Losing season gave coach insight to change focus

A losing season proved a pivotal moment in the coaching career of Jamie Joseph.

It was one of the key discussion points from the Japan national rugby team coach at a pre-recorded interview, to be played on Friday at a Connecting Coaches Conference.

Joseph will be a keynote speaker at the conference, hosted by the Otago Academy of Sport, which features 24 speakers via Zoom during Friday and Saturday.

After successes with Wellington and the Maori All Blacks, Joseph moved to the Highlanders in 2011.

Two mid-table performances marked vast improvements from the previous seasons for the franchise.

In 2013 the Highlanders assembled a star team.

Expectations rose, but they managed just three wins from 16 matches.

But for Joseph, accepting what had happened and taking responsibility had allowed him to adapt.

One key from the feedback he received was the players saw him as a formidable coach and one they did not feel comfortable communicating with.

He said while his successes in early seasons may have covered that up, the losing season forced him to accept and address that.

Creating an environment in which players were more comfortable expressing themselves became a focus.

Giving everyone clarity around their roles in the team became important.

He also realised the importance of enjoyment and finding out what the players perceived as fun.

Getting the players involved in planning and decision-making was key in that regard.

He said players tended to learn better when they were enjoying themselves.

As many athletes were naturally competitive, he now tried to present things in competitive ways — through things such as games and quizzes.

He did not want to draw a definitive line between the lessons of 2013 and the following years’ successes.

The Highlanders making the playoffs in 2014, for the first time in 12 years, and winning a year later were telling.

He then left for Japan after the 2016 season, guiding it to the World Cup quarterfinals last year.

"My learning from the campaign was, despite all the pressure around it, that it allowed me to take that experience and do something about it and become a better coach," Joseph told an Otago Daily Times reporter afterwards.

"Not all coaches get that luxury. But then again I was mid-contract, I had another year to turn that around.

"The following year we made the playoffs — if we didn’t I probably wouldn’t be here, but we did, that’s the job."

Other topics he discussed were adapting to cultural differences, leadership and how he has kept his Japan players going with no rugby this year.

Joseph is remaining in Dunedin until mid-January, when he will head back to Japan as rugby resumes in the country.

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