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Do you have to be a hard coach to be successful?

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While the RFU development department publish another survey to support the view that young players value many other things in their sport before they value winning, it’s clear that not all coaches have got that message.

However, no matter how competitive you are as a coach, I wonder whether you think you are a hard or soft coach? I don’t think you can be both.

A hard coach keeps to their principles. They expect high standards from their players and their players. The players will know exactly where they stand. 

A soft coach wants their players to love them. They will change their principles if they think the players aren’t happy. 

You might sense a fair amount of bias in what I’ve just said. From bitter experience, I know that the hard coach is more successful. I think you must make some tough decisions and perhaps frustrate some players if you want to make real progress in coaching. 

And I think it is possible to be hard coach where players enjoy their training. They enjoy because of certainty, clarity and purpose. You won’t please all the players, and on some days, perhaps very few. Yet, if they understand why you are both on the same journey, they will do.

We also must be clear on what we define as success. For me, it’s playing positive rugby which involves the whole team. I am also careful to define that success means we want to win games. 

Again, that needs to put into context. You can win a game by half time. At under 10s, you can then change the game and play a new one. Perhaps, mix up the team with the opposition or adjust the scoring opportunities. 

You can win a half. Or win a quarter. You might be down at half time, and you could score more points in the second half. You might change the criteria and do something measurably better in the second half.

The hard coach identifies, with clarity and purpose, what the next targets are. It’s not about trying your best. That’s a lovely, fluffy and meaningless expression. Instead, it says what are you going to do better and what are going to keep doing well.

If, at the end of that process, you don’t “win”, the hard coach sets out what wasn’t achieved, what was, and vitally, what happens next. The wrong impression would be to ladle any failure to achieve with criticism. That’s not what a hard coach does. They clearly state the facts.

The soft coach might try to sugar coat failure. We all know that most players see through that. There will always be positives. Be clear what they are. But don’t be afraid to state what could have been better.

The hard coach is allowed to smile. When they do, you know you’ve done well. That’s what success is all about.

If I was renowned as as tough coach, I also wanted to be a caring one

Pat Summitt, American women's college basketball head coach with the most career wins in college basketball history

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Comments (2)


I think a coach should be able to wear either hat when nexessary.

I recently started a new squad which has brought this question into focus for me.

Anyone that saw me coaching my old squad would think I was as soft as they come. There was a lot of fun and laughter which I was as much a part of as them.

Anyone watching my current group would probably think I was pretty tough. We’re getting there slowly, but they’re on a big learning curve at the moment and I need to be pretty firm with them.

The difference isn’t what has happened to me as a coach, it’s purely the circumstances in which I find myself. The new group aren’t used to structured training or putting themselves out of their comfort zone in terms of exploring the limits of their ability. Getting them to realise that a certain level of commitment is expected in return for the time and effort that I put in has proved challenging at times.

The old group were bought into the programme 100%. There weren’t any issues about them not wanting to do things or attendance. Obviously they had some sessions which they enjoyed less than others, but they accepted that they were a necessary part of the overall mix. If anyone stepped out of line, the group as a whole would pull them back in - I didn’t need to be a disciplinarian. In that context, I could afford to let there be a more playful environment, because the underlying commitment to the programme was always there. I think the best example is a few Halloweens ago - they decided to do a fancy dress session as they were going to be missing out on Halloween parties due to the clash with training - every single one of them made sure that they wore things in which they were capable of sprinting/hurdling in without any restriction - playful, but not compromising the importance of the training session.

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Great article. Completely agree with it. I think that as a coach you set the standards and direction of progress. The team get an input into that but then it's a "journey" towards that objective. You don't change the objective or the standards you might just have to work hard to get there.

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