that have come out of the under-18 system or a grassroots team as the dominant player. I'm sure it's quite a culture shock to them.

But I enjoy seeing their individual traits, and I encourage them to hold onto their little bit of individuality. Great places give people a framework and a structure to work within, then they allow the players' talent and personality to come through.

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Our club also made it a priority to recruit good people. It's no secret that if you go looking for people with a team-first philosophy in the draft and through trade week, then you will become a selfless and successful team.

The great team-based organisations are pretty clear about what they want to be the best at, and they stick at it. For us at the Bulldogs, we want to be talked about as a TEAM. If you work at the club, if you play at the club, if you're a part-timer or a volunteer, it's about the team and ultimately it's about the club.

We've got a coaching group, we've got a playing group, we've got a support-staff group; and at any one point in time, we're responsible for how our club looks. And that's not lost on us.

We're working hard with our younger players to understand and accept that responsibility to be selfless. Yes, it can be a burden, but we always want them to be thinking, 'Yes, I'm doing my best to build an AFL career, but I'm also doing my best to do a great job for our club.'"

I think the sooner that our young players at the Bulldogs understand that their every action out on the ground has an implication for the team, both in a positive manner and a not so positive manner, the better.

The management of our club – that includes the executive and the coaches – has already made it quite clear that we are going to reward people who demonstrate those selfless behaviours. It's not about putting them on a pedestal, it's about using them as an example to other people in the organisation and saying, "This is what is looks like. This is how we want you all to be."

At the same time, we won't abandon the people who don't immediately show those behaviours. You've got to give them an opportunity to flourish and give them some solutions. But, ultimately, if they don't make that decision to be a team-based person, they're probably not going to have a long career with us.