People ask me what is the most important lesson I have learned as a coach. After a World Cup win, 143 test matches and 37 consecutive years in charge of a team, you would hope that I have an answer by now. I do.
It doesn’t matter if it’s the under-14 third team or the All Blacks, you have to be able to handle the hard times. I’ve had 103 games in charge of New Zealand, but it’s the 15 we lost, those are the ones I remember. I hate them with a passion.
But the losses are the games that make you stronger and give you clarity. You have to be able to handle defeat. You have to be able to focus when it seems like there is chaos all around. It’s about the ability to control your environment. I could not handle the losses if I did not feel totally prepared for the next match and good in my own skin. If I’m not exercising enough or eating too much or have a hangover, I would be hopeless. Get to know yourself.
Most of us coaches need to stay fit and healthy to do our best work. There is an All Blacks management group that goes to the gym pretty regularly. Mike Cron, the New Zealand scrum coach, is in charge. We call him coach. When I am at home I walk the 7km to Mission bay and back with Raewyn. If I didn’t exercise, I couldn’t do the job. You need to be fit as a coach because you need total clarity. The team needs clarity.
I may have come up with a menu as long as this table when planning for a game, but you need to cut it down. Otherwise the players can’t handle it. Rugby is about making good decisions under extreme pressure. The players can’t do their job if they have too many things running around in their heads.
Our job as coaches is to keep it as simple as possible. We have a couple of sessions with the All Blacks every week when we work on clarity. At the World Cup we have done indoor gym sessions where the team is just walking through a few things.
The players have to take ownership of the team. I’m just a resource. That’s the thing I’m most proud about with this All Black World Cup winning team. The players are in charge of their own environment.
It’s their team, led by Richie.