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Playing politics or maintaining integrity

THE LAW OF CHOICES AND DECISIONS: @rugby365 columnist and two-time World Rugby Junior Championship winner Eugene Eloff gives some sage advice to young players and coaches.


Eloff, also the Chief Executive Officer of Elite Sport Mentorship, explains why ‘honesty, integrity and authenticity’ are key aspects of his philosophy.

Every person is sometimes confronted with a difficult situation and have to make good, informed and calculated decisions.

This is also relevant to the sports industry, where many coaches and players made great decisions with a positive outcome.

Those who made the wrong decisions subsequently saw the major impact it had on their careers.

I am writing this article to inspire young players and coaches to do their homework.

They must use people they trust in the industry as a ‘soundboard’ and have a mentor to advise you with sound information – to avoid making wrong, emotional or political decisions.


I made some wrong choices that had a major influence on my career.

I also understand why I made those decisions, because that’s who I am and what I stand for.

On coaching seminars and lectures I often give for the honours students at Stellenbosch University, I spend time on a coaching philosophy which includes subjects like honesty, integrity, authenticity.

I talk about the old saying: ‘If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.’


Before I begin with my story, let’s look at some theories around the word choice/decision:
* Courageously helping one in choosing evolvement
* Decisions or choices should be made out of free will
* Every choice or decision has a consequences
* It requires will, courage, self-respect, honour

You become the choices you make.

(Continue reading below … )

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I can honestly look back onto my coaching life with pride and take it on the chin for possible wrong choices I made, for various reasons, but it was mostly out of loyalty.

It’s also important to know that unfaltering loyalty might also play a part in bad decisions and might come back and haunt you.

However, regardless of the decisions I made, life went on and I never had regrets.

I started coaching in 1988 at schools and varsity levels and loved every moment of it.

My professional career kicked off in 1998 at the Lions.

After three successful years with the Lions Under-21 and Vodacom Cup teams, with a few players becoming Springboks and lifting a few national trophies, I was confronted with my first big decision.

Andre Markgraaff was involved with the Potchefstroom University (Pukke) and Leopards.

He was building a great franchise there, with minimum resources and lots of potential for the future.

Andre gave ma a call and I drove to Potchefstroom to see him, where he offered me the head coaching job of the Leopards team.

I was so humbled to be approached by him and asked him to give me time to think about it.

My decision was not based on financial gain or any other reason, but purely due to my loyalty to the Lions and dreams of one day coaching the senior side.

I declined the Leopards offer.

Then I was fortunate enough to coach the Junior Springboks for a few years – with wonderful results.

My dream came true in 2006, when I was appointed as the Lions senior team’s head coach.

We had a low budget and limited resources compared to the Bulls, Sharks and Western Province.

However, that did not scare me.

I was ready to climb this mountain.

Playing politics or maintaining integrity

We had mixed results in the 2006/2007 Super 14 and Currie Cup. We knocked over a few big teams for the first time – such as Crusaders, Hurricanes, Chiefs, Highlanders, Reds, Brumbies, Western Force.

However, we battled against the Blues, Waratahs and the SA teams – with the exception of the Cheetahs, who was also on a low budget.

We were building and growing into a handy team, with a free-flowing, running style of play.

In 2007 Pieter de Villiers was appointed Springbok coach and he approached me to be his assistant coach and take responsibility for the backline.

This was such a big opportunity and I felt so honoured.

However, the same pattern followed. I asked him to give me a few days to think about it.

I guess any coach would have said yes, immediately.

As mentioned before, we were just turning the corner at the Lions and I wanted to see my term through and make a success.

I never realised my loyalty would come back to bite me.

I asked my good friend and person who I trusted in the industry, Rian Oberholzer, what I should do. Without hesitation, he told me to take it.

Off course I followed my own head and made a huge mistake, declining it.

Pieter the approached Dick Muir, who accepted it.

Such is life, the law of choices?

I was sitting with a brilliant masterminded friend, Oom Francois Maritz (who sadly passed away a few years after that), one evening in Houtbay, sipping away on a glass of good red wine.

He told me I was a great coach, I managed players well, I had a good relationship with the media, I was on the brink of great things to come.

He was complimenting me so much, I felt I was walking on clouds.

Then, in the same conversation, came the reality check.

He pointed at me he said that I won’t make it if I can’t play politics. He was 100 percent correct.

I could not and today I actually understand what he meant.

Fortunately, after that stint at the Lions, I had a great time at Boland – winning the First Division in 2011 and in Austin Texas winning the USA National Championship with the Austin Huns in 2016.

I guess I can say I have the T-shirt.

So this article is really just aimed to help young coaches and players to make the best, calculated decisions and choices in their circumstances.

Playing politics or maintaining integrity

Guidelines for Choices & Decisions

Start by appointing, or having, a mentor or selected person in the industry you can trust.

You can have a few people you can sound out about your situation and ask for advice on your decision.

Don’t make emotional decisions and don’t bank on loyalty to take you further. Be loyal towards yourself, first and foremost.

Keep your integrity at all costs.

Have a process that you follow in your decision-making and choices:
1. Identify the problem or issue you have to solve or get a answer for it
2. Gather as much information as possible
3. Identify possible alternatives
4. Weigh the info or evidence. Do a SWOT
5. Take action, make the decision, accept it and back yourself in it
6. Review your decision

After a few less-informed lousy decisions I made, I still had a wonderful coaching career and seldom think back and ruminate about the wrong decisions I made and what other pathway my rugby coaching career would have gone, should I have made better choices.

I don’t regret doing it for my reasons.

However, you should never be penny wise and pound foolish.

“The future is scary, but you can’t run back to the past because its familiar. Yes its tempting, but, it’s a mistake.”

By Eugene Eloff

Other columns by Loffie

Hold your horses: This ain’t rugby
Where have all the players & silverware gone?
Sun Tzu’s Art of coaching warfare
The lonely life of a coach
Evolve or become extinct
Loffie Eloff’s lockdown message

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