On the final day of UK Sport’s 13th annual World Class Performance Conference presented by Sportscover, and off the back of a successful series of Autumn Internationals, England Rugby Head Coach Stuart Lancaster joined delegates to tackle the theme of accelerating the development of individuals and teams.
We asked Lancaster to share some of his insights on the England set up, and talked rugby at Rio 2016 and the importance of home advantage.
Stuart, can you summarise what your WCPC session covered?
I spoke about the development and acceleration of the team culture within England Rugby. I got the interim job with England in December 2011 and the permanent job just after, so there was a cultural change that took place in the Six Nations in 2012 and we’re trying to accelerate that and build on it ahead of the World Cup in 2015, while also creating a successful winning team beyond that.
You’ve attended the WCPC many times, why are events like this so important?
When you’re in the bubble of your own sport, you can become quite insular in your ideas, and only by coming out of that bubble and coming to an event like this do you appreciate the quality of coaches in other sports. It allows you to gain new ideas, meet new people and develop relationships. It also gives you the opportunity to bring people into your sport from other organisations who have achieved success.
What parallels can you draw between rugby and Olympic sport?
Our sport has become more cyclical in relation to World Cups, so every four years you’ve got this major competition, and in that respect it’s very similar to the Olympics, so while you’ve got to win in the here and now, you’ve always got one eye on the World Cup, that’s the pinnacle and the objective.
You’ve had a number of athletes from other sports, including Sir Bradley Wiggins, speak with the England squad – why is that insight important?
They all brought an individual perspective on what they believe top class sport, leadership and performance looks like and I use that as a motivation to try and inspire our players and show them that outside of rugby we have world class talent in this country. Their messages were all very similar, about their own individual approaches to excellence, but also their team ethic as well, Bradley is an individual cyclist but he wouldn’t have achieved that success without the team around him. I’m always on the search for teams and individuals who can inspire our players and you only have to look at the likes of rowing and sailing to see what success looks like.
Rugby Sevens will be on the programme at Rio 2016, do you think it will be a popular Olympic sport?
I think it will be very popular, both as a spectacle, and knowing how seriously the southern hemisphere teams will take it. We already know New Zealand are aiming to peak not just at the World Cup 2015, but also at the Olympics in 2016, so Team GB must be ready to compete against them.
Do you think it will be a good platform for the women’s game?
I think it will be even bigger for the women’s game. The sevens environment in Rio is going to be unbelievable for the women and the sport in general, so we need to make sure we’ve got a truly competitive team out there – well coached, well managed and well prepared, it’s an opportunity to take the sport of rugby way beyond the current rugby playing nations.
How do you create a strong team spirit when the squad get together for internationals?
You create a very strong reason why they all want to play for England. I assumed when I started that you just pull on an England shirt and that creates your motivation, but it’s playing for your team mates, for the legacy and history of the shirt and for the identity of the country, these are the things I use as drivers to motivate the players intrinsically. The motivation comes from within and the reason you’re playing for England is important.
And how do you carry momentum forward from one event to the next?
It’s difficult, you meet in the camp and you’ve got five or six days to prepare and you’re suddenly thrust into a game and you’ve got to win it. You hope that the foundations you build in between club time are strong enough so that when you come in, you can almost pick up where you left off. Inevitably there will be some drop off, but if you work hard enough, quickly enough and smart enough you can usually get them back up to speed and to a point where they’re going to be competitive in an international game.
How important a factor is home advantage in sport?
We all saw the difference it made in London 2012, it’s huge. In a sport like rugby where motivation, desire, intensity, physicality are things you can put into place, you can then achieve another 15% if there’s an energy of a crowd behind you. For us, it’s massive, if we know we’ve got the nation behind us, it can really boost our performance.
Do you hope your players will thrive on that in 2015?
It’s the fear of failure or its ability to inspire and succeed, and on one hand you can worry about what happens if it all goes wrong, but on the other hand you can think about what an unbelievable opportunity this is to inspire the nation, you’ve got to focus on that because that’s what will inspire a positive performance.
Since its inception in 2001, the World Class Performance Conference has become the key event in the diaries of coaches, performance directors and sports science and medicine practitioners, as the one opportunity every year for the entire Olympic and Paralympic high performance community to come together to network, debate and share best practice. The aim is to equip these individuals with the skills and knowledge to make sustainable improvements to their sport’s World Class Performance Programme.