Follow-up is crucial
Now, back to the Gold Coast when I received my first Rocket spray that almost split the internal cords of the visitors’ phone in the coaches’ box …
I’ll never forget being at the airport after the game. Calmness had approached when Rocket came straight up to me to follow up his spray.
This was something that was unfamiliar to me. My previous encounters with coaching sprays was that you both would avoid each other until enough time had passed or you had a better game, which I later learnt was a common reaction to anxiety.
I can only give you my own experience under Rocket, but he would always follow up after every game and tell you exactly what he was thinking. Regardless of what the level of spray was or how many phones he had gone through on game day, he would always explain what he was trying to say at the time.
Some coaches make it hard to know what they’re thinking or planning and where the hell you stood each week. This is what I really liked about Rocket; as a player I felt I knew what he thought of me and where I was in his future plans.
As a player, I felt it was his way of clarifying any misinterpretations, reminding you that it wasn’t personal, even though it often sounded like an attack, and him saying that he let the pressure and his emotions get the better of him.
The follow-up after an almighty spray is a key response and an absolute must from a coach. Often during an emotional time, we can say things that we regret. I think anyone reading this will be thinking of a time when they have once acted on pure emotion.
Often it is when we are frustrated about something or someone, so we lash out. However, more often than not, it is for us and not the person or object that we are frustrated with.
Often when we let emotion and frustration into our voice, messages can get lost and, as a player, that can keep you guessing like you wouldn’t believe. That is where the follow-up tool for a coach is crucial, so the player and the coach can go back to being on the same page, and this is where Rocket excelled.
Unfortunately, in this recent Rocket case there were a few players who didn’t even get a chance to hear their spray until almost a decade later, which is not right. One fear of mine is that these players will be known more from the recent recording, as opposed to them being great characters and players. However, knowing Rocket I would be surprised if he hasn’t already followed up with both players to make sure they are OK and to apologise for his behaviour.
It can be said that Rocket could lose it at times and get emotional and blunt. I have no doubt there would be things he has said that he regrets, but there was a lot more to Rocket than a spray; he was passionate about winning and determined to help his players improve. He coached at the highest level for a long time and many seemed to forget he had a lot of success also.
I feel at times there can be space for an animated motivational conversation with a player or players, but I would always suggest to a coach or parent to stop and think: Is this for the player/child or is this for me to deal with my own emotions? I think you’ll find it is the latter that is often the answer.
The new coach
Since finishing my AFL life the same season as Rocket ended his stint at the Bulldogs, I have recently finished all of my psychological studies to become a general psychologist. During this time, I have seen the new wave of coaches coming through who seem to have learnt that the days of the old school sprays are gone.
I often hear coaches talk about awareness, narrative, mindfulness and acceptance, which in psychology can be tools to deal with emotional responses and can also assist them in their pressure-cooking environments.
This appears to be the way of the new coach, as they are now getting the education and the science behind the best practice to motivate a player and a team. This needed to happen; whilst coaches are under enormous stress they can, at times, forget how damaging words can be to an individual.
I once researched past players’ experiences in the AFL and I was amazed how most players could remember word for word what a coach had said to them during their career and how much those words had stayed with them in their futures.
Therefore, it’s important that coaches are always educating themselves around the psychology of motivating their team and having strategies in place to be able to deal with the pressures of professional sport.
Any player, especially regular emergency players like myself, would tell you that the coaching box was an uncomfortable room where you would hear some emotional outbursts which would be frowned upon in most workplaces.
But there is a reason why a coach might react the way they do, though luckily I feel the time for this type of reaction has passed. While the recordings may become a remembrance point for Rocket’s coaching, I hope that’s not the case.
Above all, I saw first-hand some great coaching qualities that he brought into the coaches’ box and club rooms.