Why are Aussies so good at range of sports?

Australia's Adam Ashley-Cooper gathers the ball during the captain's run ahead of today's game against Ireland at the Aviva. Picture: Ian Walton/Getty

Ireland play Australia today in rugby. And Compromise Rules. You knew that, of course.

You also know, being a sports fan, the Australians tend to excel at a lot of sports. Hardly surprising given the outdoor culture, the focus on sports, the bolshy attitude.

That’s why we decided to break it down a little, and find out why precisely Australians do well at sport rather than relying on the lazy myths we just recycled above.

Ed Coughlan of CIT, who recently joined Dublin hurling manager Ger Cunningham’s backroom team, is one of only two skills acquisition coaches in the country; he laid it on the line about the Marmite eaters.

1. Australians have game sense: fact.

“The sports culture in Australia is based on an appreciation of the game, what’s known as ‘game sense’,” says Coughlan.

“That comes in from the TGFU model, ‘teaching games for understanding’.

“That in turn comes from the idea that we learn from doing. In practical terms that means if we have 30 ten-year-olds around for training then we won’t put them in three groups of 10, standing in lines and having a turn practicing a skill, running out to a cone or whatever and then going to the back of the line to wait for their turn to come around again.

“The TGFU model is about having three games of five v five, with really simple rules – they’re only 10, remember – but through having games they build an understanding of what to do. For instance, in that case a kid thinks, ‘I’m stuck in a corner here, what’ll I do with the ball, wait, he’s free there, I’ll pass it out to him’.

“There’s a buy-in to that completely in Australia – not having kids run out to cones and back, because you don’t do that in a game. They’re practicing for a game by playing a game.”

2. Australian sportspeople are good decision-makers: fact.

“What are Australians known for in field games? Decision-making.

“Having the games I mentioned earlier helps in that regard. Obviously in drills or situations where those kids have to make a decision every time, that helps to create good decision-makers.

“Compare that to what we do here, with exercises where Johnny has to run to this cone and kick it to Jimmy who kicks it in here where Billy is. That’s completely prescriptive, dictàted, formal, structured. No decisions to be made. What about if you ran a different drill, though? What about an exercise where you tell Mary to run out with the ball to here and decide to give it to either Kate or Sheila who are over there, depending on which of those players Mary feels is in the best position? Now she’s got decisions, and every time she has to do that she’ll improve. Kids can think. I’ve a six-year-old, he can think. He can make decisions. They all can.”

3. Australians bring a bolshy attitude to the field. Or paddock, even: fiction.

“I couldn’t agree there. I’ve been in a few high-performance, elite environments in different places and met Australians and I’ve never found them bolshy or cocky. I don’t find there’s a superiority complex among the athletes. The fans I don’t know, that’s different, but certainly I’ve never found the sportspeople or coaches cocky.”

4 The Australian Institute of Sport is a huge help: fact.

“It is. It’s a help because the AIS has good people. The likes of Damian Farrow, Jason Berry, Bruce Abernathy – these are top people in their fields, and that’s recognised by other organisations – other countries, even. For instance Rick Shuttleworth – who used to lecture in DCU, by the way — was head-hunted from the AIS by the RFU in England. He’s their head of elite coach development.

“These guys don’t just preach, by the way. They publish empirically-based research on constraints-led coaching, teaching games for understanding, all of that. They research it thoroughly and publish their findings and apply that to the netball, the volleyball, the rugby.”

5 It’s a sunny country, so it’s easy to play sports there: fiction.

“Well, it’s sunny alright. But New Zealand is another country that leads the world in its sport, and their weather’s worse than ours, so we can’t really use that as an excuse.”


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