The toughest gig of all

Are we fast reaching the point where we may not need coaches at all? It's a point worth debating.

Has coaching at the professional level of the game virtually become Mission Impossible? It's getting close.

Are we fast reaching the point where we may not need coaches at all? It's a point worth debating.

On the surface, there doesn't seem much common ground between the early season departure of Ian Crook and this week's shock resignation of John Kosmina.

Sydney FC were propping up the table when Crook fell on his sword. Adelaide United had just fallen outside the top two for the first time when Kosmina decided he'd had enough. Crook never suggested he lacked support from his employers. Kosmina, by contrast, made it clear he felt there was a lack of trust.

But the truth is there was a common denominator for both Crook and Kosmina. They both wanted their life, and their sanity, back.

These days professional-level coaching doesn't simply consume people, it devours them. In terms of a work/life balance, it can be a shocker. And all the indicators suggest it's only going to get worse.

Martin Jol, the Fulham manager, reckons two seasons at one club has become the new life span. Any longer, and the chemistry is almost certain to become toxic. Coaching, in its purest sense, is not necessarily the core issue. It's the demands outside the training field which hasten the inevitable.

The emergence of the 24/7 news cycle, compounded by the internet age and aggravated even more by the advent of social media, has created an environment where nothing is ever going to be good enough. The sanctity of the dressing room, where the common good is supposed to be sacred, has largely evaporated as rumour is confused with fact. Things aren't likely to change, at least for the foreseeable future.

Too many club officials, and too many players, are becoming obsessed with listening to, and partaking in, the court of public - often anonymous - opinion. From above, and below, the coach gets caught in a pincer movement, from which there is eventually no escape. How can you satisfy everyone? You can't.

If the people who pay you to work (administrators) aren't capable of acting as a filter, and those who you are employed to put to work (the players) are just as easily manipulated, how do you gain authority?

Without authority, coaches are vulnerable. Sport, especially professional sport, has always needed a heirarchy to work, but maybe it's time for a re-think.

It's no co-incidence, certainly, that those coaches in the Hyundai A-League allegedly most under pressure are generally those who lacked firm ground to start with. It's the same anywhere in the world. Once outside forces penetrate and erode the culture of a club, it collapses from within.

Strong-willed, single-minded, coaches can rise above this, and get the culture back on track. Look at Ange Postecoglou. But these are rare individuals. The majority of coaches are just like the rest of us. They have good days and bad days, but what's changed is that no one is prepared to cut them any slack.

Coaches used to be a figure of respect - allowed time and space to evolve. Now they've got targets on their back, every single day. And in a perverse way, it seems the need to victimise, and pillory, them is not just growing, it's being actively encouraged.

Alistair Edwards, a coach educator employed by the FFA, has a first-hand view of how much things have changed. ''I'm finding more and more people who don't want to get involved in coaching because they've decided it's not worth the grief,'' he says.

The fomer Qantas Socceroo likens the growing influence of the internet/social media in professional-end coaching to his time as a councillor for Cockburn City in his native Perth.

''We governed a city of 80,000 people, and whenever we had a meeting there would be, maybe,10 people in the gallery,'' he says.

''Basically, they were the vocal minority. What that meant to me was that 79,990 people were pretty happy with the way the council was going. The point being, if you listen too much to only those 10 people, then you lose focus.''

While dealing with the media forms part of the FFA's coaching licensing system, so rapid have been the changes to the media landscape that Edwards believes it's time for the issue to be given greater priority.

''With social media such a big thing now, there's a lot of noise out there,'' he says. ''Obviously it would be nice to think people don't pay too much attention to it, but maybe I'm being naive.

''Before, everyone still had an opinion, but they had that opinion in a coffee shop. Now it's all over blogs, and twitter, and unfortunately for a lot of coaches it's not only adding to the pressure, but it's affecting the way they can go about their job. There's definitely a need for us (FFA) to spend more time on educating coaches how to deal with it, that's for sure.''

Fraught as professional coaching has become, there will never be any shortage of people willing to take the risk. Where else do all those legions of ex-players go to find employment? The challenge for the coaching industry is to regain the respect that's been lost.

If it becomes a losing battle, as I suspect it is, then what? It's a question I've often pondered as I've watched coach after coach ground down by the inhumane level of expectation.

The answer I keep coming back to is whether we should go back to where it all began. Talk to old-timers like Joe Marston and Frank Parsons, and it's clear there was a time when the coach was little more than a physical trainer, and the captain and a couple of senior teammates effectively decided selection and tactics.

These days that's called a 'leadership group', and most Hyundai A-League clubs have them. If there's no coach to blame, the team will have to accept responsibility. What's wrong with that?