Nine top tips for managing the rugby way

13 February 2015 -


WDMP marketing guru Gavin Wheeler is after conversions on the rugby pitch AND in business. Here are his inspirational management tips that unite the two worlds…

If you think that the sprinting, scrumming and mud spraying of rugby have nothing in common with management styles in the business world, well – think again. With a Six Nations crunch match between England and Italy due this weekend, an expert in both rugby and management has given us some insights on how similar the two fields are.

Gavin Wheeler – CEO at marketing consultancy WDMP – played rugby competitively for more than two decades and, in recent years, has coached his son’s U10 rugby team; taught rugby to underprivileged children in India; and qualified as a referee.

For Gavin, rugby is more than a means of keeping fit and boosting his son’s team. It’s a personal development plan that has given him important lessons in life and business skills that have helped him to manage his business, which he co-owns with his brother Craig – another keen rugby player.

Gavin believes the same principles of coaching and teamship that apply to rugby can be effectively used to manage, lead and grow successful businesses. His tips are:

1. Keep it simple

In coaching, it’s important to simplify – and this is a golden rule in business. Implement simple, practical solutions that you can employ effectively. When training or presenting, break concepts down to the most important factors.

2. Ask questions, don’t tell

Kids claim that they understand what you’ve just told them – even when they don’t. But so do adults. So, explain your objectives, requirements and tactics. Pose questions and establish how someone would approach the problem to ascertain exactly what they understand and where additional insight may be needed.

3. Use the ‘whole-part-whole’ teaching model

When coaching rugby we implement a whole-part-whole model: We play the whole game, then stop and focus on a particular aspect that needs improvement, and then apply what we’ve learned back to the game. When learning a new skill, or tackling a new project, this can be a helpful technique. It helps staff to look at the bigger picture and to understand how a new approach or idea can be applied to current tasks.

4. Build team confidence

In India, I taught children who had never seen a game of rugby – let alone played it. Their confidence was therefore incredibly low. For them, it was important to achieve quickly, so we just started playing, stripped out all the rules and – significantly – allowed them to score. Once their confidence was up, we then slowly reintroduced the rules. The same is true of training staff: first, task them with things that they can succeed in. Once their confidence has been built, they will then be ready for the next, harder challenge.

5. Teach the value of being a team player

It’s important to teach leadership and ‘followship’. In rugby, no individual is more important than the team: players have to think of the good of the team as much as personal glory. In business, team play – within a company and as part of a team working with clients – is essential.

6. Preparation matters

In rugby, preparation is about fitness, game tactics and match planning. In business, it’s about having insight into both your team and your client’s, and how you can help them achieve their goals. It’s also about knowing your competition, planning – and having practised tactics at the ready to handle the unforeseen.

7. Performance evaluation is crucial

After each game, it’s essential that overall performance is evaluated, BY the team, AS a team. By doing this – and providing constructive feedback – you are ensuring that, as a unit, the team is identifying not just ways to improve but, most crucially, activities that it has excelled at.

This is just as important in business. Encourage your team to regularly evaluate its performance, both as a team and as individuals, to enhance team spirit. Identify ways to improve, and give recognition for jobs done well. This also helps you judge whether staff members are playing in the ‘right position’: by knowing what they are best at, you can adapt their role so they play to their strengths. Quarterly and annual reviews with clients will help you fine tune performance along the way, ensuring that there are no nasty surprises.

8. Be passionate and have fun

Rugby naturally inspires passion – and it’s fun! Your business should be about enjoyment, too, and it needs equal amounts of passion for your team, your products, services and clients. If you’re not passionate about your business, how can you expect the clients to be?

9. Be decisive and accept that you will make mistakes

In rugby, there is little time to spend contemplating decisions on the pitch. The same is true for business: make your decision and move on to the next. Being indecisive means you’ll stagnate and your competition will pass you by. You will make mistakes, but learn from them, and stay focused – it’s the only way to be effective both on and off the pitch.

Rugby teaches many lessons, but perhaps the most important are discipline, respect, enjoyment, sportsmanship and teamwork.

At the same time, it’s one of the most physical and intensive contact sports there is – and requires you to be mentally tough, too.

Business is no different.

Established in 2002, WDMP is an independent, award-winning direct-response and relationship marketing agency

For more thoughts on the links between rugby and management, check out our interview with Monitise chief Alastair Lukies.

Image of Gavin Wheeler courtesy of WDPM

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