Coaches can practice what Tommy preached


Australian sport recently lost an icon in legendary coach Tom Hafey, above, who passed away at the age of 82.

While Tommy was well-known in Australian Rules football circles for his outstanding coaching achievements, his legacy will always live on for the way he dealt with people from all walks of life.

Hafey coached 522 VFL/AFL games at four different clubs, won four premierships and had a 65 per cent overall winning record from almost two decades as a coach at the elite level in Aussie Rules football.

The tributes that came in from athletes, administrators and coaches from other sports highlights how he was held in such high esteem by so many in the community.

It was clear that he was not just a coach, but an individual who cared just as much about his people as winning games of football – maybe more so.  His players loved him because he had an ability to build a strong rapport between player and coach and was renowned for being firm but fair.

So what as coaches can we learn from this great man and his ideals?

There are a few traits that stand out.


He was held in exalted status by his charges because he led with authority and they believed his message.  Importantly he lived his life by certain values and never wavered from these.  He led not only as a coach, but as a person.

Rapport and Respect

tomhafey2Tommy coached people and it was evident he took a sincere interest in their lives.  The ability of a coach to connect with their people and show an interest in things other than their sport or performance shows you care about them as individuals.  Tommy did this so well and it was the reason his players played for him.


Tommy was a renowned fitness fanatic. His daily routine never changed and, even months before his passing, he was still down at his favourite beach at 6am every morning for an 8 km run, followed by 250 push ups and a swim. When he got home he would do 700 crunches and sit-ups.

Some would say he was fitter than his players – even at the age of 50! For that he got instant respect but it also developed a mentality within his playing groups of the need for hard work and its benefits.

Not all coaches will have an edge over their players in fitness testing, but how do you as a coach reinforce the importance of working hard on your fitness to your players?


It was clear that Tommy inspired his charges to get the best out of themselves, most likely because they saw him do the same.  As a coach what are the strategies that you employ to make sure your players get the most out of themselves, both as a team and individuals?


“Every day’s a great day, if you don’t believe me, try missing one.”

This was one of Tommy’s favourite expressions and sums up the man.  The one thing you can control as a coach is the environment in which your players are immersed – make it a positive one.

This piece is not just about taking an opportune moment to highlight great coaching practice but to pay tribute to one of the great sports coaches in Australia’s history and one of life’s most humble, inspiring, generous and determined people.