Written by Oliver Kellner-Dunk
Photo by Inga Williams
It’s safe to say that Rugby League coaching is a passion for Lee Addison, having experience in multiple roles at different organisations across the globe.
Although he never intended for this to happen, as his coaching journey began while at University.
“I got into coaching by accident I suppose! I was a player captain / coach at Salford University out of necessity when doing the second year of my degree, then in my third year I indicated I didn’t want to play any more so as to concentrate on my studies and on a part time job I had at the then, Salford City Reds as Media Manager,” Addison told Everything Rugby League.
“The University team didn’t have a coach in my third year and when I saw some of the players, they asked me to coach them that year. I thought they were mad and said ‘I’ll do one session for you on Monday then hopefully you’ll find another coach’.That was in 1999 and I was 19 years old. I’ve done anything between 2 to 18 sessions of rugby league a week since then!”
Addison then received coaching opportunities in the NRL system with the Penrith Panthers and Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles.
Unlike the assumptions of many, coaching in the NRL can be seen as quite similar to the lower levels in multiple aspects, in Addison’s opinion.
“Both Head Coahces I worked under, Des Halser at Manly and Matty Elliott at Penrith were top notch.
“However, I will say this straight away and some will be shocked. Just because it’s an NRL club doesn’t mean it’s the most professional or the best coaching! Some of the stuff I saw at lower grades at Manly and Penrith wouldn’t be out of place in any park or community field elsewhere. The problem I see with our game from a coaching point of view is that so much of it is stuck still in the 1980’s and 1990’s!
“Why? Well many of the coaches knocking around are products of how they were coached and, so many of them don’t spend enough time developing their trade. Coaching to me is a profession, an art and / or a science and it takes work.
“I remember going for an interview once at a Queensland Cup club. The Head Coach was an ex Origin player and everything else. In the interview, he laughed at me when I said I invested heavily in video analysis and he joked he didn’t have a clue what to do. This was in about 2016”
The coach Addison is referring to here is now an assistant coach in the NRL.
“What I see when I see the top level of the game is many coaches who haven’t done an apprenticeship (that’s a coaching one, not a playing one) and they struggle so much. Tactically and in terms of man management and so many other things. So many coaches get promoted so quickly, it’s akin to a school kid doing well in class, then 2 or 3 years later being the head teacher of that school.
“I could go on forever. Coaching and management is what I’ve studied most of my life. I could fill your website for you. It would be a 20 part series!”
Addison’s biggest achievement as a coach came in 2018, when he lead the Polish National team to an Emerging Nations World Cup tournament victory.
The long distance between his players made it challenging to prepare Poland in the lead up to the competition, but found a way to make things work and in the end this lead to great success.
“It was an amazing time! I’d just started my online business and then a few weeks later I got the Poland job. It was officially the busiest period of my life! Due to this combination, I straight away put all the training programs and tactics I wanted the players to follow on the website. I set up a “Poland RL” page and gave them all a login. This was a no brainer because I had the resources, the platform and players dotted all over the place.
“Also, I’ve done lots and lots of short term representative coaching and I’m a teacher who coaches full time too. So I knew I didn’t need loads of sessions to get the players up to speed. The players all met each other for the first time one hour before we played Hungary in a warm up match on the Friday before the ENWC! But they all had a familiarity with the tactics I wanted, they were all pretty fit and strong having followed my programs for 6 weeks.
“We then went to camp after the Hungary game and I allowed the boys to enjoy each other company like adults! I sent them out for beers while myself and the other coaches stayed back at the camp and studied the Hungary tape. On the Saturday, we had a long video review with the team in camp, a huge meeting where they shared their Polish story and our first full team session happened on the Sunday. We had another team session on the Tuesday, played Hong Kong in round one on the Thursday and the rest is history!
“What do I put it down to? No ego’s, collective effort, collective spirit and a shared background.”
Addison has recently been appointed Head of Performance for Spanish Rugby League where he’s taken an approach more seen in Football than Rugby League.
“We have a culture in rugby league where the Head Coach is the “Manager” as well. In football, the “Manager” is someone different to the Head Coach. They manage the environment, mentor the coaches, deal with various stakeholders inside and outside the organisation, they also spend a lot of time looking at scouting and youth development and that kind of thing.
“It’s fair to say I’m following the football model more rather than the traditional league model. I want to develop coaches and players, top to bottom. I speak with the coaches once a week and hold seminars and speak with the CEO very, very regularly. When we win, the coaches will get the credit, if we lose, I’ll take the heat. I’m there for them.”
Over the past couple of years Addison has worked on growing his website so players from around the world have the opportunity to take in quality coaching and be noticed by scouts.
The website also allows coaches to improve themselves and use resources to improve their team.
“There has been a lack of resource for players and coaches for many years. A google search in such a direction is embarrassing, as was, for years, a visit to the bookshop.
“I also noticed that players had to be lucky enough to have a good coach in their club or to live in a geographically suited area (eg M62 corridor, Eastern seaboard of Australia and North Island of New Zealand) in order to get coached and noticed by scouts. As a coach, you needed to be lucky enough to meet a coach you looked up to to get guidance and mentoring!
“Now, my site brings a level 3 coach (me) to the player or to the coach to serve those purposes. But not just me, I have several coaches work on there, from the best levels and grassroots, I’ve got 3 strength and conditioning coaches on there (including a Queensland Cup Head S&C Coach) and all manner of sports science advisors.
“We’ve got loads of programs and videos on there. For training on the field, in the gym, for diet, for recovery. For coaches and players. A coach can have his sessions planned out for the season, a player can coach and train themselves. We have beginner, intermediate and advanced programs, plus positional specific ones, it truly is the biggest resource out there and we market it as such. We also reply to our members messages, there’s some that message constantly.
“If it was a book on the shelf it would be about 1000 pages! It would be one of those thick books that you’d use as reference all the time. To that extent, I’m doing a detailed contents page for it soon.
“Via the website I’m now head coach of players and coach mentor to coaches all over the world! It’s the biggest and most diverse team I’ve ever coached!”
Ever since that 19-year-old took over as head coach of the Salford University side, Addison has stayed true to a simple philosophy that allows him to be the best coach he can.
“My philosophy has evolved over the years but one thing has always remained central to what I do. Coaching is ‘correction’. If a coach is not correcting or making interventions that improve performance, then they are not coaching. Feedback is the absolute essence of what coaches should do.”