How to be a more effective head rugby coach

Working with other rugby coaches can be as challenging as being the only coach at a club or school. There is always the danger that too many coaching “voices” will send mixed messages to your players.

As head coach, you need to clearly define your role and the role of your rugby coaching team. Are you going to be on-field solving problems, or managing the resources off-field?

Clive Woodward managed a very large coaching team to mastermind England’s 2003 RWC success. More recently a coaching team of three seems to provide the bulk of England’s team coaching, with the head coach managing the use of specialist coaches when required.

Bring in specialists but keep control

At the elite level, rugby coaches have access to specialist coaching on every minute aspect of the game.

You may have access to a medical support team, rugby fitness advisors and other sports science support. In which case, you need to ensure you don’t become a slave to their regimes, which may conflict with your systems. To help you overcome this, my advice is to become a “T” shaped coach.

“T” shaped coaches

The head rugby coach needs to have both a breadth and a depth of knowledge. Those with a breadth of knowledge, as indicated by the horizontal part of the “T” in the diagram, have a good understanding of all the specialist areas, but may not be specialists themselves.

The vertical part of the “T” indicates the depth of knowledge of an area of specialism. The head coach needs to know a little about ALL areas of performance and development. The specialist coach knows a great deal about one specialist area of performance.

The head coach needs to be able to understand what specialists have to offer, manage them and balance this against all the other areas.

T shaped coaching plan

Use business management skills

A lot of a head coach’s work involves generic management and interpersonal skills. In rugby, however, there are few “management” experts. Lessons from commerce and business schools can help us improve our management skills.

With the England set up, non-rugby management experts work with our elite rugby coaches to help them manage their players and coaching teams. They ask questions of the coaches and encourage them to discover the solutions themselves. The focus is on “how” coaches coach and “how” coaches manage people.

80:20 Rule (off-field to on-field)

As a head coach, you probably find yourself spending more time preparing off the field than on. Video analysis, team programmes, individual schedules, giving feedback, meetings with the other coaches, plus planning each rugby training session all mean that your time on the field is reduced.

In addition, head coaches need to have excellent communication, analytical and “multi-tasking” skills. Head coaches also have to “sell” their ideas to players, senior management and perhaps even the media.

Being an inter-disciplinary coach

A head coach will approach problems by considering all the coaching disciplines. This means thinking about the psychological, medical and physical, as well as the normal rugby skills, tactics and strategic solutions.

The role of the head coach is to review all these areas with the specialists. The key is to support and challenge. Do you have enough knowledge to support your specialist coaches, and yet challenge and manage them to deliver what you require?

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