Dynamic development of a HP rugby union coach: Affordances offered from Japanese and AUS environments

Really fortunate to be part of UQ Coaching Group and have time to chat with Nick Stiles, looking at his coaching journey. Former Wallaby and QLD representative, Stiles discussed the start of his coaching journey, including Coaching Director of the Queensland Rugby Union in 1995 and 1996 where he was assisted in developing his initial coaching philosophy by Cliff Mallett and Nick Leah and head coach of Premier Grade at University of Queensland from 2005 to 2007.

This proceeded his introduction to HP Professional coaching when he moved to Japan as the forwards coach of the Kubota Spears for three seasons, before returning to Australia to take up the forwards coaching position at the Western Force Super franchise from 2010-2013. Having coached Brisbane City’s NRC team to winning the competition twice in his first two seasons in 2014 and 2015 while as assistant coach for Queensland senior side, he remained involved with QLD Reds as head coach until end of 2017 season. He is now back in Japan coaching Kintetsu Liners, a team created by Kintetsu Business Group whom specialise in railway and building manufacturing.


While we discussed a few areas around coaching within and outside Australia, it was points around similar areas previously discussed which really peaked my interest. He discussed areas around Japanese cultures and norms, the expected high effort and leader-follower etiquette including responsibility to the companies representing while acknowledging and showing respect to senior players over younger athletes, effecting both selections and playing styles. This made me think of work by James Vaughan I have previously addressed, looking at form of life or cultural influences and the importance of this within coaching context and the importance of creative, playful atmospheres for player engagement and development.

Stiles drew upon the idea of “talking less as a coach” due to having to use translators for getting ideas across, success of this being determined of the understanding of the translator. This again shows the socially dynamic role of the coaches; both acknowledging the pull of form of life surrounding strong club, company and locality cultures while acknowledging player learning styles for setting goals and rewarding actions for the behaviour you want to see from your players. As previously discussed, it is perceived as important that the coaches are mindful and present of their players and environments for their adopted coaching methodologies and adopt the form of life offered from the scenarios offered as opposed ignoring the sociocultural embeddedness and forcing your ideologies on the group; like mentioned by Stiles, the expectations from the Japanese teams is to adopt the culture and work long and hard, which can sometimes work against AUS or NZ coaching ideologies of shortened, active and high tensity training environments.

He also discussed the ideas of culture development and importance of coach-player relationships. The challenge of successful coaching is acknowledging social interactive dilemmas within individual and team development, offering suitable scenarios and choices with all members’ involvement and collaboratively dealing with matters as opposed to eradicating them. As previous studies have shown that athlete satisfaction is related to the degree to which athletes understand their role and responsibilities within interactive sports teams. (Eys, 2007), Stiles admitted with the language barriers, it was more important to find conman ground and areas of interest to relate to his players. This was something he prides himself on with contacts at QLD and AUS rugby circles still contacting him for advice and feedback.

The main aspects of influential and successful coach-athlete relationships revolve around ideals such as mutual trust, respect, support, cooperation, communication and understanding of each other and impact of each other within the relationship, a lot of which Stiles drew upon. Both performance enhancement and physiological well-being is deeply ingrained within the coach-athlete relationship. Coaches like Stiles need to acknowledge and recognise the effects of positive, interdependent relationships, which are dynamic and interlinked with cognitions, feelings and behaviours to achieve common recognised goals (Jowett, 2007). Therefore, as displayed and discussed by Nick Stiles, a coach’s ability to acknowledge and develop positive interpersonal connections, driven by interpersonal skills and united sense of purpose and achievement, can offer solid base for positive group climate.

Again, tapping into Japanese form of life, Stiles understood the environments and sporting culture he was stepping into. Soccer and baseball in Japan are the top sports and how they have previously been coached (and still are in many instances) is time and repetition heavy, drill based activities under little or no pressure. When discussed the ideas of how this effected his coaching philosophies on returning to Japan, Stiles mentioned the adjustments he had to make based on calibre and experience of players offered, including their understanding and fundamental skills around the game, and Japanese players ideas towards training and development methodologies. Japanese players still enjoyed staying out on the field for hours, working on individual skills with high repetition, similar to their age grade development and in some contexts working life, whereas current ideas towards rugby development and training load management has moved to different approaches such as game based learning and high intensity scenario methodologies.

My opinion; 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 which allows an athlete to explore personal understanding of subject or sport in question, assisted with relevant, timely and challenging feedback from coach or mentor. I believe heavily in game based or constraint based/modified games learning environments for a few reasons; firstly, as a parent, I want to see kids having fun, being imaginative and creative while testing themselves in a dynamic environment which looks like the competitive game we train for. I believe this shall help increase participation, reduce injuries as training in dynamic formats while teaching players in the game as opposed to directions from coaches of the game. Also, in regards to drill based, heavily coach driven exercises, I feel we can correct technique while strengthening player-coach relationships through conversations and rapport yet this could be left as a last stage, allowing the player to self correct or peer correction, which can help develop leaders in the game also. I just feel we are constraining ourselves as coaches by our previous experiences and memories of the game as opposed to imagination and should allow us to see what skills and techniques players use and develop from our offered ideas on how to play the game and why.

For Stiles example’s of issues experienced in Japan, previous research suggests that both “learning occurs in social groups through ongoing interactions between people” (Vygotsky, 1978) while Getzels and Csikszentmihalyi’s research addressed “creative people are driven by discovery and creation of problems as opposed to superior skills or ability”. Therefore, a gradually introduced games based or constraint led form of learning shall ease the strain of language and communication barriers and allow the dynamic nature of the game take charge of creative instincts and offer learning opportunities, allowing coaches to acknowledge and reward behaviours they want to see for immediate or timely relevant feedback to the players.

Thanks as always to UQ Coaching Group for organising and Nick Stiles for offering his time in the morning and allowing me to bombard him with questions via email afterwards!!