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Business, Focus Edition Ric Charlesworth


By: Ric Charlesworth •  4 years ago •  


Ric Charlesworth Intro

CL: What do you focus on when starting to build a team?

If you are building the local under 15’s, the school team, the state or National team, you come to it with a different amount of knowledge as you have different quality players. But philosophically, you try to build a team that utilises the skills of the players you have rather than fulfilling any pre-determined view you have as to how the game should be played. You don’t always have the right mix of skills unlike the national coaches who will have gifted players to work with.

You need to find out who you have and what they can do. Then, if there are big deficiencies, you have to work on those areas, but essentially you have to find a way of playing that fits with your players rather than fit your players to a way of playing. If you have years to build a team then it’s a little bit different, but mostly, as coaches, we don’t have that time and there will always be areas that you need to either pay attention to or avoid.

Find a way to fit the game to the players you have.

Coaching is much more than just a training session. There is a lot of logistical stuff that you need to get on top of. As you start to improve then you can use video and other experts to gain a sense of how the team should play.

You make a mistake if you are not expansive in how you want to go about it. If you have a pretty narrow view, then you don’t do justice to the players or give them the opportunity to take risks and expand their game. You have a duty to do that, especially with young players.

CL: How do you get players, certainly younger players, to focus after a mistake?

Right from the beginning you have to set the expectation. Things will go wrong. Expect that and see it is a learning opportunity. You have to have the view that it is about learning and developing. The reason that you become good is because you make lots of mistakes and you learn from them. Mistakes are your friends in a way.

3 Types of Mistakes

There are three types of mistakes. There are mistakes that are made because we are careless, there are mistakes made because we are not good enough and mistakes made because we are trying something too hard for us. If we don’t have the skill, then we want to practice so that we can get it. If we make mistakes because we are careless, then we want to avoid those. But if we are trying something that is too hard, then these are good mistakes. Mistakes of commission rather than omission. We encourage kids to try things and go for it. You can be passive or assertive and we want them to be as assertive much as possible and willing to try things.

We all make mistakes, but it’s not about fixing the blame, it’s about fixing the problem.

We always encourage them and then if they make an error, we can learn from it and do it better. Then when they do better, then we need to be there on the spot providing support and encouragement.

The most important thing for the tone of the training session is the coach’s voice. You need to be out there continuously, at the point of error and the point of success.

Set the scene. It won’t always work but this is how we get better. We all make mistakes, but it’s not about fixing the blame, it’s about fixing the problem.

CL: When working with a new team, how do you divide the time between team building and skills training?

When it comes to training, I am a “game sense” guy. You need to put things into context and the context is the game. It doesn’t have to be full field. There are lots of different ways to create the game context. You can have lots of small games that help to put the skills into context. Game where they get more touches than they normally would. That’s where they put their skills in context.

Of course, you will have skill development focus in the training but I would expect this to be about 20-30% at most. The rest of the time is devoted to putting the skills into context of the game.

You could play with two goals at each end so they can decide where the danger is or you play with a square with a goal on each side with two defenders and two attackers to help learn spatial awareness. You can overload either the defenders or attackers for emphasis.

Ric Charlesworth 2

There are all sorts of the techniques you can run games to make it interesting and fun, but at the same time they are learning spatial awareness which is probably the most important skill. Where am I on the field, what things are available.

For individual sports, the emphasis is different. If you are going to teach someone to run, then you better put them in races sometimes to get the context. Some sports are about repeating exactly the same action again and again to develop perfect technique and routine. These are different to invasion ball games which is where I spent most of my time.

When it comes to invasion ball games, the principles are all the same. You get hold of the thing, you try to keep it, you get penetration and try and score. If you lose it then you try to force errors and get it back again. Once you have it back again, you keep it, work for penetration and try to score. If you are missing any of these elements then you are not going to be very successful.

These principles work any invasion ball game such as basketball, football, netball, basketball, hockey or any of those games.

How you divide your time as a coach depends on where you are and what your team needs but essentially you will be working towards these key principles.

CL: Was there a particular coach that you learned from?

You learn from every coach you work with and every sport you watch. Everyone’s got something to offer. I read a lot and look at what other people do and experiment in your game. Watch and listen to you players, they are great innovators and they will come up with new ways of doing things. In Hockey there have been some dramatic changes.

The rules have changed, the equipment has changed, the skills have changed which means we have to constantly adapt and find new ways.

In the 1970’s I was watching Ron Barresi and people like Rinus Michels and Johan Cruyff in European Soccer. I followed people like David Parkin and Wayne Bennett because of their approach. Of course, Frank Murray taught me a lot as my coach in Western Australia and was coaching the men’s team while I was coaching the women’s team. Merv Adams was our coach in the national and state team when couldn’t beat the sub-continental teams, India and Pakistan. He was the first to say that we could do it and this is how we go about it.

I was influenced by many people. Some were better motivators, some were more tactical and some created a better team environment. Each coach had a different flavour.

Then in the 1980’s we started counting things. Before then we would go to the pub and talk about the game. We were coaching by anecdote but now with video we can analyse the game in detail. Even junior teams now video the matches and a few times a year, we look at what happens in the games and review this with the players.

CL: What is your internal focus for coaching?

When working with a new team, you want to get them fit and you want to find out what they can do. You want to set the scene. This is the environment in which we are going to work. Not everything is going to be easy and mistakes will be made but together we will find a way forward. I start by creating a platform of defence and then build attack on that base.

The two main things you have to do is make it fun and interesting, otherwise they won’t keep coming back. The second thing is to have energy. You’ve got to have your own energy. I got to the stage coaching the national team when I thought, I don’t know if I have the energy anymore. I could have been coaching into Rio but there were other priorities for me and I thought, “I can’t do justice to this”.

As a coach, you have to be there 100% of the time. As a rule of thumb, I recommend allowing for double the contact hours for a proper commitment. You have to prepare for the training sessions beforehand and then review what happened afterwards.

When you are coaching, you have to present, alive, energetic and set the tone.

CL: Where do you see the focus of coaching going in the future?

Ric Charlesworth 1

In order to do well you need speed, strength, endurance, skill, tactical nouse, cooperation and resilience. When things go wrong, they have to keep going. You want to develop all of those things but where possible you want to do a lot of those things together. You can get them fit while they are learning skills and training tactics. If you combine the right type of training you want to spend time on skills, time on analysis of past performance so they don’t keep making the same mistakes.

We had a period in Australian Sport when there was a lot of emphasis on sport science and physiology and this is important but I think you better have a strategy that fits your players. You want to provide an environment where the players can express themselves and where they own the tactics. Building cooperation and understand how they interlock together. They can be individuals but they need to play for each other. The team that cooperates better will be the more successful team. When you’re a kid you’re just thinking about personal gratification and sometimes you have to sacrifice your personal ambition for the team. This comes back to the players approach and increasingly there is a need for specialist coaches in a team and Human Behaviour might be the next specialist area. This is an area we need to better at in sport. Understanding human behaviour, what’s going on in the brain impacts on how training works.

For example, I think that teamwork is a morale issue. Teamwork is about doing the right thing, at the right time, for the right reasons. Mostly we know the right thing to do, but don’t necessarily want to do it. You have to develop that in your team. Good teams need good citizens. Most people in business now realise that culture trumps strategy. You need guidelines and strategies but once the game starts, ten minutes into the game you may have to change it. You have to be able to fix things in real time. If your players cannot do that then you’re in trouble.

CL: What has your coaching journey been for you?

I was an accidental coach. I first started when I was 17 in university, coaching the Under 14’s. Eventually, I coached the under 21 state team, I coached the club team as Captain/coach. In 1975, at 22 I coached the state team because the coach was ill and we won. That was my informal introduction to coaching.

In 1992, I made a lifestyle choice to leave Federal Parliament and return to practicing medicine. At least that was my plan. At the time, I was coaching his daughters under 14 team and in October 1992, I got a call from the girls who had returned from the Barcelona Olympics. At that stage I only had a Level 2 coaching qualification but I applied for the job which was my first job interview. I got the job and in the first year as national coach, I got my level 3 qualification and wrote a paper on designer games which is still relevant today. It’s about designing training that gives us the skills while getting fit. We had almost no running unless it related to the game. We just trained with the stick and ball.

What has the coaching journey been to me? Instead of going to work in a shirt and tie, I go to work in a t-shirt and shorts and for 8 years I worked with a group of amazing women that were very skilful and ambitious.

The wonderful thing about coaching is that it’s about helping people reaching their potential.

It’s not that same as playing but it’s a very satisfying thing to do. I don’t think there is a player that came along knowing how good they can be. My job is to stretch them, so they expand their horizons and become much better than they thought they could be.

For me, it’s been very satisfying way to spend your time. I want the team to do well, but it’s really satisfying to see the individual succeed. I think I have a pretty good relationship with the players I have coached. When you are coaching you don’t, but subsequently it’s one of the nicest things about the job.

CL: Do you regret not practicing medicine more?

I used the things that I had learnt studying medicine; the physiology, the sports medicine, the psychology. All those things that were part of my training and still use today, but you make a choice in life. I was working in general practice and had already decided that I wanted to do something else when the political chance came along. After a decade in Federal Parliament, my plan was to go back into medicine and another thing opened up. I think the interesting thing about life now is that, unlike in our parent’s time, when you could have one job for life, you are continuously retraining. I’m now doing some work with the AFL and Sports Commission. I work at my son’s school in the hockey program and am writing my new book.

I never thought there would be a living in coaching but now there is a pathway for people. I think you do what your best at and services are going to be an important part of the new economy. There are now many ways in which you can make a living from coaching.


Ric is a doctor of medicine, a former captain of the Australian Hockey Team, the State Hockey Team and the State Cricket Team. He was also in Federal parliament for 10 years then he retired to take up the position of National Coach of the Australian Women’s Hockey Team from 1993 until Sydney 2000.
Ric has worked as a high performance consultant to the Freo Dockers and as a mentor coach to 5 Australian Institute of Sport coaches. He moved to New Zealand in October 2005 to work as a High Performance Manager for New Zealand Cricket. Late 2007 to 2008 he worked as a Technical Advisor to Indian Hockey.

In 2008, Ric was appointed coach of the Australian’s National Mens Hockey team, the Kookaburras. Retired from full time coaching the Kookaburras in 2014 after winning the World Cup. Now works as a High Performance Consultant..

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