Duane Heath

Good teacher, good coach

2004-11-05 08:10

Jim Greenwood, in his hugely successful rugby textbook entitled Total Rugby, writes that one of his main aims as a coach is to "take a proper pride" in his players.

Hardly revolutionary, but the former Scotland flanker hit on a training philosophy that remains as important today as it was when he stumbled upon it all those years ago as a teacher at the world-famous Loughborough University.

My job is to encourage the player to enjoy and extend his abilities," writes Greenwood.

"His rugby on the field has got to provide him with something memorable, some spots of time that will live with him. They may be aesthetic or heroic, expressions of speed or power or judgement, fitness or skill, individual or group - but they've got to be memorable expressions of his youth and talent.

"He's got to feel the elation of winning well, with a touch of style and class, and especially of winning against the odds."

Sounds a bit like the Jake White philosophy, doesn't it?

In a nutshell, what Greenwood is saying - and what White preaches - that a successful coach is someone who puts his faith in his playing staff. Do this, they believe, and the players will show you loyalty, and play their hearts out on the field.

It's hardly rocket science, but the concept of "playing for a coach" is often misunderstood and ignored by those who fail to see a rugby team and its coach as a complex family unit, with the trainer as a father figure (read White, Free State's Peet Kleynhans, the late Kitch Christie).

It's my belief that a successful rugby team is one where the players play for their coach first and foremost, their team-mates second, and the team itself - even if it is the Springboks - third.

Staying loyal to his players

Pulling the green and gold jersey over one's head will always be the pinnacle of any South African player's career, but that alone doesn't guarantee victory - we only have to look at recent unhappy teams under Harry Viljoen and Rudolf Straeuli to realise this.

The reason why Jake White has turned the Boks of 2004 around is because, for the first time in years, we have a coach who has been willing to stay loyal to his players, even in the face of public and media ridicule. The players have seen this, and in turn they have repaid his faith by churning out the results, "against the odds", as Greenwood would say.

The Boks play for the jersey - no two ways about it - but they put their bodies on the line for their coach and for each other - and that has been the missing ingredient that Jake White has brought to the Boks this year.

But the concept of "playing for the coach" is one which may be difficult to understand unless you've been lucky enough to have been coached by one.

A couple of seasons ago, I joined a new club and arrived for my first practice session late - and to find that I had forgotten my boots at home!

With a sea of unfamiliar faces looking at me, the coach, a 43-year-old Englishman and former Wasps wing by the name of Bill Denham-Smith, blew his whistle and came over to me, asking why I hadn't kitted up yet.

Memorable spots of time

"Er, you won't believe this, but I've left my boots at home," I replied, squirming and shivering away on a freezing northern hemisphere night.

"What shoes have you got?" Bill asked.

"Just my work shoes, these big brown things," I replied, ready to turn around and never come back.

But then Bill did something which made me stay, not only for that night, but for the following two seasons - two years that, if I look back now, provided me with my own memorable spots of time that will live with me forever.

With snow falling around us and surrounded by 30 shivering, unfamiliar faces, Bill took off his boots and stood facing me, his white socks sinking into the wet ground.

"Hope you're a size 8," he chuckled. "Welcome to the club."

"Perfect," I lied, handing him my size 10s, "It's good to be here."

Send Duane your thoughts on this column.

  • Duane Heath is a freelance sportswriter who has written about the game for News24, Rugby World, IRB World of Rugby and the Sunday Times.

  • Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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