By Alan McAughtry | Collaboration, working together and communication; when assisting elite athletes
Preface by Janx…..
I’ve been fortunate lately to pick the brains of and hear insights from Alan McAughtry. He is someone who I have known of for some time having seen him in action, coaching, when I went over to Germany to watch the first ever U17 World Championships, WNBL programs, at the Melbourne Classics and National Championships over the years. He has also recently returned to Australia from a coaching stint in the NZNBL. He has vast experience coaching in the Victorian State , NITP and High Performance system and has been Director of Coaching at Diamond Valley for the past 8 years.
PICTURED: In recent years Diamond Valley has had a significant number of players represent Australia, go to high level colleges and join WNBL programs. McAughtry has been Director of Coaching at this club during this time and whilst he is proud of the success of the player's in the program, he openly credits their work ethic, with their families' support, for the success. Along with many coaches in their journey.
I was lucky to have the opportunity to recently catch up with Alan in Melbourne to discuss all things Hoops and one of the things I found very interesting in our conversations was about managing, collaborating and working with all the parties that are involved in developing elite athletes. School basketball, individual workouts, Domestic Associations, rep club commitments, NITP, National Teams, Other Sports, school work, strength and conditioning, CoE camps, college recruiters and coaches, agents and scouts etc etc all pulling at athletes timewise, emotionally and physically.
Whilst he has worked on the staff on a number of national teams, worked in NITP, he has also worked with a significant number of Aussies reps at the club level. So he has an understanding of the needs of all the various perspectives and needs of these levels and how they relate to the needs of athletes.
I myself have personally experienced the occasional issues around lack of collaboration, cohesiveness, towards ideal outcomes for the athlete and have some advice and thoughts in context to the subject of this blog.
There are 3 categories of stakeholders here; the athlete and their "support team", the high performance coaches, the external providers.
The athlete and the "support team":
My advice to athletes and their families are to seek out a limited number of trusted advisors and mentors to help coordinate it all where ever you need. Create a "support team" around you, these people MUST be adding value to YOU, not detracting. They must offer skills, knowledge, insights, networks that ADD value. This will generally include a club coach, coaching director, high performance manager, National coach etc. There may also be a few others such as former players, family members, close friends etc. you and your family choose. It will generally be people that are in it with the your best interest at heart, willing to go above an beyond to assist for no commercial benefit, that have been there well before you began moving up the sport's pathways and have invested time and effort into you right from the start. Then set up your goals, timetables with the input of these people and seek out their assistance to coordinate with all the parties whenever you need. Remember this has to be about YOU. YOU setup and select YOUR "support team", select the people to help you succeed, that want to see YOU succeed. Ultimately you success is about YOUR goals, your desires, your work ethic. Your closest family members such as parents or caregivers need to also be kept in the loop every step of the way.
The high performance coaches:
The coaches in our pathways are OUTSTANDING. The district, state, high performance managers, national coaches are engaging and collaborative, at least that is my experience, and Alan gives some great examples of this in his experience below too.
The external providers:
Personally I have found some of the "scouts", "agents", school coaches, commercial skills coaches in rare cases seem to not be willing to collaborate, nor transparent and open and at times they are too focused on their own commercial needs and goals, and not the athletes. This is at times a legacy of some negative experience they may have had in the past with an isolated coach or two in our pathways (EG: a rep coach, state coach etc.). This is far from the norm but it certainly does happen and when everyone works together cohesively, transparently, centered on the needs of the athlete, based on the athlete's OWN goals, then amazing things happen. It is vital that we coaches coaching rep and state teams engage with external providers, schools, commercial providers in a professional, positive way. We have a responsibility to educate these programs but also listen to their perspectives and hear their needs too, acting as ambassadors for the sport.
If club's and high performance programs put the athlete FIRST the rewards will be returned:
The athlete's goals need to paramount at all times, NOT just the needs of various programs they play for. A good athlete will obviously want to win for their program and contribute to the program in many ways if they know the leaders in the program are looking out for them as individuals, then they will always put back in for the greater good, in my experience. No better examples of guys like this like Isaac White (2017 Stanford Commit) and Jacob Rigoni (2017 Quinnipiac Commit), both from the Sturt Sabres Basketball Club in South Australia (my club) who are always willing to put in at Sturt and also in various ways in the state's high performance program as evidenced by their recent commitments to be guest speakers at South Australia U16 and U18 singlet presentation dinners for example, and in various coaching and development roles at Sturt and the state's high performance program.
PICTURED: Isaac White putting back. Here he was U16 Div 1 Assistant Coach all the way leading up till he left for his freshman season at Stanford. He went above and beyond letting these boys join in his workouts and building up their confidence and self belief in so many ways. This team is ranked as the best club team in Australia. Isaac is always willing to put back in like all high value athletes.
PICTURED: Jacob Rigoni putting back as guest speaker at the U16 South Australian State Team singlet presentation. Always willing to help organisations that have put into him. Photo credit: Basketball SA
Alan gives some great examples in his blog on the importance of open collaboration with all parties and stakeholders needs to be open, honest and not ego driven, it is about the athlete first and foremost.
This will be a great blog for any Athlete, their family, Coach, High Performance Manager, Coaching Director that have similar challenges with multiple groups and organisations advising, vying for their time and coaching a kid.
PICTURED: A warship in Pearl Harbour. Some working with elite athletes coaching, guiding or whatever, prefer to float alone in the ocean. They are even combative like the warship, and egotistical. Athletes that get on board with these people; you will go it alone, not know where you will end up, may not be able to get off the ship, may not go where YOU want and you may get sunk!
Over to Alan.....
Thanks Andrew, appreciate the opportunity to share my experiences. Like many coaches around the country, I started off coaching by accident and was a fill in coach at an association in the North of Melbourne (Whittlesea Basketball Association), along the way I had two young players make the Vic Metro U/18 team coached by Scott Nicey from the Dandenong Basketball Association and from there learned really quickly that while I have a team to look after on a regular basis, individual planning and skill work was required to help the two athletes be in a position to not just make the team but to play significant roles within what was a very good team.
PICTURED: Alan was Assistant Coach with the Australian team in the FIBA Oceania World Qualifiers along with players, Abiola Akintola & Alex Sharp, from his club, Diamond Valley. The first time these players represented Australia.
Through this period I had to learn very quickly from some outstanding coaches and mentor’s in the Victorian system, the lesson was it is always about the team and the players, your lot in life as a coach was to develop players to help them, the club and state to be successful. This was where your reputation and quality as a coach would be judged but also where your greatest rewards would come from. Winning games are important, but your impact on players and coaches around you come from how we could help them get better.
Fast forward a few years and watching my son play his first season as a bottom aged player at Diamond Valley, I was asked to take up the vacant boys coordinator’s role which I accepted but had no experience at. I was the Head coach of the Vic Metro U/16 team at the time and was asked at my first coaches meeting about “ Why our players do not progress very far when trialling for elite teams? “. I asked how many coaches were doing individual skill work with and only had two coaches raise their hands, ironically both went on to coach within the Vic Metro System. This started a passion to provide more coach & player education within the club, which would show some great, benefits a little further down the track.
THE ATHLETES DEVELOPMENT AND WELFARE IS PARAMOUNT.
In my role and opportunities at both Club ( DOC ), State and National levels (Coaching ) I have been very fortunate to cross paths with very talented players and be exposed to high level coaching that has helped me shape my thoughts on both game coaching, preparing teams and running individual practice sessions to help develop an athletes skill level both at junior & senior level.
With the introduction of the FIBA U/17 World Championships in 2010, more opportunity was given to younger players who were competing at our National U/16 & U/18 tournaments as athletes were being identified earlier than previously. Some athletes would miss the opportunity to represent our country due to tournaments falling on certain years, now there are U/17 & U/19 FIBA events leading into World Championships. Asia qualifying events, emerging Boomers and Opals teams and of course College, NBL & WNBL opportunities for our players to manage, along with school, work and social commitments.
Not having a blue print on he best way to manage schedules for our athletes that came through our club, conversations were quickly had with Basketball Victoria, coaches at the CoE (AIS at the time), parents and of course the players on how best to manage the athletes time to ensure they still enjoyed a love of the game, got the rest they needed and still were meeting the commitments required when competing in a very competitive club and state system. This varied as some of our players had differing goals – make the first team at the club, senior club team, representing the state, AIS selection, College and like most athletes a dream of representing Australia.
PICTURED: Alan was Assistant Coach with U19 Men in 2013 and as such has insights on the perspectives of managing and helping athletes in both National programs AND at club, representative level.
HOW DID THE CLUB AND COACHES MANAGE OUR ATHLETES ?
As the club provided more opportunities for athletes to do individual skill work with experienced coaches, we found we had quite a few boys and girls representing our state, receiving CoE scholarships and making national junior teams which was amazing and definitely a boost for the club, great recognition for the coaches but most importantly a huge reward for the athletes and parents who travelled, worked hard and gave themselves the opportunity to be selected.
With this came management and guidance, which would see the following take place over a number of years.
Communication first with the athlete and parent to manage the issues that come from extra commitments at school, home and basketball
Communication with club, school, state, CoE & in some cases national coaches, to prioritise what was the best way to make sure the time the athlete was putting in was relevant to their ongoing development, what commitments were important to all parties, what gave the athlete the best opportunity to reach their goal and still met team & club responsibilities.
Communication with NBL, WNBL, College coaches, strength & conditioning coaches if we have players in those programs so we work to a bigger plan for the athlete to be prepared.
Not everything goes to plan, as there are so many who want or need the athlete to be at different events. In our case constant conversations when clashes arrived, with the parents and athlete as to what they felt was more important at the time, what they liked doing and where they felt the best benefit was. Generally most coaches are willing to help and sacrifice a session here or there for the benefit of the athlete, if not the parents or I would generally make the call.
The intention was to find two nights per week where the athlete did not have a session and had quality time either at home or with friends doing things that they enjoyed. We were careful not to immerse ourselves into the lives of players outside of the sport, be there for guidance and support if needed and make sure the player and parents knew that decisions about their child were their own good or not so good.
Players that were at the forefront of this at Diamond Valley included – Greg Page (U/19 Albert Schweitzer, Melb Utd ) Sam Gilmore ( U/17 Aust ), Matt Jackson ( U/17, U/19 & Grand Canyon), Carly Turner ( CoE, U/17, emerging Opals & St Mary’s ), Abi Akintola (CoE, U/17, U/19 & Uni of Denver ), Alex Sharp (CoE, U/17, U/19 emerging Opals, Melbourne Boomers & Wake Forest), Shannon Dufficy ( Aust School Team & Utah State), Meg Crupi (St Francis Brooklyn NY), Amy O’Neill ( Aust School Team & St Francis Brooklyn NY), Gabrielle Newton (Vic Metro basketball & Football). Kai Woodfall -1 season (Aust U/19, Diamond Valley Senior), Matt McCarthy – 1 season (Aust U/19’s squad & USF)
PICTURED: Alan is proud of the athletes that have come through Diamond Valley, not just as players but also as people. Here is Alex Sharp (Wake Forest in the ACC), Gabrielle Newton ( Victoria State player) during a Diamond Valley workout.
Dejan Vasiljevic (Melbourne Tigers, CoE, Diamond Valley, Aust U/17, Aust U/19, Emerging Boomers & U of Miami) was with us for a short while as a senior player out of the CoE. His impact at the club was very prominent and is still felt today and the support for him at Diamond Valley is quite big for someone who only played 6 months there)
ONGOING SUPPORT FROM THE CLUB
One thing that has been really important to both the club and myself has been the ongoing support of players that have come through our club and have come back either on a break, have finished College or have come back to play in the twilight of there career. Whether it be part time work, visits from coaches or the DOC when at College or the CoE or even a phone call from time to time really gave the players a sense of home and it seemed to be some comfort to them and the parents really embraced.
I am sure this is nothing new to a lot of clubs or coaches however it has been a formula that has worked for our club over the past 8-9 years that has seen a lot of young athletes meet and at times surpass their goals.
BEST EXAMPLE TO DATE
Probably the ones that stand out the most in respect to a chain of communication for development would be Alex Sharp & Carly Turner right from when they first decided to do extra work at the club around U/16’s. Beginning with State coach Jonathon Goodman, CoE Coaches Paul Gorris, Phil Brown & Kristy Flores through to their respective Australian junior coaches in Chris Lucas & Paul Gorris again. There has not been a time when any of those coaches did not make themselves available to discuss or help with planning specific things to work on when not with them, this has been invaluable. Continued dialogue with their respective College coaches has also been a success when it comes to continued development of both these two athletes.
PICTURED: Alex Sharp, Meg Crupi and Shannon Dufficy, with Alan. Sharp being one of the players he cites as an example of collaboration and open communication focused on the goals of the athlete first and foremost.