Nelson Mandela University coaches received an absorbing lesson about the Blitzboks rugby squad’s culture when they joined a webinar with head coach Neil Powell this week.
Arranged by Madibaz Sport, Powell’s presentation gave the inside story to coaches and managers at the varsity of how one of South Africa’s most successful sports teams is run.
Powell took over as head coach in 2013 and guided the national team to the IRB World Series titles in 2016/17 and 2017/18.
His talk centred around the need for a proper team culture, which he said was the hallmark of all successful sports teams.
“The big thing about having a team culture, though, is that it is never complete and there is always room for improvement,” said Powell. “It’s something you never stop working on.”
“The values that we feel are important cover family, integrity, humility, diversity, excellence and leadership.
“For example, family means we are a band of brothers ready to support each other on and off the field, while diversity is something we embrace in our bid to be the number one team in the world.
“The important issue is that it must be all-inclusive so everyone buys into the values. So when you discuss it, everyone who plays a role in the team must be involved.”
Powell added it was essential that the top management and senior players set an example to the rest of the squad.
“You can’t expect the 19-year-old in the squad to be on time for meetings if I, as head coach, am not on time.
“So the team culture applies to every individual and not just certain members of the squad.”
When he became a mentor Powell said he considered the importance of having a coaching philosophy.
“This is something you have that you stand for because in coaching you can easily lose your focus.
“In those circumstances you can then go back to that philosophy and remind yourself what you stand for and how everything started for you when you became a coach.”
He said a big part of their philosophy was to not only develop a better player, but also to create a better person.
“If I can make you a better player but not a better person, I have failed you as a coach and a mentor. It’s not just for us to develop the player but to develop the person off the field as well.”
New Madibaz rugby coach Andre Tredoux said there had been several aspects of Powell’s presentation that stood out for him.
“Among them was ensuring you train at a higher level than the competition to ensure players can handle the pressure of a match situation,” he said.
“Applying a good culture with common goals is paramount to building a successful student-athlete programme at Madibaz.”
Tennis coach Hennie de Klerk felt Powell provided an authentic outlook in the role of coaching, from which everyone could benefit.
“Neil Powell’s ego is well and truly in check and you appreciate how he places value on respect for others and sets the mindset that avoids mental friction within the group to create the cornerstone for success,” he said.