Today’s blog will help sports coaches (and all caring adult stakeholders) to:

Consider the idea of coaching mentors to better inform the practice and future of your own and peers’ efforts with learners…

I am not sure who first said it, but the best coaches look to make themselves redundant. It’s certainly something I practice and well before I even knew the phrase, I would read a book or two by Rugby League legendary coach, Jack Gibson every year to sharpen my focus here. Of course most of my international peers have never heard of him but he was the ultimate in this regard. Indeed, he was known to be employed for short stints only where he’d go in and improve the club from their original position and then leave (generally on a high) with a replacement set. For example, my own team, Parramatta were strong but yet to win a premiership until Jack had them win three years in a row. He then handed off to the groomed John Monie who was a coach again a decade at least ahead of his time. He was always player centred coach as cited here (

“He was the best coach I ever played under,” said Easts captain of ‘67, Jim Matthews, “although I never felt that I really got to know him. He was a tough man, and he coached us as individuals to get the best out of us as a team.”

Obviously whilst I still improve my own craft every training session, I now spend my time ‘coaching’ coaches and their many teams rather than focusing on my own group. Yet I still remind myself like Jack above, that I am coaching individuals. However, sometimes I need to catch myself or others in their conception of ‘coaching’. Plenty of times I have been asked by coaches for advice as a ‘mentor’. Luckily for me they come from all around the WORLD including from sports I’ve never played or coached. Below is an example from today and the reason why I’m highlighting it is to have my peers’ contemplate if they really need a ‘mentor’ when a ‘coach’ or a simple ‘mate/friend’ could be what’s required…

Hey mate! how you going? How’s your coaching going?

I have a question for you. And it’ll start sounding arrogant but bare with me.

_________ club was a dumpster fire last few years. I’ve cracked the whip and now we’ve play two competition rounds. Won all 5 games across all grades (and 6th was a forfeit by other team)

How would you recommend continuing the success while still encouraging to enjoy the wins that they weren’t getting in years previous? How do you stay motivated and humble but still enjoy it
— Anonymous peer today, 2019

In my excitement to respond to this success (having known a bit of the back story over the last year) I tried to reply like a mentor when really he wanted a ‘coach’. He certainly isn’t a close friend considering we have never met in the flesh. I would also suggest that he is a very good coach from my knowledge so the idea of me as ‘mentor’ is a bit of a stretch. Indeed, I often wonder about the idea of ‘mentor’ anyway. I mean I indeed thrived on them but they were always twenty years older!!! As such, the idea for me that my ‘experience’ means anything to anybody else’s individually complex context is a little absurd anyway. Yet, that’s how we are conditioned I guess. Thus I gave him pats on the back, resources and the offer of ‘coaching’ but at all times reminded him of his pivotal role as ‘change agent’ in all of this. Yet I still gave him ‘advice’…

After I pressed ‘send’ I thought deeper. Why did I not just coach him? Well obviously, Mrs Gunn has had enough of me under charging for my services… BUT really, the opportunity was there. The ‘answers’ like in the last BLOG, ‘lie within’ (Whitmore)!

Thus with this in mind, keep asking questions. I know I’m doing it myself at the moment through this BLOG and its answers are like GOLD! BUT coaches, be sure to recognise the difference or coaches, mentors, mentors and ‘self reflection’. I think we are often too quick to look for the ‘all knowing enlightened one’ for help. As I have said many many many times to coaches I work with, say in the real young grades: Craig Bellamy, Alistair Clarkson, Sir Alex Ferguson or Judy Murray would all struggle in your unique context…

Now, I know many coaches who read this are ‘nerds’ like me AND probably deeply reflective. Thus for you and when needing ‘help’, please first consider, do I NEED: a mentor, coach, friend, or, a good hard think on my own? They all have their place. However, well before your subject matter and pedagogical skills, people like Coach Wooden had ‘intra’ and ‘inter’ personal skills as far more important building blocks. THUS, get to know the difference especially when asking the players for accountability!

AND finally, for your turn and when being asked for ‘advice’, remember this old and most underused piece of coaching and reflective gold from the Army’s AAR method: What went well? What didn’t? What would you do differently next time? It’s that good, that businesses can’t DO it without reducing it to a ‘technique’ rather than an evolving process (Senge, 1999)…

Yours in learning,


By the way, Gunny and Dale Sidebottom are coming to UK and Ireland in September: 

email: (September UK and Ireland tour of learning 2019)

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