Interview with Ivan Cleary
Ivan Cleary is a former rugby league player, having represented Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles, Sydney Roosters, North Sydney Bears and the New Zealand Warriors over his career.
In 1998, Ivan was the leading point scorer in the NRL (National Rugby League) with 284 points. His last game was the 2002 NRL grand final for the Warriors, fittingly against the Roosters - one of his former clubs.
Ivan then shifted his attention to coaching, and in 2004 the Sydney Roosters won the NSW Cup (one level below the NRL) under his guidance. The following year Ivan rejoined the Warriors as assistant coach to Tony Kemp; he then replaced Kemp as the Warriors head coach for the start of the 2006 season.
Ivan is currently contracted by the Warriors until the end of 2010 and will become the Warriors' longest serving coach if he fulfils this contract. Last season the Warriors made it to the major semi-finals despite finishing eighth in the minor premiership.
This was the first time the eighth placed team had progressed past the first round of playoffs under the McIntyre System - let alone reach the major semi finals.
Q. You have had a long playing career for a number of strong sides. What would be your favourite moment/s from your playing career?
A. My whole career is full of great memories but if I had to settle on a few, they would be our 2002 grand final year with the warriors, the 1994 season with the Bears where we knocked out a very strong Broncos team in the finals, and the 1993 season with Manly where I was living the dream of playing 1st grade with some of my heroes.
Q. With all the teams you have played for, you have no doubt encountered plenty of coaches. Does anyone of them in particular stand out and if so, what made them so memorable?
A. I was very lucky to have some great coaches, but Phil Gould would stand out the most. I played under him at the roosters for 4 seasons and learned the game at a whole new level. I still use things I learned from him quite regularly now.
Q. Obviously there is a lot of pressure coaching an NRL side, what would you describe as the toughest part/s of the job?
A. It is never easy to drop someone from the side and even harder to inform a player that their future is not with the Warriors. I find that very hard to do, but I realise it is usually much harder for them to hear.
Q. What has been your favorite moment/s coaching the Vodafone Warriors so far?
A. Our late season run in 2008 was a highlight. Beating the Storm in a final at Olympic park as rank outsiders was very special. Our home finals in 07 & 08 were also great nights.
Q. In order to coach at the highest level, do you think you need to have played at that level?
A. Not necessarily, but I think it helps if you have an affinity with what the players go through.
Q. Having had experience in both the Australia and New Zealand, is there a difference in the coaching culture between these places?
A. That is a little hard to answer because most of my experience in NZ involves me coaching or being coached by an Australian. At the Warriors, we have created our own culture that should suit anyone from anywhere.
Q. Are there any areas of weakness you see in NZ league players from youth through to NRL players and international level? And how can coaching styles/ techniques improve these weaknesses?
A. I think it is generally agreed that the Australian league scene is much more advanced in junior grades, through weight of playing and coaching numbers. The best way to reduce the gap is to encourage administrators to develop the game in NZ so that playing numbers are increasing at the junior level. More numbers eventually means better everything.
Q. Keeping players motivated whether winning or loosing for all coaches can be hard work at times, what do you do to motivate your players?
A. I think the most consistent form of motivation involves creating an environment where players always feel free to improve, learn, and of course win. Having said that, there are always times when different techniques can be used to try to arouse the player's emotions.
Q. As a coach for the Vodafone Warriors you have been in charge for more than 90 games with a win percentage of 52%, what advice do you have for upcoming coaches of any sport?
A. It is important to be yourself rather than coach in a way that you may think is expected. Some of the greatest sporting coaches who share a common record of achievement, don't necessarily share common methodologies. I think that if you earn your players' trust and respect, and are prepared to learn from your mistakes, then anyone can be successful.
Q. And finally, being a cricket fan, who is your favourite cricket player and why?
A. I am a big cricket fan. I don't have a particular favourite player but I do love watching the best players, and batsmen who make it look easy. Growing up, I used to enjoy watching Martin Crowe, Richie Richardson, and Mark Waugh. The game is not the same without Shane Warne.