– by Heath Brown
In netball, your team is only as strong as its weakest link, so what baggage are you carrying in your culture?
How many times have you heard, “I just don’t like her attitude”, or “She’s hard work”?
Players whose actions and behaviour challenge the culture you’re trying to create are something every coach has to deal with. But with the right management strategy, most players can be steered towards a more positive path. I know of a handful of current elite players who were deemed too challenging and were subsequently blocked in their rise to the top, only to have another coach break their bad habits and bring out the best in them.
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So let’s explore how we can tackle some of those character types, and talk tactics on how to manage the player so they can remain a part of your team, because a team with a great culture – shaped by the habits, behaviours and attitudes of players, coaches and officials – always seems to have an invisible eighth player show up on court when the game is on the line.
Wendy is best spotted on a bench, fake clapping as the rest of the bench roars. On the drive home they (and often their parents) plan tomorrow’s phone call or message to the coach to demand court time and pull other players down.
This is the player who acts like they’ve lost the game when the team wins but they themselves don’t play well. In fact, this is the kind of player who is often fist-pumping on the inside when they play well in a loss.
Managing Wendy starts with understanding that it’s probably fear and shame – not arrogance – driving her disconnection. Give Wendy specific jobs on the sideline (i.e. watch the team and give teammates feedback), sit her next to the Maddy Proud-type sideline squawkers and when she’s on court or at training give everyone feedback as a unit so she begins to see the success of the unit as her goal as much as her own. If all of that fails, give her a tennis racquet and suggest that an individual sport may be her domain.
We all know Debbie well. She’s best know for her BMW, and I don’t mean her car – I mean b****ing, moaning and whinging.
She arrives at training complaining about work, school, the boyfriend, the day, the weather – basically anything or anyone that stands still long enough to irritate her. Her hip, knee, ankle, elbow and little toe are all sore, all the time.
Managing Debbie is all about framing – she needs a bit of sugar. Replace open questions where she can take the low road like, “How was your day?”, with action questions like “Do you want to start training with…?”.
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If this becomes tiresome for those around her, teach Debbie how to reframe – she can’t complain unless she also has a solution. Strict warning – be careful not to make Debbie your captain – those BMWs are contagious if they come from the top.
I have to declare up front that I was a bit of a Penny. It takes one to know one!
Penny unfortunately has no filter, whether it’s to an opposition player or our friends in white. If “shoot the goal for her, ump” comes into her head after a contact call, she’ll say it. She also may prefer to let her mouth do the talking instead of her game when she’s being outplayed.
Penny has a massive case of ‘white line fever’ and would probably heckle her own mother if it was a friendly parents vs kids game. Everyone is fair game.
Penny needs to be taught to expel her energy on positive rants at her team – think Sharni Layton or Kate Moloney screeching from one end of the court to the other. Penny also needs to replace vocal reactions with physical – the good old thigh slap is player code for “bad call, umpire”, but it won’t put them on anyone’s bad side.
Fiona the Follower
Fiona is harder to spot. She sits back and stirs the pot, usually puppeteering one of the more overt girls and then hiding behind them as the mombs explode. She often jumps ship as the debris settles, wondering how the bomb exploded, even though she remotely detonated it.
Fi’s ability to influence actually makes her a good leader, so it’s all about giving her leadership tasks or make her the second tier of a leadership group so she can be influenced by the uplifters and not the downsiders in the team.
If Penny, Debbie, Wendy and Fi had a love child, that’s Trish. On their own, these players can interrupt a single player or a few moments in training, but Trish can derail a whole team and steer a culture for weeks.
She’s like the weather in Melbourne: four seasons in one day. She has Wendy’s selfishness, Debbies pessimism, Penny’s grub and Fiona’s manipulative skills. Her habits are so entrenched that there’s normally little hope of changing them. Watch people tip-toe around Trish, scared that if they make the wrong noise she will turn. Encourage Trish to channel that mixed bag of aggression into boxing and work out your exit plan.
Gwynnie the Golden Child
Gwynnie is a case of the entitled child you created because of the way you reared her as a coach. You put her on a pedestal. You always used her as an example to “be more like Gwynnie”. She had no boundaries because she’s untouchable as the coach’s pet.
She has probably grown qualities of the other girls listed above but you can’t see them through your rose-coloured glasses.
Coach’s pets who use their privilege to make their own rules can erode culture faster than Trish can because you as a coach are implicit in the bad behaviour, not just the player.
Gwynnie needs humility. You’ve pumped up her tires for years so it’s time to share the air around. She needs to see you showcasing other players and she definitely needs to play by the same rules. ‘No train no play’, Gwynnie, just like the rest of us.
We can all teach skills and develop game plans, but often your competitive edge is your ability as a coach to manager player attitudes, behaviours and habits. Give it a go with your team and watch them begin to play for each other, enjoy their netball as a team and win as a unit!
Heath Brown is a former Australian men’s team captain who has coached at the elite level in both Victoria and New South Wales. He is now heavily involved in corporate leadership.