We sat down with Glasgow Warriors Assistant Coach Kenny Murray, and his coursemate Edinburgh Rugby Academy Coach Ben Fisher, to find out more about why they chose to become professional coaches and what it's like studying for their UKCC Level 4 coaching qualifications.
How did you get into coaching?
Kenny: For me right from school I was always interested in sport and P.E. I had an inspirational teacher and I did a lot of after school sports, so that really guided my passion for sport. I then studied sport at university, and went down a coaching route. Then through my role as a rugby development officer I continued on that coaching role and developed through the club game and into the performance element of coaching. So that was my route into it.
Ben: I guess it’s probably a bit of a cliché but as a player I got a huge amount from rugby, and I started coaching when I was still playing as a way of supplementing my job and utilising the skills that I had. The understanding I had about rugby was an opportunity to give something back a little bit as well, to try and help other people. I personally managed to gain a lot from rugby, I’ve travelled the world, been to lots of different countries (I’m from New Zealand originally and I’ve ended up in Scotland), so affording those opportunities to other people and passing on my knowledge of rugby and the experience I’ve had is pretty rewarding. That’s what made me want to be a coach.
You both played professional rugby - what do you think is the main difference between what you imagined it was like to be a coach when you were a player and the reality of your coaching roles now?
Ben: As a coach I think you understand more about the game. When you’re a player you probably think you know a lot about rugby, but it’s only when you’re coaching and when you’re making it a profession that you spend more time on it. I wish I’d known as much as I know now about the game when I was a player. The other part of wanting to be a coach is that you stay connected. As a player the comradery and being part of a group of players and being in the changing rooms is a really big part of it, and as a coach you can still stay connected to that. Speaking to a lot of ex-players that’s what they miss: rugby is a great team sport, there’s great comradery and a lot of values in rugby that can really influence your life.
Kenny: When you’re a player whether it’s right or wrong, your biggest focus is on how you improve yourself, whether that be through getting fitter, better technically, or understanding things so that you play better. But for me as a coach it’s about how you improve and develop others. Your own development and your own self-improvement is still important, but our job becomes more about focusing on improving Scotland U20s players, our club players, our professional players. So for me that’s the biggest change.
I also think what’s different for me is that understanding of how big an area it is when you become a coach. I think when you are a player you only really focus around your own area of the game, so if you’re a forward your focus is being a forward player. But when you’re a coach you have a much more holistic approach to learning about the game and improving the whole game rather than just bits of it.
You’ve both completed the UKCC Level 3 qualification and are currently working towards your level 4. What have you found is the biggest difference between the two levels?
Ben: I think with Level 3 you are looking more at the game itself, so you’re looking at planning and strategy around games and things like that. Level 4 is probably a lot more about your own coaching style, how you can influence players’ understanding, your own understanding of theory and the background as to why you might do certain things as a coach. You look at how you can really grow and impact the players. So level 3 I would say is probably more about the game and level 4 is more about the players and the way that you interact with the players.
Kenny: Yes I think Ben’s right. Level 3 immerses you in rugby, but level 4 makes you step out of rugby and into the wider aspects of coaching. The biggest thing for me is learning about things I never knew, such as adult learning - how adults learn and what relationship that has to players - or leadership and how you can lead more effectively. A lot of these things are about psychology, things you maybe didn’t know a huge amount about, and the level 4 takes you into those areas more in-depth. It broadens your knowledge of coaching as a whole, rather than just rugby.
What part of the course have you found most helpful to your personal development?
Ben: I think a big part of the course is self-reflection. You get a huge opportunity to really analyse what you do as a coach and why you do it, and reflect on your own practice. I like how you set your own learning outcomes assignments and the topics of the modules. You’re setting what you’re personally trying to achieve with them, doing the project you get a real chance to reflect on it, so that’s been a really good part. Also even having like-minded coaches, or coaches on a similar level or a similar open mind-set – it’s been great just to have a sit down over a couple of days together to share ideas and things.
So you can get a mirror to help you reflect on how you’re performing, where you might not have had that insight before?
Ben: Yeah, I think in coaching you naturally reflect on your practice, but I think on the course you put more emphasis on it and it gives you more time to really reflect on what you do as a coach and why you do it.
And is there a specific example where you’ve changed something in your job as a result of a topic on the course?
Kenny: One of my initial topics was in adult learning and how adults learn as opposed to young people. We changed some of our processes at Glasgow Warriors to reflect this. I did a study on adult learning with the players themselves as part of the course and some of the feedback that came back from the players was on how they preferred to learn, and one of the players said he learned more at night in his house, like watching video clips on his couch, so now we’re able to take that into account and adapt to what they need. So I think that for me was a big learning improvement and has already changed what I do as a coach.
And have players given you feedback now to say they find that more beneficial?
Kenny: Yes. Well firstly they’re finding it more beneficial but secondly we can actually monitor and review the usage so we can see which players are watching what clips and what percentage of the players are watching the stuff. We can monitor if players aren’t watching those previews and reviews again so we can change it and question why it isn’t working and what we can do to change that.
Are you excited about the future of Scottish rugby with the recent investment in the rugby academy?
Ben: Yes - it’s been a significant investment and to develop the players and the coaches already, and it’s great to be a part of that. Scottish Rugby are ambitious and we’ve got to keep improving, other nations are obviously improving too. There have always been good coaches in Scotland, throughout the English premiership in both rugby and football, so it’s a good opportunity to continue to get better. The age grade teams are showing more commitment, they are more competitive in the under-18 and under-20 levels, which is great, and the professional teams are more competitive not just in the Guinness Pro 12, but also in the European competitions now so I think these are the signs of it heading in the right direction. It’s a real privilege to be a part of some of the initiatives that are going on and hopefully in the next few years we can continue to keep doing well.
When you look at other coaches who you aspire to be like what do you think is their best quality?
Kenny: From my experience I would say the biggest thing in our environment would be player managing. In rugby I think a lot of coaches will have technical ability, technical knowledge and tactical understanding, but I think in higher age-grade and pro-level, good player management is the key difference to effective coaching. That’s where I’ve learned a lot with our Head Coach Gregor Townsend. And I would say that real tactical awareness at a higher level – those are the two key qualities I would say are most crucial.
Ben: It’s quite a difficult question to answer. I would agree with Kenny about managing the players - the coaches are the ones that create a positive environment and a good learning environment where everybody’s contribution is valued and we try to bring out the best in players, but players are part of it as well, it’s not just the coach dictating how things are. Young players these days already have good knowledge there and so we are developing players that make decisions for themselves. I think good coaching is about empowering players and bringing everyone together towards a common goal and in the same direction.
Kenny are you looking forward to David Rennie arriving in the summer?
Kenny: Yeah, we spoke about Scottish Rugby and coach development, but that is a massive coup for Scottish Rugby to get a guy of that quality. He is probably up there in the top groupings of world rugby coaches, so I think not only for Glasgow Warriors but for the Scottish rugby game, getting a guy like him to come over is going to be really beneficial in enhancing what we’ve got. So yeah exciting times.
And what’s it been like learning from Gregor Townsend?
Kenny: Obviously I’ve been there for four years and he’s been my head coach in all that time and I’ve learnt a huge amount from him from his experience and how he’s touched the environment and culture and coming from Glasgow that was the first thing you’d comment on - the culture of the club.
What do you mean by culture?
Kenny: It’s the shared beliefs in the team, what’s important, behaviours and players shaking hands each day – more professionalism in how people conduct themselves. I think that’s one of the big thing Gregor’s instilled. As I said, he has a good management style, getting the best out of people as well. Knowing how to do that is one thing I’ve learned, and then just that tactical astuteness, that’s probably where he is at his best.
You spent a lot of time with younger players Ben, how do you adapt your coaching techniques depending on age?
Ben: Younger players, looking at under-18 or under-20 players, it’s trying to teach them good habits, trying to make them understand the behaviours they’re going to need, and the skills and the technical understanding to move forward. It’s about teaching them the game, teaching them about what’s required to progress. There’s a strict feeling when at under-16, that it’s just the basic understanding of the game and learning skills and trying to explore some of the principals of the game. What we’re trying to do when we get to under 18 is add more technical aspects, trying to develop the technical skills and the blueprint. Scottish Rugby have put together a technical blueprint where there are guidelines for under-16 under-18, under-20 – sort of a development to having building blocks on so that’s a big part of it. Then there’s obviously the physical side; they can start in the gym.
How do you think those new facilities at Sighthill campus have helped you?
Ben: The facilities are excellent, especially the development in the gym. The players, especially the younger ages, need a lot of equipment for their physical development. That is just as important as their skills on the field, so the new facilities are fantastic. It’s also good to be here in the University too because it’s obviously a learning environment and some of the players are at University here. It’s good for them to be learning and interacting with other students, it encourages them to develop holistically and to do further study and things which will help them in future life in case things don’t work out. They can learn discipline in study and how to manage their time and communicate with people.