My experience with the Diamonds began many years ago when I met Lisa Alexander while she was coaching Melbourne Phoenix. Lisa was interested in the work I was doing at St Kilda Football Club and as a coach, was fervently aligned with the empowerment model. We had remained in touch over the journey as Lisa followed AFL closely and also followed the work I was doing with other clubs and corporates.
Soon after she was appointed Head Coach of the Diamonds in 2011, she approached me and we had a conversation about potentially implementing the Leading Teams Performance Improvement Program (PIP) with the team. One of the issues we discussed early on was whether our program worked with a squad that came together periodically rather than a team which worked together all the time. We were both confident it could work.
I adopted the view that we would push as far as we could and if we didn’t get buy-in from the team we would reassess after each interaction.
I came in to the first camp and we built the trademark which particularly helped the team understand the power of them – taking responsibility for performance and having an engagement in reviews.
It was important that we got buy-in from senior players in particular. Natalie Von Bertouch, captain at that time, and Catherine Cox were terrific in getting the ball rolling.
What was confronting for the team was when we started to rate performance and openly discuss it. They had never before been exposed to this and reviews in the past had been very much coach-directed. Lisa still had an input but was very keen to have players involved.
The next step that caused discussion was the open selection of the leadership group. The players were asked to identify the three players they trusted most to lead them and discuss this openly. Again, that was considered to be pretty confronting. That process identified Laura Geitz, Kim Green and Bianca Chatfield as the leadership group. There was no doubt that these three players began to cement the PIP within the Diamonds.
The netball thinking changed to a genuine squad mentality. This was displayed during the Commonwealth Games where Kim and Bianca were vice captains but started on the bench. Importantly, they never lost sight of putting the team first. They knew they could be called upon and had to play their role. They also knew that they were a squad of 12, and not a team of 7 + 5, and everyone had a genuine function to fulfil.
During the period since 2011, I have been going to all camps, usually held at the AIS and run sessions to reinforce the trademark to continue to drive open reviews and affirm the positive gains which became apparent to the team.
The other significant part of my relationship with the Diamonds was when Lisa found out that my wife Sally was an A grade Netball coach. She invited Sal to some training sessions and also went to Ballarat to take the Lake Wendouree team for some specialist coaching (an event the players still rave about).
Lisa invited Sal to the recent Gold Coast camp but unfortunately Sal’s health was deteriorating. However, Sal was still determined to get to the World Championships (she had been fighting an eight year battle with cancer).
Unfortunately, the day our tickets arrived, Sal went into hospital and four days later passed away. The messages of support from the Diamonds were overwhelming and it was clear this was no longer just a consultant/client relationship.
One of Sal’s last requests was that I still attend the World Championships. When the Diamonds won, I was absolutely elated. I knew the win was significant because of some of the challenges the team had to overcome. I was also deeply saddened knowing how much Sal would have loved to have been there. My overriding feeling is of extreme gratitude for having been given the opportunity to work with such a great team, both the athletes and the staff. A relationship I hope continues well into the future.