Australia's Greatest Coaches: Anna Rogacki

Introduction and interview by Mark Evans - Editor, IOU It feels like Australia is just entering its adolescence when it comes to coaching. The approaches and identities of our top coaches are just starting to take flight, increasing in complexity and effectiveness. However, there are still some areas for improvement. One being that we have far more male coaches than female. Something that came out of the AUL tournament gender equity discussion was that Australia’s gender disparity in coaching could be fuelled by the lack of access to female coaching examples or role models to inspire and carve a path for aspiring coaches.

Broadly speaking, this series will profile our country's top coaches, looking to share the philosophies, tactics and experiences that have made them so successful. To help address the gender imbalance, the first ‘season’ of this series will focus on our top women coaches.

First up is storied Australian Ultimate legend, Anna Rogacki, whose powerful presence and focus on mental strength has seen many teams reach a podium finish. We sat down to discuss why she loves coaching and if she has any advice for up-and-coming female coaches around the country.

Hello Anna, thanks for chatting with us! For the punters that might not know, could you provide a list of the teams you've coached and to what results?

I've been lucky enough to coach a number of successful teams throughout my career.

  • 2010: Aus u23W - Gold Medal WUGC

  • 2012: Vic W (Honey) Gold Medal AUC

  • 2013: Vic M (Chilly) Bronze Medal AUC, Aus Mixed (Crocs) Silver Medal WG

  • 2014: Vic M (Phat Chilly) 4th at WUCC

  • 2016: Aus Mixed (Barramundi) Silver Medal WUGC

  • 2017: Vic M (Chilly) 24th-ish at WUCC

  • 2018: Melbourne Flames Gold Medal AUL

  • 2019: Aus W (Firetails) AOUC, Adelaide Dragons

Right, so just a couple then. Among these are you able to pick out a favourite coaching memory?

I feel truly fortunate to have many many incredible coaching memories - the common thread through all of them is the push, the striving through all of the emotions and physical strain of a campaign and tournament. The deep relationships and lasting friendships forged with players and staff and the pure joy and pure pain of wins and losses. When I read this question, all of that comes to mind in one big highlight reel - it is not just one specific memory.

You may have just answered this question, but why do you coach?

To facilitate and participate in the pursuit of very great things. Not many areas of life provide such opportunity to push and strive and challenge yourself and others - all wrapped up in adventure. I love helping players maximise their potential, creating a team culture that brings out the best in us all and testing strategies and tactics that keep Australia competing at the highest levels. Every coaching campaign provides that and more for me.

What is your coaching philosophy?

To quietly demand the pursuit of personal and team excellence.

Do you think it's important that Australia has a higher representation of female coaches? Why?

I think it is important that Australia nurtures a really wide cross section of high standard coaches. Female coaches are absolutely included in that focus.

It is also crucial, in my opinion, that we focus not only on the gender of the coach but on the quality of coach we are able to produce. Australia has already produced amazing female coaches. I think it is important that they are able to continue to thrive as well.

Have you ever experienced any issues as a coach because of your gender? How did that manifest and how did you address them?

I remember watching back the footage from our (Barramundis) final against USA in 2016 and realising that the broadcasters, for the first few points of the game had assumed Cron was the Head Coach of the team. I guess I can only assume that this was because he was male (the USA had a male Head Coach and a female Assistant Coach). Not particularly an issue, more of a stereotype I guess.

From an appointment level, I feel really well supported by the AFDA, I am grateful for the opportunities they have given me. On a team level, I believe I am not entitled to but have to earn the respect of every team I show up to coach. I trust that I am judged on my impact and what I bring to a campaign regardless of my gender. I have had more challenges with introducing Mental Strength Training than being a female!!! 😜

For any women reading who might be a little unsure of where to start, how would you suggest women get into coaching?

Seek knowledge first.

I think it is really important to know what you stand for as a coach. To lead a team you need to be fairly certain what you are bringing to the team, the players, the environment. Spend time on understanding who you are as a coach and also who you want to be.

Make sure you also understand your motivation. It's important to balance the need for external validation and results (totally fine and understandable, we all like it) with working hard on your internal validation (knowing you have done the self work and the value you provide as a coach), so that you can show up centered and better able to serve your team.

When you have a solid foundation of that knowledge, seek out coaches who can provide you with opportunities to study the craft. And understand it is a craft - just as you would consistently practice physical skills to be a better player the same is for coaching - where are your gaps? What are your daily practices to be getting better?

Gain experience by starting where you can. Volunteer, ask to be mentored. Then apply and respect the process by gaining as much brutal and inspiring feedback as possible from very experienced players, coaches, mentors, appointment panel members.

Act on the feedback and keep showing up! Coaching can be brutal but every time you get through tough experiences you are stronger for it!

Did you go anywhere in particular to seek that knowledge?

There are so many coaching resources that I could recommend:

  • Books: Win Forever - Pete Carroll, Buddha’s Brain - Dr Richard Hansen, The Rise of SuperMan - Steven Kotler, Sacred Hoops - Phil Jackson.

  • Podcasts: The Rich Roll Podcast, Under The Skin, Collective Insights, The Science of Success

Our discussions on the weekend also revealed that some women may not feel confident coaching men's teams. You've coached a few in your time, did you find it different to coaching women's? What was your approach?

I have coached several Men’s teams. I find it very different to coaching womens and also mixed. The men’s division offers so much to a coach and I don’t think I have reached the coaching standard I would like in this division yet. I think I have failed in coaching men so far (maybe not broadly but perhaps more specifically). I think about it a lot and am always left with doubt as to whether I am “enough” of something to really serve a team well enough in this particular division. Vague - I know but I guess I am still working through it and this is where I am at right now.

Wow, super insightful Anna, thanks! Any parting comments?

I think coaching provides an amazing opportunity for people to find out their truest character.

The stress, pressure, fun, challenges, relationships, adventures, failures, victories are an incredible way for people to constantly sharpen their swords/personal growth. I love everything about it - even the parts that really suck! I am focused, at the moment, on seeking discomfort and becoming anti fragile - coaching offers so many opportunities to practice this!