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Posted in: High Performance Coaching

High Performance Sport: Why can’t coaches learn from their experiences like players?

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  • robertkmaaye

    Common consensus is the 2015 Rugby World Cup will have been a great learning experience for all the England Rugby Union players for when many inevitably take the field in Japan at the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

    Stuart Lancaster though has by mutual consent stepped down from his role as England Rugby Union head coach after the England Rugby Union teams disappointing performance.

    Many ‘pundits’ including former international rugby players and coaches seem to be in support of the decision with a variety of arguments put forward, including that:

    1. the team hasn’t progressed in the last four years (for what it’s worth in my opinion a load of rubbish)
    2. not getting out of the group of death at our own Rugby World Cup was unacceptable (fair enough but at the same time it’s called a Group of Death for a reason)

    Whatever the reasoning and your opinion on the decision both Lancaster and the RFU have taken (you might be able to tell I think he should have been kept on until the 2019 World Cup) my frustration is if players at the top level (in any sport) are allowed to learn and develop from their experiences why can’t coaches?

    What do you think?

    Should coaches (like players) be given the opportunity to learn from disappointing results/experiences?

    Or is high performance sport such an unforgiving place that it’s just wishful thinking on my part?!

    Be interested to hear peoples thoughts.

  • IanmagH

    This rugby world cup was a fantastic spectacle and a wonderful festival of sport at its best, as was each other one before it. Every game was scintillating, full of energy & passion. There was much to learn for players and coaches alike. But I fear that within a very short time they'll all revert to type & do what they've always done.

    I'm sure Stuart Lancaster learned an awful lot during his tenure & will find another place to practice that learning. and as we all get older and wiser the youngsters coming behind us will push us out of the way & try to forge their own way ahead. Such is life!

    It doesn't mean that we can't learn or adapt, or apply our knowledge. Typically though it will only be the more open minded amongst us that survive!

  • JonWoodward74

    This is a great post Rob and something debated quite a lot of the past weeks...

    It reminds me of a phrase I heard I a CPD event several years ago and it is "What does Good Look Like?"

    As coaches we understand that progress and development is so much more than winning games and tournaments, and the  impact on player improvements, team cohesion and an proved system are just as, if not more valuable. However, that is us talking from inside the bubble, and from the outside success is not seen as that. The outside being the public and the media....

    Long term success is built on all these areas of development as well as 'winning', with great examples being Ferguson and Wenger. True culture and developmental change take a generation (20 years?!) but the desire for instant success belittle this...

  • CatherineBaker

    This makes me think of a conversation I had the other day with another outgoing national Performance Director.  We talked around what makes a good participation coach, what makes a good development coach, and what makes a good high performance coach.  Questions we discussed included: Can you be all three or do coaches have a natural bent towards one? As a high performance coach does the pressure for results reduce the ability to take risks and learn from them? How much leeway can you give for coaches at the very top to make mistakes and learn from them? And how key is confidence in selection ability? Ideally we would hope that everyone had the opportunity to learn from, and improve from, their mistakes, within their current role, but is it that in the very high profile, and very highly paid roles, the system cannot be quite so forgiving?

  • ABradshaw

    Some me nice coping strategies outlined on the article below:


    If given the time and support to be able to implement them ...

  • Ralph

    I’m not sure who said it but, “a successful coach is not one that doesn’t have his head on the chopping block but one that doesn’t get it chopped off, the job requires the head to be there on the block.”

    Just as, once an athlete reaches the top, everyone is looking to knock them off.

    You got the job because you were supposed to be good enough and experienced enough, if you fail, give the axman some silver, so he makes a clean cut.

    true, we may loose a great head coach but sport is about backing a winner.

  • Alasdairjon

    Interesting and brutal Ralph!

    Listening to an international Rugby coach earlier this summer, they were at pains to stress that while their paymasters were insistent on winning, and that would always be the goal - without development there will be no long term success.  Therefore they like to practice winning development, where the needs of the team come first by empowering the players to explore the whole spectrum of win/lose/draw in order to learn more deeply.  Therefore they contribute to the wins more often, and make better decisions.

    Perhaps the role of the 2nds, the youth teams, the Development squad is to both win and lose, while placing huge pressure on the 'big league' players to win.

    I suspect that as long as the performances, and the wins come within the pre-season parameters set by the club, country, governing body, then the coach will be fine.  However, should MDs & Owners not be at fault or at risk of losing their position if they over-estimate their squads abilities to start with?

  • Ralph

    Unfortunately Alistair, you right. I believe in fairness, I just don’t think it’s possible, (same with meritocracy, justice, perfection and idealism). Is it eventually possible? At least not with the way we run the planet and sport at the moment. You are right, it is brutal, once you remove my list above.

     Although I appreciate your spectrum; we learn to win from wining, and we learn how to lose from losing. Simply, losing doesn’t teach us how to win, losing only teaches us (but only if we are honest) we weren’t good enough on the day. The complexity comes with the question; Why we lost? Just as learning should be done off the pitch, in the post analysis. On the pitch should only be unconscious competence, if you’re conscious, you’re thinking, if you’re thinking, you’re not reacting, if you’re reacting you’re not proactive. If you’re thinking on the pitch, you’ve not been coached well enough.

    This is why I think the term, “Practice Winning development” is a joke and an oxymoron. Winning is doing, practice is rehearsal. Development is learning, winning is far more complex. In Tennis the LTA have this IMO, a moronic statement for juniors, “The road to Wimbledon”, as if there is only one road, they know for sure what it is and if you’re on this road you’re guaranteed success.

     I saw and was disappointed, with the same interview, those were the cards he was dealt. I suppose long term development should be for the developers.It is not often that you hear of a world-class referee such as Nigel Owens telling off 30 men as if they were school boys for having a fight as he did in a violent game between Leinster and the Parc y Scarlets. The reaction from the players? They all apologised, referred to him as “Sir” and didn’t answer back – you’d be hard pressed to imagine top footballers reacting the same way. I’ve not seen it so far in the Euro’s.

     National coaches are paid to set the best possible chance to win. Both Irelands and Wales FC really do believe they can be Euro champions, and quite rightly, are they likely to? Unlikely! But that shouldn’t make any difference. Any tournament you’re in by definition, is short term success or failure.

    As José Mourinho said, this is nothuge pressure on the 'big league' players to win, getting food for your staving children, is pressure.”

     One might say, being world champions means you inspire the next generation to come through, probably the worst red herring our Gov. Bodies buy, thinking it’s a fresh fish. I say red herring because they plough almost all resources to the elite and not us coaches, who run around the grass roots with very little help or appreciation. The irony is; elite athletes by definition, will always look after themselves, they don’t need the help, just a really good coach.

    I say irony because, any elite coach develops their own juniors ready for their elite team (Fergusson was the first, now they are all doing it, except our governing bodies).

     “Should MDs & Owners not be at fault or at risk of losing their position if they over-estimate their squads abilities to start with?”

    In a fair world, Yes.

     Non of the above is the real problem, the real problem is, as coaches, how, where and what do we coach our children to manage the brutality of adult competition? Yet NZ RFU solved the problem. The role of the NZ 2nds, the youth teams, the Development squad is not winning nor losing, they play for the “Shirt”, which means how can “I” make that position even stronger, winning is already expected.  Sadly, I doubt many coaches know what the word “whanau” means or even use it.


    “The idea is for values and life skills to be a constant aspect of a player’s experience. So a ten-year-old learns the necessity of respecting the opposition and taking responsibility to clean their boots after a game; a 14-year-old needs to learn to trust his or her teammate to be in position to receive a pass and to begin to develop a leadership role within the team – when to lead and when to stand back and follow. A 16-year-old, meanwhile, needs to realise the importance of being a positive a role model, both within the game as well as within his or her school, club or community.” Prof Graham Spacey


    I’d say Spacey thinks, there is no difference between child development and athletic development, and thinks we need to put ethics into sport?

  • Ralph

    Surely that England match proved everything I just said?

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