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Hot Gospel: spreading the load

Chris Scott  June 12, 2013 7:00 AM

AFL 2012 Rd 21 - Best of Round

Chris Scott says it's important to think clearly while in the coach's box

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Each week, a senior coach will write an exclusive column for AFL.com.au, in partnership with the AFL Coaches Association. This week, Geelong's Chris Scott looks at where the buck stops on match days. When does he take charge and when does he delegate? 

THERE are a number of people who sit in our coach's box on match days. We've got performance analysts in there, we have a sports science representative, we have our footy managers, Neil Balme and Steve Hocking, who overlook the dynamics of the box. 

To be honest, 'Balmey' and 'Hock' don't tend to say a lot. I use them as sounding boards, but they are really there to bring some quality control to the dynamics in the box as much as anything. They calm people down if they're getting a little bit excited, which doesn't happen too often, and not for any great length of time, anyway. Any reaction from the people within our box might last for a few seconds, and then we move on pretty quickly.
 
But once we've established the roles and responsibilities of the coaches, then it's up to them to drive their particular areas. Probably similar to our footy managers, my role with those coaches is to keep them on task and to question them at the appropriate time. Once I'm happy with their direction, it's my job to give them the responsibility for the implementation of those actions.
 
The amount that senior coaches delegate to their assistants in the box on match days probably has changed a lot in the past decade or so, although I didn't sit in the coach's box too often when I playing for the Brisbane Lions, so it's hard for me to draw too many comparisons.

I think the information available to coaches during the week is a lot greater now. My assumption is that these days, coaches go in more prepared for what's going to happen, rather than just adjusting and adapting on the day.
 
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Certainly, I think the assistant coaches were a little more wary of speaking up in the past. Nowadays, their role is not so much to ask questions of the senior coach - at least in our box it tends to work the other way. The coaches have a responsibility to look after their areas, and I see it as my responsibility to question them on it and make sure that they're delivering what we planned during the week.
 
Of course, no matter how good your planning is, things always go wrong on match days, whether it involves an injury or a match-up not working out. 

My personal philosophy – and I understand that some coaches might approach situations differently – is that there is always time. To rush to a decision in 20 seconds, when it might not have made any difference if you had spent three minutes coming up with a really considered decision, is not logical.
 
It is easy to get sucked into reacting quickly. Something happens and you think you have to make a call straight away. But things take time. The runner might busy attending another issue, a player might be on the other side of the ground and take a while to come off.
 
Generally, we are really clear in our box on who should be commenting in pressure situations and who shouldn't, although our approach is collaborative. I always want to take some extra time to first hear properly from the person whose area the issue relates to. If it is a tactical issue, that will be an assistant coach. If it is an injury or a question about whether a player should be subbed off, often the medical person will be the first to comment. Often a person will make a suggestion and from there it will be as simple as me giving the green light to that. 

Very occasionally, I'll decide on a different course of action. But then there will always be discussion after that. It's not a matter of me making the call and not asking the others for their input.
 
Since I started coaching, the lesson that time-pressure is not as acute as I first thought is one of the biggest things I have learned. The other thing my experience has shown me is that our coaches are good operators. It would be blind faith to completely trust people before they've earned it. However, my couple of years at Geelong have taught me that we do have great people who are capable of making very strong decisions.
 
While it is important to delegate, you can't delegate without accountability. So whenever mistakes are made in our planning or on game-day, it is important that we review those. And I think we do that better now than we did two and a half years ago when I started out as a senior coach.