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Sun Tzu's art of coaching warfare

RUGBY FROM THE BUNKERS: Former two-time Junior World Cup-winning coach and Director of Elite Sport Mentorship Eugene Eloff is back with another jim-dandy column for @rugby365com‘s readers.


I am pretty sure that most of us had to adapt and make changes to adhere to the regulations and laws during this multi-national lockdown.

This feels like ‘home arrest’, with the limitations on our movement.

Just imagine we were fitted with a device – like the ankle bracelets, or monitors, that criminals wear while under house arrest – that would inform the police when we left the premises!

Now you start to get the idea about the inhibitions when your freedom is taken away from you.

At the end, I will use the word LOCKDOWN as an acronym and give you some handy advice!

I remember when we had our final training camp for the Baby Boks at Brandvlei prison, before the tournament started.


(Continue reading below video … )

We would take the players to the youth prison, where some of them knew inmates from school.

This had a profound, lifelong impact on them. They still talk about the experience, how it humbled them and the value of the freedom of movement.


As already discussed in my previous article, this lockdown has had a huge influence on the whole rugby community – unions, clubs, coaches, players, referees, administrators, as well as supporters and spectators.

Most of the rugby players in the world were either in a competition or in a pre-season, building up physically in terms of strength and aerobic fitness, combined with high skill-sets. All this to ensure they are well equipped and prepared to peak at the right time in the competition.

With that in mind, here is a good planning quote for coaches: “Prepare a plan and then expect the unexpected. Then, be ready to change your plan.”

This lockdown was the unexpected and we must adapt, be creative and make the most of it.

Super Rugby was heading towards the halfway mark and teams were getting their form, momentum and mojo.

That has come to a HALT.


I remember reading Sun Tzu’s book The Art of War. He was the master of deception.

While there is no war, or deception, involved here, there is some relevance.

It’s about using this time well to prepare for the battles/games on the field – once sport gets the green light to resume.

Part of the Sun Tzu doctrine (can be used in coaching tactics)
* When the enemy thinks you are attacking, you must be retreating.
* When your enemy think you are retreating, you attack.
* When you enemy is superior, outsmart them.
* When your enemy is angry, irritate them.


We are in a retreating phase – time to regroup, reflect, re-plan and adapt to these circumstances. Don’t sit back. Prepare and be proactive.


* Get yourself in top shape psychical and mentally.
* Upskill your knowledge of the game, in all aspects.
* Research and read to see what is new and what are the tendencies.
* Connect with other coaches and share knowledge/ideas.
* Do online courses that can improve your skills of coaching/teaching/management.
* Start doing planning and contingency planning for the future.
* Take a clean break from the game and re-energise.


* Maintain you fitness levels. Improvise, use your surroundings and make it fun.
* Upskill yourself in the knowledge of the game in general.
* Spend time on technical analyses of your games.
* Research your position specifics (primary & secondary requirements).
* Play games to improve your visual skills, reaction speed and hand eye coordination.
* Improve your basic skills (challenge your friends).
* Recover from injuries through proper rehabilitation.
* Work on your leadership and communication skills.


* Maintain fitness levels.
* Reconfirm knowledge of the laws of the game & law changes.
* Look at matches and evaluate referees positioning and communication with players.
* Improve management and communication skills of the game.
* Connect and liaise with other international referees and exchange notes/ideas.
* Improve your technical knowledge and analysis of the game.


* Catch up online, or any sports channels that broadcast previous games and series.
* Join social media groups that interact regarding the game.
* Not a bad thing to get fit and have some fun.
* Connect with other rugby supporters coaches and players.

PS: Rugby would not be the same without you guys, the loyal supporters and spectators!

My personal message for all our readers:
L – LAUGH more
C – Stay CALM
O – OPEN minded
W – WILLING to help
N – NAIL this lockdown

In conclusion I would like to wish every family, individual, coach, rugby player, referee, administrator and supporter best luck for this lockdown time.

Don’t lose hope. Things will get better, although it might take some time.

Just make the BEST of it.

Soon we will be back on the fields and hopefully South African teams will dominate Super rugby and show the world why we are the World Champions!

By Eugene Eloff

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