Like many big bloke athletes, a mate of mine (who, incidentally, was the hard man power forward for my high school basketball team), considered himself a tactical mastermind. Not too many years ago, Big David was still playing in the back row for the Warialda Wombats regional Rugby League footy team. As a student of the game and a serious thinker to boot, David used to look for innovative and inspirational ideas from other sports and other walks of life to influence his thinking on how the game of rugby league could be played better and to provide him with tips that he could pass on to the coach of the Wombats.
“Some of this might work for the Wombats!”
Once, after reading an article on innovations in mental health treatment, it occurred to him that some of this stuff might work for the Wombats. One of his favourite discoveries was that clinicians at one mental health establishment, believed that they were having success in calming down distressed and aggressive patients by treating them in wards painted pink
“Pink wards,” muttered David to himself. “Pink wards can calm people down!” This was a revelation to the big second rower. A “eureka” moment.
David couldn’t have been more excited. If pink wards can calm down distressed and angry patients with mental health issues, surely a pink change-room could calm down big, angry and aggressive opponents prior to a footy match. He couldn’t wait until the week-end when he would be able to tell the coach of the Wombats about his new potential secret weapon.
Back in those days, the Wombats were lucky to be coached by Ian Martin who had played with the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles throughout their golden decade of the 1970s. This Manly five-eighth became one of the few professional footballers in Australian sporting history to have played in no less than six top grade professional grand finals, winning four of them! In his years at the Sea Eagles, Martin evolved into one of the game’s toughest and wiliest strategists. While the blokes of the Warialda footy team were stoked to have “Ima” Martin as their boss and mentor its pretty likely that “Ima” was thrilled to have the back up of an ideas man like David Conway as his self-appointed adviser.
Lots of time to talk
One of the things about playing country rugby league, especially in the North-West of NSW, is that players and coaches have plenty of time to talk tactics, talk team, talk farming, talk family, talk business, talk girlfriends, talk health, talk club, talk about any bloody thing at all just to pass the travel time. Sometimes teams must drive for hours on long country roads to get to their playing destinations. The travellers have four choices. Talk, sleep, watch out for kangaroos and emus that might stray onto the road or drive. Big David was one of the talkers.
This week-end was David’s big opportunity to fill “Ima” in on his latest idea. So many years down the track there is no way of telling where they were heading for this week-end’s big game. They could have been playing against the Guyra Super Spuds or the Walcha Roos. Doesn’t matter. The point is “Ima” was driving and David had his captive attention.
“Hey, Ima, I’ve got this great idea to help the team,” he blurted out a couple of hours into the drive.
“Yeah, mate?” responded Martin.
“Why don’t we paint the opposition dressing sheds back home pink,” David suggested.
“Why would we do that, David,” Ima responded.
“Because that’s what they do in mental hospitals to calm the patients down,” he explained. “Maybe we could calm down the buggers we are playing against before a game.”
There was silence for a few minutes.
“Well, what do you think, Ima. I reckon it’s a great idea,” prodded David.
More minutes passed, as more miles whizzed by.
“Nah, David,” responded Martin. “I think it’s a bloody stupid idea!”
David was horrified. Mortified, too. Martin was not only his coach, but one of his childhood heroes. That hurt!
His genius has entered the world of Australian language
That might have been the end of the story, except for the intervention of one of Australia’s most highly regarded professional coaches. There is hardly anyone in Australian sporting circles who doesn’t regard former Rugby League coach the late, great, Jack Gibson as one of the cleverest and most innovative sports coaches of all time. His wisdom is legendary. Many of his off-the-cuff throw-away lines have, Shakespeare-like, become part of common Australian language. Gibson was the genius who coined the popular Australian expression, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Some years after “Ima” Martin had moved away from Warialda and had taken up footy coaching in some other small NSW country town, Jack Gibson had taken up the coaching reigns for the mighty Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks (one of the top professional Rugby League teams in Australia). David Conway, who, like many Rugby league hard men was, deep down, a sensitive soul was still aching from the dismissive rejection he had received from Martin. One day, when reading the sports pages of his daily newspaper, big David was shocked to read about the latest innovation that Jack Gibson had developed and was implementing down at the Cronulla-Sutherland training ground.
Several days later “Ima” Martin received a mysterious newspaper clipping in the mail with the words “Told you so” written in big red texta across a story about Jack Gibson and the Cronulla-Sutherland footy team. Apparently, Gibson was in big trouble for having the maintenance crew at the Endeavour Field (the Sharks home ground) paint the opposition dressing sheds pink. While the press acknowledged this latest piece of Gibson strategizing as ingenious, many also considered it just a bit below the belt. Big David didn’t care. He thought it was a great idea!