Category Archives: AFL

Ange Postecoglou Highlights That Leaders Are Always Learning

One of my very best friends is Chris Maple, Head of Development at the Western Bulldogs who play in the Australian Football League (AFL). We regularly talk about leadership, learning and development.

During one of our recent chats, Chris shared that he had spent 90 minutes with Ange Potecoglou, Head Coach of the Melbourne Victory who play in the Australian A League (called ‘soccer’ in Australia, but known as ‘football’ everywhere else in the world).

Chris told me that he couldn’t believe how much he learned from Ange in just 90 minutes. While the codes of their sporting professions may differ, it turns out that Ange learned a great deal from that visit too. In fact, in today’s Age newspaper, Ange revealed that he constantly looks to other codes for learning, motivation and inspiration.

Ange and Chris’ story highlights that true leaders never stop learning. They are prepared to look outside the boundaries of their own industries, learn what they can and then mould and adapt what they have learned to match their own circumstances.

How have you looked out of your own industry to continue your learning and development as a leader?

What lessons have you adopted from the ‘outside’ and brought them in to your organisation?

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
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Incomplete Quadriplegic to Climb Mt Kilimanjaro

Jason Barrie is an inspiration.

In May 1999 Jason was seriously injured in a suburban Australian rules football match playing for the Monash Gryphons in the VAFA competition. I was the senior coach at the time and the memory of Jason’s injury will never leave me. Neither will the site of him lying on his hospital bed at the Monash Medical Centre that evening. He had cut his spinal cord.

In October 2012 Jason is planning to climb Mt Kilimanjaro in an effort to raise $50,000 for Independence Australia, an organisation that helps people who have received spinal injuries cope with and to come to terms with their injuries. Jason wants to pay them back for their support to him throughout the early years of his recovery. Donations can be made here.

At this point I believe that it is best to leave the full story in Jason’s words, which are published for you below. I urge you to support Jason as he is an inspiration, a role model and a wonderful human being.

On the 1st May 1999, my life was turned upside down.
In playing a local game of Australian Rules Football, I suffered a Spinal Cord injury in that my C4 / C5 Vertebrae dislocated, with one going one way and the other going the other way, which cut my spinal cord. While Cat Stevens may say the “First Cut is the Deepest” this, thankfully, was not the case with my injury although the Doctors did not know that at the time.
When I was packed off in the Ambulance on that day, I had no idea that I would forever be classed now as C4/C5 Incomplete Quadriplegic. My focus at the time was I won’t be able to work at the local Video store that night…..and how were they going to be able to cope without me ?
I remember my jumper being cut apart in Emergency……..then nothing for a few days………saw my Dad in Intensive Care with me at the Monash, where my first thought was “Did Celtic beat Rangers in the Scottish Premier League, Dad ?” His negative response did not assist my situation, but I look back now and realise my naiveté with regards to my injury did assist my situation.
I did not remember the Doctor coming and telling me I would never walk again…….
I did not remember crying solid for a day after this news……
I did not realise that I had lost a full week and bit, by the time I finally came to…….
These were things I was told a week, or months later by my Girlfriend at the time, now wife.
I worked at Mercedes Benz Finance at the time with my girlfriend and they were awesome in allowing her time off to be with me on a full time basis for the next month…….my enduring memories from those times in ICU at the Austin Hospital, will be her wiping my mouth because I couldn’t move my arms…….struggling to breathe as I had had a Tracheotomy…..again, finding out later that both my lungs had collapsed and that golden staph had set in, to complicate things further.
On a funnier note, I kept thinking that there was a Chinese Take Away within ICU at the Austin Hospital and wondering how they got that past the State Government……
My move to the general ward for Spinal patients came after two weeks in ICU………I had another 5 weeks in this dedicated ward for Spinal patients at the Austin and was in the ward next door to Robert Rose when the Code Blue was called and he passed away due to complications. Even then, I kept thinking I would be ok and I would get over this sickness…….little did I realise how bad things were and how much it had affected my family. Already, my Grandfather was making plans to build a house for a wheelchair bound Grandson…..that he was moved to tears every time he left my ward……
I started to get some strength and movement in my arms, but everything was ‘gross movement’. Trying to do anything meant using your hands like a lump of wood – if the TV was on a channel, that’s where it stayed……for some time.
It was about 4 weeks in when they decided to get me into a wheelchair for the first time…… lasted 3 seconds before I fainted. A common tale…… by day, I was getting winched over to a wheelchair, and day by day I got better at it and was able to sustain longer periods of time in the wheelchair. Then one day early on, a fellow spinal patient bumped into my foot and I went ‘ouch’. A common response to any able bodied person, but he instantly reacted and said he ‘envied me’……I was a bit slow and didn’t realise why, but later I would understand, if you can’t move your legs, it’s usually because you can’t feel them !!!!
This was a good sign, and by the time I left the Austin to go to Royal Talbot, I could slightly move my right leg !!!!
Over the coming months, I got movement back – fine movement too, especially on the right side of my body. They then winched me into a machine where they would stand me up to begin the routine of leg muscles getting used to be on two feet again. Even then, the Physios never guaranteed me anything….no promises were made, and in all our planning, it was to a house that would have to be modified for a wheelchair.
My family are pretty religious and my recovery was labelled a miracle and that I had overcome all these obstacles, but reality is, I was the luckiest person, but also the unluckiest!!! The family wanted to tell the Doctors off for their negative response at first, but MRI’s and X-Rays cannot tell them how much damage is done to one’s spinal cord. Knowing what I know now, if I was a Doctor, I would say the same thing. In such a litigious society as ours, could you imagine what would happen if you told a patient he would be ok, only for him to be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life ?
My support networks were awesome…..the Footy Club, my Cricket Club, my Grandfathers networks, my work place, the support was incredible and I kept every single card that I received from that time.
I left the Royal Talbot mid-October 1999, with the assistance of crutches…….I used a wheelchair for longer distances, but crutches were great for 10-20 metres. Over the next 6 months, I started back at work two days a week, rehab the other three……I had to have Driving lessons again and by Christmas I had to get a new car that was slightly modified to assist with my strengths and weaknesses. By March, 2000 life was back to normal, albeit a lot slower. Everything took me a lot longer to complete……and there were a lot of falls.
Good friends, Dean Henderson and Stephen Davey, were strong cyclists and around 2004 they introduced me to Cycling. My balance is not good, and while I try to stretch for 30 mins every day to soothe the damaged nerves in my body, I was at first very fearful. Over time though, I began to enjoy it and after a while I really, really enjoyed it. So much so, I spent money on a decent bike and clip on pedals !!! On Beach road no one realised I was disabled, which I cherished……I was just a slow cyclist, however, they didn’t realise that I pretty much cycled with one leg, but if you looked closely at my calves, you would quickly realise that one leg was more favoured.
In 2008, I took my bike to France to spend a week cycling 600kms of the Tour De France route prior to the professional cyclists – as a guide, my 2.06 hours to do the 58km Time Trial was done in 1.07 by Cadel Evans on the penultimate day to the end of the tour. I attempted the Round the Bay in a day that year, but only completed the 168 kms from Melbourne to Mornington – it was a 30+ day that day, and I was the last one on the road !!!!!
Finally, I took up swimming in 2010…..yet another sport where people did not recognise my disability, however, now I revel in and are not shamed by it. Only taken me 6-7 years !!!!! I remember the days, I would never put my disabled pass on my car, as I did not want people to know that I was disabled…..amazingly, I’ve had every comment from “Do you have Cerebral Palsy ?” to “What did you do to your leg ?”
I’ve learnt now to keep it simple “Just an old footy injury mate….”
In January 2012, I completed my first Lorne pier to pub……in 61 minutes !!!!!! Aim is to improve for next year……

Once again I urge you to support Jason in his efforts to raise $50,000 for Independence Australia.

Donations can be made here.

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
Visit Gary at

Jolly Highlights Lack of Truth to Power Within The AFL

Darren Jolly, Collingwood’s number one ruckman has highlighted the lack of Truth to Power in the AFL in his most recent article Paying The Price For Simply Being Honest.

Jolly highlights that people need to be responsible for what they say, but the current restrictions on players and coaches means that they are briefed prior to interviews to ensure that they don’t say anything that could upset the AFL.

This form of censurship doesn’t mean that opinions contrary to those of the AFL don’t exist. Clearly they do. Political correctness is not necessarily healthy for an organisation either. The recent collapse of the Hastie Group is evidence of that.

Why can’t healthy debate be encouraged? What is the benefit of driving contrary opinions underground? In fact I’d argue that reducing healthy debate is more unhealthy for the AFL that the sanitised drivvle that most players and coaches share publicly because they ‘can’t’ say what they really think.

It’s time to support Darren Jolly and encourage the debate about being able to debate within the AFL to be started.

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
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Geelong’s Behaviour Shows Integrity Despite Criticism

The recent criticism of the Geelong Football Club in the AFL for visiting Port Adelaide player Travis Boak is an example of the rampant hypocrisy prevalent in our community and business world.
Geelong has the right, as does any employer, to seek and recruit anyone it deems talented enough to help it be the most successful organisation that it can be. Travis Boak, as an employee or prospective employee also has the right, bounded by explicit rules within the AFL to discuss his future employment prospects with any organisation that may be worthy of his commitment.

Geelong was explicit about what it was doing. Boak’s contract situation means that in 2013 he will either be playing with Port Adelaide or he will be playing somewhere else.

If you can, consider his position from an employee’s perspective. He is talented and  he has a current rival organisation wanting to speak with him about moving across to them. There is nothing wrong with talking with that organisation. In fact doing so could re-enforce the very reasons why he might choose to stay with Port Adelaide.

People are very naive if they believe that rival clubs haven’t spoken with soon-to-be out of contract players during a season in the past. I’ll cite Gary Ablett and Tom Scully as two examples and you “…would have to be dreaming” (a quote from the Australian move The Castle) to believe that Travis Cloke’s management hasn’t been speaking with other clubs throughout this season. How could a decision about where he is going to play next year occur if they haven’t?

Geelong should be commended for their integrity in being open and honest about what they were doing. Yet they got criticised for it. Some people have suggested that they were arrogant and under-handed. How could they be under handed when they were open and honest about what they were doing?

‘Political correctness’ doesn’t necessarily help integrity. Would people honestly prefer that Geelong drove to Adelaide in the cover of night, spoke with Travis Boak and then publicly denied what they did?

Seriously, think about the values that such a view is projecting… Dishonesty. Is that what we really want? I don’t think so.

It is time that more people stood up to protect honest behaviour. No doubt Port Adelaide does not want to lose Travis Boak. If it is an organisation that is worthy of his commitment, then he will stay. At least Port Adelaide knows what it is up against with Geelong being open about what it has been doing. But what about other clubs who may have spoken with Boak but have not been honest about what they have been doing (for the record I don’t know if any other clubs have spoken with him)? How is that good for Port Adelaide?

The challenge with honesty is that sometimes we might not like the honesty we are hearing. That doesn’t mean the honesty is wrong. It means that it triggers a fear in us, in this case the fear for some people that Travis Boak will move to another club. For others the fear that is triggered is the mere thought that, “This could happen to one of the stars in my club!”. Folks it’s happening anyway and we should be encouraging this type of behaviour to be above ground and not below ground.

Below ground behaviour doesn’t support integrity, yet it is the criticism of organisations like Geelong that drives such behaviour underground because it is considered ‘politically incorrect’. I, for one support Geelong with it’s actions and for it’s integrity in this situation.

Gary Ryan is a long time member of the Western Bulldogs and Richmond AFL clubs.

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
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When sport is more than sport – The Peace Team IC11

The Australian Football League’s (AFL) International Cup 2011 involves 18 male teams and 5 female teams from around the globe competing to become crowned the best AFL country outside Australia.

In 2008 a new team called “The Peace Team” entered the competition. The team comprises 13 Isreali and 13 Palestine players in its squad of 26. They have returned to participate in the 2011 competition (IC11).

This is no ordinary ‘footy team’ and the challenge of putting the team together is no ordinary challenge. Yet the team is here and made it through to the Division 2 semi-finals.

When asked why the team was created, team leaders reported that peace for their homeland was what they wanted. The complexities of creating the team has involved facilitated dialogue sessions because of the long and historic differences between Israeli’s and Palestinians.

I was recently asked, “Gary, when does dialogue work?”

“When all parties choose to dialogue and they share a common purpose, or are willing to discover one.” was my response. The Peace Team is an example of the power of dialogue. Imagine the dialogue that occured to create this team.

While the difference they are making might be small, it IS a positive difference none the less and shows what can be done at any level to improve our world when people have the courage to do so.

You can learn more about The Peace team here.

What efforts are you making to create a more peaceful world; at home, at work and/or in your local community?

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
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In elite sport, as in life, one percenters matter!

For me a defining moment in the Australian Football Leagues (AFL) 2010 Grand Final Replay was the desperate lunge by Collingwood defender Heath Shaw to knock the ball from the hands of St Kilda Captain Nick Riewoldt as he was about to kick the Saints first goal.

Coming from ten metres behind Riewoldt as he marked the ball, Shaw said, “I think little things like that maybe spur the team on. I was just happy to contribute to it.”

While very few of us get to reach to glory of becoming an elite sport champion crowned with being a member of the best team in the nation (or world, depending on the sport), we all have the capacity to done ‘one percenters’ whether at work, at home or in our relationships.

So, what do such ‘one percenters’ look like?

At work they can be as simple and saying a genuine, “Thank you” or “Please”, or remembering a colleagues birthday or partner’s and/or children’s names. They can be as simple as suggesting a team member leave early one day because of the extra effort they have been putting in over time. They could even involve cleaning up a meeting room and returning it to its pre-meeting state once your meeting is over.

At home they can be as simple as acknowledging and thanking whoever did the cooking, and then taking the time yourself to clean up. With friends it can be a quick phone call, text message or Facebook ‘Like’ or comment.

‘One percenters’ by nature aren’t hard. They simply take a level of awareness to recognise that they ‘can’ be done and all they take is a little effort.

On their own ‘one percenters’ don’t make much difference. But added up over time, just like all the ‘one percenters’ in an AFL Grand Final, they can make all the difference to your performance and the quality of your relationships.

How present are ‘one percenters’ in your life and what examples do you have of putting them into action?

PS For those who need to know, I am a member of the Western Bulldogs in the AFL

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
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Aker saga highlights the challenges of the ‘Specialist’ team role

The sacking this week of professional footballer, Brownlow medalist and three time premiership player Jason Akermanis by the Western Bulldogs (Australian Football League) highlights the challenges of being a ‘specialist’.

Meredith R Belbin ( has conducted a vast amount of research and written many books on the subject of creating effective teams. Belbin’s nine team-roles include a role known as the ‘Specialist’. A Specialist is a person who has exceptional and rare technical skills that the rest of the team do not possess. However, a specialist has a very narrow focus and tends not to be interested in the many facets of being in a team that are being their role as a specialist. Teams are able to tolerate specialists because of their technical brilliance, but that tolerance can come at a cost when the team members are not aware of their various personal team role preferences.

This is one of the reasons why we advocate that teams should be aware of the various preferences of the individual members who participate in the team. Belbin’s research shows that teams can be successful when a specialist is in the team. However, the specialist MUST be a true specialist (that is, they must possess a current skill or technical ability that is currently rare and outstanding) and the rest of the team MUST be able to accept that they will ‘play’ to different rules than the rest of the team.

Jason Akermanis (Aker) is an example of a ‘used to be specialist’. There is no doubt that for much of his career he displayed a rare and exceptional skill set. So much so that his individual approach was sustained by the teams with whom he played. However, as he aged and his career progressed, his specialist technical skills became less rare and his ageing body found it harder and harder to perform at such a high level of individual talent.

As this occurred the tolerance of the rest of the team to him ‘not playing by the rest of the team’s rules’ became less and less. Until, of course, the tolerance for his ‘specialist behaviours’ could no longer be outweighed by his lack of ‘specialist’ performance. In other words, the progress of the game and Aker’s age eventually caught up with him – he was no longer a true specialist, yet he continued to behave like one (which, of course is his preference so he was unlikely to change. In addition, he had in fact been justifiably rewarded for such behaviour for 325 games, reducing further the probability that he would change his behaviour.)

If you watched the ‘Footy Show‘ on Thursday night many of Aker’s comments were consistent with those of the ‘specialist’ team role. He mentioned that he wasn’t very interested in the feedback process meetings and that he still considered that all that mattered was how he performed on the training track and in games. This is exactly how a specialist views the world and there is nothing wrong with that. Except, of course, when the ‘specialist’ no longer performs to the exceptional standards of a current day ‘specialist’.

Belbin’s research highlights that a person can have a preference for a role and no longer ‘perform’ according to the expectations of that team role preference. Belbin goes on to say that the most damaging condition that reduces a team’s performance is when a team member has what is known as an ‘incoherent team role preference’. This means that the person’s team role preference is NOT how they behave. This underpins the great challenge of being a specialist. The minute you know longer display rare and exceptional technical ability, no longer are you a true specialist. The very nature of specialists is that they are unlikely to see this change themselves. They will still see themselves as a specialist and will therefore display the characteristics of an ‘incoherent team-role preference.’

Another challenge of the specialist team role is that Belbin recommends team sizes of no more than ten members. AFL squads include 40 team members when ‘rookies’ are included. Such a large team size increases the challenges of working with specialists because the increase in numbers also increases the chances that a number of tthe team members will not like having to tolerate the ‘individual first’ approach of the specialist. In other words, specialists must have other team role preferences that they can also behave in alignment with, so that they aren’t ‘just a specialist’ if they are to survive as team numbers grow.

The challenge of course for elite sport is that specialists have, over time, contributed to team success. I do wonder if the evolution of the AFL is such that the specialist team role preference (if that is the only functional preference of the team member) is unlikely to be sustainable for long periods as the challenges of working with a specialist increase the complexity of team cohesiveness.

That said, Belbin’s research highlights that teams can tolerate and take advantage of ‘specialists’. In order to do so teams need a high level of both individual and ‘team’ awareness.

I appreciate that the concept of team-role preferences is foreign for a lot of people, and that some people see this type of concept as ‘fluff’. However, in my 15 years of Personal & Professional Development experience I have seen time again the lack of awareness of these issues cause teams to perform well below their capacity.

How aware of team role preferences are you regarding the members of your teams? Do you talk about these preferences and how they manifest themselves in how team members behave? If you do have a specialist in your team, how are you managing the complexities that arise from such a preference?

Please feel free to share your experiences of working with specialists and/or how you use team role awareness to enhance the performance of your team.

Gary Ryan has worked for several years in elite sport and currently sits on an Advisory Board for the AFL Coaches Association.

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
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