Great Britain

Welsh Rugby Union - Wales & Regions - Davies offering innovation in his coaching career

There’s not a lot Bradley Davies hasn’t achieved during an illustrious playing career with Cardiff Blues, Wasps, Ospreys and Wales.

He’s led his country into battle, captained Wales U19 to Grand Slam glory in 2005 and has accrued 66 Wales caps along the way but now he is embarking on a new stage of his rugby career as he will shortly become one of the first graduates of a brand new coach development initiative undertaken by the Welsh Rugby Union.

Davies is among a hand-picked group of players who last September, in conjunction with the regions and the Welsh Rugby Players Association, began the inaugural 12-month long Player to Coach programme overseen by WRU Performance Coach Manager Dan Clements.

Davies was joined on the ground-breaking scheme by Ospreys colleagues Justin Tipuric, Paul James, James Hook and Rob McCusker, Scarlets duo Leigh Halfpenny and Angus O’Brien along with Dragons’ Aaron Jarvis and Brok Harries and Cardiff Blues’ Dan Fish.

On completion of the course, Davies, like his fellow graduates will shortly secure a UKCC Level 3 award in Coaching Rugby Union.

We’ve taken the opportunity to do a question and answer session with Bradley as he embarks on a new stage of his career.

Graduates

Ten players were hand-picked for the first intake of the Player to Coach programme

Has going into coaching always appealed to you or has it been a gradual decision as your playing career has unfolded?

When I first started playing it probably didn’t appeal to me but as I’ve played such a long time and been under such good coaches, I guess I’ve done little bits and bobs here and there and when I’ve coached on a bigger scale and done a couple of sessions I’ve really enjoyed it, and I’ve thought: ‘I like this’.

A couple of coaches over the last five years – some big coaches in my career, have said: you could actually be a good coach and they have kind of pushed me so that’s why I am here today.

How have you found it so far on your coaching journey?

I was lucky as communication, speaking in front of large groups, comes natural to me anyway and I’m always the centre of attention.

What I was finding I was coaching stuff without doing much planning going into it – I was coaching what I felt I knew and then realised I was saying most of the right answers because I was saying the things that I didn’t do as a player [I was such a hypocrite myself] – I analyse myself probably too much really and then I think I could have done better or done this better then thought of drills or exercises I could have done to make myself better and then when I was coaching, I thought actually I’m probably telling everyone the right way because I’ve done it the wrong way myself.

In your view, what makes a good coach?

When someone asks me the question, is he/she a good coach, my first thought is how do they make you feel? I guess winning is a big part of that but I think a good coach is a fantastic problem solver who is adaptable. Look at the situation now with coronavirus, you never know what is around the corner but the biggest thing is being a good person off the field where someone can trust you and cares about you. All the good coaches I know have been good blokes.

He/she is someone who might ask you how’s the family doing, stuff like that, more than just rugby questions.

Bradley Davies

Bradley Davies is looking at innovative ways to coach

Coaching wise, what experience do you actually have?

Over the last two or three years I’ve being doing bits with the Ospreys, helping out and learning off the coaches there. When I got injured and had an operation I did more hands on work, being involved with match day stuff and coaching the lineout during the week so I was really lucky to have a work experience as I was playing.

Allen Clarke moved from forwards coach to head coach so we didn’t have a forwards coach at the time so I was lucky enough to get some work experience that way and I really enjoyed it.

Are the any areas of coaching you particularly enjoy and what aspects would you like to explore more?

I feel most comfortable when I’m in front of people talking, I don’t know why that is, it just comes natural to me. Something I have a real passion for is looking at other sports to see how they do things. When it comes to lineouts for example, speaking to body language experts, for example people who work at airports, standing there all day and watch you come through the door but they know whether you’re walking through with 20 fags or 400 fags don’t they?

Over the years, there has often been criticism that the regions and the WRU don’t work closely together enough – is this Player to Coach programme a step in the right direction?

People may be right to say about past relationships but I feel over the last three or four years the relationship has been getting much better and this programme proves it – as players we spoke to the WRU and WRPA and said look, we feel we could do a course – can’t we make it more bespoke around our training for example, can we go in and coach academies rather than the old Level 3 where you had to coach a club. At the Ospreys we had an academy that trained at 7-8 in the morning so we could go in, get filmed coaching them and plan our sessions so it was much easier. The WRU definitely listened and as a result the programme has been fantastic.

To be fair, everyone listened to the feedback we provided to the Union – we simply said some of the stuff we go through on these courses is stuff we do every day – we’re not saying we are too good for that, but surely a course can be designed for us players – and fair play to Dan [Clements] he has come up with this course with a bespoke programme.

What I’ve found interesting, most of it’s not about so much the rugby, coaching is about other sports and other people’s coaching methods. What Dan is trying make sure of is that when we take that step into coaching we have our own views, our own plan in place. At the end of the day you have to do it your own way.

A lot of players [on the course] are at different stages of their playing careers, I’m still playing, there are boys on there who are just retired, and boys a lot younger than myself so it is definitely a bespoke programme.

Some boys are going to coach immediately, doing it at the moment and learning as they go and getting the qualifications. People like myself still have a couple of years left playing so I’m trying to be pro-active and make sure by the time I do retire I have got the qualifications. And then we’ve got younger boys who are mid-career as well so there is a wide mix of players in the first intake.

Bradley Davies

Bradley Davies reveals he has a few surprises up his sleeve when he begins his coaching career

How have you found being among the first intake of players doing this particular course?

It’s awesome, we have a good laugh but to be fair we debate a lot about things. Dan [Clements] will bring in different questions asking us how we would do things. Such as debating leadership, we could be put into groups and told, ‘your star player has been caught drinking on a night out before a game, how do you deal with it?’ We gave our answers then he said, ok, the sponsors have said they don’t want him to play, so he brings in stuff ahead of your time and something you wouldn’t have necessarily thought about in the past, as our focus is on the pitch.

If you are a head coach you feel like it’s all about yourself and the team but people who pay the money say actually we’re not letting him play because it goes against our morals – how would you deal with that – that’s when problem solving comes in – it’s been a fantastic course and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Before I started to coach I thought I knew all the answers, I thought a bit like army-regimented like – the coaching style I had was when I did my Level 2 they were telling us to be a bit more proactive and listen to what players are saying and I was thinking if I am a professional coach and I am employed to make us the best attack in the league then I’m going to do it my way because I’m the one who’s gonna get sacked – it was that kind of mentality.

Speaking to Dan {Clements] , I was always arguing against things said but since the start of the course to now I would say it’s about bringing a bit of adaptability and being a good problem solver.

Have you enjoyed the ‘classroom’ element of the course?

With my personality thinking I know everything, I got the loudest voice, until I sat down with the boys, you know it’s been great because we have so many different characters in the group. We’ve got [Dan] Fish who is quiet and well spoken, Leigh Halfpenny who’s also quiet then you’ve got me, the extrovert shouting this is wrong and this is right. It’s been a great aspect to listen to other people, how they speak, how they deal with matters – it’s been fantastic for me.

Do you think the coaching initiatives the WRU have introduced in recent years has been a good idea?

It’s baring fruit. There are lot of really good young coaches starting to get big jobs. For example, Richie Rees, Dai Flanagan, and Richard Kelly who has just got a job with the Scarlets. The way the public react, unless we’ve got every single coach Welsh they are not happy. In the past what put a lot of boys off doing the Level 3 out in the public was there was no schedule, sometimes we were playing in the weekends so couldn’t make it, or commit but this has been such a bespoke programme the WRU came to us as players, asked us where the best place is to learn, would it be better to meet up in groups or on video – there’s a direct line of sight now where we have to go – we have to do Level 1, then Level 2, then Level 3.

Bradley DAvies

Bradley Davies and Warren Gatland share a joke during training

As a forward, what’s it been like doing your coursework along the backs?

When we are given tasks obviously as forwards the scrums and lineouts you’re more comfortable working in – the backs are talking about their kicking session, or a back three session and you’re thinking ‘bloody hell, I wouldn’t have a clue what’s going on here’.

Little things too, backs learn differently to forwards. Forwards are always ‘right who’s the hardest, who can hit the hardest, who can work the hardest, who’s the best scrum’. With the backs, it’s a more relaxed atmosphere and that cross over between standing outside and watching being a forward watching a backs session, going bloody hell they don’t do much for unit sessions and they look at us idiot forwards working too hard!

How do you see the role of a coach changing in the years to come?

I think the way coaching is going, it’s going to be more NFL style – smaller roles for more coaches. I’d love to do a bit of lineout and stuff I’m passionate about. Forward play, I don’t know much about scrums, in the long term because I enjoy it so much I wouldn’t mind trying to step up the ladder – that natural progression between forwards to head coach and see what goes from there. I feel the smaller role you have, the more you can work at it as sometimes a coach has too much to deal with. All the good teams have coaches for the smaller roles.

At the moment I enjoy coaching at the elite end of the sport, the winning and losing part and stuff like that but I also get excited about the prospect of maybe getting to work at maybe academy level first. One thing you find at coaching the first stage of professional players at 16/17  – they listen more as there are no egos and stuff. You get the chance to actually work on people’s skills and develop them as players to go forward whereas if you flip the scale and go right to the other end – you’re just about winning – it’s very difficult in a working week as a squad all your thought is winning on a Saturday whereas academy is more on development so I would like to start there and work my way up. I’d like to stay in Wales and coach but if for me I have to go abroad and learn, I will.

My perfect scenario is able to walk away from the sport with something else in my pocket. I wouldn’t want to just coach because I have been forced to retire. I’ve always wanted to get to the stage where I actually wouldn’t mind walking away from the game now and go into coaching rather than be told you have to retire. I’ve been told by all the ex-players you will know when it’s time to knock it on the head – I feel that is probably correct. At the moment I have got no plans yet to retire but who knows in two years I might think I have had my stint and I want to go into coaching.

Bradley Davies

Bradley Davies believes a good coach is someone who cares for his players

Having a lengthy playing career behind you where you have constantly put your body on the line, did the lockdown come as a welcome break and a chance to recharge the batteries. Are you eager to back out on the battlefield?

Before lockdown I had signed a new contract with the Ospreys and they are very keen for me to go into coaching as well. Being in lockdown rested and recharged, working on things you don’t get the chance to work on normally, actually the body feels like it’s the best its felt in for 10 years – ask me the same question in December when we’ve caught up with the 50 backlog games it may be a different answer. I definitely feel a lot of people in my age bracket will find it beneficial – when do you get the chance to get 12 weeks off locked in your house?

I think you just have to be a good person and care about the person you’re talking to – it’s not a bad place to start

You’ve obviously played under a lot of coaches during an illustrious playing career, have you cherry-picked bits off them to create your own coaching philosophy?

It’s like anything in life really, if you are learning a new trade you are always taught this is the guy who at the forefront of this –  you look at them all, but I guess you have to do it your own way. I keep saying to myself, I always feel I could be an innovator and I feel I can explore different parts of coaching – that’s what I’ve been speaking about in this programme. Yes I will learn off all the good coaches I’ve been under and the negatives as well, it’s probably easy speaking about hindsight and when I’m coaching I’m going to do this and do that but until you are in the meat of if that’s when the true character comes in I guess.

I’ve looked at things at what coaches have done well for me, what things I didn’t like, what things I think I am good at, so I have a few plans up my sleeve when I go into coaching.

The best coaches I know are the ones who actually, you could go to a coffee shop and have a coffee with. I think you just have to be a good person and care about the person you’re talking to – it’s not a bad place to start.

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