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Forget the pedagogy, what we've got here is a failure to communicate


It’s not the rousing speeches that are letting the Brisbane Broncos down, it’s the little conversations, had often, writes Michael Blucher

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On the one occasion I’ve been in a room with Anthony Seibold, the Broncos coach was relaying to the small group details of his time at Harvard.

Not in any sort of big-noting way – he was just providing context of his career journey and how he arrived at his position as a first-grade NRL coach.

As he started to elaborate on his studies in the field of Pedagogy, I took a quick look around the boardroom table, just to check the other luncheon guests were thinking what I was thinking.

Pedagogy? WTF is pedagogy? Furthermore… Rugby league and Harvard – hardly two “institutions” that would often be used in the same sentence? Agree or disagree? The raised eyebrows of the two corporates sitting directly across the table confirmed I wasn’t alone in my thinking.

Bloody smart bloke, Anthony Seibold. I walked away from lunch comfortable in the belief that the Broncos’ future was in very good hands. And of course within the intention of googling Pedagogy to find out what it was, and more importantly how it might be applied to dominating the tackle, post-contact metres and completed sets.

Wind the clock forward 10 months and the world’s caving in. The Broncos are on an extended losing streak, leaking points like oil from a second-hand lawnmower, to the extent that some are starting to question Seibold’s longevity at the club – despite his five-year contract.

Tough gig, professional sport. Purely “a results-driven industry”, as former Kiwi international Stephen Kearney was reminded recently, as he was being ushered out of the Warriors’ coaching box after just a handful of the games in 2020.

As we know, elite sport is relentless. Not only are failings of coaches and athletes played out publicly, there’s next to no time allocated to the righting of wrongs.

Bugger the half-yearly stock market report. We’ve got a shareholders’ meeting on the weekend, and another one the weekend after that. So listen up Coach – mend the hull of the ship while it’s sinking, or on to the gangplank you go!

Perhaps we could all calm down for a minute. Or an hour or, heaven forbid, a week.

The Broncos have clearly been appalling, not just in the context of the what but also the how, but there’s a risk here that the baby gets thrown out with the bathwater.

As anybody who has achieved anything significant in their life would attest, success isn’t built on the back of six weeks, or 10 matches or even one full season.

It comes from years of planning, persistence and dedication, of falling heavily and picking yourself up and going again.

Does Anthony Seibold need to make some changes, strategic, tactical, personal or otherwise? Of course he does, but pushing him off the gangplank? That’s just the trolls venting, making themselves feel better about their own miserable, mediocre existence.

What’s required in a crisis – if that’s what we are labelling the Broncos’ current situation – is cool heads and calm, rational responses.

Only those inside the dressing shed really know what is going on, the source of all the misfiring pistons. But clearly the chemistry is not right – something is missing.

In my humble, uninvited, perhaps ill-informed opinion, one place the coach could start looking in search of the missing ingredient is examining the level of honesty of communication within the club. Not just honesty, genuine honesty.

Nine times out of 10 in business, if there’s an inherent performance issue, it will stem in some way from communication. Not enough, too much, the wrong tone, the wrong time, not having the right people driving the dialogue, individuals sensing they’re not being heard, or not being prepared to say what needs to be said. Things can so easily get out of kilter. However, if the right corrective measures are taken promptly, is doesn’t take much to get the train back on track.

A little bit like arguments you have with your wife or husband. I’m sorry honey – I didn’t realise you were disappointed I hadn’t taken out the bins for four months. Now I’m aware of your expectations, I’ll take care of it. I’ll get the kids to do it. Problem solved. Clear the air and start afresh.

Celebrated AFL coach Paul Roos talks about the power of “little and often conversations”. Short, sharp, open dialogue that reinforces the agreed values of the organisation and the behavioural boundaries within it.

Everybody is casually and regularly reminded of the standards that are expected, and through that platform, individuals hold one another accountable.

What we do know is that success doesn’t come from team members merely fulfilling their contractual obligations. That just the starting point, the table stake.

What drives excellence is the sense of connectivity, of togetherness, trusting that everybody around you is on the same journey, in pursuit of a very similar if not identical goal.

Every step of the way, the little things matter. Players for instance knowing their ideal playing weight, and being at that precise number when they take to the field. Not just some players, some weeks. Every player, every week.

And if it’s not happening, it’s spoken about. Respectfully, but honestly. Little conversations, often.

Above anything else in a sporting environment, the players have to know the coach has their back, in the same way the players have to have the coach’s back.

But that doesn’t happen just become somebody says it should. It comes on the back of mutual trust and understanding, of honesty, of issues being raised and resolved.

With the greatest respect to Anthony Seibold, you don’t have to have studied pedagogy at Harvard to know that.

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