This book declares from the outset: it is unashamedly about being exceptional, rather than merely good. Ric Charlesworth pursued that personally – not only a hockey Olympian, but state cricketer, doctor and Member of Parliament – and famously pushed the players he coached to the most exacting standards. To play for Charlesworth, one could get sick of all the winning (a line whose political provenance he would not appreciate), but it wasn’t the most comfortable of experiences.
Between his stints at the Hockeyroos and the Kookaburras, Charlesworth established himself as a sideline doyen, the coach that other coaches look toward, often in other sports. His record in hockey was self-evident: of 21 semi and final contests at the sport’s biggest events, Charlesworth’s teams won 20; the sole loss, by the men at the London Olympics, gnawed at him.
But like other equivalent figures in the coaching firmament, it wasn’t results that drove Charlesworth as much as process. The discomfort comes from a need for constant improvement, and the harsh truths that every team, player and coach has to face to make those gains. It’s encapsulated in a saying, attributed to theologian and anti-Nazi dissident Dietrich Bonhoeffer, which Charlesworth draws on in his approach: to comfort the troubled, and trouble the comfortable.
One of the pleasures of reading World’s Best is taking in Charlesworth’s polymath-like range. The sin of the garden-variety coach tome is to reheat phrases from motivational posters, but this book can span the writings of Shakespeare (Charlesworth is a bard nut), an incisive critique of Tony Abbott’s love of “captain’s picks” and the work practices of doctor/author Atul Gawande, without seeming forced.
A later chapter is not from Charlesworth but Corinne Reid, the sport psychologist on the Kookaburras. The chapter delves into what they call “the excellence delusion”, which is a clear statement of the subject – contrary to today’s everybody-gets-a-trophy culture, achieving excellence requires real striving. Charlesworth commends Reid’s entry as the best writing in World’s Best, which is emblematic – even in his own book, Charlesworth is trying to learn from somewhere else.
GOODFOR: Any kind of coach. Good for the corporate types, too. Or just the odd, mad hockey fan in your life.