Northamptonshire Grammar School

The beginning of the ‘Coaching Journey’…

Northamptonshire Grammar School, Pitsford Hall
Northamptonshire Grammar School, Pitsford Hall

Starting back in 1999, whilst studying for my degree at Lougborough University, I began my ‘Coaching Journey’ at Northamptonshire Grammar School…a small independent school on the outskirts of Northampton in the village of Pitsford.

It was a great opportunity to put my first step on the coaching ladder in a profession that I have always dreamt of doing ever since I was 12 years old.

My vision for being a Director of Rugby began during my time as a pupil at the school…especially between 1991 and 1995…

John Olver: England International and Northampton Saints Captain
John Olver: England International, 1991 World Cup Runner-up and Northampton Saints Captain and former Harlequins Captain too

I will never forget the day when at the beginning of our first training session after the 1991 Rugby World Cup Final on the Monday after school…seeing “Sir” jogging out to train us…coming towards us in his Australian tracksuit…I will never forget that moment…as a young 12 year old rugby player it had a huge impact on me…having watched the game “live” on the previous Saturday.

You would call that moment the “Ignition”…

The other moments I will never forget as a young rugby player…was when I was a ball-boy at the Northampton Saints…again 12 years old…walking up and down the sideline…handing a ‘dry’ ball to “Sir” each time the Saints had a lineout…and handing a ‘wet’ ball to the opposition…after “Sir” giving me some advice…while watching “Sir” play in Courage League matches against the likes of Bath, Gloucester and Leicester Tigers in the early 1990s.

These moments too played a siginicant part in the “Ignition” of my flame of becoming a PE teacher and a Director of Rugby…

We were blessed at the school because not only did we have an England hooker coaching us…we also had a Northampton Saints fly-half…Barry Burgess. Both John and Barry were superb role models and it was their ability to inspire us and build relationships with us that really set them apart from the other teachers. With a year group of only 16 boys in the year above me…John and Barry helped create and produce a team that would reach the U15 Daily Mail Cup Quarter-final…losing narrowly to rugby giants QEGS Wakefield. A fantastic achievement for such a small school. They would also produce numerous boys who represented England at various Junior levels…played for the Northampton Saints Academy…and numerous professional players across 3 year groups…totallying around 60-70 boys. The fact that they were both classroom teachers as well really helped in this department I believe. Alongside being PE teachers, John was a Geography teacher and Barry a Mathematics teacher. Their ability to relate to us on our level was significant too…

In 1995 Barry left NGS to go and be the ‘Head of Rugby’ at Bedford School. In 1996 John left NGS to go and be the ‘Head of Rugby’ at Oundle School. Both Barry and John to this day, 2014, are still in these posts at their respective schools where they have created two excellent rugby environments and experiences…I am in regular contact with both of them whenever we bump into each other on the rugby circuit…

The 3rd significant moment during my time as a pupil at NGS was the life experience of touring South Africa in the summer of July 1995…even more so, so soon after the Rugby World Cup there…and so near to the recent collapse of the Apartheid Era in 1994…playing some very tough rugby, seeing so many different things and creating a lifelong friendship with the last hosts I stayed with just outside Stellenbosch, who I have been back to visit over half dozen times so far…

1995 1st XV Tour to South Africa
My 1995 1st XV Tour to South Africa

So the ‘Coaching Journey’ began by travelling down & up the M1 motorway between Loughborough and Northampton on a Monday and Wednesday afternoon…coaching a variety of age-groups during their Games lessons and after school Activity sessions. I continued the coaching role throughout the whole time during my 3 years studying at Loughborough University.

The hardest part initially was the age factor…more so for the players than myself…being so close in age to the players…especially when only a year earlier I was a Prefect to the older boys in the school. So the challenge was to ensure that there was the respectful ‘barrier’ between coach and player.

Me NGS

At the begining of September 2003 I was appointed the Head of Rugby at NGS…the 2nd year of my teaching career…after initially doing supply teaching in the Northampton area for the 1st year to give me more time to train ‘full-time’ to ensure I could be the best player I could be during my playing days at Bedford Blues. Again the main challenge at the beginning was having the respect of the 1st XV players…in particular the U6th. So learning how to deal with and manage the ‘difficult’ players came with experience…

Teaching in the classroom would play a significant part too…I believe…in getting to know that pupils outside of rugby. It helps to learn how to communicate with and manage people in my opinion.

2003 Rugby World Cup Winners
2003 Rugby World Cup Winners

The RWC victory in 2003…3 months into the new job…has had such a significant impact on my ‘Coaching Journey’. This would be the “Ignition” for my ‘Principles of Play’…alongside the “Greatest Tries of the 2003 RWC” DVD…the Wales v. New Zealand Group Match…and the England v. Wales Quarter-final. All 4 events led me to see the game of ‘Rugby Union’ in a different light…from a different perspective…helping me to work out the ‘Principles of Play’…in Attack and Defence…of the game of ‘Rugby Union’.

The man behind the Strategic Planning of England's 2003 RWC Victory...Sir Clive Woodward
The man behind the Strategic Planning of England’s 2003 RWC Victory…Sir Clive Woodward

Sir Clive Woodward would be a siginificant “Ignition” for my coaching at the beginning of my ‘Coaching Journey’. Reading his book ‘Winning!’ would play a big part in the way I would create and develop the Structure and Management of my ‘Philosophy’…and how I could apply his principles to my situations…

NGS Training

Being appointed ‘Head of Rugby’ at NGS was a great initiation to the leadership, management, organisation and processes that are required for the role of running a rugby programme. It was my first taste in dealing with catering, transport and auxillary staff and arranging fixtures with other schools…building a programme to meet the needs of the school and each year group independently of each other…and creating a plan for the long-term development of the players.

It also began my ‘sharing knowledge’ ability…with my colleague Rob Young…as we coached rugby to all the players and ran all the teams between us. It was important that we were both ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’…We would have regular discussions about ways we could continually improve what we were doing. I would also help Rob’s knowledge and understanding by showing ‘how to coach’ on a regular basis. Rob moved on to Epsom College after 2 years where he successfully coaches various age groups depending on the needs of the rugby environment there to this day.

N.G.S. 1st XV Squad 2004/05
N.G.S. 1st XV Squad 2004/05

The 2005 1st XV tour to Canada was another excellent learning experience. Taking over the organisation and management of a ‘major’ tour for 26 boys and 16 girls (Netball) at very short notice was a baptism of fire and basically put me in the deep end. However, with the support of my colleagues Rob Young and Lucy-Ann Chacksfield, we recoverd the project and the players had a great expereince for 2 weeks in Toronto, Canada.

Three valuable experiences came out of this tour:-

  1. ‘Planning and Preparation’: Making sure everything is correct and done well in advance;
  2. ‘Stash’: My first encounter with a kit manufacturer… (This would ‘ignite’ my relationship with Kukrisports);
  3. ‘Sponsorship’: Selling a ‘Vision and Experience’ to companies for the benefit of young boys and girls to have a ‘tour of a lifetime’.
1st XV Canada Tour 2005
1st XV Canada Tour 2005

The experiences I gained at Northamptonshire Grammar School paved the way for me to be in a position to apply for the Director of Rugby post at Denstone College…analyse what was the best way to ‘Move Rugby Forward’ at Denstone College…and subsequently implement those plans…with plenty of passion, enthusiasm, commitment and dedication…

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I can say that the way I coach now is very different to how I coached then, however, the key principles and ‘core’ structure of my coaching are still very similar. The key difference, through the knowledge and expereinces I have gained over the years, is the significant improvement in the way that I ’empower’ the players I coach. Other differences are the way I work on building relationships with the players…getting to know the person, not just the rugby player…the way I am more efficient in the ‘Coaching Process’ of a training session…and the way I use questioning to improve the players’ knowledge and understanding of ‘how to play’…plus the technical knowledge and understanding of each skill and facet of the game.

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