Eddie Jones: The art of coaching (part 1)

ENGLAND rugby coach Eddie Jones created back-page news with his superb session at the Soccerex conference this week. It might have lasted only 35 minutes, but this was as intense and stimulating as one of the Australian’s coaching sessions. If you weren’t lucky enough to be there, here it is, in full:

1. Love of coaching:

EJ: I love coaching. I’d been lucky enough to become an acting principal at the age of 32. They put in a permanent principal and I went to the chairman and said, ‘look, I’ve got a choice here. I can either coach or stay in education.’ He said, ‘Go and coach.’ He obviously didn’t think I was a very good principal so it wasn’t much of a choice for me!

When you stop playing the next best thing is to coach. I was coached by one of the best ever in Bob Dwyer and I learnt a lot from him.

2. Learning from failure:

The experience of failure teaches you to be a bit more hungry. I see players who have been very good and I don’t see that hunger in them when they’ve coached because they’ve already touched the heights. When you start playing sport you want to be the best. If you haven’t been able to do it as a player then the next best option is to coach.

When you fail it hurts you badly. When you’re young, the hard thing is reflecting on those failures, you don’t accept responsibility for them. As you get a bit older you tend to accept the responsibility. Once you do that it becomes a very important learning path for you.

3. Trying to coach the perfect game:

I want to coach the perfect game. No-one has ever coached the perfect game. Imagine coaching a game when from the first minute to the 80th you’re in total control. It could be 3-0 - the scoreline is irrelevant and it’s about having control of the game.

It’s always going to be impossible to coach the perfect game but striving to do it and getting players to play with that intensity and purpose is the fun part. [In reality] the thing about professional sport is the ability of the players to perform on their bad days.

It’s not when they’re feeling good. Most times in any professional sport where you’re playing 30 to 40 games and are banging into people and have to run hard you’re not feeling good. The staff’s ability to make those guys realise on those bad days how they work through that [is key]. So if they haven’t got their A game they go to their B; if they’re not in their B condition they can go to C and find a way.

Once you get on game day, the players are in control of their preparation. Sometimes as a coach you can make a difference, you can just pull everything together and get a player who’s feeling a bit shitty to feel better.

You’re always nervous [as a coach]. If you’re not nervous you shouldn’t be doing it. I’m always nervous about the speech I’m going to make, whether I’m going to have a positive or negative effect.

4. Be a trend setter, not a follower:

One of the mistakes I made at the [Queensland] Reds, when we won two games out of 13, was I started following trends in the game rather than trying to set them. You have to have the courage to set the trend. Whenever you follow something it’s too late, because it’s already been done and can never be as good as it was before. I’d probably lost a bit of confidence. I took that job after Australia and thought, ‘I’ll do what everyone else does.' And it was shit.

5. Taking players out of their comfort zones:

Players like to get comfortable, they like to have a nice house, they like to drive a Range Rover, they like to do the same thing every day at training. To get them to have the courage to be different is the biggest trick - encouraging them to do that consistently, to be different, to say 'don’t be comfortable, be uncomfortable'.

I spent a couple of days with Gareth [Southgate] at the English camp. You look at the English football team. They’ve got big stars, they’re all comfortable, they’re huge in the Premier League. What is their motivation to go through hurt to play for their national team? Why should they push themselves for their national team?

We’re lucky that the national team is still bigger than club rugby, so there’s still that innate motivation there. The trick is how do you get those players to want to do more? Spain does it, Germany does it, so there’s ways to do it and that’s the fascinating part.

England [rugby] have had failure, so they’re more desirous to be successful. The hard part is now. We’ve just gone two years of being successful and it’s our ability now to make them want to work harder again. The incentive for them is not there. The challenge is the next two years, when I’ll earn my money with the RFU.

We need to make it exciting for them again. They need to think they’re doing something more than just playing rugby. It’s got to be something that makes them want to be uncomfortable. We do it through selection. If players aren’t 100% committed – and it doesn’t matter who they are – we won’t pick them.

More and more the game is about psychology. Young people have changed so much over the period of time. On the weekend I was lucky enough to be at the Red Bull learning centre and they had the sports psychologist from the Chicago Cubs come in. He said in America what has been lost over the last 20 years is the innate competitive desire of players.

They don’t innately compete any more, all they want to be is famous. You look at players in England, Japan or Australia and you see the same thing, [although] it’s probably not as pronounced. The ability to get that desire out of the players becomes so much more important in coaching. The tactical side is neither here nor there. You can win a game sometimes on tactics [but] it’s not a massive factor.

Everyone wants to be part of something special. Deep down there’s the devil in everyone and that devil wants to be part of something special in life. It’s about trying to find the purpose for them to have that extra desire, that extra motivation to be uncomfortable. Most people want to be comfortable, they like to do what they like to do. Getting people to regularly to do what they don’t want to do is the most important thing.

6. Getting the right captain:

When I first came to England I was struck by how polite people were. People in England like to get on. Maybe it’s because it’s a small island and you know you’re going to meet that person again. The other thing was watching the Rugby World Cup in 2015. It just felt like they needed someone up front leading the way with a bit of aggression. If they did that then more people would follow.

Dylan [Hartley] is a lunatic but he’s a nice lunatic. Nice lunatics are good to run teams because he has that earthiness about him. He knows the value of struggle, of how hard he’s had to work and that sets a great example for the team. There are four or five players who mimic his behaviour and now we are starting to have a tipping point where if you don’t come to the England side and give 100%, if you don’t give it all, then you’re not going to be part of the team.

Martin Johnson was a great example of that. I don’t think he used to give great speeches, but he led by example. Dylan is a little bit the same. He’s not the greatest player in the world but he leads by example and people come with him.

7. Respect, not friendship:

You’re always looking for a relationship where you have respect. It’s nice if you’re liked. There are still players I coached way back in my first year who I still see regularly in Australia, but I think it’s more out of respect.

There was a great story recently about [Bill] Belichick and [Tom] Brady. They’ve got one of the greatest sporting partnerships ever but have never had dinner together. It’s a professional relationship built on respect. Respect is the most important thing. If my dog loves me and my wife loves me most days then I’m happy.

You have to hold yourself back from liking players. There are a few players I like. I like Haskell. But you’ve got to hold that. The selection is the most important thing you’ve got to do. And the selection has got to be about assessing their performance and you’ve got to be able to do that with a clear head.

PART TWO: Eddie Jones, the art of coaching

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