Win­ning 50 Test caps does not earn the right to top-flight job

Game must re­ward coaches putting in hard yards across var­i­ous en­vi­ron­ments, in­stead of turn­ing to elite ex-play­ers

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Rugby Union - Rus­sell Earn­shaw

Last week, An­drea Pirlo took charge of Ju­ven­tus, one of football’s most il­lus­tri­ous or­gan­i­sa­tions. His jour­ney to the top com­prised a glit­ter­ing play­ing ca­reer where he was coached by others, and then a few days of ac­tu­ally be­ing a coach, in charge of the club’s un­der-23 team.

Mean­while, at just 33, Ju­lian Nagels­mann has taken RB Leipzig to the semi-fi­nals of the Cham­pi­ons League. He has never played topflight football. He has coached since be­com­ing in­jured at just 20.

When you con­sider how close coach­ing and play­ing are, maybe think about sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween a pupil and a teacher or hav­ing an op­er­a­tion and be­ing a sur­geon.

Nu­mer­ous high-pro­file ex-play­ers have been cat­a­pulted into rugby coach­ing roles. Th­ese roles were never ad­ver­tised and had no ro­bust se­lec­tion process, no de­vel­op­ment plan and no pro­vi­sion of ap­pro­pri­ate stretch-and-sup­port for the suc­cess­ful can­di­date.

I have seen this be­fore. Dean Ryan told the Rugby Football Union coach­ing depart­ment that we needed to un­der­stand a for­mer Eng­land back row had “earned the right” to be a Pre­mier­ship coach be­cause of his 50 Test caps.

It is worth con­sid­er­ing the skills and be­hav­iours of great coaches. Ser­gio Lara-Ber­cial’s work on se­rial medal-win­ning coaches finds they tend to be com­mit­ted to get­ting bet­ter, of­ten driven by fear of not be­ing good enough. They sim­plify com­plex­ity and have un­wa­ver­ing high stan­dards. They put peo­ple first, are emo­tion­ally in­tel­li­gent, prac­tice shared lead­er­ship and are op­ti­mistic.

Ex-play­ers can be bliss­fully un­aware of their bi­ases and what they don’t know they don’t know

Coach­ing is a con­tact sport where we con­stantly bump into other hu­mans. You might do all of this as a for­mer in­ter­na­tional player. You def­i­nitely do not have to, though, and you cer­tainly have not “earned the right” any more than the many great coaches who have honed their craft in nu­mer­ous en­vi­ron­ments and through a mul­ti­tude of ex­pe­ri­ences.

Just ask Chris Boyd, an ex-phar­ma­cist turned Su­per Rugby-win­ning coach and now, in my opin­ion, the best coach-devel­oper in the Pre­mier­ship.

But what about those ex-play­ers who do get the golden ticket? Some choose to get bet­ter and are will­ing to open them­selves up to feed­back and pos­si­bil­ity. They might ac­knowl­edge their nag­ging im­poster syn­drome, re­al­is­ing coach­ing is very dif­fer­ent to play­ing, and feel frus­trated with the coach­ing they re­ceived as play­ers.

Other golden-ticket win­ners might re­main on chap­ter one, bliss­fully un­aware of their bi­ases and what they don’t know they don’t know.

How of­ten do they video them­selves coach­ing or in­vite ex­perts in with a crit­i­cal lens? They of­ten see them­selves as ex­pert fault-cor­rec­tors, be­com­ing ob­sessed with

“con­trol­lables” such as shape and struc­ture.

Th­ese con­trol­lable as­pects are eas­ier to “coach” than con­cepts such as lead­er­ship. I was once told by a Pre­mier­ship coach that lead­ers are born, not made, so there is no point coach­ing that any­way. I won­der how true that is.

The ap­point­ment by Har­lequins of Jor­dan Turner-Hall feels like a great ex­am­ple of a player-to-coach story done well. Chap­ter one started ear­lier than an­tic­i­pated with a ca­reerend­ing in­jury. When Quins ad­ver­tised the role, he was al­ready a few more chap­ters into his book with a va­ri­ety of ex­pe­ri­ences across schools, clubs and the Northamp­ton academy. Com­bined with his ex­pe­ri­ences as a player and as a cul­ture-car­rier from 2012, the Har­lequins academy po­si­tion is a great fit.

I could re­place Jor­dan’s story with those of Lee Black­ett, Matt Sher­ratt, Ryan Davis or Ian Peel. That is how a coach­ing jour­ney could look. That is how you might “earn the right” to a top-flight job.

Fast-track: Dean Ryan ad­vo­cated for­mer play­ers get­ting top jobs

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