Dave Wright, editor of the Player Development Project, posted an interview with Dane Coles from the New Zealand rugby team the All Blacks.
The two discuss his player development journey, focusing on the benefits of free play versus coach led training and the role of the coach and teammates in development.
How much of your development as a young player was coach led versus free play?
I was quite lucky really, my old man coached a fair bit and we had another good coach called Ray Hayward. There were elements of coaching, but they kept things pretty basic. Looking back, I think playing with so many of my good mates probably had a bigger influence on me than the coaches. It was mainly about going out and enjoying yourselves and playing with your friends, but my Dad and Ray were a pretty good coaching team. In my last year of school we managed to win division three and they guided us along the way; we had a fantastic team culture.
I’ve written about this topic a few times, but I think it bears repeating. Many successful athletes extol the importance of free play versus coach led training early in their development. Free play encourages love of the game, improves creativity and problem solving, and develops skills that will be valuable off the field as well.
Coles also acknowledges the important roles his peers played in his growth. If you read Legacy, a fascinating book about the All Blacks, you realize that rugby has a very player centered approach compared to many sports. That comes through in this interview as well.
I have been pretty lucky to play with some special players. When I began playing for the Hurricanes I was behind Andrew Hore who was a big influence on my work ethic and what it takes to be a professional. He was a pretty established All Black at the time and was someone I looked up to. I would always try and watch him, see how he did things and try and learn from him. From there I was also very lucky to spend a lot of time in the All Blacks with Keven Mealamu. It’s not until you get to spend time with those guys, just chew their ear off and watch how they do things that you realise the value of mentors. All of these things just help you learn and add value to your game.
Sometimes the most important thing a coach does is to allow the space for players to lead, model and learn from one another.
On a side note, I am a member of and purchase a subscription to the Player Development Project website. It’s a tremendous resource that I recommend to others. The site includes a members-only section which has video, research information, interviews, in-depth articles and a magazine. I am an affiliate so if you do join through this link I receive a small commission.