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September 1, 2008 | by  | in Opinion |
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Slow Coach

In a perfect sporting world, all coaches would ply their trade in the same manner as Gordon Bombay, coach of the District Five peewee hockey team (better known as the Mighty Ducks) did in 1992. Despite numerous authorities and so called sporting aficionados insisting upon Bombay’s superb record being the work of mere fiction, (“…at a certain level it might appeal to younger kids. I doubt if its ambitions reach much beyond that,” wrote peewee hockey critic Roger Ebert), there is an undeniable charm that effused Bombay’s ability to transform a ragtag group of castoffs, future criminals and ne’r-do-wells into a sporting powerhouse of straight-to-DVD proportions. It’s a charm that seems sorely lacking in other so called ‘real’ sports. Take for instance the hubbub surrounding Lord Graham Henry, head of the Henry Cartel, former high school headmaster and coach of some team that dipped out at the quarterfinals stage of some competition you may or may not have read about. Despite swaggering about with an 85% winning record and a team that by all accounts is tickled Stade Français-pink by his rugged-dry demeanour and cheeky charm, Henry seemingly tied himself to the railway track of media indignation and whistled chirpily as the fast-train of public denunciation came hurtling towards him by asking the forgiving rugby masses to judge him on the result of the very same competition you may have read about.

And just how did this ‘beloved’ outstanding-record-toting carcass of a coach, whose only mistake would seem to be picking a side who despite spending umpteenth amounts of time together, were apparently too rotated to stand steady upon their own flattering credentials and froze on the field one grey October morn respond? Unbelievably, with but the gentle ‘peep’ of his training whistle, he continued to dupe us all with this so-called ‘winning’ shtick, despite a couple of hiccups in Dunedin and Sydney which were seemingly eradicated by comprehensive performances in Auckland and Cape Town – or so the ‘scoreboard’ would have us believe – and as a fan of New Zealand sport, are you really going to lower yourself to paying attention to that all of a sudden? Since when have victories ever muddied the mindset of the fair-minded rugger fan? Really, who the hell does this Graham Henry, successful coach, think he is?

I fail to understand the need for coaches at an elite sporting level. By the time a sportsperson has learned his or her craft, around about the time they reach Second XV or Under 14 level at secondary school, they’ve already attained the requisite skills needed to perform at the highest level imaginable. For some, the highest level is tantamount to playing the Freyberg High School Under 15 B’s, for others it’s winning eight Olympic gold medals – elitism is nothing if not a fine line between dogged hard work and outright pretentiousness, to be fair.

For sure, there are some ‘old schoolers’ and some determined ‘romantics’ who point to the bountiful bevy of evidence that suggest coaches are very much a relevant force in orchestrating, strategising, producing and maintaining success on the sporting field. Without these so-called ‘lynchpins’ of an athlete’s development and future success, impetus falls into the hands of those athletes to train and organise themselves, which – apparently – despite years of comprehensive work both on and off the field is far beyond the realm of the average world champion… or quarterfinalist.

What’s more, there is now evidence to suggest that being a coach places a tremendous strain on one’s ability to function as a normal, healthy human being. Cronulla Sharks coach Ricky Stuart, in a moment of reckless abandon, agreed to have his heart monitored over the course of his side’s recent NRL contest with the Sydney Roosters. Despite the Sharks cantering to a 20-0 victory, the results of Stuart’s 80 minutes of ticker-taping were staggering: Stuart’s heart rate reached 153 beats per minute at one point, tantamount to that of those who competed in the Olympic marathon the previous day. What’s more, it was racing at 120 20 minutes before kickoff, which was in line with what his charges would’ve been toting right after their warm up. According to Susan Nunan, general manager of Pursuit Performance who administered the test, “His heart rate didn’t go much lower than 60 per cent of maximum capacity for the whole game, and he was sitting down.” There’s no other conclusion to come to other than to say this is the sporting equivalent of self-harm and Ricky Stuart should seek the advice of one of the 54 or so psychologists Clive Woodward invited to tour alongside the Lions in 2005 before it’s too late.

I’m not entirely sure how the sporting fraternity will address and fix the increasing problem posed by the existence of coaches, for they are a wily and elusive bunch who seemingly find new ways to legitimatise their stubborn existences. Some coaches like Graham Henry do so by winning, others like Ricky Stuart do so by keeping people like Susan Nunan employed. But again, I turn to Gordon Bombay. What did he do? He quacked. Repeatedly. If that doesn’t scream ‘ingenious true-to-life’ coaching brilliance, then I’m Robbie Deans’ bastard child.

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Kia ora, biography box, kia ora.

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