Is victory the only measure of a coach?


from: Azizi Ahmad, via email

The firing of coaches has been an issue in Malaysian football. Being a coach for an ‘elite team’ doesn’t make the coach any more outstanding than other coaches. Even big names in our local football history have not been spared.

The sacking, the resting or forced resignation of Malaysian football coaches and many more sport coaches because of the poor performance of the players and the team has been making headlines. Some say it’s fair and some say it’s not right. Some question whether the coaches are ‘victims’ of the sports management body when the ‘performance index’ is not met.

In the English Premier League, Alex Ferguson was appointed manager of Manchester United on 6 November 1986 and won his first trophy in the 1989-1990 FA Cup final against Crystal Palace; his first English league title came in 1992-1993 season. It took him three years for one trophy and two more years for celebration in the major league.

That’s an eye-opener for one of the most celebrated sportsman in football history.

In Malaysia, are we now forgetting or are we so eager to be the winner in everything we do? Are we putting so much importance on winning in sports and blatantly neglecting the needs and well being of the athletes?

As a coach, just how important is winning to you? When your team or athletes win, does that mean that you are doing your job better? Does it make you a more effective coach? Similarly, when your athletes fail, does that mean you are failing? Are your athletes’ and team’s losses concrete evidence of your incompetence?

None of us know what’s in the contract between the coaches and the sports bodies. The trend now seems to be to make the coaches the scapegoats. How many of the players or athletes are real winners or which sport teams are really worthy champions though, and knowing that not many are ‘classic’ players?

We should be realistic in setting the target.

Sports and games are meant to make us fit and healthy, but sports has become commercialized.

Because winning has become so important, because being “Number One” has been erroneously equated with coaching success and competence, some have forgotten their real mission as a professional, and mistakenly believe that the win-lose outcome of their season is far more important than the process of participation, character development and safety of their athletes.

They believe that an athlete’s performance failure is reflective of a coaching failure. And why shouldn’t they feel this way when coaches at every level are regularly criticised and fired for not winning enough?

Yet Brian Clough, one of the EPL’s greatest ever managers – “the greatest manager England never had” – saw it differently: “Players lose you games, not tactics. There’s so much crap talked about tactics by people who barely know how to win at dominoes”.

He also believed the buck didn’t necessarily end with the coach. “If a chairman sacks the manager he initially appointed, he should go as well.”

When it comes right down to it though, isn’t the true essence of “good coaching,” winning? Isn’t that what coach Vince Lombardi used to say: Winning isn’t the most important thing. It’s the only thing?

Azizi Ahmad is an educator and a sport science trainer.

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