Mexican Stand Off

from Chasing Mavericks

England come face to face with the old enemy.

Denis Betts - Civic Reception

After a day of missing each other due to Denis’ interrupted travel arrangements and my appointment with a dentist, normal service is resumed.

Despite delays and a new bout of jet-lag Denis is in high spirits. The enthusiasm is his voice is obvious, “ We trained really well today”. There’s a big emphasis on the word ‘really’. If I didn’t know him better I’d say Denis is impressed by what he’s seeing”. You can decide for yourself:

“How do you actually coach a group like this? It’s different in nearly every way from being with a club side day in day out over the year”.

“You mean a maverick coaching a group of mavericks?”.

“I like what you did there” (Denis is one of several Mavericks featured in the our Channel, “Chasing Mavericks”).

You can ‘over-coach’ in set-ups like this if you’re not careful. You can be too enthused, too eager.

Denis continues, “You give them space. You can ‘over-coach’ in set-ups like this if you’re not careful. You can be too enthused, too eager. Wayne’s really good at getting the balance right. These are experienced players. You give them the big picture and let them attend to the detail. In this case we’re striking for the moon”.

Whilst I’m scrabbling around in my memory banks for the relevant film reference (in case you’re wondering the film in question is ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’) Denis changes tack,

“Until we hit the ground running, it’s all very exciting. We’ve had no real challenges to date, so to speak, no significant obstacles to overcome. That’s soon going to change”.

Prior to the ‘change’ in question there are a number of formalities to attend to. On Tuesday night the squad attended a Civic Reception in the city to celebrate the launch of the World Cup. I know how reluctant players (and coaches) often are to attend these events,

“I assume you put your new shorts away and donned your proper bib and tucker? It sounds posh. Who was there?”

“Dunno. There was a politician. I think he’s the Chair for all sporting events in Melbourne”.

“I’m sure he’s touched. What was it like meeting up with the Aussies?”

“We were there on our own at first, getting our photos taken with these big statues of players with kit on, then the Australian team arrived. When they came in it was a bit like a Mexican stand-off”.

The Mexican Stand Off

“Sizing each other up?”

“With contact sports people are always respectful. Everyone shook hands but there was a prickliness in the air. An ugly undercurrent. You can’t help looking at a big bloke on the other side and wondering how you’re going to knock him over come the first match”.

“Talking of which…”

“Yep, the Friday night test match. We didn’t take our opportunities last time (At their last meeting in the 2016 four Nations Australia beat England 36-18) but this is the opportunity to do it again and do it better”.

“That’s pressure”.

Your performance is your responsibility

“Yes but over the next couple of days we’ll be re-enforcing the message that ‘you’re not on your own’– it’s a team. You’re there to help others and be helped but you have to be able to function and perform under pressure. Your performance is your responsibility but the beauty of team sport is that you know you have support. Someone like Jess Ennis has Toni and a team around her when she’s preparing. But once she steps out onto the track she’s on her own and that’s a fundamental difference. It takes a special kind of athlete to perform under that type of pressure. A lot of people involved in team sports don’t like that level of attention, or even the adulation……”

I’m flicking through a list of photos that Denis has uploaded. It may not fall into the ‘adulation’ category but the guys are not exactly camera shy. I make the point as delicately as I can,

“The boys seem to be getting the hang of selfies with you though?”

Where are we meant to focus Denis?

“I think they’ve just given up running away from me. I’ve worn them down into submission”.

Now that’s coaching.

Coach Down Under

This article is part of the Coach Down Under Series.

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