Malcolm Blight was one of the greatest (Aussie) footballers of all time. In his time men were men, the primary coaching method was screaming (see Kerley, Neil and Barassi, Ron) and it was not unusual for players to coach as well. In that time honoured way, Blight, as best player at North Melbourne was appointed captain-coach. It was a disaster and he quit after just more than half a season. At the end of that season, in the same time honoured way, Blight, as greatest ever player from Woodville was appointed captain-coach. After three sesaons of mediocrity, from memory they finished last each season, he inevitably (if not logically) became the coach-coach. Despite having more time to coach, he was unable to replace his best player (him) and results did not improve. About half way through the season, so the story goes, he was fishing with his assistant coach/best friend discussing their situation. They were both at their wits end. After all of his screaming, he couldn’t complain about the players’ effort, but they were still losing. Their skill level was just too low. Exasperated, he turned to his assistant and spoke the immortal words… “Fuck it! Let’s just teach them how to kick.” History shows that this particular Woodville team went on a long winning streak culminating in the preliminary final, the best result in the history of the club. They continued to make finals during Blight’s time there but his innovative style (my comment, possibly sarcastic) quickly took him to Geelong and then Adelaide where he become one of the greatest coaches in of all time. He also remains one of the few people in any sport, in any part of the world, who were great players AND great coaches.
And the moral of the story? One moral could be, he couldn’t possibly have been that good a coach if it took him into his fifth year of coaching before it occurred to him that there was a teaching component to coaching. But I’m a fan so I’m prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt on that one and accept that it was a product of the sport and the times. The main moral is that no matter what the effort level, players don’t learn skills by some kind of osmosis. They learn through an active process driven by the coach. The other moral is that you can always benefit from technical training, no matter what point of the season. It’s a lesson I try hard to remember…
The recent biographies of crows premiership players have interesting anecdotes about Blight. apparently there was this one occasion where they all had to stand against a wall in a large room while he stood in front of them atop a 3-m ladder and called them to step forward one-by-one so he could tear strips of them.
in 1982, the year he was player-coach of North Melbourne, Barry Cable got flown over to coach the kangaroos for the remainder of the season. Blight finished the season winning the coleman medal. he really did play better when he wasn’t coaching.
Such an unorthodox coach. they would never appoint an AFL coach like that again.
It’s kind of weird to me how AFL coaching has evolved in the last 10 years. There is really no other sport and no other place where that kind of coaching style exists. In fact in places it would be a complete anathema. Deviating from the norm (ie crass coaching stereotype) in any way is a recipe for disaster. Or at least a relatively short career, unless success is clear and immediate. And that is from both sides – management AND players.
The interesting thing to me is that someone who is actually a pretty smart guy took 5 years to get over his learned behaviour and change the way he coached.
It was only in writing the post that that point came to me. I’d known the story for years without that ever occurring to me.