Create a culture where athletes can flourish: coach McLeod

Top New Zealand coach Shane McLeod was in Dunedin yesterday helping the region’s age group...
Top New Zealand coach Shane McLeod was in Dunedin yesterday helping the region’s age group coaches. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
The coach gets the blame when there is a loss.

The players get the credit when they win.

But a better measure of coaching ability has nothing to do with winning and losing, top New Zealand coach Shane McLeod says.

The 53-year-old was in Dunedin for the past couple of days with the Coach for Life Foundation to provide inspiration, tips and resources to help the region’s age group coaches.

It is the end point of a nationwide tour which has taken him to 12 regions during the past few months.

McLeod led the Black Sticks men in two Olympic campaigns (Beijing and London) before switching teams and guiding the Belgium men’s team to Olympic Silver in Rio and gold at the 2018 World Cup and 2020 Olympics.

He is very familiar with high performance and the aspirational aspect of sport. While he would never want to peel back ambition, he says it is important coaches understand what is really important is creating an environment in which athletes can flourish no matter their skill level.

"The success begins when your athlete falls in love with the game and wants to play the next year and the next year — that life-long passion," McLeod said.

"That is not always the case in New Zealand."

Success has been closely linked with winning, particularly at the top level. High-performance sport in New Zealand has suffered some reputational damage for creating toxic environments where athletes feel under intolerable pressure.

"I understand aspiration and can place that quite well. But we lose so many athletes when they leave school ... and not enough is being done to make sure those players reconnect.

"We want people playing, even if they are not the gold medal winners and are just social club players.

"They need to be doing that type of thing because there are so many issues around at the moment with mental health and obesity. Sport is not the only solution, but it is not a bad way to start."

McLeod’s own coaching style has evolved plenty during his 20-plus years in various roles. His coaching philosophy is geared around having an athlete-centred approach.

"When I started, I just wanted to get all the information into the players as quickly as I could, and I thought the best way to do that was to tell them what needed to be done.

"But along the way I’ve discovered it is much better to involve people in that kind of discovery. Both the athlete and the coach need to go along that journey at the same time.

"That sounds easy enough, but it is quite tricky to know when to step back when you know the answers but let your athlete discover it for themselves.

"You have to be a bit patient with that.

"My coaching philosophy now is a bit like parenting.

"At some point in time, you want your kids to develop a voice and it’s the same with athletes. You want them to invest in their own progress."

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