Sport AFL coaches don't need to have played an elite level of football to be successful

08:30  13 july  2018
08:30  13 july  2018 Source:

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Brendon Bolton must be tired of seeing his name in the media each and every week, but it's fair to say that Carlton's problems can't be blamed solely on the head coach.

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Since he was announced as taking over from interim Blues coach John Barker at the beginning of the 2016 season, Carlton have won just 14 games out of 59 with a winning percentage of 23.73.

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Port Adelaide premiership winner Kane Cornes recently told SEN Mornings that "you are more chance of being a successful AFL coach and command the respect of your players if you have played at the highest level."

Bolton played a competitive standard of football in Tasmania, however, his career was cut short due to injury and he moved into coaching. Before becoming head coach of the Blues, Bolton was assistant under Alastair Clarkson at Hawthorn from 2013-2015 and even stepped up to coach five games in Clarkson's absence. The Hawks won all five of those fixtures.

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"Does it matter if an AFL senior coach hasn't played the game at the elite level? This has become an issue this week in the light of Carlton's thrashing last week and their poor form this year," Connolly told Sporting News.

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"The Blues have only won one game and are destined for the wooden spoon. Their coach, Brendon Bolton, is in the harsh glare of the critical spotlight because he's in charge of the club and he hasn't played AFL football.

"Kane Cornes, a fairly prominent media commentator now and obviously former Port Adelaide champion, threw this up on talkback radio the other day. It was always going to come up, Brendon Bolton from that regard is a soft target. It's an anachronism that whole charge, the requisite of having played AFL football is probably less important now than it's ever been.

"There's a number of reasons for this. When Kane threw the question out there, he's probably overlooking the fact that there is a large group of assistant coaches now at AFL senior level, and by my quick count, there's more than 20 of those assistant coaches scattered around the 18 AFL clubs who have no AFL senior background.

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  AFL coaches don't need to have played an elite level of football to be successful © Provided by Perform Media Channels Limited "Assistant coaches now do a lot more than move the witches hats, they're working more intimately with players on their games and development than ever before. The senior coach is more of a hands-off role than he used to be as well. Players in the AFL system have long been working with guys that aren't household names or haven't had an AFL background. Kane was saying that players, when things aren't going well, are probably sitting around asking the question, 'why am I listening to this guy, I've played at the elite level and he hasn't.'

"That's less likely to be the case now. Players are taking instruction from systems of coaching rather than any individuals. Younger players today are less awe-struck by the AFL as a cultural phenomenon, so they're less likely to have that intimate knowledge of AFL history and be starstruck by big AFL names coaching them rather than a coach that doesn't have a really prominent profile or a background playing AFL football.

"It's about systems now, AFL coaching is more about teaching and psychology. It's about understanding the psyche of these players and getting them to tap into their potential. On that score, Bolton has a very good track record in his time coaching in Tasmania, and, as an assistant coach at Hawthorn, the most successful club of the modern era. There's a very good reason that Hawthorn got him to fill in for Alastair Clarkson a few years back when Clarkson had an illness mid-season. Bolton took over for a handful of games and acquitted himself very well, he's got a great reputation as a teacher.

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"From what I understand, the Blues are very fond of him in a mentor sense, and I don't think their issues have anything to do with them not listening to his voice. As I've said before, Carlton's list is the major issue for them, they've rebuilt the whole list, turned over 42 players over three years. They're really paying a price for some poor drafting over a five-year period between 2009-2014. In that period they picked up about 30 players via the draft, and there's only five of them left on the list.

"They also sent a few other players packing to other clubs who have gone on and done really well. That isn't Brendon Bolton's fault, it's indeed not the fault of anyone really in the current administration because they were decisions made before those guys were there. We're going to see more guys come through the system that haven't had AFL backgrounds coaching, Bolton is one, Chris Fagan at Brisbane is really starting to get some results there, and you'll see his teaching come through for the Lions in the next couple of years.

"Have any non-AFL playing coaches had success? We don't really know, there's only been a handful of them. The first one I can remember is Col Kinnear who coached Sydney back in the late '80s and early '90s. We've seen Brendan McCartney. You need to remember that some of the best coaches in AFL history haven't had distinguished playing careers.

"Alastair Clarkson, first and foremost, played plenty of footy, but he was no star. Going back before that, the likes of Tom Hafey at Richmond, Allan Jeans at St Kilda. They were hardly stars of the VFL scene as players. More than ever now, AFL coaching isn't about playing 200 games and being a star so that players are going, 'well, he did it so I can do it.' AFL football has got a lot more sophisticated than that.

"I don't think Brendon Bolton's lack of AFL expertise in a playing sense is an issue at all."

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