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Bolton shares lessons learned

Mic'd up | Brendon Bolton Brendon Bolton is wired for sound in this episode of Mic'd Up at the pre-season camp on the Sunshine Coast.

BRENDON Bolton sat down and listed everything he does in a typical week.

Stoppage meetings, game reviews, kick-in drills … the list, as you would expect, went on.

The activity was part of an intensive Authentic Leadership Program that Bolton studied during the off-season at Harvard University in the United States.

Each class, which started every day at 7am and finished at 11pm, was designed to make the students realise what was important to them.

"They made us reflect on our own eulogy – what would you want said about you?" Bolton said from Carlton's pre-season training camp in Mooloolaba this week.

"They're probably not going to be talking about stoppage meetings and kick-ins and the things that you do from day to day. It's words like caring, considerate, empathetic."

The sentiment resonated with Bolton, who set about planning for how he could prioritise his players and put them first more often.

That plan is currently in action at the Bolton household.

Since returning, the Carlton coach has hosted almost every single member of his Blues squad – and the club's wider football department – at his home in Brighton for dinner.


Groups of four Carlton players at a time – as well as one staff member – have joined Bolton, his wife Louisa and his young children Ned and Rosie for a barbecue each week.

So far, Bolton estimates 38 Carlton players have visited his residence. He expects the remaining squad members to join him at some stage over the next couple of weeks.

There's just one rule. Bolton mans the barbecue.

"I'm pretty good at cooking a steak," he laughed.

Bolton has also driven individual players home from training recently, hoping the relationships he can form with his playing group will strengthen even further as a result.

Pressure forward Cam Polson, who lives near Bolton, is one to have benefited from a lift home in recent weeks. During their trips, the Carlton coach has emphasised the importance of the defensive role the 20-year-old will play this season, regardless of his weekly output.

"He could have limited touches, but knowing that the coaches value it is something that takes a little bit of time to understand. We've been selling that really strongly," Bolton said.

But while relationships have always been a fundamental part of Bolton's coaching, placing an emphasis on bonding with his players this summer, in particular, has been critical.

The Blues languished on the bottom of the ladder last season, winning only two games for the year. However, internally, the mood within a promising young group stayed rather upbeat given the circumstances.

Now, as the club hopes to rise up the ladder and enter the next crucial stage of its development, Bolton has recognised that tight relationships can provide the springboard to help a side turn its fortunes around quicker.

"I've gone into periods where I'm not great at the people element … I've been that intense and focused on this job," Bolton said.

"But I think people and process is something where there's no right way. Sometimes you've got to be more people and sometimes you've got to be more process. Going too far one way or the other is not the answer.

"We're all guilty of that as leaders, but just simple things like when I have conversations with players, it's not just football related. It's generally asking them how they're going, are they OK, is there something I can help them with, talking about their life."

The obvious question is how this helps Carlton on the field in season 2019.

For Bolton, he's hopeful the relationships formed with his players make the team stronger come round one, or come the next time there's a blip on Carlton's journey up the ranks.

"I think you can play for your coach," he said.

But while Bolton has been strengthening his player-coach relationships, he's hopeful the club's summer training camp in Mooloolaba builds the bonds his footballers have with each other as well.

Notably, the squad members have formed into four groups within the camp, with each wearing different coloured sweatbands – red, green, orange and blue – throughout the entirety of the week.

Those groups are doing activities, having dinners together and are competing with and against each other at all times, a plan the club hopes will build both friendships and trust.

"At this camp, when you hear people talk about bonding and getting to know each other … you ask why coaches talk about that," Bolton said.

"It's because when you've got a really strong relationship with another player or others in your group, the actions on the field you want to do for them.

"This 'us, not me' mentality is a learned behaviour that takes some time. Our players – and this camp has been about that – are pushing a really strong understanding and are buying into it really well that they've got to have each other's back.

"Everything they do has a ripple effect either positively or negatively for their mate."