Once again, due to professional career decisions i.e. doing a PhD, it has been a long time since I’ve written. But I’m back…
Last night saw Lachie Neale of the Brisbane Lions crowned the Brownlow Medalist for the 2020 season (for anyone reading this overseas this is the AFL MVP award). In a COVID compromised season where preparation, scheduling, isolation, and a radical change in game structure (game time reduced from 120min to 100min) has played havoc with many players, this is truly a superb achievement.
I have had the privilege of knowing Lachie for nearly 10 years, having coached him for the first seven years of his career at Fremantle football club. He and I shared some memories recently, and he reminded me of a few things that had probably passed into the deep recesses of my memory.
Lachie recalled a day when he came into my office and asked me to train him 1-on-1…” like you did with Nath”.
Quick backstory – Nath = Nathan Fyfe who is a two-time Brownlow Medalist, who I trained 1-on-1 for more than 10 years.
On reflection, I recalled going through the same process with Nathan. In the same office as Lachie sat, Nathan and I decided to commit to a path that was significantly more difficult than that of every other member of the coaching and playing team, but one which had the potential to achieve great results. History will show…two league MVP’s and I think we were both right.
Of Lachie, I remember thinking…” Is this kid in front of me capable of the same thing?” Could lightning strike twice and I be blessed with another athlete who was both unambiguously committed but also in tune with himself to the point that we could be honest as athlete and coach?
Again, history will show that Lachie was one of those athletes.
Having had the privilege of working with two different Brownlow medalists for huge periods of time, right from their entry into the professional leagues as players with immature physical capacity, through to their ascension to the mantle of the pinnacle athlete in their chosen sports, I thought I would pen a few reflections for both athletes and coaches.
It is worth noting the commitment on the part of both the coach and player to pursue the opportunity to implement 1-on-1 training. Genuine commitment to this process is demanding and contrary to the view of many “new” team managements who feel that the best results are gained by training the multitudes together.
This path is not for everybody and you can’t train an entire team this way. That said…if you are not open to the idea you can miss the lightning!
There are no short cuts. With both players, we built from the ground up starting with the basics. The difference being that I always described the progressions I wanted in detail and repeatedly said that “I will never stick to a “piece of paper” program. When you are ready to progress, we will progress, whether that takes 2 sessions, 2 weeks or 2 months”.
Neither athlete failed to progress quickly using this engaged and informed approach!
For young coaches who flounce around with fancy programs that they read on Instagram, try paying close attention to your athlete…movement quality, range, tissue pliability, respiration quality, neural excitability…these cues will tell you when it is time to change gears.
Training a deeply committed athlete is more like driving a manual car than it is an automatic. You need to work with the athlete, you can’t just put it in “drive” and let it do its own thing. Like listening to an engine increase and decrease revs while trying to maintain speed in a corner…know that changing gears is a matter of timing and integration between driver and car…and it’s the same between coach and athlete.
There is no one program to produce MVP level athletes. As a coach you need to figure out what is required at that moment in the athlete’s development…and this will change radically from development to mastery and with injury and age.
Neale was a deadlift guy, and Fyfe was a squat guy. Neither did any Olympic derivatives, but we found ways for both to develop more than 30W/kg in acceleration. This begs the question as a coach…is your skill diverse enough to achieve what is required in different ways?
What is the difference between Brownlow medalist level athletes and others? Intelligence and intent…unquestionably.
As a coach, engaging with an athlete who is truly integrated in the training process and deeply committed, including an unwavering honesty, has been the pinnacle of my career.
I’ve been honored to spend many years with two great individual athletes in a team sport…Lachlan Neale Brownlow Medalist 2020 & Nathan Fyfe Brownlow Medalist 2015 & 2019.
It has been my privilege gentlemen…thank you!
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