How to create a team culture - the Springbok way

2020-05-17 13:10
Jacques Nienaber (Gallo)
Jacques Nienaber (Gallo)

As the 2019 Rugby World Cup victory gets dissected by those across the rugby globe in terms of how Rassie Erasmus turned a team into world champions in just 18 months, much focus will go into the team culture that was created for the side.

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But in a revealing interview, new Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber, who served as the defence coach for the side in the World Cup, revealed there never was a distinct push to create a team culture in the Bok camp.

Instead Nienaber revealed the team dispatched with the traditional fines system and “treated players as adults”, stressing personal responsibility and the culture formed by itself.

In a video webinar with Wits University’s Sports Department (WISH), Nienaber spoke candidly about how the Bok culture came together under Erasmus.

“We do it a little bit different and not to say there is a right or wrong way. When we started in 2018, we didn’t sit down and say: 'What should the Springbok culture look like?' We started working with the players from the understanding that a culture is something that will come out,” he said.

“You can write down that you want refusal to be defeated to be one of the key things that when people look at your team, is one of the characteristics they pick up. If they are 24-3 down against England they will not go lie down. You can write it down and it is nice to have it, but it is not necessarily that it would manifest because you don’t know if you have those types of players or if the team is that type of team. But it is nice to have it in words.

“We do it differently and we see we are 24-3 down trying a new defence system and getting skinned on the edge with two first test wingers. A refusal to be defeated was something this team had from the start.

“Later on, you can say if you don’t have this characteristic in you, you are probably not going to fit into this group, because this group has got it.

No brainstorming

Nienaber spoke about how different the Bok environment was in terms of planning when compared to previous sides he was involved in.

“So maybe it is the other way around. In other teams I have been involved in, teams will start and someone will brainstorm, get someone in and write something down like 'we will have trust, energy and refuse to lie down'.

“It is nice words but it is not necessarily that it will manifest in reality. Once you start working with a team and you give it a chance to manifest on its own, you will give it time to pull out aspects that you can see visually, that the team has got it.

“You know that the team has got this, and they will live up to this because this is one of our cultures.”

Personal Responsibility

This meant dispatching with a rules-based approach in favour of a personal responsibility for every Bok player.

“I would say that we didn’t go sit down and discuss what type of culture we would have. For instance the culture we would have is that there weren’t rules. In normal types of teams the fine system will be there – if you are late for a meeting there is a R1000 fine you have to pay, same if you have the wrong clothes on, most teams have that.

“We had none of that. There was nothing.

“If you were late for a meeting and you said ‘sorry I was late, I overslept’, it is understandable. We wanted to treat the players as adults. But if you come late three times, four times then maybe the Springbok environment is not important to you. Because if it was important to you you wouldn’t have been late.

“We looked at it from a different perspective, we said ‘we’re all adults here, so if you are late, you are late. And if you say sorry, it's sorry’. But if it happens regularly, perhaps it isn’t that important to you.

“So that was something from the onset that Rassie brought in. The main thing is that we wanted to treat the players as adults.”

Family environment

Another aspect that helped relax the players was the embracing of the family environment in a way that seldom happens with professional teams.

“We were open to families. I’m again stressing that it isn’t the right or wrong way, but it worked for us. We have a few older players who have families and kids. From the onset we said the wives can travel with us. We would love them to travel with, you can get your kids to travel with.

“At the World Cup we had our families there and they are allowed to travel within the team. They eat breakfast with the players. It was the nicest thing when you walk into the dining section that there are kids running around and they are laughing. It is a normal environment.

“Other teams didn’t have the wives travelling with and they weren’t allowed to stay in the team hotels. Other teams operate in other ways and it worked for them. That is what I found was different in our team and the other teams I was part of, it was all inclusive.

“There were kids on the bus. Wherever we could get families involved we got them involved. We wanted to make it as family friendly as possible.”

Nienaber stressed that every team is different, but in the case of the 2019 Springboks it worked magically, and the Webb Ellis Cup is a testament to that success.

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