The Coach

Clive Woodward (2002)

If you want to compete by playing and thinking differently, you must work with coaches who have a similar mentality.

A good coach opens your mind to new possibilities and plants the idea that to win against the best players in the world needs a whole armoury of playing tactics. Just like there are no rules in business there are no rules in sport. It is all right to question traditional thinking in others, who do things in certain ways because that’s the way they’ve always been done.

Good coaches don’t necessarily take credit for a lot of original thought, they crib and steal and plagiarise wherever necessary. But they know the essentials – if the players cheat in training, they’ll give less than their best in matches and in life in general. The first chance to win is usually the best chance, so the player had better make the most of it.


Thinking correctly –

  1. Make training fun and games enjoyable.
  2. Have your own style, do things differently and in your own way.
  3. Build success, build on your strengths when you win, learn from your mistakes when you lose.

Plan, organise –

  1. Commitment, do players have the same level as the coach?
  2. Help in key areas, can players organise their own mental and physical preparation?
  3. Support structures, can other club members and family etc. get involved?

Coach to the player’s individual style –

  1. Does the player know where he/she is going and how to get there?
  2. Does training suit the player’s developmental pattern.
  3. Is there a suitable level of competition and sparring (even if this means working abroad).

When you’re participating, your interest is to become actively involved in a sport or pastime and to enjoy being involved in the game. When you become serious about your game and about securing victories then you have elevated yourself beyond participation to a level of competition. It is only when you begin playing at an elite level compared to those around you, when you become obsessed with doing whatever it takes for victory, only then that you are operating in the realm of winning.


Too many people do things using conventional wisdom, ‘because that’s the way it’s always been done’. Inherited thinking is a curse. It’s the biggest impediment to thinking in any organisation. Before we do anything we have to change the way we think. Not just on court but off it too. We have to learn to think differently about every aspect of what we do. One of the toughest skills to teach any athlete is how to think.

There are two parts to this concept – lateral thinking or thinking differently and vertical thinking or thinking detail.


Hannibal won his wars by doing exactly the opposite to what his enemies thought and to what tradition had always dictated.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.

To create success, everyone’s nose must be pointing in the same direction.

As a player or coach I’ve never seen the benefit, when faced with a powerful opponent, of buying into the ‘mystique’ of their strengths and successes. To focus your attention on your opponent’s strengths leads either to revering or fearing them. You cannot spend enough time analysing your opponents but this needs to create respect and not fear – there is a huge difference. Equally important are your own strengths and addressing your own weaknesses and also finding areas that will set you apart from the opposition.

It’s not all about skills. It’s about attitude and the effect on other players in your squad. One wrong team player can sap the energy from the group.

We are so often let down by our performance under pressure and in our preparation. There seem to be a thousand things to distract us at any one time. We have to improve our efforts in preparation off the court before we can see any consistent improvements on it.

How do you want to be remembered? You are a National elite player. You must take the full responsibility that this honour brings to you. Nothing must be left to chance and absolutely no ‘if onlys’ or excuses are acceptable.


  1. Body language, self-control, handling the pressure.
  2. Identify opportunities.
  3. Decisiveness.
  4. Time management.
  5. Momentum.
  6. Work-rate.
  7. Stubbornness, never give in.
  8. Think correctly under pressure.


I learn from the past — but I dream of the future, for that is where I want to spend the rest of my life.

Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all time thing. You don’t win once in a while; you don’t do things right once in a while; you do things right all the time. Winning is a habit. So, unfortunately, is losing.

In professional sport where winning is the only thing that counts, you cannot compromise on anything you do.

Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them – a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have the skill and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill. Muhammad Ali.

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