With only a young head still on my shoulders, I am yet to experience many goings on within the game of Rugby Union. As I crave knowledge to further my ability as a coach, writer and couch pundit, I really wanted to ascertain a few experiences and views of some of Rugby’s great minds.
After speaking to a close friend at University, he mentioned a coach who he played under whilst at College. This coach is, Phil Leck. Phil Leck has previously worked with the Sale Academy and, after reading some of his coaching pieces online, his love, passion and understanding of the game was clear to see.
Therefore I took the opportunity to ask Phil to write something for ITL, looking at the coaching side of the game, using his personal anecdotes. Here is his in-depth, inspiring, incredible piece.
Arriving at a club with the richest tradition in Scottish rugby Hawick RFC was enough to send the nerves tingling, just driving into the ground and watching the pitch appear that had hosted 59 Internationals, British Lions and teams that had won the Scottish title on twelve occasions along with a coveted “treble” in 2001 was enough to send the imagination into overdrive, and yet as I turned off the car I was touched with a tinge of sadness as I approached a giant club that was hurting and smarting from a run of 11 defeats in the Scottish premiership. Their previous coach had resigned and the legend that is Jim Renwick was helping with the coaching to try to turn things around. People in my industry had said to me I was mad that I could get work in England easily enough and that I didn’t understand Scottish rugby, but I understood from my previous visits to the town enough to know that here was a rugby club and town with a passion for Rugby that outstripped even my own. A town of 15000 people with four Senior rugby clubs, with two separate U18s clubs a separate u16 club and a 250 strong mini section and they were all hurting. Hawick people don’t lose they don’t want to come second they are winners and Hawick RFC needed to start to win again.
I watched all eleven games from the campaign on DVD and was struck by one thing, they had lost the majority by a score or less, I knew then that it wasn’t the major rebuilding job that most people thought, the existing players on the whole were good enough to compete at premiership level they just had never been told it ,and they had never been coached modern rugby. There were plenty of opinions from coaches, committee members other clubs and even the old ladies in the town as I went to the supermarket as to why it was all going wrong and if you keep telling your players they are doing it wrong or they are not good enough that exactly what you get, it becomes a cancer within your organisation and threes always someone to blame and its always someone else’s fault. It didn’t need a massive influx of players to turn it round it just needed a simple process.
I met the players, player A was going to be disruptive, player B never listens and does his own thing Player C is sleeping with player A,s wife Player D only trains when he wants, Player E hates the English, my head was full of advice about all the negative things, I just wanted to see the positive things, my mindset had to be different from the treatment of pro and academy players and had to accommodate the “amateur” ethos of a side not being paid to play against sides that were definitely being paid to play. I wanted to unlock this negativity. From the start I could see players faces in the first session looking at me as though I was an alien as I encouraged, praised and laughed with them as we went through a fairly light and fun session with some skills and lots of daft games and ball handling the tension visibly lifted and we got through the work in what seemed like a flash, I barely noticed the phalanx of committee members and interested onlookers in the stands imp sure commenting on my every move. Well Player A wasn’t disruptive, player B was attentive, player C still carried on sleeping with his team mates wife player D trained hard and player E didn’t slit my throat with his dirk so all in all a good beginning. Now let’s build on the process.
1 Plan- Set goals
2 Positive attitude and Enjoyment- No blame
3 Player Triggers
3 Variation within a theme
4 Skill acquisition
5 Decision making
6 Game understanding – outcomes
8 Learn that winning is normal and happens every week
1 Plan – Set goals
“If you fail to prepare you prepare to fail “ the old cliché states but corny as it is it is the absolute truth. winning rugby doesn’t happen by accident.
Have a goal that you, your team and your players can work towards, short term midterm and long term, know what your goal is and put things in place to make it happen. if it doesn’t, then review your performance and reset the goals and start again.
2 Positive attitude and enjoyment
Why do we coach? why do we play? I know I do it for enjoyment (and to win obviously) and when I played I played at my best with a smile on my face and the belief that I could do anything I wanted on the pitch. If my players can be put on the pitch in the best frame of mind with their heads in a good place then we win. Tell your players how good they are, tell them when they do well, don’t tell them how bad they have done or how many mistakes they have made because you will be amazed, they already know!!!! Your job as a coach is to pick them up and identify the shortcomings then work on them without them ever knowing you are doing it, the bright ones will know because the bright ones will know that they or the team has made the mistakes.
If a player drops a ball in training or in a game it’s not the end of the world it’s just a dropped ball, nobody died!! if your players understand they will make mistakes but when they do they don’t get abused verbally or physically (the traditional ten press ups) they will naturally learn to eradicate those mistakes by experience. Question how they could do things better rather than telling them they are useless. Allow them to make mistakes without penalising them otherwise they will just start not trying anything on the pitch and then you will lose their interest and will to win
3 Player Triggers
Find out what turns your players on, why do they play? what motivates them best? how do they like to be taught or spoken to. All players are different, if you get to understand how they work and perform best you will get the best out of them. Ask them their opinions it’s not a weakness it’s a learning element.
4 Skill acquisition
Work hard on basic skills, the other old cliché about play what’s in front of you will actually come to mean something to your players if they can execute their basic skills under pressure and in game situations. Put them under pressure in your sessions and they will handle it in the game situations you as a coach will have to be ultra creative to get the basic skills in to them in a variety of ways so it doesn’t become boring
5 Decision Making
Are you on the pitch with them ? No Are you making decisions for them ? If your honest with yourself you will find that you have from the touch line called the lineouts, attack moves, backs patterns. DONT !!!! let the players do it themselves. We played a National league game last year and scored 71 points and we still made 32 mistakes (one every 2.5 minutes) not only technically but also decision making Should I address the mistakes yes but should I also commend the players on a stunning bonus point winning performance ? I think so!
6 Game understanding
When I first took over I was amazed to find how many coaches and players didn’t understand why the team did certain things from certain situations, they just did it like robots because the coach said so or because they’d seen some side do it on the telly.
As an example I asked the question why did we box kick? The answers I got back from a wide spectrum of players and coaches were illuminating in themselves and I realised where I needed to put some focus in quickly. I have always found that if I explain why I am doing certain things and what outcome I want from it ,players buy into it a lot easier or even venture a better solution which means they take ownership and it becomes part of their armoury.
Gain the respect of the players by your knowledge enthusiasm honesty and integrity and they will return it with interest. I try to make the players my major focus and try to maximise everything I can deliver for them to help them to perform at their best, and that doesn’t mean throw cash at them it means from my part planning, organisation,, creativity enjoyment, success, support and most important honest feedback. If you are not prepared to talk honestly to a player who is not going to be part of your first 15 selection with relevant and transparent reasoning then you will struggle to get the team dynamic whereby every player is striving to get into the squad or remain there
winning is a state of mind, the great teams in Rugby such as Leicester, Toulouse, The All Blacks all turn up to the game with the attitude of winners, they expect it they thrive on it they intimidate other teams with it. They prepare for it. “Losing” should never appear in any of your coaching vocabulary, it should never see the light of day in training or pre match team talks or even in the bar. When it happens as inevitably it will in some form then it is to be analysed reflected upon and repeated as little as often. Whereas winning should be savored, analysed ,reflected upon and repeated every week
Mmmmm Play, threes a simple philosophy, but if you empower your players to play and not be conservative you will find they thrive on the responsibility and the excitement. Too many coaches and players play by numbers, miss1 rangy pop 356 red option!!! Rugby is sounding more like an American football play book every year. If players know that the decision making on the field is down to them, then they will play because again that astonishing fact most of them want to play, They don’t want to play an attacking pattern choreographed down to the last detail by you. When players and teams play like that they miss so many opportunities and when the pattern finishes or runs its course what next ??? you may as well go on Celebrity come dancing.
10 Empower them
Well after the process comes the success, a stunning fighting rugby filled win for Hawick against Dundee in the Play offs with success for rugby over sheer Brute force and now the local pundits believe Hawick are back where they rightfully should be, to be in Scotland’s Premier Division, I have a slightly different take on that view as I don’t believe in anyone having a right to anything I believe that we just start the process again and if you’ll excuse me it’s time to start my planning.
Many thanks to Phil for his time!