After 73 years of walking planet Earth, David Parkin knows a thing or two about stuff. But don’t let his age deter you from reading further. Yes, we’ve all been bailed up by our parents and/or grandparents who generally have an opinion to share on fashion, parenting and politics and who like to start conversations with “Back in my day…” or “When I was a young whippersnapper…”. Cue the eye roll.
avid, however, has well and truly earned the entitlement to impart his inspired wisdom on Australia’s younger generations. A legend on the AFL field since 1961, his sporting achievements include 220 senior games throughout the 1960s and 70s, and captaining Hawthorn Football Club to their 1971 premiership win. David went on to coach Hawthorn and the Carlton Football Clubs to four premierships and was named Carlton’s Coach of the Century. Being in an elite group of just six coaches to have coached more than 500 AFL/VFL games and labelled “super-coach of the 1970s and 80s”, David earned his place in the Australian Football Hall of Fame in 2002 and the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 2010. In 1977, long-time sports journalist and author Jim Main named David in his list of the 100 Greatest VFL/AFL Players and when asked to revisit and tweak that list 30 years later, David still made the cut.
Aside from all the football-related credits, David holds a Bachelor of Education and a parallel career in primary, secondary and tertiary education. He developed Deakin University’s Sports Coaching Degree and, as an Adjunct Professor, still lectures at the university. In 2013, David was presented with a Medal of the Order of Australia. He is a prostate cancer survivor, a modern-day television and radio commentator and has authored more than a dozen books. David has written and presented extensively on the topics of children in sport, men’s health, coaching, leadership/management, motivation and teams.
Among all the articles you’ll read about David, the common thread that makes this man’s approach to sport and coaching so significant is innovation. It’s clear that he looked at his teammates, his players and his life thus far through creative, original and inspired eyes.
On the eve of his 73rd birthday, it was only appropriate that in this, the launch edition of Coaching Life magazine, we cornered the man behind the premierships and the myriad of coaching credentials for his take on sports coaching and modern life.
“Well, yes, there are 12 key things I know at 73 that I wished I’d known at 30!” David laughs. “The first thing would be just to be yourself.”
Be yourself and know yourself
John Kilpatrick, David’s fitness advisor at Hawthorn, visited him during his first year of senior coaching at Subiaco, WA. On John’s departure, his succinct advice to David was to “stop trying to be (fellow AFL coach) John Kennedy and start being David Parkin.” The words resonated with David.
“Quickly I got better and so did the team,” he says.
“Whilst we are often the sum total of the people and coaches who have influenced us significantly, we should not ape others. It’s imperative to remain true to the values and behaviours that are integral to our character and personality.”
“Know your own strengths and weaknesses and surround yourself with others who you cannot only work with, but who will also bring experience and skills sets you don’t have. It’s important to know who you really are. Self-awareness is essential.”
Understand the motives and drives of yourself and others
David says there are the three basic questions that you must continue to ask yourself and ask of your players: Why am I/you here? Where am I/are you going? And how will I/you get there?
“This is the best platform for building empathetic relationships and working to achieve mutually agreed outcomes.”
“These conversations, with both support staff and my players, in relation to both their on- and off-field commitments, became a key factor in my coaching life,” David recalls. “I met every player and coach, every six months, one-on-one, away from the club.”
If it ain’t broke – smash it!
David admits that this may sound like a “stupid philosophy”, especially if you and your team are having success, but too often the attitude is focussed on just repeating what has been done well previously. He says what people forget is that there is always a better way of “doing tomorrow what we have done effectively today.”
“If you just repeat tomorrow what you did successfully today, someone will add something different and better, which means all you can do is come a good second. Challenge your staff and players to provide those new and better inputs.”
Leadership competencies and emotional intelligence are both learned
“We all know you don’t get to choose your parents, but while good genetics does have significance, it’s not fundamental to developing strong leadership or emotional intelligence.” David says both these personal attributes are a direct result of a person’s experiential pathway.
“It is, though, critical to provide those who aspire and exhibit the potential to lead, the opportunities to take responsibility and become accountable for their own and others’ performance. Along with effective leadership, emotional intelligence usually takes decades of life’s learnings to become a powerful individual attribute.”
While there are many, many factors that underpin effective leadership along with a multitude of publications about the topic, David says three critical components are evident to him.
“Firstly, without a real passion for the outcome or what I term ‘professional will’, your leadership can’t be really effective. People must see, hear and feel your genuine emotional commitment to achieving the task. Without that you are nothing!”
“Secondly, the best leaders really care about their people in an holistic sense – that is, an interest in and concern for them well beyond the role or position they are employed to do. Football, like most institutions, is a people business and that element must be your key focus.”
“And thirdly, having a flexible approach or style to the role is another crucial element. Leadership is situational specific. Your ability to understand the circumstances, the person or people you are dealing with, and acting appropriately, is extremely important. To say this is my personality, experience and leadership style, and apply it to all people in all places at all times, is fundamentally flawed.”
Teams and teamwork
David says an essential element of good leadership or coaching is in developing team-oriented attitudes. This attitude needs to be evident in your own behaviours as the leader and continually reinforced and affirmed in others. He says the critical attitudes centre on two basic inputs: team members need both a ‘with’ and ‘for’ orientation.
“A ‘with’ person does what they are supposed to do, when they are supposed to do it – all the time,” David explains. “From this, they build a predictability about their performance and in the finish – trust. Trust is the foundation block of all teamwork. Without it, effective and consistently high-performing teams can’t exist.”
“A ‘for’ person not only is accountable and responsible for their own performance but constantly makes sacrifices for their teammates’ benefits. It’s vital that both these team orientations are reinforced for individuals, as often as circumstances allow.”
Learn to engage
David says that most coaches are very good at telling, however, effective communication starts with real engagement. He suggests leaders become expert in asking good questions and get better at listening and really hearing the answers to those questions. The final crucial element in all of this listening is actually acting upon the replies you receive from your questions.
Become an expert teacher
As David explains, all coaches are, in reality, teachers. But it’s not just a matter of instructing one’s students, it’s a two-way process where the learner is the key focus.
“As Al Clarkson (former AFL player and current coach of Hawthorn) would recommend, know what ‘fun’ really is for the learner. This assists you in setting up an appropriate learning environment for all those involved. These well-structured environments can then satisfy the basic reasons for the participants being there, however they define ‘fun’.
“Understand the theories of how people learn and the difference between teaching techniques and game sense. If possible, take courses in teaching pedagogy. The competencies learnt are very transferable across numerous vocational pursuits.”
According to David, another very important set of competencies required to be an effective coach are the skills of management. He suggests leaders or coaches be ultra organised – planning and preparing stringently. He also suggests reviewing, evaluating, measuring and validating wherever possible while also providing immediate and accurate performance feedback constantly.
If you’re serious about continuous improvement, David is an advocate of scheduling education programs at 12-24 month intervals.
“The AFLCA in Australia underpins a standard contract with ongoing personal and professional development for all senior and assistant coaches,” he explains. “This includes short and longer-term courses in-person, online, overseas and across other sports experiences. AFL, being an indigenous game, meant my learning often came from other sports like hockey, soccer, basketball, lacrosse and rugby for example, and from coaches like Ric Charlesworth, Brian Goorjian, Wayne Bennett and Tom Landry among others.”
Regular performance review
David also suggests a yearly performance review is essential for keeping goals on track.
“The most significant changes and improvement during my 28-year coaching career came on the end of a very stringent review. It was in 1994, 22 years into my career. Using an independent agency, with the players central to the feedback process, we provided the coaching staff with a clear picture of their/my effectiveness in servicing the needs of the players. The 1995 Carlton Premiership was a direct result of the review and the changes implemented.”
And finally, in David’s list of 12 key things he wished he’d known at 30, there are four ‘balances’ required in life that he lists as crucial to keeping ahead of the game.
“Firstly, work/recreation. Make sure your employment obligation is balanced with an involvement that allows you to recreate in whatever form you love.
“Secondly, mental/physical. I work out in various ways almost every day. At the same time, I read about people, their experiences and impacts, almost every day too.
“Then there’s self/others. Whilst most of my endeavours fulfil selfish needs and desires, I try every day to do something for others who may need my support and encouragement.
“And lastly, stress/stress-free. I deliberately choose to pursue challenges that place me under reasonable stress levels. But at the same time, I have multiple pursuits that are very meaningful and stress-free.”
Powerful Stories, Tips and Amazing Insight
Ready, Set, Go! Everything you need to know to start coaching from the legends in the field. As well as the Business and Life coaches, our launch edition features David Parkin (AFL), Lisa Alexander (Netball Australia), Adam Commens (Hockey Australia), Simon Cusack (Swimming Australia), Sean Douglas (FFA) and many more!