Analysis The Missing Ingredient

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dogwatch

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One of the most thought-provoking posts of the past week was from Werewolf . Well, to be honest it was more the article that he provided a link for, but I'm grateful to him for posting it here.

For those who missed it, it's worth a read, because it's pretty topical:

Our topsy-turvy form so far this year may be attributable to a whole lot of things, such as youth, the hubs, the disrupted fixture, the sub-tropical conditions, injuries, selection mysteries and so on. Those factors are important and probably worth a separate thread of its own - well away from the short-lived rapture or cranky disappointment that inevitably fills the weekly post-mortems.

However the issue of leadership underpins it all. Leaders set standards, pull players into line, bind the team together, build confidence in each other, get them to play to their potential, recognise each individual's quirks and hot buttons (and know when to press them). They emphasise the positives and the possibilities when players are down and they bring them back to earth when they're drinking their own bathwater. Through all this they help maintain a consistent level of performance and effort. And if they're really good at it they can even help them play better than they knew they could. A bit like 2016 really.

I think we're missing the leadership we need right now. The club's management and administration is fine - it's the footy leadership I'm talking about. The stuff we watch each week. What I saw tonight was not just a side on its heels against one that was up and about, but also a side that seemed to lack cohesion and confidence in each other.

The contrast between the two sides was striking. I couldn't help making some inferences about the leadership of the respective sides. I might be wrong about that, but I think it's worth an ongoing discussion. One we can perhaps come back to every few weeks as the season progresses.

There are obviously two people to look at here - Luke Beveridge and Marcus Bontempelli.

In 2015 and 2016 there's no doubt it was all about Bevo. Perhaps unfairly it was only a little about Wood.

Bevo was new, he was refreshing (that wasn't hard after BMac), he operated on another plane, he talked in parables and strange metaphors, he encouraged expression and enjoyment, he got players to believe in themselves and each other. He was lucky enough to have at his disposal a good blend of head-down, mostly no-nonsense older players (MBoyd, Morris, Murphy, Picken, Wood, Roughead) and some very talented newer players with the irrepressible self-belief of youth (Macrae, Stringer, Bontempelli, Hunter, JJ, Dunkley, Liberatore, Daniel, Dahlhaus, McLean, etc). They all set out on a history-making journey in 2016 and looked like they were about to embark on an era of football dominance. Lots of words have been written about how that hasn't materialised, without any really conclusive answer emerging. And here we are four years later with still no steady trajectory either up or down. Neither from season to season nor from week to week. We are world-beaters one week, chumps the next.

I'm still trying to crystallise a complete picture but here's what what I want to throw out for discussion right now. It might change as I think about it more, or as I read your own responses.

Are they the right match?
  • Bevo and Bont don't form a good leadership complement. They're too much alike. Or perhaps it's that Bont is too intent on following the Bevo model right now rather than his own.
  • Complementary leadership styles are useful. One type doesn't necessarily fit all. Sometimes you need encouragement and an arm around you. Sometimes you need some straight talking. Sometimes you tune out from one voice but you're still hearing the other one.
The Bont
  • Bont has had leadership thrust on him at a very young age. I don't think he's quite ready. He still has a lot to learn about himself and about leadership.
  • I do think he'll get there. He has all the right qualities. But it might take another year or two.
  • Another year of Wood as captain might have been a better idea than we had imagined.
  • Too early or not, it's been done - so we have to press on. No going back now.
  • The problem is compounded by the lack of any solid lieutenants. When Hunter is your best option for V-C you know the offerings are thin. So Bont is carrying most of the burden himself.
  • He is having his worst year in terms of playing performance since his debut year as an 18yo. Not terrible but nothing like the last few years. Hip problem, taggers and other factors might be affecting him but I'm pretty sure the leadership burden is also a factor in his loss of form.
Bevo
  • The Bevo magic is wearing thin. He can't sustain the narrative to keep them playing at the elevated level of 2016 - and perhaps it's unfair to expect it.
  • Without that magic Bevo is just a good to middling AFL coach. Not the worst but certainly not the best strategically (long term) or tactically (week to week).
  • We can talk about youth etc but surely some of the inconsistency and erratic level of effort comes back to the coach.
  • Bevo is polarising. Most players get behind him (and vice versa) but he inexplicably loses some players. Why is that? For all his EQ, is he unable to manage and get the best out of the full diversity of players, and in particular some divergent types? Think of Stringer, Dahlhaus, Roughead, maybe others. For example, how would a young Dusty Martin go trying to develop under Bevo? Would he blossom as he has at Richmond? (I don't know the answer, but it's a nagging thought)

  • By contrast Richmond has a leadership team that includes Hardwick, Cotchin and Martin who seem to me to have more complementary but settled styles. When I think back to Werewolf's posted link and see the modern Richmond emerging after 2016 following a chaotic few decades of misadventures, I wonder ... was leadership the magic ingredient that made it all happen?

So what does it mean? What should we do about it?
  • There's no doubt we have to press on with whatever 2020 brings. Nothing much can change for the rest of 2020, apart from some more learning.
  • We mustn't change captains. Somehow we need some mentorship for the Bont, but it can't come from Bevo. Can't think of any club figures off the top of my head - not Murphy, Grant, Darcy, Johnno or any of those. Perhaps someone from another sport?
  • Bont also needs a strong, complementary deputy or two. I'm thinking Libba mainly, but Wallis as well. Share it around, Marcus.
  • We're stuck with Bevo aren't we? I hope I'm wrong but I can't see us getting back to the pinnacle under him, even with the impressive list we have (and one that'll only get better with JUH next year). Finals maybe but top 4 might be a stretch, when in fact we really should be camped in the top 4 year on year by now.
  • Failing that, we need a change of coaches working under him. That might just be enough ... and might even help Bevo rise to new levels. King is OK and perhaps could remain, but I think we could do with some hard-nosed types who can bring in fresh ideas to the coaching box (if he'll tolerate them) and some new narratives and approaches for the players.
  • I have little confidence any of this will happen. Hope I'm wrong.
I'll leave it with a quote from the article about Sam Walker (who wrote the book in case you still haven't read the Werewolf link). It took him 11 years of searching to find that it was really about leadership and that the best leaders weren't always the obvious candidates. (My emphasis in the quote)

But he says it's possible to create a successful team environment by adopting the qualities of the greatest sports leaders of all time: doggedness, selflessness, emotional control, principled dissent, functional leadership and practical communication.

"Leadership is actually very simple. It's a behaviour pattern, but really anyone can change their behaviour, and that's what blew me away about these captains," he adds.

"They lived at different times, different sports, completely different backgrounds, even personalities, but they all learned through trial and error that this is how you do it."
 
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Dazb86

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It's no surprise our best line has been defence this year. It's the only part of the ground the team has had time to build chemistry together. We've used far too many players this season unnecessarily.

Bevo needs to find out what his best 22 looks like and then live with a bad individual performance for a couple games before switching it up.

Case in point is Schache. When he came in he looked good and worked with Bruce well against North. The next game it was raining and Schache had a stinker so he gets banished.

At the moment the forwardline is a revolving door of players and ideas and it's not helping whatsoever.
 

LittleG

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Bont isn’t ready to be captain.

Beverage is still trying to teach his game style but the players aren’t given continuity of position to allow this to happen.

Match committee are trying for a squad rotation rather than finding a best 22.


Ideally we need two things:
A top assistant coach who focuses on tactics and not man management.
A former captain who was a campaigner and demanded improvement. Someone like a Luke Hodge.
 

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maddog37

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I am amazed at the fact I am even suggesting this but the leadership of Hunter is very important to the team. His organisation on field is always missed when not playing.

Young side with not enough hardened pros seems to be the obvious too.

Young guys get told everything is great and get too comfortable then to not have hardened ingrained habits to fall back become unfocused.
 

Doggies_13

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It's no surprise our best line has been defence this year. It's the only part of the ground the team has had time to build chemistry together. We've used far too many players this season unnecessarily.

Bevo needs to find out what his best 22 looks like and then live with a bad individual performance for a couple games before switching it up.

Case in point is Schache. When he came in he looked good and worked with Bruce well against North. The next game it was raining and Schache had a stinker so he gets banished.

At the moment the forwardline is a revolving door of players and ideas and it's not helping whatsoever.
I agree we need to stick with a line up and cop the bad game here and there from individuals but we already seem to do that the issue is it’s when Beveridge plays favourites.

Examples - McLean schache Lewis young all get dropped after single sub par performances

Gowers dale Richards all given time to find form
 

Mofra

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It has been mentioned for years that Hunter is a virtual "on field coach" and we miss his direction badly when he's not there.

We are also missing a 'bad guy' assistant coach. I posted elsewhere that Matty Boyd would be my no 1 pick of any assistant coach from another club to come to us for next year. Monty was loved by the players but was also a hard arse, we need someone to play that role.
 

LittleG

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It has been mentioned for years that Hunter is a virtual "on field coach" and we miss his direction badly when he's not there.

We are also missing a 'bad guy' assistant coach. I posted elsewhere that Matty Boyd would be my no 1 pick of any assistant coach from another club to come to us for next year. Monty was loved by the players but was also a hard arse, we need someone to play that role.
I would suggest a hard arse who is given that role and solely that role be appointed ASAP. Director of standards.
 

Northernsoul74

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Bont isn’t ready to be captain.

Beverage is still trying to teach his game style but the players aren’t given continuity of position to allow this to happen.

Match committee are trying for a squad rotation rather than finding a best 22.


Ideally we need two things:
A top assistant coach who focuses on tactics and not man management.
A former captain who was a campaigner and demanded improvement. Someone like a Luke Hodge.
Matt Boyd springs to mind but I don’t think there is any point as I don’t think Bevo likes to be challenged.
 

dogwatch

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Good points about Hunter's on field role. That side of things is certainly an important part of it.
Does it go any further than that though? Does he have any beneficial impact on team-building, cohesion, player discipline and commitment etc? It's hard to envisage, but then we never know what goes on behind the public face of the club.

In any event his absence now can only be seen as another part of the problem.

I agree re Matty Boyd. Not sure if it'd work with Bevo but it's just what we need.
Having spent 2-3 years at Collingwood would be a good grounding too.
 

LittleG

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Matt Boyd springs to mind but I don’t think there is any point as I don’t think Bevo likes to be challenged.
I think it’s Chris Grant or a board member that needs to step in and out this system in place. There is only so much that a senior coach can do, while keeping the players on side.

I would like the position to be about training and playing standards. Only players who adhere to the standards are then available for selection after preseason. IF someone is playing well but not training well, then they need to keep playing BUT IF they are not producing on field, they have to be training the house down OR not be available for the match committee to select.
IF that means we only have 22 players to select from, so be it. Time for some hard arseness, while Bevo can deliver the love.
 

Yojimbo

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I watched Luke Beveridge's press conference last night and he knew exactly why we got pumped, football is a simple game when
you try and out think football you might succeed for a short time, but eventually things conspire and the game catches up with
you. Two players from Richmond i will highlight Noah Balta and Maribor Chol big players who can move although both very much
lacking experience, where are our big guys and i mean home generated big guys. The line starts and stops with Aaron Naughton
of late and although 4th in the Sutton as a defender 8th as a forward the next year which is incredible for a young man i am not
liking the Naughton or bust language or vibe at the moment. The data is all there we just need someone honest enough to try to
interpret it without fear or favor.
 

LondonBulldog

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I read the article. Captains are over-rated in AFL teams though. There are 22 on the field. We won in 2016 due to manic pressure and a will to win that flowed through the whole team.

Being captain is not a popularity contest. Boyd was universally like as captain. Wood was not (and there is nothing wrong with that), yet Wood was captain of the premiership team because all the players were moving in the right direction at the right time. Remember their are individuals in football teams and that's what makes them great.

Coach is the most important, followed by recruiting yet everyone at the club need to be aligned. (hence the various yet unfortunately changes to key people since 2016)
 

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Philthy1

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And he went club shopping in the last 3 years.... something is seriously wrong.
He went club shopping because he was told he wasn't going to be a mid any longer and was going to have to re-invent himself as a forward. He was struggling for a while trying to do that, hence looked around. Seems to have worked out ok for the time being...
 
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Dazb86

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We are missing experienced players that have forged careers through sheer determination rather than talent.

Guys like M.Boyd, Picken, Morris and Cross are great to set the standards on and off the pitch.

Of the older guys on the list at the moment only maybe Mitch Wallis is that type of player. Libba certainly gives his all on field but is a bit more care free in his spare time.
 

BEaston

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Missing ingredient is resilience. Half the players are softies.
Agreed. I think the cause is pretty simple. Resilience sums it up. Both mental and physical.

The fix is the tricky bit... I think experience will help a lot. But it requires the list to mature not continually bring in youth so that our overall experience never increases.
 

AJARWA

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Our form has been fairly consistent this year imo. Aside from the Carlton game. We've beaten the average teams plus an injured Giants. And have lost to the decent teams. We're tracking as I expected. Reality is we're just not as good as the media and so called experts think we are.

Leadership might be an issue. Hard to tell from the outside. Reckon our forward line is our biggest issue atm. But the signs are good. Bruce was a good pickup. Vander looks good. Wallis improving each month. Weightman just needs games. JUH coming. Naughton to come back.
 

dogwatch

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Agreed. I think the cause is pretty simple. Resilience sums it up. Both mental and physical.

The fix is the tricky bit... I think experience will help a lot. But it requires the list to mature not continually bring in youth so that our overall experience never increases.
That's where strong leadership comes in.
 

Sharkey66

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I am amazed at the fact I am even suggesting this but the leadership of Hunter is very important to the team. His organisation on field is always missed when not playing.

Young side with not enough hardened pros seems to be the obvious too.

Young guys get told everything is great and get too comfortable then to not have hardened ingrained habits to fall back become unfocused.
This has been mentioned quite a few times by players in interviews lately about Hunter.
 

Dogs_R_Us

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Vandermeer and Smith strike me as future leaders. The club needs a captain with a clear view of what he wants from everyone, and all the boys willing to follow. Joel Selwood is the quintessential captain imo, and was appointed at an early age also. If I was a Geelong player I wouldn’t be arguing with or disrespecting Joel. I think he inspires them. Hodge the same.

Not saying Bont is disrespected but he is too nice - I remember when he got drafted, a recruiter supposedly asked him what was the worst thing he’d ever done and he had to think and came up with “I told my sister to shut up.” I can’t imagine him telling off a teammate.

Wallis yearns to lead, you can see it in his body language, but there seems to be a consensus vibe, making everyone “equal”, no one willing to take or confer responsibility.

Hunter has it in him to be a force for good. Hopefully when he gets past the current difficulties he’ll step up and be more assertive.
 

TommyD13

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My opinion is Bevo has a year in mind... He is playing players 'out of position' and a few depth players to see if he can find any strengths that weren't previously identified. Particularly with the shortened season. I think once we reach the certain point that Bev has in mind, we will see a more structured and consistent 22 take the field each week. He seems to be continually playing the long game which can be good, but can also mean we could be a middle of the road side for well forever.
 

Bont2Bruce

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So what does it mean? What should we do about it?
  • There's no doubt we have to press on with whatever 2020 brings. Nothing much can change for the rest of 2020, apart from some more learning.
  • We mustn't change captains. Somehow we need some mentorship for the Bont, but it can't come from Bevo. Can't think of any club figures off the top of my head - not Murphy, Grant, Darcy, Johnno or any of those. Perhaps someone from another sport?
  • Bont also needs a strong, complementary deputy or two. I'm thinking Libba mainly, but Wallis as well. Share it around, Marcus.
  • We're stuck with Bevo aren't we? I hope I'm wrong but I can't see us getting back to the pinnacle under him, even with the impressive list we have (and one that'll only get better with JUH next year). Finals maybe but top 4 might be a stretch, when in fact we really should be camped in the top 4 year on year by now.
  • Failing that, we need a change of coaches working under him. That might just be enough ... and might even help Bevo rise to new levels. King is OK and perhaps could remain, but I think we could do with some hard-nosed types who can bring in fresh ideas to the coaching box (if he'll tolerate them) and some new narratives and approaches for the players.
  • I have little confidence any of this will happen. Hope I'm wrong.
I'll leave it with a quote from the article about Sam Walker (who wrote the book in case you still haven't read the Werewolf link). It took him 11 years of searching to find that it was really about leadership and that the best leaders weren't always the obvious candidates. (My emphasis in the quote)
Great post DW.

Given the coaching structure isn't delivering the results we expect from the talent on our list, and this has been the case for some time now, it is well overdue to implement some organisational change to the coaching panel. Their job is to get the best out of the players on the list and we are only seeing that some of the time.

There is also plenty of responsibility that rests on the players, because it is the players who are inconsistent. We use youth and inexperience as an excuse too easily, when there are plenty of not-that-young and not-that-inexperienced players who are playing week to week at well below their best.

The player situation comes back to leadership on field, as you said in your post. That we could go through multiple stoppages around the ground without nominating a ruckman until the fourth or fifth try is a huge indictment on our onfield leaders (or rather lack thereof). Once in a while is all this should ever occur, but so many times in a row was inexcusable.

We at least have a good list, whereas there are other clubs whose cupboard is fairly bare at the moment. My fear is that our list will be raided over the next few years by teams who are performing better than us, as has been the case plenty of times before.
 

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