Photo: Adam Whitemore, the successful Northern Rangers senior coach [PlessPix]
Adam Whitemore took over as senior coach of Northern Rangers for the 2010 season after the club had won the Northern Premier League title the season before under Roslan Saad.
That is always a difficult thing to do. Just ask former Tasmanian State Director of Coaching, Steve Darby, who is now assistant coach of the Thailand national team, after coaching successfully in Australia, Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia.
Steve, who had many wise sayings and a wicked sense of humour to boot, always used to say that taking over a title-winning team is dangerous because anything other than winning the title again is seen as failure.
Well, Whitemore took over the champions and won the title again, so he must have ability.
I interviewed Adam this week and his answers were thought provoking and they should be of interest to all followers of the game in Tasmania.
Walter Pless: How old are you and what do you do for a living?
Adam Whitemore: I’m 41. I’m a nurse currently working in oncology/haematology (cancer) at the Launceston General Hospital.
WP: Tell me about your playing and coaching career to date.
AW: I’m a George Town boy, and made my senior debut for George Town United at 16. I joined Rangers in 2000, the year after they formed, and as George Town folded. Although I won quite a lot of awards and played state league, I don’t think I quite became the player my obsession with the game suggested I should, or won the titles I probably should have. In hindsight, better coaching certainly would have pushed me to the next level. This became a real motivation for me as a coach. I generally played at the back, although preferred centre midfield.
My first experience of coaching was as player-coach of George Town at 23. We finished 4th, but I was too inexperienced, and didn’t enjoy it. I really didn’t have much idea at the time (some would say nothing has changed!) and had few resources to draw upon. Last season was my first “proper” year of coaching.
WP: 2011 will be your second year in charge of Northern Rangers. Are you looking forward to it?
AW: I’m really looking forward to next season. I spent months researching coaching theories and methodologies – teaching myself to coach, prior to last season. The first few months were trial and error as I found what worked and what didn’t and I made too many mistakes for my liking. A year’s experience should see me a much better coach, and Rangers a much better team.
WP: What are your aims for the 2011 season?
AW: The players will set the goals at our first session, but I know, like me, they will want a hat-trick of titles, and another shot at the state title.
As a club, we are really focussed on youth, and player development more so than relative short-term success. The aim is to bring as many young players through to the reserves and seniors as possible, and to improve them as players. For me, this will be as big a measure of success as winning another title. Winning under 18s and reserves means nothing if players don’t go on to play seniors. We already have a young side, and last season 8 of our side had been at Rangers since under 18s.
WP: Do you have any new players coming in to the squad?
AW: At this stage of the year, there are so many rumours of player movements, but until the first training session we won’t know exactly who we have. If we end up with the same group of players, I will be more than happy. We are likely to lose Paul Bremner, who has been brilliant for us over the last two years, but whose medical career will probably affect his availability.
As a club, we have a policy of not approaching players from other clubs in the league, both to protect the integrity of the competition, and to protect our own juniors. Traditionally, we have attracted players relocating to Launceston, not only because of our recent success, but because it is an incredibly well-run, welcoming club and I’d expect that this will continue.
WP: How is the health of the Northern Premier League?
AW: I think it is fair to say that the standard has fallen over the years. There are still some fantastic individuals, but the overall strength isn’t there. The likes of Todd Hingston, Des Schipper, Brayden Mann, Antonio Macri, Chris McKenna are among the best players I have seen or played against over the last 25 years, but there aren’t quite as many players of that same quality as there were. There are optimistic signs, though. Riverside have an excellent coach who has developed the outstanding Hughes boys and Mark Christie. Ulverstone have a squad of talented local players, and Launceston, while struggling results-wise, have a youth policy which will hopefully bring results soon. Devonport have always had great youth development and invest a lot of resources into this. It is the only way to improve things.
A lack of a second tier, and therefore promotion/relegation, affects the intensity and standard for teams at the bottom end, although the finals series is an excellent way of giving most teams something to play for.
As Nick Owen was saying, the bye hurts us. We had a 3-week break in the middle of the season.
WP: How do you see the state of football in Tasmania as a whole?
AW: I think we’re underachieving badly.
At George Town, I played seniors with Brad Green and Xavier Doherty. Brad has gone on to play 250 games in the AFL, and Xav played one-day cricket for Australia last week. I hear so many people saying that we can never improve the state of the game here, that there isn’t the talent. What Brad and Xav show is that, if there are pathways, we have the talent, and this applies to football. Talking to both of them since they began their professional careers, it was knowing there was a pathway to a higher level that motivated them to practice.
Contrast this with an exceptional talent like Todd Hingston, who could definitely play at a much higher level, but unlike cricket and AFL, there is no pathway for football in Tasmania. Where is the motivation to keep a 22-year-old who has won it all (four titles, one State, two George Dale Medals) to keep improving? Brayden Mann is another. Twenty-six goals last season. Where to next, and how to get there? I remember watching Chris McKenna playing for Tasmania versus Melbourne Knights youth many years ago. He was as good as anyone they had. Some of their players went on to play NSL/ A-League.
Tasmanian hockey, which in comparison to soccer has a much lower profile and participation, has a structure and a pathway. As a result, they produce international-quality players. Once players see there is a next level to aspire to, the standard lifts at all levels. Hockey also has quality facilities, which we lack.
We appear to have a really good NTC programme, but nowhere to go once you “graduate” from it.
I can’t see us with an A-League team at the moment, but we need to create links via the A-League youth league, W-League or VPL. We at least need to have a system which allows easy access to trials.
South Hobart have shown the benefits of a professional approach, and they have a number of players who can step up a level. Unfortunately, it is symptomatic of attitudes at this level that they often seemed to be heavily criticized as a club for trying to break the culture of mediocrity, and the players for being ambitious.
Over to you FFT.
WP: Who will be the contenders for the northern title in 2011?
AW: I expect ourselves, and Devonport will be two of the frontrunners again. I really rate Riverside Olympic and expect them to be a big threat. Ulverstone are getting closer to a serious challenge. The other coastal sides are always an unknown, but one of Somerset or Burnie could be up there, depending on recruitment.
WP: Are you happy with the facilities at your club?
AW: Yes and no. We were really spoilt at George Town, with a separate training pitch, clubrooms, grandstand and fantastic playing surface. Playing on a cricket pitch (NTCA) is far from ideal; rock hard early in the season, mud in the middle of the year. We can never use a full-size pitch to train on, and have to set the goals up and take them down every night. Training is cancelled whenever it rains heavily and alternative venues are a struggle. Training at the hockey arena on an all-weather surface really emphasised what the game needs to go forward. We share the NTCA with country AFL, who get priority (of course), which means we have to train Monday and Wednesday, so when the season starts one of the sessions is only ever really a recovery one.
On the other hand, we have a fabulous groundsman who ensured games weren’t cancelled, change-rooms are a great size, there are covered grandstands for the Ranger Army, and the lights are excellent.
We also have a superb committee who always ensure we have the best of everything in terms of strips, balls, training equipment.
WP: Having won the 2010 northern title, does that make coaching in 2011 harder?
AW: Not at all. We are ambitious and know there is plenty to improve upon from last season. As a coach, I can, and want to do a lot better than last season. The players are mentally very strong, and there is a winning culture here. We feel there is unfinished business. Hungry players are easy to coach.
WP: What is your coaching philosophy?
AW: Keep possession, move the ball quickly.
Be brave and trust your players. Give them the confidence to try to keep the ball, even in defence, and under pressure. Nothing wrong with a Cruyff turn in your own box. Occasionally, it may cost you a goal, but it’s worth it in the long run. You produce better technical players.
I’m a big believer in playing from the back, quick, short passing with a lot of off the ball movement. Brisbane Roar have shown how the game can be played.
Train with the ball, warm up with the ball. No running laps – ever. Try and make everything game specific.
WP: What do you look for in a player?
AW: Technically good players who are mobile, tactically disciplined but flexible. Open minded and willing to learn. Respect for opponents and the game.
WP: How do you see the future of Northern Rangers?
AW: It looks really positive. Rangers have only been around for 12 years. In that time, we have won the last two league titles and made finals of the SWC and the finals series. We have large junior numbers, an excellent website (some dodgy spelling aside!) with a very active forum and a membership of hundreds, allowing former players from all over the world to keep in contact. I’d like to think we have a growing reputation for professionalism (but a policy of not paying players), fair play, and a decent style of play. We also have a number of potentially outstanding youth players who have just hit, or are about to hit, the senior side, which is really exciting. These relative successes are down to an incredibly dedicated, hardworking committee, who are forward thinking and innovative, and a loyal playing group.
We are also aware that, just as the club came from nowhere, it can just as easily fall apart if you don’t get the foundations right.
With that in mind, we are currently in the middle of strategic planning for the next 5 years, and for the first time we will have a Director of Youth Football. He will oversee youth development, and the youth coaches, to ensure we continue to have a senior side composed predominantly of players who have come through the Ranger system, who value possession and play a passing game. Once this is up and running, we will then look to start a junior academy.
We look at Devonport as an excellent role model. For as long as I can remember, they have been the benchmark club in our league, on and off the field. They don’t win every year, but they keep producing players that keep them near the top, rather than relying on recruiting from other clubs.
WP: What is your own future in the game?
AW: From the time I could walk, the game is all I have ever been interested in - playing, watching, and now studying. Sad I know! I’m sure most coaches will agree that even at this level coaching takes over your life, researching, planning sessions, analyzing game footage. We have a 9-month-old baby, so free time has become an issue, and it remains to be seen how long I can put the time in I need to get, then maintain the standards I want. We hope to set a structure in place at Rangers where we identify and develop coaches within the club, both to decrease the head coach’s workload, and to have an easier succession process.