IT’S the document that propelled Richmond towards one of the game’s most unlikely premierships.
With the footy world drastically closing in on the Tigers last year, 30 pieces of paper helped set the club free.
Craig Mitchell, of Ernst & Young’s Sports Advisory Practice, was the architect behind the analysis.
For the first time, the Herald Sun can reveal details of the secret report used to judge the Tigers. Mitchell used a now-proven formula he devised while working for the AFL Research Board nearly a decade ago.
“I interviewed more than 90 people in the AFL. I met every CEO, every senior coach, board members, assistant coaches, senior players, junior players, media people, sports science experts; basically the whole industry,” Mitchell said.
“We developed a model that said: This is what makes a coach effective. Then we designed a tool that helps clubs recruit and evaluate their coaches.”
The result is a nine-step checklist that ranked Richmond out of 10 in each department.
“It’s the most satisfying thing I’ve ever been a part of,” Mitchell said.
“The review provided an important road map from which the club could focus attention and align effort going into 2017. But it’s all in the execution.”
Mitchell spoke to a wide-range of people across multiple departments, interviewing each for an hour. But he was often reluctant to spread the net too wide.
“People just don’t keep it to themselves. They just talk to people and say, ‘Yeah, we had this guy from E & Y in talking asking about things and next thing you know it’s in the press,” he said.
“We often speak to the leadership group together to see the dynamics and then seek out players you know have good insights or a unique perspective.
“You might get a first or second-year player who’s very articulate and can give you a good insight into how the coaches are communicating and how the players are feeling towards the game plan, about not getting a contract until late or only getting a one-year deal.
“A whole range of things come up.”
Mitchell is prohibited from discussing the Richmond review specifically, but one of the swiftest turnarounds in AFL history had its genesis with the following nine key points:
1. LEADERSHIP MANAGEMENT
“THIS is pivotal. There needs to be alignment from the board to the president to the CEO and into the football department,” Mitchell said.
We say: The football department was restructured, with more emphasis put into list management and recruiting. It was found that too much was left to Dan Richardson, a relative newcomer, as football manager.
Neil Balme was lured back to the club as general manager (football), releasing Richardson to become the general manager of football talent. Balme’s return was a huge plus.
Richardson now works closely with the head of list management and recruiting, Blair Hartley, and reports to Balme on contracts, management of the club’s TPP, development of the Next Generation Academy and more.
2. CULTURE AND PURPOSE
“ELITE sporting environments embed a focus on purpose to galvanise everyone involved at the club,” Mitchell said.
“It’s about being clear with what you’re doing.”
We say: Experienced facilitator and consultant Shane McCurry ran the players’ leadership group program and the players took a real liking to him.
The result was a new three-man leadership group, with Trent Cotchin chosen as captain for a fifth season beside Alex Rance and Jack Riewoldt.
“THE coach isn’t the be-all and end-all. While he is the key architect of the football strategy, he also manages a team of people, including the assistant coaches, to support and challenge him to produce elite outcomes,” Mitchell said.
We say: A broom went through the coaching panel. Assistant coaches Ross Smith and Greg Mellor, along with senior development coach Mark Williams, were not offered new contracts for 2017.
It paved the way for the return of former assistants Justin Leppitsch as forwards coach and Craig McRae as VFL and development coach.
Blake Caracella was entrusted with ball movement and Xavier Clarke as development coach and VFL midfield mentor.
4. TRAINING AND PREPARATION
“PHYSICAL performance and injury management are critical to performance and the players’ appetite for the physical load and their standards are measured using performance training data,” Mitchell said.
“The insights from the physical performance team need to be integrated across recruitment, list management, coaching and selection committees.”
We say: Luke Mehan was promoted to the role of strength and conditioning coach, replacing Adam Douglas. Rob Inness was given the rehabilitation brief, taking over from Mehan.
5. MENTAL STRENGTH
“PREPARATION of elite athletes has historically focused on physical and technical development. As the complexity and pressures of high-performance sport has increased, elite organisations have broadened their focus to include mental skills training,” Mitchell said.
“The players need to be in the right mental state to make good decisions during times of high stress under physical fatigue.”
We say: A huge growth area at Tigerland, with the players and coaches buying into the vision.
The Tigers’ HHH — hardship, highlight, hero — sessions, saw players, coaches and staff pour their hearts out to each other to build deeper connections.
The Tigers gathered each week during pre-season to hear a colleague talk about something personal.
One day every player was given $5 and told to have a coffee with someone they didn’t know that well. A busload of players travelled to Dan Butler’s 21st in Ballarat, surprising other guests with their attendance.
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No doubt there were other initiatives and it fostered trust where there was little and built relationships where there were few.
The Tigers didn’t have the most talented list in the competition, but they would prove to be the best team. This was a major reason why.
“INFRASTRUCTURE is another key component of setting up an elite environment, having the right equipment and space for the players to do their job. Most clubs are generally on top of this now,” Mitchell said.
“Infrastructure can affect a whole range of things. If you don’t have good cohesion between back of house staff and the footballers, the evidence tells us it dilutes on-field success.”
We say: Some AFL clubs are elite when it comes to the off-field numbers. Sponsorship can be raging and membership can be excellent, but the team isn’t playing well.
The two need to knit together, because everyone is part of the success on the field. Infrastructure and floor plan layout, as simple as it sounds, can help foster that connection.
7. SYSTEMS AND PROCESSES
“ELITE sports teams use systems, data and structure to control their program and it needs to be balanced with an approach that encourages the athletes to take responsibility for their preparation and performance,” Mitchell said.
“The best teams use data to make better decisions and push for innovation.”
We say: With the soft cap on football department spending not increasing between the 2016 and 2017 seasons, all clubs faced the same challenge — getting more blood out of the same stone. Richmond thrived here.
8. TALENT DEVELOPMENT
“THE job of elite sporting environments is to select good people and then make them the best they can be,” Mitchell said.
“Player potential and athlete improvement should be tracked and analysed. The development process is taking them on that path, teaching them, and you need metrics around what their development has been.”
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We say: Recruiting was further overhauled with Matthew Clarke promoted to national recruiting manager, replacing Francis Jackson, who has remained at the club in a part-time capacity. Next month’s national draft will be Clarke’s first in charge.
Development programs were also further reinforced.
9. PLAYER/LIST MANAGEMENT
“THIS is a very complex area and it goes back to leadership management,” Mitchell said.
“The football strategy and game plan need to be aligned with how players are inducted into the club, developed to deliver on that game plan and then respectfully managed out of the club.”
We say: You can have the best game plan football has ever seen, but if you don’t have the cattle to implement it it’s as useful as you-know-what on a bull.
History is littered with a new coach who comes in with new game plans, but not the list to deliver it. Those coaches are chewed up and spat out.
The whole organisation needs to be on the same page.
Richmond was, and the rest is history.