On this episode of the Bring It In podcast, 1Huddle’s CEO and Founder, Sam Caucci, sat down with Cody Royle, three-time author and former head coach of the Australian Football League, Canada. In their recent podcast episode, Sam and Cody Royle explore the integration of user experience principles in coaching and player development, usually associated with software. Cody emphasizes the need to optimize experiences for both players and coaches, urging organizations to consider and design user experiences in their programs.
Additionally, Cody shares a balanced perspective on the future of work, advocating for investments in human capital alongside technological innovation. This episode encourages thinking about how coaching is changing and the way technology and human-focused development work together.
Audio available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Spotify.
Below are some of the insights Cody shared during our chat, edited for length and clarity. You can find more Bring It In podcast episodes here.
Sam Caucci: The best place to start is if you could share a little bit more about you and start at the very beginning, all the way back.
Cody Royle: All the way back. Okay. Well, all the way back, I was born in Ambra, which is Australia’s capital city. Most people don’t know that I think it’s Sydney or Melbourne.
It’s funny that I’ve ended up living in Canada, where similarly, people don’t know that Ottawa is the capital city. But yeah, sport has been most of my life played in the elite talent pathways all the way up and was fortunate to not get drafted into my preferred sport, which was AFL, the Aussie rules ended up in coaching quite young at 23 and coaching has taken me on a journey across the world and into some pretty cool areas.
But at the same time I was working, you know, Monday to Friday, nine to five in big businesses. I’m a writer by trade, so I was in technology and user experience and designing apps and, and also, you know, coaching a national team on weekends.
And so those two worlds have collided and I’ve ended up writing books and being a speaker in the field of, you know, team development and leadership development. And hilariously, I’ve probably learned more from user experience that I’ve pulled into coaching then a lot of the coaching qualifications that I’ve sat and done.
So yeah, now living in Toronto, Ontario, I live here with my wife and our son. And so yeah, now about as far away from home as I can possibly be, but still involved in sport.
Sam: I’m interested in the comment about where you said you’ve learned, you know, maybe more from the user experience side brought that into coaching and I guess anything specific?
Cody: Yeah I mean, the great thing about–, you know, I worked at the biggest bank in Canada and designed a mobile app, you know, and it’s millions of users per day and obviously can’t go down and things like that. But really where we obviously sat in design is around designing what people think is intuitive and responsive and suiting their needs.
And really it’s not, it’s just well designed. And when you think about what we do in sport and pulling that into where professional sport is now a lot of the things are really legacy. So the way that training is designed the way that buildings are designed things that have now become really important to culture that they don’t really have a lot of user experience built into them.
We think about them from a coaching perspective, so we’re still quite coach centric rather than player centric and like, what do the players need? How will they learn? What’s too much information? When you’re a writer in user experience those things are your bread and butter. And so that’s what I mean that I’ve really probably learned more there to consider an athlete’s perspective and like what do they need, what door do they need to walk through, how, how many paces to the field, what do they do when they get there and all those kind of things are really important nowadays.
Sam: I want to come back to that because I think that’s really interesting on to that point around, you know, kind of words mattering and I can see how when in a crossover into coaching, sometimes even as business leaders, you you throw out three things you want people to do at once, and it can be confusing to the athlete or the or the employee.
You know, I want to read something from the back jacket of your book. It says, you know, “As the speed of change in elite sports has increased, the support infrastructure around head coaches hasn’t kept up. It’s left many coaches supposedly experts in human performance, walking zombies who don’t sleep, don’t exercise, and don’t see their families.” What made you write “The Tough Stuff?”
Cody: Yeah, it was two things. I went through a circumstance with my team. I was coaching Canada’s men’s national program for Aussie rules. Two months before our world cup, we had a player take his own life. And so it threw me through a loop, you know, someone with been a head coach of open age men’s sport for 15 years at that stage and I thought I had everything dialed.
And then, you know, a very human thing came across as a challenge. And I really struggled with that. And then two months after that happened, COVID hit. And so a lot of my friends were kind of going through the major identity crisis. Now we’ve quickly forgotten that early on, like we thought the NBA was going to fall.
It was going to run out of money. The NFL was going to run out of money. Like if they weren’t playing the games, the TV revenue wasn’t coming and no one had the cash reserves. And so all the coaches are sitting in their backyards being like, who am I? Like what do I do next? And so it was all this very emotional time for a lot of coaches to go through and they really reflected.
And so I started writing about those experiences, both my personal, but then also my friends. And what came out was, yeah an exploration of the emotional toll that we ask our head coaches to go through. And, you know, many now,certainly in the professional ranks, certainly in the college ranks are choosing to walk away rather than continue to put themselves and their families through.
The grind and it’s, it’s the top guys and girls, right? Like it’s the ones that we should want in our sport that are just saying, I’ve had enough of this and I don’t have the energy for it anymore.
Sam: It’s interesting, you know, I’m from South Florida and I always go home. And one of the things I do when I go home after a bunch of months, is I always grab breakfast with my old high school football coach.
And, you know, as the years went on, I saw the strain in his eyes as the sport changes, kids change, parents change, the environment changes, and the strain and how it became harder and harder to coach from his philosophy and his beliefs. It became, you know, it’s not so much about adjustment as it was harder and harder for him to accomplish what he wanted to accomplish, given the way the environment was changing.
How do the best coaches given the people you’ve been around and talked to and experienced on what do the best coaches do in order to be effective that maybe others struggle with?
Cody: Yeah, I think the best ones that I’ve seen really coach along, you know a bit of a sliding scale. So, you know, we like to think that you have this particular style and it sits here on a pendulum or a sliding scale of, you know, I’m more player friendly or, you know, authoritarian, but the reality is that’s untrue.
When you, when you stack up moments, you know, moment by moment and how they interact with either the staff or their players or different players or certain situations or the media, is it varies and the best they’re able to vary that based on the actual situation that they’re in and what’s required of that situation.
And so sometimes, despite what you might think, that is a little bit more authoritarian. Or perhaps the team you know, you want to be player centric and you want to be team led, but perhaps the team don’t actually understand how to get to where they’re trying to get to, which is the very purpose of coaching.
And so it might need to be a little bit more coach led and so the best ones can slide between, you know, being coach led and then understanding that it’s about giving the players back authority and, um, direction and types of things that they are going to engage in over time and teaching them that. Where I think on the flip side, where I think many go wrong is they come in and say, this is my game plan.
This is how I play. This is what I think about discipline. And that’s the way that it’s going to be. And, and so they’re set on what they think. And the reality is, it’s a little bit of a marriage and a relationship between what they think and what the players think of what they want to do. And so, yeah, the best can slide between them.
I think the people that are struggling, I just said on this is me and you’re going to basically make me and my game plan come to life. And there’s no negotiating around that.
Sam: It feels like the term coaching is becoming– I don’t want to say a bad word just yet, but you know how the word leadership became, you know, everything is leadership, leadership, leadership, and eventually the term starts to become kind of fuzzy.
And now it almost feels like the word coaching is starting to go on a tear. I mean, you know, you open up or the, you know, read stuff online or Harvard Business Review or top books coming out and top speakers, you see more and more of this attempt to position coaching as the new form of management inside of organizations.I guess I’d love to hear your perspective on on it because it seems like there’s a lot, you know, there’s a right way and a wrong way if you’re going to do this and really position your leadership as coaches.
Cody: Yeah, I mean, coaching can be central to a lot of management and a lot of leadership, and it can be part of it. And I actually think there’s potential merit around teams having a coach and a manager in the workforce. Certainly corporate teams who do knowledge work. I think I’ve worked on teams like that, where we’ve had a clear manager who does the traditional management things and then a coach whose responsibility was to teach, to clear pathways for us to upskill us to find ways to navigate certain challenges.
And those are two discernibly different roles within a traditional, you know, hierarchy in a big organization. And so to your point, I think you can bundle them together. I think it becomes very difficult to manage, lead and coach all at the same time because you’re taking on an awful lot. Like if you’re trying to manage and there’s a lot of laborious meetings about workflows and things that you’re going to have to be in that take away the time that you can spend with the human beings to lead them and to try to coach them.
And so I think it would be taking on a little bit too much, but yeah, I would love a lot more organizations to potentially think about how they can break them out and have real specialists. Because you can have a coach and a manager at the same time. I’ve seen it work and I’ve been involved in teams where it has worked.
Sam: I never thought about that that way. I mean, again, now that you process, you identify, oh, this role is playing the manager. Obviously within a sports organization, you can see how a head coach or, you know, is operating from a different vantage point. But I never thought about it that way. I think that’s really interesting.
I keep going back to the book. You know, when I picked it up, I saw it, I thought in Seven Hard Truths About Being a Head Coach, the initial reason I picked it up and said, ‘Oh it was gonna teach me how to be a better coach, which it did. But what I expected was, okay, what are the seven secrets to being a coach?
I want to pick it up and see what Cody has to say with the background. And then I hear words like empathy and emotion. And the line I highlighted was, you know, “You aren’t a coach. You are a person who coaches.” And obviously that speaks to where you were taking the book and what really became very reflective for me is–
What is the other kind of feedback you’re getting from folks around the book? Are there any surprising reactions that you’re receiving similar to that?
Cody: Yeah, I do. I think there’s a lot of people who pick it up for that reason, similar to you. You know, what are, what are the seven secrets going to be?
And, you know, it’s certainly not about that. It is about that reflective piece within coaching or let’s just call it elite leadership because I’ve been contacted by executives have been contacted by emergency service workers, nurses, and they say you can just cross out coach and put nurse or put ambulance worker in those slots and the exact same narrative holds true in our discipline.
And so, you know, it’s really a personal tale around leadership and leading from the inside first. And so the response has been quite overwhelming. It’s caused me to kind of change careers and I coach coaches now. I work one on one with elite head coaches.
And it’s been through them contacting me and saying, I’ve read and known what you’ve talked about. I’ve known it about myself for some time, and I know that I’ve got more performance in me, and I’ve got more coaching and more leadership and more empathy and more to give, but I can’t get it out of myself because I’m just grounded into the dirt, doing all these different things. Can you help me?
And so that’s been the reaction to it is a lot of coaches want personal coaching and personal attention, frankly, that has been overlooked for far too long. This idea that the coach is God and knows everything and their development stops as soon as they’ve done their license is absolute nonsense.
They don’t have opportunities to continue to develop. And so, you know, I’ve been fortunate to step into that space a little bit and start to help some coaches have continuous development through their coaching over time.
Sam: Of the seven truths, is there one you find yourself talking about more frequently?
Cody: Oh, without doubt. Yeah, the second one or it kind of gets bundled together, but I talk about the weight and it’s the emotional weight of responsibility and responsibility for large amounts of people that you care about. And, you know, that funnily enough, it’s an emotional response, right? If you’ve been a leader, you’ll feel a responsibility, but it actually manifests itself physically.
You know, we talk about being able to see people who, you know, they look like they have the weight of the world on their shoulders. That is a physical manifestation of an emotional response to responsibility. And so, you know, if you think about that, do you think you can lead at your best when you actually physically look like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders?
And I would suggest no, because of, you know, it takes a lot to lead. It takes a lot to make difficult decisions. It takes a lot to have difficult conversations, emotional conversations with people. And so is there a better way for us to prepare our leaders to lead? And to consider them as performers and consider their sleep and their nutrition and their diet so that they can lead and empathize and have access to their own emotions more than they currently do.
So that’s kind of my perspective on it. It’s really looking at leaders as performers rather than you must serve endlessly, 22 hours a day, and if you only sleep two hours, then that’s service, and you know, another word that kind of got taken away was servanthood, right? And it just became endless service. And you just can’t lead from that position.
Sam: You know, one of the stories in the book I come back to, popped out, was the Steve Kerr story. Around him sort of, you know, kind of stepping back in a game as the story goes, kind of stepped back and let his team coach kind of coach themselves for the rest of the game.
You know, we’re living in a world now where the kind of middle group part of the workforce is getting squeezed and this is a global challenge. You know, you have one end of the workforce that’s very well off and you have another end of the workforce that’s living on the edges and that group is getting bigger and bigger that’s frontline workers, that’s essential workers, that’s workers that are, you know, in restaurant, hospitality, and retail. When you go to a sports stadium, these are the folks and in the parking lot, you know, or concessions, and they’re, they’re living on the edge.
And I think about the Steve Kerr story when I think about that, because in many ways, some of them may have a coach that’s sitting down, some may not have a coach at all. What type of advice do you have for the worker or the individual who maybe doesn’t see themself as a coach right now, and it’s just coaching themself.
How do they prepare themselves? Because they are definitely living through some tough stuff.
Cody: Yeah, I mean, it’s a difficult one. And you know, there are companies that are really changing the dynamic here. And I’ll mention one that’s up here in Toronto, Brassa Peruvian Kitchen. Really looking at learning development and employee experience first within the quick service restaurant industry by paying above minimum wage, offering learning up front, you know, offering benefits up front from day one. You know, If Michelle Falcon, the founder, came to me and said, can we do some master class things that we pour into our, you know, we have an open learning that anyone can access, but certainly for our employees.
And so one is that there are people looking to innovate within typical industries that are those people that might be living on the edges like you described. And so I’m really interested to see how that innovation goes around people within industries that are typically maybe a little bit of an afterthought and it’s just thought that the high churn needs to continue forever.
So I really like that innovation. But from the employee side, I think potentially one way is to really take control over your learning and development and ask more of your employer. And ask for opportunities. You know, when I speak to leaders across any industry, they want people that come to them with, you know, almost their own development plan and have really thought about it and say, I want to do this.
And maybe here’s maybe a career goal, or here’s a skill that I want to develop. They want go getters. And so there are opportunities. Not always, but there are opportunities to really kind of look at the tough stuff and say, Oh, geez, this is difficult within what I’m doing, but maybe what skill can I add or what development opportunity can I add?
And if I take that to my employer, I think you’ll be surprised because organizations are begging for self starters. They’re begging for people with a little bit of gumption. They’re begging for people who are interested in learning. And so if you show that initiative, I think that’s a good start.
Sam: I appreciate it, Cody. You know, some of the topics we’re talking about that are really relevant to any size organization and the term future of work is obviously a popular term right now as organizations think about how they move forward into a post COVID world and whatnot. What is, what is your hope for the future of work?
Cody: My hope for the future of work is that we don’t forget about the people because we started to see probably just before COVID, it really hit home for people that, for organizations, that people were the crux of their business. That’s what they were. Innovating around. That’s what they were, you know, starting to really listen to and, you know, we had just transitioned from, you know, kind of financial elements and technological elements and people had realized they cancel each other out really quickly.
And there’s, you know, maybe a momentary advantage there, but people, geez, there’s a lot of substance here that we can clue into within our four walls. And then COVID hit. And my worry is now we’ve all seen chat GPT and we just go to AI, right? And we’re just so keen to move on to the next thing that we forgot that we kind of started to agree that people were central to all of this.
And the, the, the great thing is, is that people are still central to an AI future world and people are still central to any sort of advancement in the future in any capacity. And so, you know, I still hope and think that the organizations that really look at what human development means and what human performance means, they are going to be the ones that get ahead.
Yeah, certainly that has been the story historically. And you know, we’ve got to remember that humans designed and developed the iPhone, not robots that didn’t just magically appear. It was a human initiative and there were human beings behind it.
And so how do we find more of them and bring more iPhones out into the world?
Sam: Cody, I appreciate you. I appreciate your work. Thanks for taking the time.
Cody: Thanks, Sam. It’s great to be here.
Topics Discussed: Future of Work, Workforce, Education, Coaching, Training, Development
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