Coach's Box: Mentoring key to success
With much of the talk in NRL circles this week being about the possibility of Darren Lockyer and Wayne Bennett reuniting at the Broncos next year with Bennett mentoring Lockyer for a future head coaching role, former NRL and Origin coach Graham Murray talks about the benefits of such an arrangement.
The idea of a mentor for a young coach is a really good idea, if a club can afford them ... like the set-up at the Roosters with Ricky Stuart and Phil Gould when Ricky started there as a young head coach (in 2002). Phil was on a retainer as a mentor for Ricky who had started his coaching career a year earlier as Jersey Flegg coach at the Bulldogs.
It's good for a young coach to start out with a lower grade team or as an assistant before taking a head coaching role. A young coach will make errors in judgement, because as a young person they are not streetwise.
A mentor is a good sounding board. Generally they are experienced at the role or around the club, or a lower grade coach or selector. Or in my case at the Roosters, trainer Ronnie Palmer wasn't a mentor as such but someone I could go to for an honest opinion. He wouldn't say what he thought I wanted to hear; he would tell it how he saw it.
That is one of the keys to being a good sounding board or mentor - don't just say what you think they want to hear. You have to have the ability tell the coach what they may not want to hear - like they are swearing too much, too cranky, not listening, etc.
Mentors are not just for young coaches, but older coaches as well. Royce Simmons had been head coach at the Panthers (1994-2001) before he took up the assistant coach role to Tim Sheens at the Wests Tigers (2003-10). He told me that he had an agreement with Tim Sheens that when he was asked to give his opinion: "I didn't have a big enough ego that if they didn't go with it, I didn't get upset."
That's the second key. The mentor can't jump up and down and be offended if the coach doesn't act on their opinion. The idea is to keep giving information. The coach may store it and use it when the opportunity arises.
At the same time the coach must show respect for people's opinions - take them on board; look interested in what they are saying even if you are not going to use it, so they will come back.
As a coach, the door should always be open - don't be the last to know. The only way you can get that information is to be fed it from mentors, players, assistant coaches.
The one downside is that you can have too much information. The best advice I was given was to go with your gut instinct - most likely your first thought is the right one, but whatever you do, go with it sooner rather than later. Value people's opinions but you don't have to go with every one of them.
The thing with mentoring is that coaching courses don't touch on these sort of things, so when confronted with a tough decision where do you go. You can't read it in a book. That's why the mentor / assistant coach is so valuable.
In my opinion, Royce Simmons was perfect in this role. His philosophy of dealing with Tim was great; he didn't threaten him (wasn't after his job) and now he has another head coaching job (in England with St Helens). If Royce had a big ego it was never going to be successful, but because of his personality and the way he operated, he was successful. The players loved him. He was used in the right way.
I have no doubt Wayne Bennett and Darren Lockyer would enjoy similar success if they team up.
My tips for Round 4: Broncos, Eagles, Titans, Cowboys, Dragons, Sharks, Roosters, Bulldogs.