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Dublin: 3 °C Wednesday 11 December, 2019
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'You win one championship - let's win another, then let's win another'

World-renowned coaching consultant Wade Gilbert is a guest of the IRFU this week.

WHEN WADE GILBERT speaks about coaching and culture, his enthusiasm and passion for the subjects positively pour out of him.

The US native is a world-renowned performance consultant and coaching scientist who has worked with sports organisations like New Zealand Rugby, Cricket Australia, US Soccer and rugby league’s Melbourne Storm and South Sydney Rabbitohs.

A professor at the California State University, Gilbert is in Ireland this week as a guest of the IRFU, with his itinerary including visits to the four provinces, as well as a sit-down with Joe Schmidt and his Ireland coaching team.

Rob Kearney celebrates Jacob Stockdale's second try Gilbert is in Ireland as a guest of the IRFU. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Gilbert, whose book ‘Coaching Better Every Season’ has proved popular in the coaching world, was invited to Ireland by the IRFU’s head of coach development, Matthew Wilkie, an Australian who joined the union in 2016.

Gilbert was with Connacht and Munster on Monday and Tuesday, before presenting to a large group of IRFU rugby staff – coaches, S&C specialists and development officers – in Dublin yesterday.

His meeting with Schmidt yesterday afternoon would have made for riveting listening, while Gilbert also presented to schools and club coaches in DCU last night. Visits to Ulster and Leinster today and tomorrow will round-out a busy week in Ireland.

Gilbert’s presentation to the IRFU staff yesterday morning in Dublin was intriguing, as he explored the area of ‘Building a high-performing culture.’

Split into three sections – purpose & values, personal mastery, and complex settings – there were countless nuggets for the assembled coaches to take away.

One of the key messages from Gilbert’s presentation was the importance of a team/squad having absolute clarity around their ‘why’.

Gilbert spoke about “infecting” others around you with your purpose, and about having “contagious leaders” in the squad environment who transmit the values of the group and also watch out for “vaccines” who can threaten that purpose.

He discussed how high-performing teams and organisations are made up of individuals who have a self-driven need for continuous mastery, touching on Carol Dweck’s superb work in the area of ‘growth mindset,’ so popular with many rugby coaches.

The influential basketball coach John Wooden, who Gilbert was lucky enough to work with before his death in 2010, was referenced several times, while Gilbert also outlined the value of debriefing – critically reflecting on performance – in the pursuit of personal mastery. 

The final part of his presentation dived into the importance of building an environment that brings the best out of players/employees, with Gilbert outlining that “settings shape behaviours.”

The relationship between autonomy and structure was a key component of this, with Gilbert using examples from parenting before illustrating how some of the best sports coaches in the world allow their players freedom at times, but also provide strict guidelines at other times.

Gilbert’s presentation sparked many ideas and thoughts, exactly what Wilkie and the IRFU were hoping for.

The American’s interactions with the provinces and Schmidt were, of course, at a more focused level, and Gilbert is enjoying getting to know more about how Irish rugby functions. 

“In Connacht, I had the chance to meet with all staff, all coaches, sit in on team meetings, watch training sessions, and also with Munster – both head coaches and coaching staffs wanted more,” said Gilbert yesterday.

“They were very curious, lots of questions, they wanted to learn.

“Those two head coaches [Johann van Graan and Andy Friend] are in different stages of their careers and development, but both are very thirsty to learn and very open to learning. Even the players too, they were very curious.

Andy Friend Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“My interactions are quick, half an hour, 20 minutes, over lunch, but they’re taking notes, asking questions, can they follow-up, players saying, ‘You’ve got me thinking about this idea, can I call you?’

“For me, it’s encouraging to see that those two environments are like that because you can go anywhere in the world and see pretty similar training environments and the way people do things. It’s really how they approach their craft, their work.

“The fact that they’re really curious about learning here, really open to learning and asking questions, that is world-class. The results might not always show that but they’re at least acting like a world-class environment.”

One aspect of Gilbert’s thinking that proved popular at Connacht and Munster was around approaching every task during the training week with the same mindset that one would approach a game.

“I encourage coaches to think about having a winning mindset for every aspect of their environment,” said Gilbert.

“We invest all this energy and preparation in trying to win a game, but do you invest the same level of intensity and energy into trying to win a team meeting? To win a practice?

“So you don’t just run a meeting and run a practice and run a match. You’re trying to win a match, so you should be trying to win a practice, win a team meeting.

“People say, ‘This is how we run meetings, it’s always been done that way’ but did you really achieve anything? How do you prepare to win that meeting? How will you know you won that team meeting? We have those kinds of conversations.

Joe Schmidt acknowledges the fans Gilbert met Joe Schmidt on Wednesday. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Johann, in particular, was saying, ‘I’ve never thought of that,’ and taking notes. He had to run off to another meeting but I know he’s going to follow up.”

Having worked with other coaches like the All Blacks’ Steve Hansen and England’s Eddie Jones, Gilbert has found that rugby organisations tend to be good at finding and stressing their purpose, their ‘why.’

Anthony Seibold of Australian rugby league’s South Sydney Rabbitohs and the Melbourne Storm’s Craig Bellemy impressed him.

“They are learning organisations,” said Gilbert. “They have people with different titles, director of player development, or whatever it might be, but they have people on their staff who are coaching the coaches.

“Craig Bellamy [who has won the NRL four times] has someone at the Storm whose full-time job, or part of it, is to make sure that Craig is constantly learning new things.

“The best coaches, teachers, anyone in the world, you can never be comfortable where you’re at. There’s this quote from Carol Dweck, the ‘Growth Mindset’ author: ‘becoming is better than being.’

“You’re never done, you’re always an incomplete product. That’s important for the athletes to know too. You win one championship – let’s win another, then let’s win another. You’re never done and you’re never comfortable with your success.”  


Source: Heineken Rugby Weekly on The42/SoundCloud

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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