Some time ago Jeff Stacey, from my men’s group, gave me a copy of Wayne Bennett’s autobiography, Man in the Mirror. I was overjoyed. I have long been an admirer of Wayne Bennett, widely regarded as Australia’s greatest Rugby League Coach of all time. The Bronco’s football team which he coached for 21 years straight won six premierships.
Wayne Bennett then coached the St George-Illawarra Dragons to their first victory in 30 years. He recently finished coaching with the Broncos.
That gives Wayne Bennett seven premierships in 41 years, an Australian coaching record and up there with the best in the world. Wayne also coached the Australian national team for several years, and in 1999 received Queensland’s Father of the Year Award as a very committed father of three children, two of whom have disabilities.
This is the opening to Chapter One of Man in the Mirror. It gives a very good feel for the contents of the rest of the book:
I have always made sure if I had nothing to say – nothing that would make sense – then I’d keep my mouth shut. Cut the lecture short, Wayne, Get out of here. And leave the way you came in – quietly.
When you are deficient in areas like education and formal training but still want to make your way in life, you have to get the smarts about you, think on your feet and do the things you have to do.
I have to assume my upbringing helped out in this area. With my upbringing I always had to be street-smart, because I was in a lot of situations as a little boy that required good decisions, and fast ones. Bad decisions could have cost me enormously, whether it was around drunks who were beginning to lose it, or around domestic violence, or around not being able to pay the bills. As a boy I walked on eggshells, forever having to handle delicate situations. So street smarts have always been important.
The other things I’ve always been conscious of is your feelings, the feelings of others. I’ve never wanted to hurt somebody’s feelings …not deliberately, anyway. I’m very sensitive about people, about how they may feel and how they’ll react. I watch everything, and always have. I go back and relive situations and ask, ‘Could I have handled it better?’ And I’ve been doing that all my life.
My greatest experiences growing up wouldn’t have happened if someone hadn’t come in and coached the footy team. Because all the special people I knew emerged from football: my friends and my mentors. The many opponents who made me feel stronger and better. They were the people who handed me opportunity. If we didn’t have a coach we wouldn’t have had a team, and without a team everything in life adds up to nought.
But perhaps it is your enemies that best define you. Phil Gould, another great Rugby League coach, who was often one of Wayne Bennett’s strongest opponents, had this to say about Wayne:
He develops relationships with players and builds their confidence and self-belief. He seems to be able to identify their strengths and help them to build a career. He can identify weaknesses in players and help them improve – another sure-fire method of building a trusting relationship with his soldiers. I’ve never really seen Bennett as a great tactician… He comes after you with steely resolve, effort and motivation. He relies on simple systems and the talent of his players…”
I doubt anyone could have done better. What I do know, though, is that whatever you think of Bennett as a coach, I doubt the players who have played under him over the years would be the men they are today if they hadn’t been coached by him. He has always protected his players and supported them publicly.
He never blames them for a loss, often preferring to absorb the pressure himself or deflect blame or attention away from the loss with one of his famous post-match press conference stunts. He always stands back and credits his players when they win. In doing so, he epitomises the father figure – the teacher, the mentor, the protector.
To me, this has been Bennett’s great contribution. He has guided boys to men, footballers to citizens. He has given them the discipline, attitude and responsibility that will serve them well in their lives long after their football days. It’s his knowledge of the game and his approach that gives every kid he coaches a chance of realising his dreams and enjoying a successful career as a professional sportsman.
These are undoubtedly his greatest strengths. It was these important qualities that had me recommend him above all others to the Roosters a couple of years ago, when they were looking for a new coach. At that time, he was just what they needed.
“Australian Story” producer Vanessa Gorman said, “I didn’t know who he was but now I can now honestly state that I count him as one of my heroes.”
Bennett admits to some hesitancy in opening up his family to such public scrutiny:
“We’ve never hidden our kids or been embarrassed by them,” he says. “It’s just that outside our circle, we wanted to protect them. As parents, we didn’t treat our children differently just because they had disabilities; and we didn’t ever want them thinking they were different.” “Trish and I often reflect on how lucky we are,” Bennett continues, “to have three children whom we love, but, more importantly, like”.
“People ask me what motivates me. My children motivate me; the character they show every day. When I reflect on our children, I’m proud of them all, proud of what they have achieved.”
If you cannot get hold of this great book and read it, be inspired to be a great father to your children. Don’t just love them but like them too.
Yours for more great fathers,