Creating environments to perform, grow and enjoy: Eddie Jones' as growth environment architect

Comments from Head Coach Eddie Jones after England’s tenacious victory over Ireland in Dublin last weekend reminded a few people of what he brings to the table outside his win loss ratio (remembering it’s at an impressive 81% also!!):

We create an environment that’s best for players to perform….an environment to continue to get better.

We’re a team that is still growing; we’re looking forward to playing better than that (victory versus Ireland).


How do coaches in high performance atmospheres such as Jones keep team players motivated to perform and improve? Let's remind ourselves of previous research around this area. Results from Pope and Wilson’s studies showed athletes who perceive coaches to be supportive of decisions, provided with clear feedback concerning goal pursuits and engage with them in genuine and empathetic manner report greater need fulfilment, more self-determined motives and more perceived effort in sport (J. Pope & Wilson, 2012). Supporting this, Vallerand and Mageau’s research has shown that intrinsic motivations and self-determined extrinsic motivators are necessary ingredients for athlete’s optimal function (Mageau, 2003). Deci and Ryan’s research investigated that intrinsic motivation is experienced as consequence of feeling competent and self-determined. Intrinsic motivation leads to greater persistence, improved performance and enhanced well-being in a physical setting. While intrinsic motivation stems from innate physiological need of competency and represents the prototype of self-determined behaviour, self-determined extrinsic motivators, which are extrinsic motivators which have been internally rationalised with oneself, become activities which are being carried out as are important and concordant to one’s values (Mageau, 2003). It has been researched that changes to people’s perceptions of competence and self-determination (relatedness and autonomy) should increase intrinsic motivations and player identification while decreasing introjection and amotivation (Pelletier, 1995). Self-determined forms of motivation also result in optimal behaviour, resulting in peak performance and persistence (Deci and Ryan, 2008).

Therefore, coaches need to offer autonomy supportive methods through involving players in decision making and goal setting for all team aspects, allowing opportunities for initiative and provide non-controlling feedback to allow players to feel competent in their sport and confident in their choices. This should develop self determined and motivated athletes who in turn shall invest greater effort, report higher levels of concentration, be more persistent and ultimately perform better, based on previous research by Mageau (2003).

Last year, Eddie Jones and his England staff continued to use their vast imagination to help come up with ways for England to acquire knowledge and increase their intelligence collectively as well as individually.

"They (rugby players) need new ideas and variety to grow. If you keep doing the same thing, you won’t improve. Underneath the physicality is the importance of players making intelligent decisions. Whether they have the ball in their hands or the opposition do, they have to make a decision

“Each week we try and do something different,” he said. “Whether that be in the schedule structure, training content or the way we present information to the players. In training, we create situations where we don’t tell the players the purpose of the game as we want them to work it out for themselves and very quickly adapt

In creating an environment for players to explore, grow and get better like indicted by Eddie Jones, coaches should assist players to identify problems as opposed to solving them, offering ideas and assistance for how to think and act as opposed to offering solutions. As Getzels and Csikszentmihalyi’s research addressed, creative people are driven by discovery and creation of problems as opposed to superior skills or ability. Therefore, coaches within grassroots or elite rugby programs could adopt ideas from Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), where this theory has the coach standing as a recognised more capable other to the athlete with their requirement being to engage in contextual collaborative and learning relationship with athletes to ensure optimal psychological functioning for maximal sporting performance, akin to the type of environment that Jones mentions during post match interview. This theory encourages players to ask questions and adopt sub routines; therefore, the players are taking over the structure of tasks and practice while acquiring performance or transfer of performance. This again allows coaches to act as mentors, supporting players to develop meta cognitive skills where the athletes are aware of and take responsibility of appropriate practices and thinking strategies. This supports the ideas of learning being a series of episodes; scaffolding, where players identify and build knowledge. Another stage is considering or thinking about adopted knowledge, where players can work independently to analyse developed ideas and skills with last stage being evaluating learning. Through this adopted approach, they could identify applicable monitoring, review and learning processes such as self or peer review or socio-constructivist theory, where learning occurs in social groups through ongoing interactions between relevant people. This method positions coaches as mentors where they shift from knowledge expert for athlete as in early stages of development to learning manager or facilitator (Carnell and Lodge, 2002), offering constructive feedback for the player to investigate further.

A collaborative exploration into the technical and tactical sides of the sport offer the support required for elite players in specialising periods of sporting career whilst allowing coaches to unobtrusively redesign coaching environment based on player’s learning styles, acknowledging various philosophies, outlooks and player identities. This method may impact team cultures and social dynamics less as the approach is physically and emotionally safe for involved athletes whom have clarity and control over their investigative and learning methods with all tasks being meaningful and understood. I believe this autonomy supportive style shall allow coaches like Jones to recognise individual player motivations and offer sustainable solutions for collective and individual development and achievement. I believe for engagement and continuous improved performance, coaches need to offer players opportunity for choice, acknowledge player feelings and perspective, limit controlling behaviours while valuing initiative, problem solving and involvement in decision making (Mageau, 2003). Therefore, understanding what players typically or characteristically try to do on daily basis within their sport shall allow coaches better understanding and offer more regular opportunities.

Jones also mentioned how pleased he was with the leadership and composure of the group during their Six Nations victory. I would imagine this again has come from a collaborative supportive environment; allowing players to take initiative and greater control of what they do shall offer better understanding of why they do it. Offering greater levels of player involvement in decision making and coaching content shall also allow coaches to focus on dynamic coach-athlete relationships, noted as the foundation of coaching. Effective coach-athlete relationships address empathy, honesty, respect and support, which shall in turn be holistic in the growth and development of coaches and players alike. While Eddie Jones has adopted this to an elite level, we as coaches should sit back and look at how we can ensure we are offering and developing some of these tactics in our age grade, grassroots or senior level for the improvement of our practices and player development.

Eddie Jones; a fascinating bloke and a curious coach still looking to develop, learn and grow himself while engaging and testing his players with new, creative ideas, which is a great lesson for all coaches at all levels.

I was fortunate to meet and be present at ICCE Conference a couple of years ago; see the notes from this blog post here: