Stocky’s Scribbles: Know coach Joe

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My goodness, who would want to be a football coach right now? It seems everywhere you turn, coaches from all walks of life – International, National, State and Club level are being sacked, reprimanded, discredited, scrutinized, disparaged and the adjectives go on.

Words and images by Craig Stockdale

Why would you even bother getting involved for little return and be subjected to such duress and scrutiny? Are coaches an important stakeholder in our game and if so, what characteristics depict the great ones to emulate? Are we investing enough in our coaches?

All good questions that I am not qualified to answer in this article – but no harm in raising them. What I do know is coaching women’s football in Australia is a tough gig in itself compounded by the lack of financial support, resourcing, exposure, remuneration and equality in a male dominated sport. We have some great Australian coaches and we should look to employ them more often.

Headlines galore in the month of April…. Hesterine De Reus was relieved of her duties for the Matildas by the governing body FFA and in the same week Tom Sermanni (the previous Matildas coach) was shown the door by the USA Soccer Federation as coach of the USA National Women’s Team. Arguably two of the best women’s soccer coaches going around at the elite level now looking for their next gig. So what are the pre-requisites for a great coach?

First of all, coaching is a very tough assignment. It requires a person with a lot of passion, drive, leadership qualities, communications skills and an incredible work ethic to become a great coach. I personally have had the opportunity to play and work under some inspirational coaches and mentors over the years – people I will never forget for what they taught, how they inspired and the impact they had on my life.

Of course, there were others that were just plain terrible. Football is no different.

The differences between a good coach and a great one are subtle yet can make a world of difference to players – ask the Matildas. It is fundamental for any coach to possess knowledge of the game, ability to demonstrate and administer drills along with strong organizational skills at a bare minimum. However, the characteristics that really segregate the good from the great as listed on the net are:-

Passion – when a coach has a passion for the game and the team they are coaching, it stands out and drives a positive impact on everyone involved. Excitement and enthusiasm is contagious, and if the coach reflects it, the entire team will catch it and improvement is the net result.

Humility – every coach wants to win games, but not at the expense of skill development, especially in the early years. Great coaches realize it’s about the team, not the person behind the bench and how loud they can bellow across the pitch. The best coaches don’t measure their success by their trophy cabinet, but by the smiles on their players’ faces, their improvement on the pitch and their continued passion for the game.

Communication – a coach can have all the technical knowledge in the world but if they can’t communicate and teach effectively, the knowledge is useless. This is a major issue in the coaching business. Clear communication stems from realizing how each player learns and tailoring the information to reach its intended target. The great coaches are able to deliver criticism and praise in a way that players will take to heart and respond positively.

Compassion – great coaches take the time to get to know their players, on and off the pitch. If the coach makes the effort to listen, understand and treat players with respect, they will return the favour. Great coaches know that their team is only as strong as its weakest player and works hard to give every player the chance to improve her skills.

Leadership – Great coaches give their teams direction and motivation to help them to reach their goals. They have a plan, are organised and find a way to encourage their teams to believe and work together. The great coaches are those that will lead an enthusiastic, excelling, growing team by personal example.

So how lucky are the NTC U17 Women’s team in Victoria to have such a potential “candidate” on board right now – namely Mr Joseph Montemurro.  A very unassuming man, Pepe (as he likes to be known) has some of the best football coaching qualifications in this country – bar none.

I have mentioned before that he currently holds UEFA A and FFA/AFC A licenses and is completing a UEFA Pro Diploma via the Italian Federation. On top of that, Joe is in the final stages of completing his ‘Masters in Sports Coaching’ via the University of Queensland which broadens his holistic understanding of coaching from psychology to physiology. So Knowledge of the game – tick, tick and tick…

He must be serious about this coaching thing!

When asked to comment on his background, Joe revealed “I always find it very difficult to talk about myself as I would rather talk about the football. Coaching is a work in progress and I find myself constantly learning, picking up new ways and ideas at every session and I am constantly trying to improve and make every session `the session’ not just `a training session’. I am humbled and lucky to be working in a profession that I’m passionate about and believe I can really have a positive impact on people’s lives.”  Did I say passion was a pre-requisite  – tick, tick and tick…..

I know you want to know more about the man who hopes he will coach the Melbourne Victory Women’s in 2014 so I hit him with a number of questions to see if he actually possesses any of the other traits the FFV interviewers maybe looking for:-

Q. As NTC Girls coach in 2014, what are the fundamentals of being a great coach at elite level?
For me, its personality and character. You need knowledge of the game and a clear football strategy backed by ensuring you maintain an honest, open relationship with players.

Q. What do you enjoy most about coaching?
There are many things but the most rewarding is having a positive effect on player’s development not only in football but as people. Not all the girls will go on and become elite footballers so I hope my style can contribute to them becoming a better person as a whole – after all we spend 5 days a week together already.

Q. How would you describe your coaching style or philosophy?
This is a very common question asked of modern coaches and a very interesting one. My development as a coach over the years has seen my philosophy adapt and change to the environment and culture of the organisations I work with. My philosophy is based around humility because you cannot be respected if you are not empathetic enough to understand the character and backgrounds of your group – both players and staff. My teams have always had a style of play that is proactive but with a purpose. I like thinking players that prepare good football decisions and enact them.

Q. What goals do you have in 2014 with this team?
A development program needs to cater for the individual players holistically. We have players that are at different stages of their development.  In the end, I need to create many opportunities for the athletes to be exposed to the highest level of football. i.e junior national teams and W league etc. I hope to also create a clear pathway for their future.

Q. Do you have any success stories from coaching an elite athlete?
There are many and some are not the obvious success stories that we think. I get calls from past players whom I coached a long time ago that have gone on to pursue other professions outside football but remember the impact I have had on them in a sporting domain that has given them skills they have adopted in their life. This is satisfying.

Q. Did you participate in football in school and state/national level?
I was lucky enough to have experienced playing as a professional both in Australia and in Italy. I also represented Victoria.
Q. What is your favorite sports related movie?
It’s an Italian comedy film from the 1980’s called, “allenatore del pallone” with Lino Banfi. I also like the one with Brad Pitt about the baseball coach who uses stats to build his team – called MoneyBall I think.

Q. What’s your mantra or favorite saying (in the context of sport and/ or life)?
I don’t like excuses. I think limitations are opportunities.

Q. Do you have any special talents or a surprising thing someone might not know about you?
I love to cook.

Q. Who is your favorite coach and why?
I am fortunate enough to be completing my UEFA pro diploma at the Italian technical sector. It’s a fantastic coaching school that teaches the holistic approach to the profession. The coaches that I admire are the ones that go beyond the mechanics of the game and go deeper into character, group dynamics and are good tactically. To mention a few – Marcelo Bielsa, Carlo Ancelotti and Jurgen Klopp.

Q. What team do you barrack for most enthusiastically? (any sport)
NTC Girls of course.

The NTC Girls this weekend head to Sydney to play in a mini tournament against NSW, Northern NSW and ACT. This is a litmus test to allow the coach, the girls and the team to better understand where they are at early in the program and where they can develop further in the year ahead.

Asked about his vision for the year ahead, Joe said “The program is not just about what we achieve now but to create a base where a large majority of these players can go and play at the highest level. This may take a couple of years. One of my main structural changes is to create a level above the NTC to underpin the W league clubs and the national teams. Players at this age develop at different rates and it’s important to prioritize the rate of development so that each player has the appropriate time to reach their maximum capability accordingly. Therefore the program is holistic, embracing functional football activities that develop all the components that we believe produce a world class footballer.”

He went on passionately demonstrating with his Italian hand gestures – “We waste no time on the park on isolated activities, these are monitored as home work. I believe that the girls need to be put in many football situations where they can solve problems in real football scenarios. We play a lot of football and I guide them to when and where to make the right decisions. I hope to develop creative and intelligent players that will solve problems in possession of the ball.”

Coach Joe Montemurro has all the qualities displayed in this article – maybe he should be coaching one of the National Teams right now. I guess he has to start somewhere and if the FFA/FFV are clever, they should ensure he stays in Australia and he be given the opportunities needed to advance his chosen career.

He is investing his time, his own money and effort in striving to achieve his goals in the sport – he is already a winner.

Many of his peers have already left the country! What does that tell you?

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