• Toby Sinclair

Coaching Lessons from Elite Sport | England Rugby Coach Eddie Jones

Updated: Nov 8


England Rugby head coach Eddie Jones recently hosted a live coaching session at England training headquarters. As a huge rugby fan and professional coach, I was eager to understand the Eddie Jones approach to coaching.


When I first trained as a Professional Coach I was confused about how it related to sports coaching. I had seen the typical media representation of sports coaches shouting from the sidelines and it all seemed very directive. Not like the coaching I had learned in my training.


When the coaching session started, the first thing I noticed was that Eddie Jones simply observed the players in action for 3 minutes. During this time Eddie said nothing.


At the players first drinks break I noticed something very interesting. Eddie Jones approached the players. I assumed this was to give them direction on how to improve. Instead, Eddie asked open questions:

  1. How are you going to get a numerical advantage?

  2. What else are you going to do?

  3. And what else?

After open questions Eddie offered some advice, recommending the players to catch the ball away from their chest.


Throughout the whole session, Eddie gave direct feedback either to the whole group or individual players. This often took the form of open questions “After you pass what are you doing?”, “What should you be doing?”, “Where should you be supporting?” and also positive reinforcement “Well Done”, “Excellent”, “Good”.


A question was asked from the reporter “If a player makes a mistake, how do you get them to improve?” Eddie’s response highlighted his situational approach “It depends on the player, sometimes you tell them or sometimes you ask them a question to think for themselves. Its a balance between directive and non-directive.A great example of the scale of influence highlighted my previous blog post.


The coaching space was broken into two areas; Match Zone and Skill Zone.


The match zone was used throughout the whole session with an emphasis on free-flowing gameplay. The majority of coaching was done in the Match zone. A second smaller area called skill zone was also used. Every so often Eddie would move a few players into the skill zone. Here they would focus on a specific skill that Eddie observed from the match zone. In this case, it was catching the ball away from the chest.


I assumed the skill zone coaching would be more directive but again, there was a blend of open questions and direct instruction. After a few minutes, the players would return to the match zone to implement their improved skills.


What did I learn?


The Eddie Jones coaching session highlighted that sports coaching is very similar to the individual and team coaching in the workplace. I learned that observational skills are very important in sports coaching.


Eddie was asked “How do you improve your observational skills?” and his reply “Observing other coaches, sit back and watch matches and train your eye.” 


I also learnt that open questions have a powerful way of creating accountability with the players. Also feedback both general and specific at regular points creates a good coaching environment.


I also learnt how dynamic and fast coaching can be. Often coaching is seen as a long one-to-one coaching session in private but this demonstrated how powerful coaching can be in a dynamic live situation.


What now?


This revealing coaching session taught me several things which I will now integrate into my own coaching.


Firstly paying more attention to observation especially when working with teams. Rather than trying to coach or give advice immediately, step back and observe.


Secondly, I love the idea of the match zone and skill zone. Applied to my context I can easily see this being a powerful way to coach teams in the workplace. For example, using the team's day-to-day desk area as the match zone and a separate area away from their desks used as the skill zone. Throughout the day switching between the two zones. More to come on this experiment!


For more wisdom from Eddie Jones, check out this article on the Four Fatal Fears of Teams


©2020 by Toby Sinclair.