There’s been nothing to shout about on the playing front for months but that hasn’t stopped a select band of players from nearing completion of a brand new coach development initiative undertaken by the Welsh Rugby Union.
Last September, in conjunction with the regions and the Welsh Rugby Players Association, a group of 10 players were hand-picked for the inaugural 12-month long Player to Coach programme overseen by WRU Performance Coach Manager Dan Clements.
Despite coronavirus causing mayhem world-wide, the players involved have put their heads down and concentrated on the job at hand so the players of today can work towards becoming the coaches of tomorrow.
There will be no customary celebrations with mortar boards thrown into the air on graduation day, but Ospreys quintet Justin Tipuric, Paul James, Bradley Davies, James Hook and Rob McCusker, Scarlets duo Leigh Halfpenny and Angus O’Brien along with Dragons’ Aaron Jarvis and Brok Harries and Cardiff Blues’ Dan Fish can reflect on becoming the first graduates of the course, gaining a UKCC Level 3 award in Coaching Rugby Union in the process.
“The new Welsh Rugby Union Player to Coach programme aims to support players who are looking to make the transition into coaching,” explains Clements. “We work on this by supporting the candidates through a structured programme of learning which focuses on all aspects of the coaching process, particularly the skills and knowledge required to flourish as a coach”.
“Having experienced a high performance environment and having an implicit understanding of the requirements needed to thrive in the professional game, this experience and knowledge will give potential new coaches a fantastic grounding in what it looks and feels like and all the associated pressures.
“Therefore, the aim of the new Player to Coach programme is to then assist with their development as a coach by focussing the content and delivery around the principles of the coaching process and how to apply these in context,” he added.
While continuing their playing careers, all candidates were expected to undertake workshops focused on specific aspects of coaching, while gaining insights in to alternative methods utilised in other sports. They were also provided with a mentoring service to assist with their progress.
At 29 years of age, Dan Fish may have been one of the younger members on the course (only O’Brien is younger), but the Blues full-back already boasts a strong coaching CV.
As well as assisting Cardiff and Vale College Director of Rugby Martyn Fowler in the WRU Colleges and Schools League for a number of years, he has also been coaching Glamorgan Wanderers in the Championship.
“About four or five years ago I was bit in limbo thinking about what was I going to do after rugby and the coach at Cardiff and Vale (Fowler) approached me and asked if I would be interested in trying to help him start a college team. I thought I’d give it a go and see if I would enjoy it and see if it is for me and I’ve enjoyed it ever since to be honest,” he says.
“I’ve signed a contract with the Blues as a player transitioning into coaching – I think my coaching role will be with the Blues Academy and then with Cardiff RFC. So if that is the case I won’t be able to do the college role as I won’t have enough time to do it all.”
Clements hasn’t been afraid to introduce thoughts from other sports within the programme with rugby league, basketball and UFC just some philosophies offering a new way of thinking for the candidates.
“This course gives a good insight into how you approach things,” says Fish. “We’re all different and people learn differently and at a different pace. In the past when I was coaching, I was thinking ‘was that right or wrong?’ With Dan on the course, we’ve been speaking about things and how everything evolves, there’s really no right or wrong answers – it’s what works for you.”
The course has aided Fish to re-evaluate his strengths and weaknesses, as a result he’s looking forward to being able to communicate his delivery with a renewed confidence. He’s also had to reassess what he thinks a good coach actually is.
Brisbane Broncos coach Anthony Seibold in particular, left an indelible mark on Fish during a recent session online.
“Before the course I thought a good coach is obviously someone who is going around winning all the medals but doing this course a couple of coaches stuck out in what they have said.
“I listened to Anthony Seibold in a webinar and I really enjoyed that. He spoke about basketball coach John Wooden and when you see how they approach their coaching – don’t think about what the individual can do for you but integrate with them in every-day life activity – that is the best way to get a player on your side as it shows you care about the players. Rather than think do this and do that and if you’re not doing that you are no good to me.”
Fish was impressed with one particular innovation at the Broncos. “On one of the mornings everyone from the ticket office to the players, have a big breakfast together – it’s just to get everyone to integrate, building a good club culture that should drive from within then and the players strive forward from that.”
When starting the course, Fish was hoping to glean as much information as possible from the other candidates as they themselves have played for some of the best coaches in world rugby.
“All the players on there [the course] have played the game at the highest level – some boys are already coaching academies and they’ve put up sessions they’ve done, we’re all doing pretty much the same stuff but in our own way. When you break it all down we’re all pretty similar but some boys are further on in their careers,” he says.
“I’ve been really happy with everything I’ve got from the course,” adds Fish. “I wouldn’t have thought last year I would be having all this information – moving forward this is going to help me when I go back into coaching, it will make me think more going into sessions. When I deliver sessions and speak to the players I sometimes just go and do it, this course has made me think about what I have learned so hopefully that thinking will help me progress.”
Even with the lockdown, the group haven’t rested on their laurels as Clements has kept them engaged as the programme has continued with webinars and on-line seminars.
“He’s kept us on our toes with things like quizzes for example. He gets us thinking all the time with various tasks so we can never switch off. And it’s not like two or three people over-ruling everyone else – everyone gets their point across. The way I see it or the way Leigh Halfpenny sees it might be different but it’s not I’m right and he’s wrong or vice versa.”
Fish praises the collaborative approach between the Welsh regions and the WRU along with the WRPA to get this programme off the round.
“Gareth Williams (ex-Wales 7s head coach) is my mentor and it’s good to know he is just an email or phone call away to guide me along the right path.
“Dan [Clements] and Babs (Gareth Williams) have given me the opportunity to do the course and obviously my region [the Blues] have given me the opportunity to use what I have learned on this course to go back and take it into my coaching role.
“It will be good to go back and put what I have learned into practise when I go back to the region – the college has been really good to me getting me on the coaching ladder, this is just another step – I want to help out with some of the younger boys in the academy and Cardiff RFC and hopefully one day be able to keep progressing up the ladder and coach full-time at the region,” he says.