The most inspiring moment of my coaching career

It’s done. I am now at the end of an epic European tour that I have wanted to do since the middle of this year. It did not come about easily and took many sacrifices, but I can only describe this tour as one of the best decisions I have ever taken to advance myself both personally and as a coach. I decided to undertake a journey to find the answers that I have been seeking for some time, and I can only say that I have come away with what I was looking for and far more.

What is the biggest lesson that I have taken away from this tour? Confidence, both in my ability as a coach and as a person, confidence in what I am trying to achieve, and ultimately the confidence in knowing that there are other coaches like me in the world who are questioning what and how we are coaching.

Game sense, constraints approach, just letting players play, athlete centred, facilitating, problem solving, individuality and creativeness are foreign to many youth coaches in South Africa, simply because that is not our culture. I have discussed this before in previous articles (see I’m the coach! Don’t question me!), but saying there is a better way to coach without experiencing it and actually meeting coaches that believe in it and seeing it in action has been one of the most refreshing and inspiring moment of my coaching career thus far.

“…it’s been the most refreshing and inspiring moment of my coaching career…”

20131130_223029By the time I left Cape Town I had been told countless times that what I have been advocating on Twitter and in my articles is all wrong. I have been told that I think I know better and what the hell do I know – I am only in my twenties – I have no experience. These great pieces of advice come from people who pretty much all use the coach centred, dictatorial approach, where winning matters more than anything else in the world… and then wonder why their players are burnt out, quit Rugby after school (How many would drop out earlier if schools did not make it compulsory to play one major sport a term?) or lose their passion for the sport.

The fact that I base my tweets, articles, and coaching sessions on evidence and the experience of it working is seemingly ignored but I did ask the question “is what I am currently doing, the best for my players, or me and my ego?” a while ago which has led me to meet roughly 50 coaches in various sports from football, handball, Rugby League and Union doing similar things and thinking along the same lines, which has given me an unbreakable confidence that there IS a better way to coach! It’s working, albeit slowly, but there are coaches out there that are trying to be the best coach they can be for their players benefit – not for their own egotistical needs.

“I have been inspired by and has had a profound impact on me”

Literally everyone I have met during my travels has given me something to think about and has made me either a better person or better coach. The passion that every coach has for making themselves better for their players needs and not their own has been something I have been inspired by and has had a profound impact on me. The conversations I have had over the last two months have been so in-depth on various subjects; from psychology, skill acquisition, session designs, the meaning of sport in young players lives, catering to individuals needs and not the one size fits all, how coaches can impact players lives positively and negatively and ultimately how we can become better for our players benefit. The biggest thing that struck me was that we rarely if ever spoke about the tactical and technical aspects of the game. Why?


The biggest mistake many youth coaches make and something I believe is a huge problem in South Africa and possibly around the world too, is that we believe that the better we are technically and tactically, the better our teams will play, and the more wins we will achieve. This belief that the more technical knowledge we pour into our young players will make all the difference. It won’t. You are merely creating more proficient robots than thinking, creative, positive players.

“the biggest difference between teams is actually the environment we create for our players”

Once we realise that the biggest difference between teams is actually the environment we create for our players, the culture that is grown by the players themselves, the way we treat each individual player, will we begin to ask questions about how we coach our players and look for answers. Once you ask the question you will be on the right path and once on that path you will be on one fascinating journey that seemingly only creates new questions…

I cannot thank the numerous coaches that I have met during this tour enough, that have taken time out of their busy lives to meet up with me for coffee, fetch me/drop me off, accommodate me, give me tickets, allow me into their coaching worlds so that I could learn as much as I wanted. For this I am forever grateful; my only wish is that I was a good ambassador for Rugby coaches in South Africa and that I gave the best account of myself as I could. I sincerely wish everyone I have met, all the best in the future and hope that we continue to learn from each other, for I believe the coaches I have met are in their own way changing coaching from the old to the new. We are really in an exciting time of change in the coaching world and I cannot wait to see what the future holds!


Thank you to everyone below, you were all unbelievable to me during my time in Europe, 99% of you I had never met before and for the amount of generosity I have received I can only attribute to the power of Twitter and the common beliefs and passions that we all share.

•To Nick Levitt for inviting me to Fulham FC’s training ground to watch himself in action with the academy boys. Seeing game sense in action was an awesome experience!
•The FA Tesco Skills Academy guys, Matt Gale & Chris Abel, for allowing me to watch them for the day and the great conversations we had about coaching
•To Ben Penga for allowing me to coach with him at Harrow and then watching him coach at Wasps Academy & Teddington RFC. The points system has been a huge addition to my coaching!
•To Lee Cunningham for allowing me to watch him in action with the Burtonwood boys on one of the most fascinating training pitches I have ever seen!
•To Liam McCarthy of England Handball for meeting me and showing me around the Warrington Wolves stadium. Thoroughly enjoyed our chat!
•To Ben Black for accommodating me and introducing me to the Sedgley Tigers and Sale Sharks Academy coaches. Really impressed with the set up there!
•To Sale Sharks Academy coach, Dave Wilks, for allowing me to shadow him coaching the academy boys
•To Robbie George for meeting up with me in Manchester, tight schedule, but we made it work!
•To Martyn Rothwell for organising tickets to the Rugby League World Cup for myself and a friend, nice try – Union is still for me!
•To old friend, Craig Oliver for accommodating me and taking me to watch the Boks take on Scotland in Edinburgh
•To Anthony Brett for passing on spare tickets to the Bok game in Edinburgh, they helped hugely in making a great night become even better! Pity we did not get to chat for longer. One day I am sure!
•To Glasgow Warriors coach, Gregor Townsend, for allowing me to visit for the day and to Iain Monaghan for organising it. Great to chat to Gavin Vaughn too!
•To school mate, Eric Simpson, for accommodating me in Glasgow and for organising tickets to the Glasgow Warriors game and the Celtics game, however, did not work trying to turn me into a football fan!
•To Pete Arnott for taking me into the nether regions of Scotland to watch Graeme McDowall in action. Unbelievable experience! Thanks to Graeme for allowing me to come through, learnt loads… from golf! Go figure. It was also a great experience to have met Oliver Morton.
•To Derek O’Riordan for meeting me for coffee in Edinburgh. I really enjoyed chatting about Scottish Rugby!
•A massive thanks to FC Grenoble Director of Rugby, Fabrice Landreau for allowing me an all access Pass to the team and coaches before their clash vs Toulouse. An unbelievable experience that I shall never forget! I am firmly a Grenoble supporter now!
•An even more special thank you goes to Bernard Jackman for organising my week at FC Grenoble, I cannot thank you enough for your kindness and generosity and my only hope is that one day I can repay you in a similar fashion! I came away seeing more humility in a coach that I rarely see in youth coaches back in SA, let alone an ex-international and professional coach! I will take that lesson away for the rest of my life.
•Also thanks to FC Grenoble Skills coach, Mike Prendergast, for taking the time out to chat to me about skills. Really appreciated it!
•To Jamie Taylor for inviting me to Denstone College, an amazing facility and I have no doubt he is doing an amazing job there! Look forward to seeing you and your teams in Cape Town in 2015!
•To Mark Sheasby for the lunch and the fascinating chat about psychology, culture and luck
•To Jon Woodward for meeting me for coffee and for putting me in contact with the RFU, the cherry on top of my tour, finalising what I was looking for.
•To RFU Coaching Development Officer, Nick Scott, for meeting me in Leeds. A fascinating chat about the RFU youth development programmes. I took loads out of that chat!
•To RFU Head Elite Coaching Manager, Kevin Bowring, for taking the time out of your schedule to meet me in my favourite Rugby stadium in the world. The help you provided me and your ongoing support will benefit me hugely in my career!
•To Paignton RFC for inviting me to take their Colts for an attacking session using game sense, a great experience for me! Thanks to Steve Alexander for organising it.
•To Josh Bryan for meeting me to show me Nacsport and what it offers. We will be in contact soon!
•To Gloucester Prop, Shaun Knight, for organising me tickets to the Warriors game. It was great catching up with you again and watching you in action for the first time in a few years!
•To all the other coaches that I have met and may have missed out on, my apologies!
•Finally a HUGE thank you to my UK based family for putting up with me and letting me stay with you during my tour. It was a huge help having somewhere to crash after countless trains, buses and hotels!

Find & follow Ross

Ross is an enthusiastic coach keen on learning, debating and studying all about how we coach Rugby. He now owns a marketing agency called Inversion Agency servicing international brands worldwide.

Find him on Twitter @RossRugby or on LinkedIn

Also published on Medium.