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The Influence of a "Father Figure" Coach

Adelaide Crows development coach and former captain Nathan van Berlo says he was devastated to the point of tears when "father figure" coach Neil Craig quit the club.


"I reckon the most challenging time in my career, and this might sound a bit strange, was when Craigy resigned (in 2011), and left our footy club that week ... I remember I've never been as emotional as a player ... it was almost like mourning the loss of someone really close to you," van Berlo told PickStar’s Off Field Podcast.

“When he told me he was coming round to my house to talk to me about something, I had a fair idea (he was leaving). I was really emotional, I was in tears ... I didn't know how to move on from this, I thought at various stages throughout my career that Craig was going to be my coach the whole way through and to think there's going to be someone else, and at that time I was the captain of the footy time and thought

that I'd let him down and the players had let him down, and knowing that we were

better than what we had performed that year, yeah we had some ownership in terms of where he was now at so that was a huge challenge for me.

Nathan van Berlo with Neil Craig

“He was like a father figure to me ... I came over as a teenager from Perth, Western Australia, never been to South Australia before in my life, which was very daunting in itself and I spent all of a sudden literally every day for the next five or six years with this one figure that was my boss, literally and told me what to do, and I'd look up to him and he'd tell me what I was doing well and what I wasn't, so he became one of the biggest influences of my life over that period of time."

“The rest of that year, we played some reasonable footy and I remember we

won the game after (he left), we won quite well and I remember I got off

the ground and went straight to my locker and gave Craigy a call virtually straight

away and said 'I don't want you to see that as a release, that we don't have Craigy

anymore and more of that we just wanted to show you that we can do it and you

deserve almost better than what you got'. I think he respected that phone call

conversation but that week was probably the hardest week of my career."

Nathan van Berlo on the Off-Field podcast

Neil was not only had a massive influence on van Berlo’s playing career, but also inspired him as a leader.

“He taught me a lot about how to get the best out of myself and what it meant to be the best," he said.

“Early days, I remember him pulling me into his office and identifying, I think it was in my first year, that I had some leadership capabilities, and he asked me if I aspired to be a leader one day and it took me off guard being a first-year player. But I said 'certainly I do but I'm not ready for it now' and he said 'the game doesn't know how old you are'.

“The biggest thing in coaching, or I believe in coaching is you have to have a strong relationship with players so that they trust you and you're able to have a hard conversation with them when required, whether it be about performance or off-field, if their emotions aren't in check, so essentially it's about getting the best out of them and if you've got a strong relationship with your players, they're more likely to respond in a positive manner."

While disappointed to be playing in the SANFL in his last season as a player, van Berlo said his time in the local league motivated him to pursue a career path in coaching.

“It wasn’t until the last two or three years (of my playing career) where I actually started to consider staying in footy in some capacity," he said.

“I started to realise that I spent and invested a lot of time in footy, almost becoming an expert in this field of footy, and there's nothing wrong with staying involved and passing on information to the next generation coming through.

“I just immersed myself in some younger guys playing SANFL, and thinking they're playing footy because they enjoy it and they actually really listen to almost everything that I was telling them with regards to how I play and our game style and stuff like that, so I was actually able to pass on some important knowledge from my experiences."

But when asked if he would follow his mentor Craig's path and consider becoming a senior coach, Nathan answered without hesitation.

“No. Absolutely not," he said.

"It's the most isolated job isn't it? You think you're busy, I think I'm busy now as a development coach then you go to an assistant coach they would be busy on another level, then you go to a senior coach and they would struggle to even switch off at any stage.

“I've just seen how consuming a senior coaching job is and that is not of interest to me at any stage. That might change, but I'm doubtful that that will change. I've seen what that looks like throughout my career and I'll leave that to others at the moment."

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