Language changes over time and one of the new buzz words in the All Blacks coaching set-up is ‘alignment’.
Once upon a time if you had talked about alignment in rugby Dan Carter might have asked if you wanted him to stand flat or drop into the pocket. But in 2011 ‘alignment’ is about making sure the coaches, captain, leadership group and players are all headed in the same direction. If I am trying to sell my players an idea that they regard as a huge waste of time then they are not going to listen to me very well.
Back in the day it might have been possible to make them listen by taking a disciplinarian approach. When I started my teaching career back in 1973 Joe Karam, Sid Going and Grant Batty were All Blacks and kids tended to listen more to people in ‘authority’. But wielding the big stick just doesn’t work in the 21st century. You have to take the players with you. You need to give players ownership of a game plan. In the early part of the week, work on the clarity of the message. Make sure that everyone understands. Then, as the week progresses, move backwards a step so the players can move forwards.
Perhaps our most important job as a coach is to hand over responsibility. Maybe it always was. When I started teaching Carwyn James, still the only man to coach a winning team in New Zealand, was the man I looked up to. He still is to an extent and his book ‘The Lions Roar’ – or ‘The Lions Speak’ in the UK – is still my bible. James says at one point: “If you’ve got midfield players, who are you as a coach to tell them what moves they should try? Let them create for themselves. Then by all means have a look at it and say ‘Yes, that’s not bad, perhaps this way is better, do you think?’” Even then the great coaches empowered their players. As Carwyn might say: by all means give the players the tools, but let them sharpen them for themselves. An idea will only work if everyone buys into it.
That’s what I mean by alignment.