The All Blacks have a saying that is ingrained in their philosophy that Better People make Better All Blacks. With that in mind I am pushing to find ways to learn new things (not always sports related). As I wrote here and here the need to invest in yourself is crucial and if done correctly will stand to you as an analyst, coach and person. I caught up with Ross Munro Williams about his recent Euro Coaching Tour (2 months, covering 3 countries) and asked him what he got from the experience.
1) What made you decide to do the Euro Tour?
Ross; Living in Cape Town can at times be very sheltered, because we are so far from the rest of the world I sometimes find that we merely copy each other and seldom think outside of the box. Schools, clubs and professional sides are doing much of the same thing in terms of playing style, coaching style, physical preparation and analysis.
But my question has always been why are we coaching like this and is there not a better way to prepare our youth players so that our adult professional players benefit? My belief has been that our desire to win youth games has had a mostly negative impact on our players development as coaches have seemingly forgotten that coaching is about player development not solely the teams, and by extension, the coaches own win/loss record.
Win At All Costs – Is There A Better Way?
What I have yet to come across with many of the coaches I have met in Cape Town is their desire to find out how to coach players better, to explore the various ways of ensuring players are learning more not merely performing the game plan or the technical aspects better. Most coaches I have come across have a huge desire to learn more about the technical and tactical side of the game so that they can impart this knowledge onto their players for the sole purpose of winning more games.
Finding out (mainly through Twitter) that there are other coaches like me and entire organisations that asked the same questions many years ago had a real impact on me so I decided to see for myself how Europe was evolving their coaching methods from coach centred to athlete centred, drills to games, following orders to problem solving. Without a shadow of a doubt Europe are well ahead of South Africa in their coaching the coaches programmes and as a result I met so many coaches at all levels of the game that are actively trying to be better coaches for their players benefit not for their egos need to win more game
2) In total how long were you gone for and how many club/people visits did you git into that time?
Ross; I was gone for exactly 2 months, covering 3 countries: England, France & Scotland. I cannot put an exact figure on the amount of coaches I met as each person/organisation I went to had assistants or other age group coaches that were of similar mindsets, but I actively travelled to meet about 30 coaches and professionals involved in sport all over those 3 countries.
3) What was the main thing you got out of the whole trip?
Ross; Confidence. I have been advocating a different method of coaching than the one we actively do in Cape Town and South Africa as a whole, but have received many negative comments about my beliefs as it does not correlate to our culture where winning matters hugely, training to compete at youth level is accepted and the coach is the all knowing, dictatorial, don’t question me type guru.
I advocate a vastly different approach where winning should be a by product of a great culture and environment where the players individual development is the focus, the coach is a facilitator of learning where the players are active participants in their own learning. This is almost a complete opposite of what is the norm in coaching in South Africa so as a result the comments I receive on a daily basis have not been constructive, thus now that I have seen the ‘new’ approach being promoted, used and have actually seen it working in professional organisations has been a massive boost to my confidence levels as a coach as well as a person.
I believe once we can show that it works we will see a change in South Africa, but it will not be an easy road!
4) Was it expensive?
Ross; Massively expensive as the exchange rate is currently at around 17 South African Rand to 1 British Pound. I received no funding from anyone, I paid for this trip myself as I truly believed in what I was going to learn and experience and in hindsight it was one of the best decisions of my life. I have some serious sacrifices to make this year to make up for the trip but it was worth it!
5) How did you have so many contacts?
I liken Twitter to having a beer with someone, which are you more likely to accept – a random email from a stranger asking to meet up for a coffee or to shadow your organisation; or someone you follow, know what they are about from their tweets or have tweeted each other before? Its a no brainer. The people I emailed knew exactly who I was, what I believe and what I was wanting to gain from the meeting.
The more I tweeted about my trip, where I was, who I was meeting etc, the more offers I received to meet up. I actually had to extend my tour to fit everyone in and as it turned out I could not meet with another 5 or so coaches as I ran out of funds in the last week. Even when I returned to South Africa I received emails saying how sorry some coaches were that they did not realise I was in the country.
What is surprising is that I am merely a 20 something coach that has not done anything of note in my career, I am an amateur coach just like most of the coaches out there, but I happen to tweet my experiences and journey of learning and discovery. I suppose it just resonates with others out there who are going through the same journey, we are all helping each other develop by exchanging ideas and views.
I can categorically say that I would not be the coach I am today without twitter and the people that I follow. The amount of knowledge I have gained from people like Mark Upton, Lyn Kidman and Nick Levitt to name a few examples has changed my outlook on coaching as well as my life. It sounds strange that twitter can do that, but it just goes to show how powerful it is!
6) How did people respond to you asking to visit them?
Ross; Overwhelmingly positive!! Everyone went out of their way to meet me; I got fetched, dropped off, taken for coffee or meals and I got accommodated! I could not believe how supportive every single coach was, it was great to experience that as I will endeavour to always do the same thing no matter where I end up coaching.
The humility of the professional coaches was exemplary and went a long way to confirming how arrogant so many youth coaches are in South Africa, for if these guys at the top of their game can be so humble and accommodating why can’t everyone?
7) If I pushed you what was your favourite experience from the whole trip?
I think I had two, although the entire trip was amazing as was every single coach I met.
The first was shadowing Nick Levitt at Fulham FC’s training ground. Watching Nick in action confirmed everything I had read and believed up to that point. The way he stepped back and allowed the academy players to simply play was a great learning experience. My goal is to now get my coaching up to that level, although I see now that he is changing his methods… coaching, always changing! What was interesting from this experience was that Nick is a football coach, and I actually learnt more from the other sports than I did Rugby… goes to show how much you can learn from other sports!
The second was spending a week with FC Grenoble in France. I had the time of my life being with the coaches, the players and then being on the field for the warm up of their Top 14 clash against Toulouse. What struck me was how happy everyone was at the club, the way everyone greeted each other with a handshake and a “How are you?” – in French of course, was something that struck me. I have been with the Stormers set up in Cape Town a few times and never saw such an atmosphere. All the coaches were amazing to me, especially Bernard Jackman who organised my stay. He was hugely helpful and still is, by sharing his resources with me, being completely honest and open to everything that goes on in the club.
Both experiences have gone a long way in giving me an ideal to strive for.
8) Is it something you would consider doing again at some stage in the future?
Ross; Yes definitely!! I am looking at going to America either at the end of this year or next year. I love their sporting passion, but their sporting culture is very similar to South Africa’s so I would love to see how they do it. My aims are to also shadow as many basketball, NFL and Rugby coaches as possible, as well as just meet anyone who thinks outside the box and is trying to change the game in some way.
Another area I would love to find out more on is the baseball statistics that influence selection, ie Moneyball, to see how that has changed the game or not.
I love meeting different people and being inspired by thinkers and I believe America is somewhere that I can experience this!
9) If somebody wanted to organise one of these trips what advice would you give them?
Ross; Build a relationship with people online first, calling in cold was the hardest things I did on my trip, although the people I met through recommendations was hugely beneficial, they did not know who I was or what I was about. This meant we could not just get into the topics I wanted to discuss like I did with the other coaches as they did not know me at all. The difference between meeting a twitter follower and not was huge, but not without any benefit however, it just was not as easy.
I don’t think my tour would have gone as well as it did if I went with the wrong attitude, the amount of new people I got to meet from recommendations and the help I received hopefully goes to show I gave a good account of myself.
At the end of the day you are a guest in the country (although I am half English) and you have come there to see what they are doing, but you only get out what you want to, and if that is to learn you will, but often not in ways you expect. I learnt something from everyone, often it was not directly coaching orientated, one of the things I learnt from a youth Rugby League coach, Lee Cunningham, was how damn happy he was to be out there coaching his sons u12/13 side on a pitch made solely of sand, surrounded by horses and their droppings and poor lighting. That made me realise how ungrateful coaches in South Africa can be when they don’t get a full pitch to work with, the grass is not green or flat enough or the conditions are not perfect – yes that used to be me too!
Thanks to Ross for sharing his story, you can follow him on twitter here and I suggest you do.