Are We Coaching or Just Talking?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

By Brent Thiele

As football enthusiasts we have grown up listening to the motivational speeches from the game’s greatest coaches and most football lovers can quote….

“Not only have you got to play it moment by moment (building) contest by contest (building) quarter by quarter…” 

(Allan Jeans)

"It's got to be a do-or-die effort. You've got to show all the guts and determination you've got in your bodies. 

You gotta inspire me” (Teddy Whitten)

And the most famous

"At least DO SOMETHING! DO! Don't think, don't hope, do! At least you can come off and say 'I did this, I shepherded, I played on. At least I did something.” (John Kennedy)

We have heard these coaches and watched the stereotypical coach portrayed in Hollywood movies and learnt to believe that is how to coach. After all our yelling and screaming, have we ever stopped and considered if the message reached the players and what strategies, such as catering to players learning styles might have increased the effectiveness of our message? 

AFL’s greatest coaches were great motivators but what these famous speeches didn’t show was their ability to actually coach and more importantly teach their players how to play the game. History remembers their inspirational and motivational speeches and many coaches focus on that and forget the real reason why Jeans, Whitten, Kennedy, Sheedy, Barassi, Smith, etc are legends of our game…. They all are great coaches but more importantly, great teachers.

We should always stop and ask ourselves, ‘What is the role of a coach and what do players need from a coach to reach their true potential?’ 

As coaches we should remember our main objective is not to motivate but to teach our players and know how each player learns and retains the wisdom we are passing onto them. In truth, motivation comes from within the individual. No coach can motivate a player for an entire quarter or game, let alone a season. A player motivates themselves. Coaches may inspire a player to get motivated to achieve what they desire. Motivational speeches are required in our repertoire but they should not be our principle method. Our core business is to educate and teach our players how to play Australian Football. If we remember that, we are on the way to being the best coach we can be and delivering a message that will be heard, understood and retained and enabling our players to have a successful career. 

To be the best teacher of information, coaches need to understand their player’s individual strengths and weakness. Not necessarily the flaws in their skills or game but more importantly their learning style. Not until a coach can tap into the psyche of an individual player and team can real coaching occur. Coaches need to know their players, what motivates them, understand what methods of learning cater to them and more importantly how they best retain information.  

The best way to understand players is to test them. But what are we testing them for? 

To appreciate players learning needs, coaches need to recognize their players learning style or in simple terms, what is the best way to deliver a message to a player/team.

A number of successful businesses and sporting organisations use ‘learning styles’ as their first step to developing a team coaching program. Theories and questionnaires exploring the topic of learning styles fill the pages of the internet and one such organisation ‘VARK’ developed their own athlete specific test. This test has been used by sporting bodies such as Australian Institute of Sport’s Olympic Development Squad, Cricket Australia, the Wallabies (Australian National Rugby Squad), Australian Netball team, the Victorian Institute of Sport and Collingwood Australian Football Club just to name a few.  


VARKS – Athlete specific questionnaire

What will coaches learn if their players complete these non-invasion and time efficient questionnaires? After completing a test like the VARK Athlete questionnaire, players and coaches will immediately see their preferred learning style. Players and in fact all individuals can be categorised into: The Three Main Types of Learning Styles - They are: auditory, visual, and kinaesthetic learners.

It is important to note that most people have dominance in one area but always learn best through a combination of the three types of learning styles, but everybody is different. Each learning styles can be broken down to the following traits; 

Auditory Learners: Hear

Auditory learners would rather listen to things being explained than read about them. Reciting information out loud and having music in the background may be a common study or learning environment for these players. Other noises may become a distraction resulting in a need for a relatively quiet place.

Visual Learners: See

Visual learners learn best by looking at diagrams, flowcharts, graphics, watching a demonstration and videos of themselves performing, or reading. For these players, it's easy to look at charts, graphs and videos, but they may have difficulty focusing while listening to an explanation.

Kinaesthetic Learners: Touch

Kinaesthetic learners process information best through a "hands-on" experience. Actually doing an activity can be the easiest way for these players to learn. Sitting still while in team meetings may be difficult, but writing things down makes it easier to understand.

Once a coach has recognised a player’s or group’s learning style, we are closer to understanding their needs and how we, as coaches, can best utilise this knowledge to start really teaching them. Having a clear picture of the team might also allow a coach to evaluate their own coaching style and whether their delivery is best suited to the team. If the message isn’t getting through maybe we need to look at ourselves as coaches before we chastise our players?

The majority of our coaching occurs during key moments throughout the week such as training, game previews, pre-game meetings, quarter/half/three quarter time and during a post-match review.  It is important to remember a coach can teach and educate players in any environment, at any time, but if we maximise these key moments and include a variety of delivery strategies, we are well on the way to teaching, coaching and ultimately……success.

What are our current practices and what strategies could we introduce during our key coaching moments to increase the learning for our players?

Training during the week:

  • Talking about the drill we are about to undertake (Auditory)
  • Walk through the drill slowly (Auditory/Visual)
  • Use of a whiteboard on the ground (Visual)
  • Complete drills and game sense activities (Visual/Kinaesthetic)
  • Craft exercises with line coaches (Auditory/Kinaesthetic)
  • Debrief a drill for positives and negative (Auditory)
  • Video tape review of training (Auditory/Visual)
  • Others?

Thursday Night Pre game meeting:

  • Handouts on our game style (Visual)
  • Handouts on opposition game style (Visual)
  • Handouts on opposition key players (Visual)
  • Discussing the handouts (Auditory)
  • Watch videos of opposition structures (Visual)
  • Walk through changes to our structures/opposition game plan (Visual/Kinaesthetic)
  • Sit one on one to watch videos on key match ups (Auditory/Visual)
  • Others?

Game Day:

  • Team meeting (Auditory)
  • Use a whiteboard to reinforce key points (Visual)
  • Walk through on the ground (starting points) (Auditory/Visual/Kinaesthetic)
  • Warm ups looking at structure/stoppages (Visual/Kinaesthetic)
  • Guest speaker (Auditory)
  • iPads (Visual)
  • Stand and deliver key points (Auditory)
  • KPI’S on board, graph(Auditory/Visual)
  • Body position/starting point reinforcements (Visual/Kinaesthetic)
  • Use video of key errors or successes/evaluation (Visual
  • Players feedback about what’s happening (Auditory)
  • Others?


  • Whiteboards (Visual)
  • Videos (Visual)
  • Graphs, stats (Auditory/Visual)
  • Player reviews with coach/vision (Auditory/Visual)
  • Peer reviews with coach/vision (Auditory/Visual)
  • Reviewing individual/line tapes (Auditory/Visual)
  • Walk through successes/errors (Kinaesthetic)
  • Personal dossier (Visual)

The more we cater to the different learning styles in our team, the more our messages will be heard and the closer we are to developing successful footballers and teams.

Brent Thiele has coached with the AFL VIC Metro team for the past 5 years and is currently the Senior Assistant & Midfield Coach for the AFL VIC Metro Futures Squad and has been teaching and coaching at Wesley College for 7 years. Brent presented this topic as part of the AFL 2013 High Performance Coaching Course.

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Paul Jemmeson, 22-04-14 09:41:
An outstanding article which no doubt summarises an excellent presentation.
So many good points that apply to all codes/forms of sport and coaching styles.
Thanks for sharing.
Paul Jemmeson
Bentleigh Junior Football Club U/9 coach and Bentleigh Auskick Co-ordinator
Year of Birth
This is Our Game
2017 AFL International Cup