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OPINION: @rugby365com columnist Eugene Eloff, a celebrated coach who has won two Junior World Cups, gives us his thoughts in the wake of Swys de Bruin’s decision to quit the Springboks.


I was inspired to write this article because of my own experience – watching Super Rugby and seeing the stress that the coaches are under, often chatting to my fellow coaches, good coaches that were fired after the 2015 World Cup.

Recently I experienced two young coaches going through turmoil – being high-strung and stressed, because of the pressures of the game.

It does not matter at what level you coach, there will always be the pressures on and off the field (from unions, clubs, schools, supporters, society, parents and what you put on yourself).

The only difference lies in the fact that the higher the level, the more pressure and the bigger the magnifying glass on the coach.

You are public property and always in the face of the media.

There are two well known in the sporting sayings regarding Coaches in the sporting world:


Ken Loeffler said: “There are only two kinds of coaches – those who have been fired, and those who will be fired.”
Lou Holtz said: “Coaching is nothing more than eliminating mistakes before you get fired.”

There is this perception out there that being a coach is all fun & high-flying, trophies, TV, magazines and being a hero in the media, girls, big houses, lots of fame and money … and the list carries on.

That is far from the truth.

It may appear to be so on the surface, but in reality, it is actually a very lonely life sometimes and all these material possessions and egotistical aspects mean absolutely nothing.


The one day you are a hero and the next day you are zero.

It does not matter what you have done, what you have achieved, how many trophies you have in the showcase or who you are.

You are only as good as your last game and that goes for coaches and players.

I actually want to focus on the head coach, because, as they say: “The buck stops there”.

He always feels the heat, but also sometimes get the glory.

When you decide to follow the pathway of a coach and pursue that career, be sure that you know and understand the pros and cons of the position.

I must reiterate that it is an amazing fulfilling job, but has its normal challenges.

However, if you love the game, the negatives are minor.

If you are there for other reasons, such as your ego, money etc. you are bound to bomb or burn out at some stage.

Often questions are asked: “How does it feel to be a well-known coach? Do you make a lot of money? How does it feel to be famous? Do you enjoy seeing your pictures in the papers and magazines? How does it feel to lift a trophy? Do you enjoy travelling and seeing the world? How do you cope with all the negative remarks and publicity? How does it feel to be so hated or loved by the supporters and media?

It is a tough job. However, the answer is simple: JUST LOVE THE GAME!!

Personally, I think being a coach is so much more and a huge responsibility. It is not just about winning on the field.

It’s about forming people for life, giving them tools and mechanisms, life skills, teaching and preparing them for the challenge after rugby.

And what better platform is there for that than the sports field.

Coaching is not a five-day-a-week job, it’s seven days a week.

If you are not on the field training, preparing for a game/season/competition, you are in the team/technical room or even at home analysing, evaluating, gathering information, thinking, planning and preparing.

So that is the tough behind the scenes part that not a lot of people are always aware of.

* Continue reading below the video …

In reality, a job description for a head coach could include the following aspects:

* Leader
* Organiser
* Manager
* Friend
* Counsellor
* Teacher
* Motivator
* Innovator
* Hero
* “Fall guy” – in front of the firing squad
* Decision maker
* Role model
* Planner
* Taxi driver

Well, that sounds simple and easy to fulfil, but it’s a tall order.

I guess many coaches can relate to some of these points and have already been part of such a process.

So what can a coach do to survive and overcome these pressures?

The secret lies in BALANCE!

You create your own environment, surroundings and happiness.

Remember, you can only control the controllables.

A few tips:

* Stay fit & healthy
* Be honest with integrity
* Stand for what you believe in
* Surround yourself with positive people
* Appoint the best assistant coaches and management
* Listen & be hungry to learn
* Maintain a sense of humour and laugh more
* Keep a good balance between work, fun and rest
* Get a mentor (soundboard)
* Invite conflict and turn it to positives
* Make time for your family/friends away from rugby
* Get hobbies that you enjoy
* Utilize your sports psychologist

How can you become a better coach?

Every coach has a specific personality and style.

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.

Earn respect with your behaviour, not with the position you are in.

A few guidelines:

1. Know your players and the support team (detail/background)
2. Detailed strategic & tactical planning (contingency)
3. Develop and use your coaching skills
4. Develop the art of good leadership
5. Know and understand your role & responsibility
6. Improve communication skills
7. Be yourself and believe in yourself (also be brutally honest with yourself)

In conclusion, I would like to inspire all coaches to live their dreams and change lives.

You actually learn more from losing, as bad as it sounds. It can have a positive outcome.

In addition, coaches must acknowledge that if they want to be called “coach”, you have to earn that right & title with the positives and negatives that are included in the package!

By Eugene Eloff

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