Sport

Penrith Panthers coach Anthony Griffin on the importance of talking to your players, and the great Sydney rivalries. By Jack Kerr.
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Coach approach: Anthony Griffin, 50, NRL coach

I’m from a big family of seven. Five brothers, two sisters. Being the second youngest, you had to learn the rules of the game pretty quickly, how to relate to different people. We were a big football family. All my brothers played at the same club, and my father was a committee member there, so most weekends were spent either watching or playing football. I grew up in amongst it, and I learnt a lot about football clubs and families and relationships through that.

Like a lot of coaches, I got into it by accident. I gravitated towards it at the back end of my footballing career. My local school that I used to go to, back in my home town of Rockhampton, they asked if I could do the under 16s. Then the club I was playing for was looking for a reserve-grade coach. That’s when I caught the coaching bug, and started to chase it, and it’s been a passion of mine since.

Until you start to coach, you don’t realise the enormity of the role. From a player’s point of view, you don’t quite realise the responsibilities or the reasons for things that coaches do. It’s a lot like being a child growing up – you don’t quite realise why your parents do things. It’s not until you become a parent yourself that the light goes on and you go, “Oh, now I realise.” Players in general don’t have a grasp of everything that goes on in the coaching of a team. You’re sort of more wanting something out of the coach yourself – direction, explanation, guidance.

The man-management side of things is probably 80 per cent of the job. Dealing with your players and staff, just making sure that individually everyone is on the right track. With some guys, that might take five minutes a week. With other guys, it might take an hour-and-a-half. So it’s about getting around to all your players and staff and making sure that you’re communicating. The important thing is that come game day, everyone is in a really good frame of mind and ready to do their best.

I spoke to Mike McCarthy, who’s head coach of the Green Bay Packers, a few years ago after they won the Super Bowl. He was really big on making sure you spend a little bit of time with every player. And that was hard for him, because they have 65 players on their list. But one of his little things was trying to personally be able to at least have a conversation with every player once a week. Which sounds easy, but it’s hard to do. I know myself when you’ve got 30-odd players, your day gets consumed and you’re driving home and you think, “Jeez, I haven’t spoken to that bloke in a day or two.” That’s one of the simple but powerful things I got off him.

The important things are always the important things. I’ve been to the Packers, the Denver Broncos, a couple of other different colleges over there, been through a few AFL clubs, A-League soccer, different things like that. When you do that professional development, you learn a little bit. But also it reinforces to you just the simplicity of what your role is, and that what you’re doing isn’t that much different. They might have more equipment and things like that, but it reinforces to you the important things.

A player’s body is their tool, so we want to make sure that the food that’s going in there is helping them. We put a fair bit of time and effort into that, actually. Our dietitian tries to feed them, as much as possible, at our facility – breakfast, lunch and food for them to take home if they want. Our guys are pretty good. It’s a pretty young squad, and most of them have really good habits, are in really good shape. And they need to be, to get through a really gruelling season.

Sydney is a different city to coach in than Brisbane. That’s a one-team city, two million people. It’s very focused. You don’t get a feel for what else is going on anywhere else. Coaching in Sydney, the spiritual home of the NRL, it’s a totally different culture down here. All the old rivalries, the politics, the media. It’s certainly given me a different look at the NRL. And it’s something I’ve really enjoyed. Working at a club like Penrith, with such a great history, it’s been a real thrill for me.

This week’s highlights…

• Golf: Fiji International
Until Sunday, Natadola Bay Championship Golf Course, Viti Levu, Fiji

• AFL: Western Bulldogs v Port Adelaide
Saturday, 1.45pm (AEST), Mars Stadium, Ballarat

• Darts: Melbourne Masters
Saturday and Sunday, 7pm (AEST), Hisense Arena, Melbourne

• Rugby union: Wallabies v New Zealand
Saturday, 8pm (AEST), ANZ Stadium, Sydney

• NRL: Canberra Raiders v Penrith Panthers
Sunday, 2pm (AEST), GIO Stadium, Canberra

• Motorsport: Sydney SuperSprint – Supercars Championship, Race 18
Sunday, 2pm (AEST), Sydney Motorsport Park, Eastern Creek

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 19, 2017 as "The coach approach". Subscribe here.

Jack Kerr
is a journalist and documentary maker.

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