Coach’s Corner – Allan D Miles – The Journey Of A Coach


Something that has inspired me to write this post is the different types of coaches that I have met during my coaching journey. I was fortunate to have had the opportunity of meeting a number of different coaches on a well-organised coaching course presented by the Investec International Rugby Academy of South Africa. They were brilliant at illustrating the differences between coaches by including a number of coaches in their program to address us on how each of them saw the game. John Mitchell, Nick Mallet, Ian McIntosh and Peter De Villiers were in their line-up. Something I enjoyed the most about this opportunity was seeing first-hand how different each coach was. Comparing the way Nick Mallet split his pack to the way Ian McIntosh did emphasise how you can do things differently. John Mitchell’s leadership style to Peter De Villiers was another interesting comparison. They have all had success, and yet they are so different. John Smit even suggests in his autobiography that if any other coach other than Peter De Villiers had taken over the Springboks they may not have been as successful. His coaching style suited the Springbok team at that time.


“I feel that a great coach is one that has a vision, sets a plan in place, has the right people in place to execute that plan and then accepts the responsibility if that plan is not carried out.” Mike Singletary


This got me thinking about how important it is to establish your own coaching style and to explore what works for you. To help illustrate this I am going to share some of my own experiences. This will include some of the mistakes that I have made along my path to becoming a better coach and a person.

I can recall once how upset I was with my players after they beat a team by 70 points. They did not stick to the game plan. I even punished them with a gruelling fitness session on the Monday following the match. I used to run a simple sequencing system. 1 – play the forwards off 9, 2 – play the forwards off 10, 3 – take it up the midfield and 4 – take it wide to the wing. Without fail, I used to shout the sequence at every set piece for example 3-1-4. I used to get frustrated when the team would not complete the sequence. I laugh now at how ignorant I was and realise how I have grown.

I used to be the type of coach that Jordan Fliegel refers to in his book Coaching Up! as a “Showboat coach”. This type of coach shouts and screams at his players during training and matches. He suggests that it is a form of defence mechanism in demonstrating to everyone present that the coach is never at fault but rather that the players are not listening. The “Coaching Up” model in his book has helped me in my journey as a coach. It has helped me realise how to get the best out of one's players. It has certainly made an impact on my coaching philosophy.

I had an interesting discussion with one of our current coaches that I am working with about the type of inside centre one would pick. What was evident is, a former backline player would usually pick an extra distributor and how a former forward would normally pick a big crash ball type of centre.

I once had a captain and centre that moved himself to fullback after halftime because he wanted to get the ball more often. In the player’s defence, I had picked a big loose forward at centre for the game (I can’t blame him for the decision now). My thoughts at the time were simply that this was unheard of; no one could do such a thing in my team. That player, unfortunately, lost the captaincy for his actions. I mean if a Springbok just went and did that they would never wear the jersey again. A different coach may have had a different opinion. I certainly would have dealt with the situation differently today.

What has changed? Coaching drills and knowledge is readily available now on the internet. The coach is no longer the source of all knowledge. You will be surprised at how much your players already know. The question, of course, is how comfortable are we with that? Many coaches aren’t willing to adapt and change their coaching styles. This is probably the biggest challenge and not only in coaching but also in the classroom. We need to move away from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.


“There are many different approaches to coaching, but I have a very simple motto; coach from the heart and, above anything else, care for your players and the people in the sporting environment where you function.” Eugene Eloff


Types of coaches

The most common terms used when categorising different coaching styles are either Coach centric or Player centred.

Autocratic coaching is often the easier choice of style for the coach, as it simply transfers information. The limitation of autocratic coaching is the limitations of the coach’s knowledge.

Democratic coaching provides a more permanent learning environment for both the player and the coach. If the coach fails to utilise the knowledge or imagination of the whole group, little in the way of new ideas will surface. To benefit from a democratic approach, it is vital that the coach can facilitate and summarise all contributions and maintain an authority in order to guide and develop the players. Scottish Rugby Union.

The type of person you are, plays an important role in the coaching style that you would adopt. Don’t try and be someone you aren’t. A lot of younger coaches get caught up trying to emulate someone else. This will cause a delay in their coaching journey of becoming the best coach that they can be. Both styles can be equally as successful.

Leadership styles differ from coach to coach. The ultimate coach should strive to become a balance of them all. Don Yaeger in his book Great Team suggests the importance of being able to adjust. He refers to the following leadership styles: Relational; Charismatic; Expert and Command. Different stages and situations will require one to use different approaches. A younger coach will struggle to have the experience of knowing when to use what style. This is something that will only develop over time.

I maintain that good people become good coaches. The relationship that we develop with our players needs to be genuine. I admire a good friend and coach Andrewe Hayidakis for the contact that he still has with so many of his past players, even those who have become Springboks. They still see him as a father figure and confide in him. That illustrates the special bond that a coach needs to develop with his players. It is something that is not easy to be established.


“A coach is someone who tells you what you don’t want to hear, who has you see what you don’t want to see so you can be who you’ve always known you could be.” Tom Landry


Coaching journey

Developing your own coaching philosophy is important. I can recall being challenged by Tony Gilbert (former All Blacks assistant coach) during a coaching course run by the International Rugby Academy of New Zealandon what my coaching philosophy was? This is a difficult question for a young coach at the beginning of their coaching journey. It is hard to know exactly what you are about, especially when you are in the first stage of your coaching journey. You need to have time to learn more about yourself and to work out what your strengths and weaknesses are. These things will impact on your coaching style and philosophy. One needs to know themselves better before they can reach their full competency as a coach.

Eddie Jones relates a bit of his journey and experiences as a coach in an interview with Paul Hipwell. His coaching career demonstrates how one needs to be patient in that journey. He was a teacher for 10 years and during this period he got promoted to deputy principal. He was later elevated into acting principal at his school. His coaching career only began in Japan at University level. Jones was quoted “I had 100 students, and the team wasn’t good, but it was the best learning experience of my life.”

Young coaches often feel that they are not coaching at the level that they should be. The best thing for a young coach is to have the opportunity to coach at a lower level. This will teach them the love of the game. Being involved with the coaching of players who just play for enjoyment will give a coach a good grounding. I believe that every coach needs to experience what it is like to coach at this level. It makes you appreciate the game even more and allows you to develop a better perspective and understanding of what coaching is about.

I have attempted to break up the journey of a coach into four Stages. I don’t think one can put a timeline to the length of each Stage. I have come across younger coaches who are already at Stage 3 and older coaches who are still stuck in the lower Stages of growth. The Stages could become quite personal. I feel that I have only just entered Stage 2.


Stage 1: Development

  • Arrogant
  • You think you know it all
  • Inclined to utilise an autocratic coaching style
  • Impatient and believe that you should be coaching at higher level
  • You try and keep all the attention on yourself e.g. grow your hair long or grow a beard etc.
  • Immature and lack experience
  • Insecure and don’t accept advise easily
  • Experimental stage
  • No clear coaching philosophy
  • You think you are at Stage 4 already

Stage 2: Growth

  • Realisation of how much you still need to learn
  • Can only enter this stage when you can admit that you still need to learn more
  • You’ve had time to work out what works for you
  • You are able to develop your own coaching philosophy
  • Start to explore other coaching and leadership styles i.e. autocratic vs. democratic etc.

Stage 3: Competency

  • Not threatened by getting outside expertise and help
  • You know what you want and how to achieve it
  • Realistic in your approach
  • Can utilize both autocratic and democratic styles freely

Stage 4: Maturation

  • Knowledge
  • Experience
  • Perspective
  • Realise that it is more about relationships and trust than knowledge
  • Know what you want and couldn’t care what anyone else thinks


“You never stop learning. And the fact is that if you think you’ve stopped learning, your career is almost finished.” Eddie Jones   


Player to coach transition

Why do so many past players get given the chance to coach at a high level with such little coaching experience? Experience of being coached at that level has allowed them to grow. They know what it takes as a player to succeed and they know what type of environment is required. Their exposure to different coaching styles as a player has a massive impact on their development into becoming a better coach themselves. They will often mimic certain of their favourite coaches for a period before they find their own coaching philosophy.

In my opinion it is far easier to make the transition from a past player into a coach at a top level when one has played at that level. It is a much harder journey for a coach who has never played at the level that he is coaching at to reach their full competency.


“A good coach will make his players see what they can be rather than what they are.”      Ara Parseghian



I have been so fortunate to have had contact with many different coaches during my coaching journey. The following coaches: Jake White, Hans Coetzee, Brent Janse Van Rensberg and Kevin Taylor have all made a significant impact on the way I see the game today. They all possess something that every coach aspires for which I refer to as the X-factor (something special in them that get their players to believe in them). I have come to the realisation in my journey that it is not about how much you know, but rather all about how you get your team believing in each other and how this is communicated. ‘Leave them and let them play’ is something Taylor used to always say. He is one of the most successful schoolboy coaches at the moment (definitely in the Eastern Cape).

This X-factor can be put down to the relationships that they build with their players. It is definitely a relationship which has trust at its cornerstone. I will always admire how Taylor commits to his selections for a season and seldom makes changes unless forced to because of injury. This creates even further trust and belief amongst his players. The foundation of any good team is based on the relationships and trust that is developed between the coach and his players. It takes time to master this and we should be striving as coaches to get better at this all the time.


“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”             John Wooden   


Perturbation effect

Let’s be honest no matter what level you are coaching at there will be an element of pressure. There is a saying that goes ‘there are two types of coaches, those who have just been hired or those who have just been fired’. Stay true to yourself and never lose focus on why you are doing what you do. Less experienced coaches can really get caught up in this perturbation effect. The tendency of a coach who gets into this situation is to shut everyone else out and to not ask for help. They feel as if they need to do more themselves. Paranoia sets in and they perceive everyone around them as wishing them to fail. I am speaking from experience. A couple of seasons ago I went through a difficult point in my life and I got trapped in this mental state. This is a difficult situation to get out of and can become a downward spiral. I believe that if the right relationships are developed at the beginning of a season between all parties involved that this situation can be avoided.

There are going to be good and bad results during our coaching journey. As we mature as coaches we will be better prepared to deal with these situations. Often results in a schoolboy environment where I am currently involved can be cyclical. As coaches we need to come to terms with this.


“If you think you hot, you not!” Kevin Taylor



Every season is a chance for us to grow in our coaching journey. What worked or didn’t work for us in the previous season can be rectified. As long as we keep growing and remain open to learning we will get better each year. We must not be impatient in the pursuit of our goals. Each season allows us to get better and gain more experience. This experience will allow us to make the right decisions. I trust that this post on The Journey of a Coach has encouraged you to get to know yourselves better and to explore new coaching and leadership styles. I wish you all the best for the season that lies ahead.

Article by: Alan D. Miles (Head of Rugby and 1stXV Coach At Grey High School)



Types of coaches you come across whilst playing rugby.

The lonely life of a rugby coach. Eugene Eloff (2016).

Coaching Styles. World Rugby.

 Five stages to coaching: Going from beginner to the best coach you can be.

 Mental toughness can be taught. Global manager. Paul Hipwell (August 2016).

Fliegel, Jordan and Kathleen Landis Lancaster. Coaching Up! Inspiring Peak Performance When It Matters Most. New Jersey: Wiley and Sons, 2016.

Yaeger, Don. Great Teams 16 Things High-Performing Organizations Do Differently. Nashville, Tennesse: W Plublishers, 2016.