Academia and experience

Malt_thMr Mick Malthouse



First published in the Herald Sun on 14 February, 2012

Thousands of young Australians are about to enter university lecture rooms for the first time. Most will graduate into a highly complex world where success demands an increasingly broad education.

I have no formal education. The lessons I’ve learned come from the school of hard knocks. They come from my life experience and, importantly, from my 40 years in professional football.

Education for the future needs a lot more than specialised knowledge and skills.

It requires life experience. This is what La Trobe expects me to bring to my new role as Vice-Chancellors Fellow. It is a challenge I will relish. The aim is to place more emphasis on the non-academic side of campus life: practical experience, teamwork, leadership skills and community involvement.

In my view, the importance of these aspects of education real-world experience are being seriously overlooked by too many institutions.

Some may have their heads in the clouds. The world seems increasingly obsessed with paper qualifications. The way I see it, you can’t learn leadership or common sense from a textbook.

Most of what I know, I know because I’ve had to correct my mistakes on the job.  For four decades in professional football, 28 of which as a senior coach, I put everything to the test every week, and those experiences have helped make me who I am.

My value as a teacher and mentor comes from being a very practical but also serious student of life.  Universities are geared for technical and academic lessons but experience gained in the classroom is very different to the depth of experience gained in the real world.

I will bring my everyday experiences as a leader into the university. I have a vast resource of knowledge based on practical events and I can call upon the lessons I have learned, and the success I have had, to make decision-making easier.

I will teach journalism students the best way to do important interviews and what it is like to be the subject of difficult questions. I’ve had plenty of experience with these. Probably the toughest question I faced in my time in the footballing spotlight was when a journalist didn’t understand the position I was in, specifically my head space after a game.

It’s important to be prepared and have an understanding of the events that take place on the field whether it’s a win, loss or an injury. Journalists need to know that they are approaching a situation that may take a little more understanding. They need to realize a coach with a loss or injury on their mind is a compromised interviewee, who needs to be spoken to with care.

There have been a few times where I have been confronted with questions from journalists that were biased by their own agenda, meaning which AFL team they personally supported. To be interviewed by someone who is against a particular team or upset over the loss of a team they support is not a professional approach to a job that requires transparency for their readers.

It is for these reasons that I hope that I’ll teach students to be prepared, relevant and professional when it comes to dealing with sports. I will also incorporate this approach when I talk to physiotherapy and sports administration students, focussing on the essential practical aspects of their job.

While textbooks have examples of real life situations, there is a difference between book smarts and real life.  Making mistakes, rather than reading about them, is a great learning process. There isn’t a foolproof system of growing up.

We encounter tests; some you fail, some you pass. The ones you fail you learn from in preparation for your next step.

I may not be a typical educator, and have yet to earn my stripes as a lecturer, but after some four decades in an industry that holds a special place in this country, I am excited about being a resource for students who will go on to be the next generation of sports professionals.

Mr Michael Malthouse has recently been appointed as La Trobe University's Vice-Chancellor's Fellow.