THE moment the communication shut down at the MCG, in a game versus Richmond, there was panic.
The next move was made out of necessity and I took the long run down to the bench to continue coaching the team.
It was a very close game and as I reached the bench late in the last quarter there was a ball-up directly in front of the coach’s box.
There was one Swans player that was absolutely exhausted and I screamed to him to come off the ground at this critical time. I then yelled to Darren Jolly, who was on the bench, to race forward as quickly as he could.
Within the next minute the ball went down to our forward line, Jolly marked and kicked a goal, sealing the game for the Swans.
There is no way the move would have been made had I been sitting in the coach’s box.
Would we have still won the game? Maybe. But there is no question, that move was critical to the outcome that day.
Coaching from the bench had been something that had been in the back of my mind for a while. But this moment in time convinced me it was the right move to make in my career.
All week we spend time with the players face to face. The coach’s are out on the ground, coaching at training, they are presenting at team meetings and they are constantly having one on one discussions with the players they are directly mentoring.
It did seem strange to me then, that on the most important day of the week, we distanced ourselves from the players and relied on a transfer of information through a phone and runners on the bench.
Make no mistake; coaching from the bench is very different.
You need to have 100 per cent faith in your assistant coaches to give you a clear overview of the game in each of their areas. Coaching from the bench does provide a far different view of the game than coaching from the box.
Given my situation with an experienced assistant coaching panel, that I viewed had a great feel for the game, I felt the positives far outweighed the negatives.
To be able to look players in the eye and give them direct feedback was very powerful. Equally, to get feedback from your leaders and experienced players enabled quick discussion and decisive action regarding tactical issues.
I have noticed that Damien Hardwick has spent a lot of time coaching from the bench and I firmly believe for a young team that direct, immediate and honest feedback has had a significant effect on their development.
Given Mark Neeld is in a similar position to when Hardwick started at Richmond it may be a great time for him to come down to ground level and transfer the information directly to the players. Clearly there are things they are working on at training at the moment that don’t seem to be translating into the games.
For Mark to get the feedback quickly from his assistants and have direct dialogue with players would no doubt enhance their development.
The other significant benefit of being on the bench was controlling rotations.
To see players from ground level that are labouring on the field means you can make an immediate change from the bench when they are close by.
Equally, often in the box you are asking your runners when players are ready to come onto the ground. As the senior coach, sitting at ground level, you don’t need to ask as you can see if they have recovered or not.
The ability to do this may mean the difference of leaving Adam Goodes on the bench a few minutes longer than he should or not putting a player on who is still recovering.
As with the Jolly example, the senior coach can make decisions on the run that can have a direct impact on the outcome of the game.
You do, however, have to make some adjustments to your coaching when you are on the bench.
You cannot get over-emotional and certainly you cannot barrack and spectate as you may in the box. The coach’s box is very noisy, emotional and often irrational. This can happen in a protected environment where the players have no idea what’s going on.
This cannot happen on the bench. The players want to see a coach that is calm, rational and can make intelligent decisions. Even body language can give off an energy to your players, either positive or negative.
This, perhaps, is the most challenging aspect of being on the bench and among players and support staff. You have to continually remind yourself of the environment that you are now in.
I did find that moving from box to bench during a game gave you the best of both worlds. But if there was no coach on the bench you did miss out on a significant advantage.
Like everything, there is no one size fits all.
We see some that go down on the bench now, some that alternate from week to week or quarter to quarter and some that we do not, and probably never will, see sitting on the bench.
What we do see at most clubs now is a coach of some sort on the bench interacting directly with players.
I believe this has become an acceptable part of game-day procedure. We no longer rely solely on the phone, a message to the runner, and the potential for misinformation.
There would be a lot of varied coaching philosophies but if you asked all 18 coaches they would agree our main objective is to educate players as quickly, and as effectively, as possible.
And maybe one other thing. Win.