Inside Sport - - FOOTY FINALS - – Jeff Cen­ten­era

You came to the De­mons with a three-year plan. Is the project where you want it to be?

“It was like re­struc­tur­ing a com­pany – the ac­tual struc­ture of the foot­ball depart­ment and the coach­ing group was a real pri­or­ity, and a suc­ces­sion plan was part of that. Putting a very high-level coach­ing group around the play­ers was ex­tremely im­por­tant …

“Get­ting that right has been fun­da­men­tal to see­ing an im­prove­ment on the field. We had to do that first. Then the ac­tual on-field stuff is just building your game plan: where it starts, teach­ing play­ers the fun­da­men­tals of the game. In terms of where we’re at win-loss, that’s harder to pre­dict. But ‘re­build’ of the footy depart­ment is more of an apt term rather than how peo­ple talk of re­build­ing your team.”

“Cul­ture” is a term strewn across sports – as some­one so as­so­ci­ated with it from your time at the Swans, what’s your def­i­ni­tion of it?

“Ul­ti­mately, it’s a con­sis­tent set of stan­dards and be­hav­iours … If I’m a young player who walks into a footy club, it’s de­fined by what you see from day one – if there are play­ers late to train­ing, ev­ery­one’s on the phone, half the blokes are playing ta­ble ten­nis, what­ever it might be. In­stead, a young bloke walks in and all the se­nior play­ers are 15 min­utes early and in the gym, or on their off days they're do­ing box­ing or a swim ses­sion – what’s vis­i­ble to a young player when he walks in? It’s fine hav­ing slo­gans on a board, but what does he see? That re­ally de­fines what cul­ture is.”

The Swans’ John Longmire cred­its your man-man­age­ment skills. Is that a per­son­al­ity trait, or some­thing you had to learn?

“When I re­tired as a player, I didn’t know whether I’d coach. But I wrote down 25 things I liked and didn’t like about coaches. A lot of it was around that: play­ers want to be com­mu­ni­cated with. If you want to be a good se­nior coach, you have to com­mu­ni­cate. Hard as it is, you have 44 play­ers and a lot of staff, and you’re going to miss peo­ple from time to time.”

How hard was it to keep that list to 25?

“I’ve still got the list in my top drawer. It’s pretty ba­sic, but it re­minds me what the play­ers are going through. One here: ‘be strate­gic at quar­ter and three-quar­ter time, don't just ver­bally abuse play­ers’. It helps you have em­pa­thy, and bridges the gap be­tween ages and how long I've been out of the game as a player.”

Know­ing your in­ter­est in US sports, what are your thoughts on coach­ing be­com­ing more of a professional path? The AFL still sees ex-play­ers make the tran­si­tion, but will that go by the way­side in time?

“I think we’re rel­a­tively un­so­phis­ti­cated com­pared to the Amer­i­can model. If you look at the NFL, you start young in sta­tis­ti­cal anal­y­sis or as a wide re­ceiver coach. Then you might build into an of­fen­sive line coach, then go onto a se­nior coach.

“Also, a lot of se­nior coaches who get sacked over there come back, get another job. That’s the area where we’re un­so­phis­ti­cated – in the his­tory of our game, once you fin­ish, it’s dif­fi­cult to get back in. If you’ve won a premier­ship, it’s dif­fer­ent. But even a Mark Wil­liams, who’s got a ter­rific record, hasn’t been able to get back in. We’re al­ways going for new coaches, and it’s such a big jump coming from an as­sis­tant coach. I guess that’s why I’m big on suc­ces­sion plans.”

Re­lat­ing to your role for Adam MacDougall’s Man Chal­lenge, he has an ex­pres­sion: ‘Find­ing the why’. We would think pro ath­letes are eas­ily mo­ti­vated – how do av­er­age punters find it?

“What I love about what Adam’s done is he’s sim­pli­fied it. It can be­come re­ally com­pli­cated … after two weeks, you’re just men­tally drained from do­ing fad di­ets and ex­treme fit­ness work­outs. You just don’t feel you can do it.

“Ev­ery­one has the ‘why’ fun­da­men­tally, I be­lieve – it’s just tak­ing away the im­ped­i­ments. That’s not dis­sim­i­lar to be­ing a footy coach. Play­ers are great at say­ing ‘coach doesn’t like me’ or ‘I’m playing in the wrong spot’, or ‘our train­ing is shit­house’. It’s about tak­ing away the ex­cuses for play­ers and say­ing, ‘Guys, be part of building this pro­gram.’”

“Hard as it is, youhave44 play­ers and a lot of staff; you're going to miss peo­ple from time to time.”

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