Recently, I had the good fortune to meet Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy. Bellamy was the guest speaker of a sports luncheon at the school that both of my sons attend. For those of you that don’t know, Bellamy is widely regarded as the best coach in the NRL today and his record stands head and shoulders above all other coaches. In 16 years of first grade coaching, he has never had a “losing season” where his losses are greater than his wins. He has built a sustainable and successful rugby league club in a city where rugby league is not often played. The junior pool is not deep and he has to recruit from interstate and convince parents to allow their children to move thousands of kilometres away to a cold and strange environment. Yet, he has been able to mould a team, develop four of the greatest players of all time, win four premierships and never fail to make the finals. He is a coach, a mentor and a leader and it was a pleasure to be able to speak with him for about half an hour.
In the spirit of full disclosure, let me say that I was enjoying myself at this luncheon and had partaken in a few beverages. Bellamy had answered some questions from the audience including the usual question of “who are the greatest players that you have ever coached?” I imagine that this would be like asking a parent who is their favourite child but he managed to reluctantly answer that Cameron Smith was probably the best (even though he is not in the same league as Cronin, Price, Sterling, Kenny, Ella, Grothe etc). He answered every question politely and with not often seen humour before he came off the stage to relax somewhat. I waited for half an hour or so before I built up the courage to approach him and learn something from the great man.
I walked up and introduced myself as a fellow New South Welshman. I asked him who he thought would win State of Origin 1 this year (interestingly, he said he thought Queensland would win the first game because the side was more balanced……he was correct). I then asked him who his favourite player was and why. He stopped and smiled and then spoke with a level of enthusiasm that was a shock to me. He named three players in no particular order and they did not include the champions of Smith, Slater, Cronk and Inglis. He named former players Dallas Johnson and Ryan Hinchcliffe and present player Dale Finucane. None of these players could be considered a champion, although all three have represented at certain levels (Johnson was a State of Origin player for many years for Queensland; Hinchcliffe represented NSW Country Origin and Finucane has now played two games for NSW in State of Origin). However, these three players display the qualities that Bellamy respected above all others. These qualities include:
- Consistency: Bellamy said that the thing that he loved about these three players was that he always knew what they would deliver game after game. Their performance was always at a certain level and this consistency meant that as a coach, Bellamy could plan around these players safe in the knowledge of how they would perform. As he said, they would be there in the 78th minute of the game when a big play was needed or in the first minute of the game when everyone was fresh. Their consistent performance was a result of their consistent attitude and this made them easier to coach.
- Preparation: All three players were strong trainers. They were punctual to training and rehabilitated their bodies very well so that they were at their best when the games were due to be played. None of the three players could be described as naturally talented and they all had to get the best out of their bodies to perform at a consistently high level and they did not miss many games due to injury which was a credit to their preparation.
- Coachability: All three players were very coachable. Bellamy said that he could design a game plan and work with them to ensure that they executed it as he wished. They were great listeners and were willing to be coached as opposed to the type of player who felt as though they had nothing to learn. They set the example for all other team members to follow whether they were new to the club or superstars of the club.
- Good citizens: Bellamy realises that culture is important for any team in any discipline and he refuses to compromise on putting culture above all other criteria when it comes to selection of players. Good citizens make good clubs and Bellamy lives and breathes this mantra. You never heard of any scandals involving any of these players and Bellamy said that they were always willing to help out others in the club. As he said, you never heard anyone within the club or external to the club speaking poorly of these three players.
These three players were key to Bellamy being able to build a successful dynasty over successive decades in a club that is new to the game. I can’t help but think that the one thing Bellamy didn’t mention was that he saw a little of himself in these three players. None of them are stars of the game just as Bellamy was not a star of the game (he did play nearly 150 games for the Canberra Raiders though and was a foundation member of their club). All three players are very fit, just as Bellamy was when he played and continues to be when he coaches. However, the biggest thing that struck me was that he highlighted their humility and how these three players always put club success above individual success and were happy to play second fiddle to the super stars in their team just as Bellamy had in the 1980’s and 1990’s when he played with Meninga, Daley, Belcher, Stuart, Clyde and co. It was an interesting insight into the mindset of a man who will possibly go down in history as the greatest NRL coach of all time and gave me a great deal of food for thought in building and managing a team in my business.