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Acting isn’t something most of us associate ourselves with yet we, as sports people, seem to love it. It’s almost weird to think of it as acting, the word conjures thoughts of famous Hollywood celebrities or Neymar and his thousandth roll in the penalty area rather than of us and our friends sat down enjoying an afternoon of sport.
We are all, however, guilty of it. “Why is he playing? We’ve got better players on the bench!” The role of the coach is one we act out regularly, giving our input to the TV and our opinion to the world. We all know deep down that if our teams would just listen to us that bit more, we would win every week and the titles would be ours every year, no question about it.
So why, with the plethora of new opinions and ideas readily available, do so few people from outside professional sport make their way in as coaches?
Anatoly Tarasov might not be the first name that rolls off the tongue when discussing some of the greatest sporting coaches but with last Sunday marking 24 years since his death, a quick look in to his career will quickly reveal his unbelievable achievements. Tarasov was a Russian watchmaker by trade until after WWII when he was asked to set up a player pathway in Russian Hockey. He studied the Canadian team, who were the dominant force in Hockey at the time, came up with a way to beat them and then went about setting up a system of recruiting and nurturing talent to play to his theory. He surpassed even his own aspirations. He led the Soviets to gold medals in the 1964, 1968 and 1972 Olympic Games and to 10 world titles between 1961 and 1972. The watchmaker from Moscow had seen what no one else had and transformed Russian hockey in to the team to beat.
Glen Mills too could be considered as someone worthy of note if a list was compiled of sports finest coaches. Having joined the Hamperdale High School sprinting team the year before, at age 13, Mills was already disappointed with his results as a young runner and had decided that he was never going to make it. His love for athletics remained strong and his passion was noticed by the schools head coach, who gave him a role coaching the younger athletes, he continued, learned and progressed taking from his view and passion as a fan. Now Mills is the Head Coach of Runners track club in Kingston, Jamaica, the place where he took a young Usain Bolt from being a very respectable 100m runner, clocking a time of 10.36s to being the fastest man in history.
With Maurizio Sarri’s appointment as Juventus Head Coach last week, the 60 year old takes the reigns of one of the world’s biggest clubs despite, as with the theme, having never played professionally. He was an investment banker in his thirties and whilst he cannot be compared with Tarasov or Mills in his achievements thus far, his passion as a fan of his sport, driving him to the top of the game, can be. His journey started 30 years ago in the eighth tier of Italian football where he took a leap from the financial security of banking to become a full-time coach. This was a leap which many would not have taken.
It begs the question, are there more Sarri’s who simply cannot afford to chance their arm? Had the Camperdale High School head coach not noticed Mills passion would we not know Usain Bolt as he is today?
Is sport missing out on a huge talent pool of people that are being overlooked because they aren’t coming from a professional background? It seems strange to me that there are a number of sports that throw huge resources at scouting and producing the best young talent they can whilst at the same time giving the job of overseeing this talent to a recently retired former well-known athlete. Just because you were a good horse, doesn’t mean you are a good jockey. That isn’t to say a coaching staff of former pros is a bad thing. There are obvious merits and potentially they are the best people for the job at any given time. It just appears to be all too readily the norm.
The route for everyone else seems to be much longer, harder and not as fruitful. I think that a structure which involves nurturing the most promising athletic talent and the most promising coaching talent would make a huge amount of sense.
Football, for example, spends hundreds of millions on teenagers in the hope that they will develop into world class players. Why would football clubs not also hire a few coaches and look to develop them similarly?
It is obvious to say that if any team or nation wants to be successful they must produce the best athletes and to do this they need the best coaches.
I understand that it is nonsense to suggest that a talent scout might go around sitting in peoples living rooms hoping to unearth the next Jose Mourinho but, in my opinion, with so many ideas out there, there is a period of dominance for anyone who can unlock and cherry pick from the ‘general’ talent pool.