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Blue Barker stepping out of the shadows

‘Will you follow the path of the last coach, or take the club in a new direction?’

When a new coach steps into a senior coaching position, invariably, this is one of the first questions asked.

And though Carlton’s interim coach, John Barker, might be in a slightly different position to most senior coaches, it’s a question the 40-year-old has considered.

“I’ve worked under some of the great coaches, and they’ve all got really strong traits that are absolutely critical to being a great coach, but I really want to be my own man,” Barker told Channel 7’s #Discovered team.

Barker has two wins and three losses to his name since taking the helm at the Blues, following Mick Malthouse’s departure in Round 8.

It certainly hasn’t been smooth sailing since then– Chris Judd’s career-ending knee injury in Barker’s second game as coach was proof of that – but signs have been encouraging. Carlton’s on-field performances have improved, and the media frenzy surrounding the Blues’ progress seems to have shifted elsewhere.

“I strongly believe that relationships help drive performance” – John Barker

Having worked as an assistant coach under Malthouse during the Blues’ challenging start to the year, Barker believes he’s well-placed to relate to his players on an emotional level.

“Being an assistant coach, you almost live and die sometimes by how the senior coach is going,” Barker said.

While that’s clearly not a desirable position to be in, Barker said he’s “always enjoyed the relationship-side of assistant coaching” – working as a team and riding the highs and lows together. Building similar connections with players is just as important.

“I strongly believe that relationships help drive performance. If they know you’ve got some care for them, that helps.”

Externally, senior coaches are judged by wins and losses – but Barker’s making sure his players think about more than just footy.

“I’m really big on players being holistic in their approach to life,” Barker said.

It’s clear that one of the game’s great coaches, David Parkin – who believes strongly in player development away from the field, as can be seen in the video below – has helped inform this view.

“I started a commerce degree at Melbourne Uni and David Parkin was really strong on me finishing that. You need an identity out of football.”

Even though he’s now a senior coach, Barker continues to develop himself.

“I’ve done quite a bit of work through the Coaches’ Association on emotional intelligence and positive psychology and have found that’s really important.

“I think it’d be hard to ask players to keep improving and wanting to keep getting better if you’re not prepared to do that yourself.”