While England and their fans were left bitterly disappointed with the result in the 2019 Rugby World Cup final in Japan, it’s worth remembering that just four years before that, at their own World Cup, they failed even to make it out of the group. So while the appointment of Eddie Jones as Head Coach in the wake of the 2015 tournament has largely been a success, it’s his coaching methods which has many professionals talking, as UCFB academic and former England Lacrosse Head Coach Tom Wenham explores…


Upon his appointment as England Head Coach, Eddie Jones stated that he felt his focus was to make himself redundant. He’s reiterated that view a number of times since and while we’re not expected to take him literally, it’s a view which raises a couple of interesting questions when assessing the role of a coach in the development of athletes and teams.

What would it look and feel like during games and competition if the coach was redundant, and what would the coach have to do to achieve this?

Initially it might feel challenging for all involved, with the coach feeling vulnerable and the players looking for guidance. However, if properly developed, over time we might expect to see intrinsically motivated athletes taking personal responsibility for their own performance as well as that of the team. This would lead to increased self-awareness from players in both skill execution and tactical aspects of game-play, as well as improved in-game decision-making and tactical creativity.

As a consequence of this, we would expect to see on-field interaction and conversation between athletes increase, via captains and leaders being more vocal in the huddle, scrum, at set-pieces and at half time.

This summarises a potentially extremely powerful team culture and environment with a focus on process that we’d expect to see leading to a positive impact on results. It certainly has for England rugby, a sport which throws up another powerful proponent of this philosophy, the mighty All Blacks.

However, getting there isn’t easy, and while only those inside the squad will know exactly how Eddie Jones has gone about it, we can make some educated assumptions.

Initially, he would have had to establish a clear purpose and vision for the team and fully engage the players in this process. From this, players would be instructed to develop clear standards for the team and to hold each other accountable.

Amongst this, the coach/player relationship would be ‘downgraded’ to a partnership, allowing the athletes a level of autonomy. From here, the coach is to set the performance problems as opposed to solve them, allowing athletes to self-organise and find a solution. The true leaders in the pack would therefore show themselves to the coach. Simply put, the coach would see themselves as a facilitator, looking for ways to divest control and decision-making to the athletes.

Such an approach challenges the common preconceptions of coaching in sport, but there’s no doubt that it can be truly transformational. There are currently few better examples of this than Eddie Jones and his England team.