When I saw ‘Side By Side – A Season With Collingwood’ written by a journalist who spent the whole season at the club, three thoughts went through my mind in quick succession. I was intrigued by the prospect of learning something about the inside workings of a professional sports club. I was suspicious that a book so gushingly praised by said club’s president on the back cover probably wasn’t actually that revealing. And I was afraid that buying the book could be considered to be somehow supportive, financially or otherwise, of an institution that I despise (in a sporting way). As my rapidly expanding book collection (now spread over three countries) would suggest, intrigue won the day.
Some very interesting things came out of it from my point of view. Interesting points numbers 1, 2, 3 and 4 are the (seeming) lack of direct involvement that Malthouse has with the team on a daily basis. He seems to meet with the entire group just a couple times a week and most of the direct involvement with players is done by assistants. For example, even ‘Leadership Group’ meetings are chaired by an assistant. I had assumed that was a Head Coach’s job. For example, end of season player reviews are conducted by the relevant assistant with Malthouse as an observer. Even on an occasion when Malthouse was particularly harsh to the players in his post-match address, another member of the coaching staff had the responsibility to judge the reactions of the players to the ‘spray’ and then liaise with the leadership group on how to deal with any fall out. It is clear that the relationship between coach and team in a football club must be different from a volleyball club, but that was an eye opener. Point number 5 is that despite having been at the club virtually full time for ten months and revealing all sorts of internal activities, the author never once in over 400 pages directly mentioned practice. I find that interesting.
Practical information comes in the form of a simple set of guidelines is outlined for providing performance feedback (‘Right way, right place, right time’), and CEO Gary Pert provides the best description I have ever read of what team/club culture actually is: “The culture doesn’t get built and then it is done. In simple terms, … culture is every decision, every action, every single thing that happens with every person every day. That is your culture.”
Aside from those points I learnt that the keys to winning in Australian Football are ‘busting a gut’, ‘showing guts’, ‘having guts’ and ‘gutsing it out’, even if ‘my lungs are in my throat’. And I learnt that if you spend enough time in a footy team you end up with a ‘deep abiding trust/respect’ in others who have been there for a similar period of time.
I also learnt that I was right to be intrigued, right to be suspicious (the lingering odour left by the book is one of roses) and offer this blog post as a proof if my loathing of Collingwood is ever brought into question by the purchasing of this book.