A common catchphrase you will hear at the Brisbane Lions is “continuous improvement.” Players will constantly use the expression in their press conferences and interviews. Senior Coach Chris Fagan championed the phrase for the group. But what exactly does it mean to him? And does he live by this mantra?
“I can’t ask them to do that unless I do that myself,” Fagan told lions.com.au.
“Part of that is going overseas, reading books and all those sorts of things.”
Fagan makes the most of any opportunity to expand his knowledge for his players. If you sit next to him on a plane, he’s most likely reading a biography or sports book and highlighting key sentences he could use to inspire his troops.
He is a teacher by trade so gaining new knowledge is enticing for him.
Before the 2019 NAB AFL Draft he embarked on a two-week adventure overseas to London and the United States.
He was a member of a P8 Think Tank in London which assembled some of the world’s best sporting figures in one room; England Rugby Union Coach Eddie Jones, Andrew Strauss and EPL coaches were all there.
“We talk about various issues around sport and coaching,” Fagan said.
He even delivered a talk himself at a leadership conference, where he discussed the importance of culture and how he and his team had gone about improving it at the Lions over the last couple of seasons.
“Teams are starting to realise that if you build culture as well, you might be able to perform even better,” he said.
Over his time away Fagan met up with Darren Cahill, coach of professional tennis player Simona Halep. He also spent a day at the NY Giants and went to an NFL game between the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles.
“It was good to see how other organisations go about things. You pick up some ideas,” Fagan said.
“With all the trips there was plenty of time to read books and listen to podcasts and pick up new things.
“The players can see when they come back from their break that we’ve [coaching staff] grown and changed a bit,” he said.
But even when he arrived back in Australia, the learning wasn’t over. He spoke to many leading AFL figures across the country – Mick Malthouse, Andrew Ireland, Dennis Pagen and Leigh Matthews. Their common denominator? Sustained success.
“They are people that have been involved at clubs where there has been consistency of success year after year,” Fagan said.
“Not necessarily winning premierships but making finals and being in the picture.
“That’s what we want to desperately become. A team that’s always there come finals time with a chance.
“They were always trying to get better.”
The desire to improve extends farther than on the field. He’s spoken to Pip Taylor, the Club’s dietician on ways he could improve his nutrition.
“I wanted to learn a little bit more about diet myself to eat the right foods to think a bit better and lose a bit of weight,” he said.
“You’ve always got to look for ways to show example to your players.”
Speaking from his fourth pre-season camp with the Lions in Tasmania, Fagan said the relief from Queensland’s humidity has been a welcome change.
“I reckon that sometimes it can wear you out,” he said.
“Usually when you come to Tassie the climate is a bit milder.”
Not all AFL teams hold a pre-season camp, but Fagan insists they are important.
“I’m a huge believer in the closer you are off the field, the better equipped you are on the field to really go well,” he said.
The camp has already established strong relationships on the field, as evidenced by the match simulation at Twin Ovals on Sunday.
“We’re just starting to build that connection with the new group,” Fagan said.
“The guys we have recruited are still trying to learn the way we play.
“Playing games is the most invaluable way to do that.”
Fagan cracks a smile recalling Grant Birchall running well and involved in the game play. The pair have known each other for more than a decade from their Hawthorn days.
“It was really good to see him on Sunday, I thought he played quite well and had a smile on his face and was really enjoying his footy which was a good thing,” Fagan said.
“He’s had a couple of years being injured.”
It wasn’t that long ago that Fagan returned to his home state of Tasmania. In December his beloved father Austin passed away.
“We had a good celebration of his life on the 19th December. It was really nice that David Noble, Swanny and Danny Daly came to the funeral, as well as Brendan Bolton and Alastair Clarkson,” he said.
“I think in the space of 18 months we’ve had a granddaughter, a daughter getting married and a Dad passing away. It was all the things in life.
“Dad was a great role model and great provider for me and my family.”
This exact time last year, his father had proudly watched Fagan coach at Twin Ovals, sitting alongside his wife Beth, daughter and granddaughter. A proud moment watching his son fulfilling a lifelong dream, but never forgetting where his home is.