Coaching nirvana

As explained by former Bok coach Jake White, professional coaching is no cakewalk. The AOR team put on their thinking caps to come up with an ideal structure to support the head coach.

Tank Lanning
Perhaps even more important than the team reporting into the head coach, is the person into whom the coach reports, this as the layer between him/herself and the suits. Conventionally known as a Director of Rugby, I prefer the term High Performance Manager – the person managing all things player related outside of white lines.

Between the white lines, in today’s era of specialist coaches, the coaching mix can be as eclectic as the coach is comfortable with, but in reality, it is going to be hugely influenced by the budget.

And while not wanting to be surrounded by “Yes-Men”, lest one becoming a bit too happy in one’s own skin, the coaching unit needs not only to be aligned, but aggressively driving a single locomotive down an agreed upon single track.

As such, I would keep the group of permanent assistant coaches fairly tight, limiting it to three. One overseeing the attack as a primary job, while also mentoring the backs. One overseeing the defence, so fundamental to the modern game. And one knuckle dragging, cauliflower-eared block of granite taking charge of the engine room.

With the head coach these days being a bit like the conductor of an orchestra, this structure would allow him to take more of a helicopter view. He and his assistants would then contract specialist coaches as needed, and then also be freed up to take a fundamental interest in team culture and “Gees”, the thread not only keeping things together, but to my mind, something that has the ability to be a key differentiator.

High Performance Manager
Head coach
Assistant coach: Attack/Backs
Assistant coach: Defence
Assistant coach: Forwards
Specialist consultants: Analyst, Breakdown, Kicking and kick strategy, Contact, Scrum, Lineout
Support Staff: Manager, Dietitian, Physio, Doctor, Media

Zelím Nel
The ‘director of rugby’ title suggests the person in it should be directing rugby. That’s not ideal for a head coach who is responsible for wins and losses.

Ideally, the head coach is appointed by a General Manager that bought into his vision and who believes he’s capable of delivering on that vision.

The team executive or board only engage with the GM on rugby-related matters; the GM filters and relays what is necessary to the head coach.

Nobody in the organisation should work more closely together than the GM and head coach (HC), with the former acting in a support role to help realise the HC’s objectives, specifically working within the budget to take executive action on all financial matters, such as recruitment and contracting.

The GM doesn’t independently sign players and then offload them on the coach, instead the two discuss team needs based on the contracting timeline, talent availability and team-specific performance goals and formulate a hotlist of positions and related players to target.

That’s where the analytics department comes into play. The head of data reports on players (own and other) that have been identified and tracked over a time period based on metrics as they relate to position-specific attributes/performance and compare that output against contract value to measure the net value of a player to the team.

The media manager works with the HC but report to the GM.

The Attack and Defence coaches are the HC’s two chief assistants. The defence coach is responsible for all facets of play from the 0-50m line while the attack coach is responsible for everything from 50-100.

These two coaches pool specialist coaches, including a set piece coach, breakdown coach, kicking coach and skills coach – all of whom report to the HC. The set piece coach is assisted by a specialist scrum coach and specialist lineout coach.

The head of data also reports to the HC with performance-related insights on the team, the competition, opponents and global trends.

The HC also oversees the team doctor (head of the department that manages and reports injuries and return to play) and strength coach (responsible for achieving strength and conditioning targets). Both of these coaches share a rehab and prehab coach.

You’ve read what they think, now let us know where you stand in The Big Debate!

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  • Barry

    The biggest issue overlooked in both posts are the roles of the Sports Science Dpt and that of strategist. The day to day coaching structures in professional rugby are pretty much a given necessity though tweaks and variances will be applied differently from team to team!

    Probably one of the biggest features in the ongoing success of Razor and his Crusaders and for that matter Blackadder before him is the importance they pay to the value of their sports Scientists! A surprise to some would be the fact that a Stellies graduate sits in the midst!

    On the question of strategy – probably the biggest missing components from our structures. We hire based on passed on-field experience but never consider nor measure the strategic capabilities of coaches. How many of our solid rugby men have come up short in this department, being totally out thought by the opposition. Consider Heineke Meyer Vs Eddie Jones at the last world cup. Or perhaps wonder how it is that Wales can reach such lofty heights with such limited resources!

    We often refer to White Mallet and I would add Erasmus as a cut above the rest- it is their strategic ability that sets them apart!

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