Jake White is the former coach of the Springboks, who won the 2007 Rugby World Cup and 2004 Tri Nations under his leadership. In 2011, he was appointed into the IRB Hall of Fame and last year was appointed Adjunct Professor at the University of Canberra. He coached the Brumbies from 2012-2013 and is now director of rugby for the Sharks. Other achievements include IRB International Coach of the Year (2004 and 2007), first home series win against France since 1975, and biggest score ever achieved by the Springboks (134-3 against Uruguay, 2005).
What Drives Me | Some may never understand this but you get a thrill as a coach. I looked at the Bok side the other day and I saw Pierre Spies is on the brink of playing his 50th test. I think it’s almost 15 out of 15 players that have played in the World Cup have gone on to play 50 or more tests for South Africa. It’s fantastic to know that those boys started as first caps. A lot of them first caps or second caps or relatively new caps when they first joined the Bok setup and all of them have gone on to play 50 – some of them over a hundred – tests. So that’s when you a get a thrill as a coach, when you’ve been able to identify them, put them in the system and watch them stay in the system and become the best in the world.
On Spotting Greatness | When I look at the game I start off looking for somebody that’s just a bit unique and that can do something that other players can’t do on the field. I look for something that other players don’t necessarily see or necessarily can or can’t do, either a skill or something in the game that maybe someone else doesn’t notice. In saying this, it doesn’t always mean kicking the ball the furthest. It just means, sometimes, the way that he runs into position or the time he has when he has the ball in his hands or the decision he makes when he’s in the corner, etc. I think that I’ve been blessed in that I’ve been lucky enough to spot that.
Lessons I Have Learnt | I think the biggest lesson that I learnt in order to be a great coach is that firstly, you just have to be honest with the players and secondly, to stick to what works for you. You get picked to coach, and you just got to keep coaching – through the difficult times too. You can’t be focusing on the “what if?” or the negatives. You have got to make that sure you are always focusing on the positives.
Switching Things Up | You can never know everything about rugby as it’s changing all the time. You need to stimulate yourself and get people from outside that actually question you or throw ideas at you because it brings the best out of you. I’ve been fortunate enough to have people around me that I trust and people around me that were also comfortable in me bringing in other people.
Developing A Leadership Style | I believe in listening and discussing things with top corporate people who run companies. I ask them about things like, “How do you handle staff?” Or, “How do you measure performance?” You can use whatever you can and you can develop your own sort of leadership style. It’s worked for me.
The Best Advice I’ve Heard | “If you react to your opposition, you’re in a position of weakness and if your opposition reacts to you, you’re in a position of strength.” That is one phrase that I’ll never forget from the book “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu. It is something that I always think about when we’re delivering teams and picking teams. If you start changing your team because of who you playing against, or you change the way you’re playing for who you are playing against, or you start worrying about what you should be doing in order to beat the opposition as opposed to them worrying about what they should be doing to beat you, then you’re in a position of weakness.
Resources I Use | There’s a book that’s called “Bounce,” which was a story about a table-tennis player who became a champion and he played in the garage of his parents. The garage was small and so he had to play close to the table, which ended up making his skill set so much better than it would have been had he played in a big garage with more space to run and time to think where he could run backwards and actually have more time to play the ball. That was a book that helped me realise the kind of training you do for a player and that the environment that you try and create is also important. It has an effect on the outcome you get from your athletes. “Good to Great” is also a good book and so is “Outliers.”
My Dreams And Ambitions Are… | I’d like to win another World Cup.
The Meaning Of Life | A few years ago, I would’ve said we were here to make sure we do the best we can but I suppose at the end of the day, it’s about getting to heaven. It doesn’t matter what you do and what field you’re in. It’s about how we live our lives here to make sure that there’s an eternal life. Then when you do that, everything else falls into place.
Being Prepared | We spend a lot of time getting our players to understand how we want to play, whether they can play from a conditioning point of view and also, mentally whether they understand what’s needed in terms of getting the best out of them. I’ve always said if it’s like going into an exam. If you’re prepared and you’ve done your homework, then everything falls into place, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t get success.
The advice I Give To Young Boys | Is that there are two things people don’t enjoy, spoiled kids and bullies because around the world, doesn’t matter where you are, people don’t warm to those, sort of, attributes.
The Standards I Set | Are high and non-negotiable.
Practice Makes Perfect | I’m one of those old school coaches who believes the more time you spend on an activity, and the more, one of the phrases I have in my coaching book is repetition, repetition, repetition, and the reason for that is the more times you’re in that situation, the better you will actually be able to do it in the game situation. There are no short-cuts for hard work.
My Most Memorable Team Talk | The one is the very first team talk that I gave, which was almost identical to the talk I gave them before the world cup final and was about being brave. It was about a young guy who was in the army and had to stay at his post and protect it even though he knew he was going to die. I spoke about how important it is to be brave and to never leave anything out on the field. And if you get scared think about the young eighteen year old boys who’ve died knowing that they’ve had no other option. The theme of that story was about just being brave, about understanding that you’re going to make mistakes, but be brave enough to make them in a world cup final, because that will be the difference between winning and losing. I don’t want you to put your head in the hole and think that the fear is going go away. You’ve got to lift you head up and if they shoot you, they shoot you, but you, you have to be brave and take the fear face on.