Prior to his appearance at The Best You Great Minds Seminar on 28 February, former England Rugby Union coach Sir Clive Woodward – who is famous for bringing the Rugby World Cup home to England in 2003 – tells Bernardo Moya about his life, his attitude to coaching, and what makes a champion
For Sir Clive Woodward, the turning point in his life came when he went to Loughborough University. Before then, life had not been fun.
“School wasn’t very good to be honest. I went to this pretty tough boy’s boarding school called HMS Conway – a Merchant Navy boarding school. I was there from 13-18 and, you know, it was a pretty tough place to be honest.” He remembers it as a ”nasty place on Anglesey in the middle of nowhere, where they “played, rugby, rugby, ruby.”
At the time, Woodward wanted to be a footballer, but the school was really designed to produce merchant seamen. “I was never, ever going to go into the Merchant Navy because you don’t go into the Merchant Navy if you’re good at sport,” he says.
Neither strong academically nor in sports, for someone with the young Clive Woodward’s passion for football, it was the wrong place to be and he remembers running away from it on several occasions.
He did get his A levels there, and after a brief stint working in London and playing for the Harlequins Rugby Club things began to change. Partially on the strength of his performance with Harlequins, he got into Loughborough University. It was there he met the first great coach in his life, Jim Greenwood.
”He absolutely was the turning point for me in many ways,” Woodward beams. “Firstly, as a rugby player because it was just amazing to play in this team at Loughborough with a bunch of guys who were my age.
He was the best coach I’ve ever had, still is. He wrote a book, it’s probably the only rugby book I’ve read on coaching, called Total Rugby. I got to know him very, very well and he undoubtedly had the biggest influence on me as a person, definitely as a player.”
After Loughborough, Woodward went on to play for England, and eventually became the national team coach, famously bringing England to World Cup Victory in 2003 in one of the most dramatic finales to a rugby game ever seen.
So, how did he do it? What skills does a coach need? One thing Woodward is adamant about is the ability to continue to learn and “capture knowledge” so you can use it to your advantage. That’s why he has written a software programme called Capture, specifically to do the job.
“The moment you lose your real passion for study, for knowledge about your subjects then you had better do something else.”
He calls himself a “sponge” for the way
he absorbs so much around him.
And the people he coaches. Why does he look for in them?
“You’ve got to always, always be pushing the boundaries. You’ve got to always, always be trying to find new things, new ways of doing things,” he says.
Talking about The Best You Great Minds Seminar he’ll be delivering on 28 February, he says: “I have a saying, and I’ll say this at the conference: talent alone is not enough. Talent gets you into companies, into sports teams – but you’ve got to understand the people you’re competing with have also got talent.”
And beyond talent, which is the raw material the coach works with, what makes individuals great – what makes someone the best?
“I have four words. You’re either talented, a student, a warrior or a champion.”
Being talented alone doesn’t mean you’re going to be successful, he explains. Students enhance their talent by studying, learning and understanding knowledge. Above the student is the warrior, which is “someone who’s got the previous two things but can play under pressure”.
And for that final step, to become the champion at the top of the pyramid?
“A champion is someone who has got all those things and the ability to work hard,”
Woodward tells me.
He has attitude. “I like the word attitude, he says. “I like people with the right attitude but you’ve got to define what you mean by attitude and the attitude is all about hard work. So if you’ve got those three things on top of talent, you’ve got a chance of being successful.”
And what about the team-making process?
“If you’re leading a team, you’ve got to absolutely be very clear about how you are looking at people,” he explains.
“Everyone fits into one of those four areas. Very few are champions, to be honest. You’ve got to be very, very special to become a champion. Lots of people can get to a warrior status, but I’ve called very few people a champion.”
So, in building a winning team, one of the coach’s skills is to identify where each person fits on that pyramid.
To create a winning culture takes more.
“The most important thing about any winning culture is you have to get the buy-in from every single person in the team. By that I mean it’s got to be a two-way thing.”
Part of setting a culture is to agree the rules the culture operates in.
Woodward gives the example of punctuality as a discussion point. He asks his team to discuss what punctuality means and then discusses it with them. They all agree the rules together.
“Okay talking about having a winning culture and winning World Cups that’s fine,” he says. “Anyone can talk about it, but what does it actually mean? What actions can you put in a team of people or individuals and start to portray we’re really serious about this?
“We have hundreds and hundreds of things. We create team sheet rules. It can only become a team sheet rule if you’ve got 100 per cent agreement with the team.
Once you define what punctuality actually means, everyone’s got to sign up to it.
Then you as the leader, you’ve got to lead on it. You’ve got to absolutely make sure it’s adhered to. There’s no excuses then because if every member of the team has an input, one of them can’t say, ‘well actually I don’t like that’ or ‘that rule doesn’t fit with me’.”
Woodward is careful, however, not to say that agreed rules are all that makes a winning team.
“Culture’s important, but again you’ve got to not get too carried away with it. I think winning teams create their own culture just by, you’re up, you’re winning a lot of things. But you certainly can’t create a winning team just because you’ve got the right culture.”
The secret, then, is to get the combination and the order right. That’s what make a coach like Sir Clive Woodward.