Friday 9 December 2016

The secret of Joe Schmidt's success? Shaking hands every day

Published 08/01/2016 | 12:05

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt saw his side knocked out of the World Cup
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt saw his side knocked out of the World Cup

IRELAND rugby coach Joe Schmidt has shared the secret of his success at the Pendulum Summit. And it’s typical of his down-to-earth approach to life.

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When asked by young coaches how to get to the top, he tells them that they should instead focus on the people they are training right now.

He believes that if you have the right team around you, it's important to get to know that team.

Giving a talk at the Pendulum Summit, taking place today at the National Convention Centre in Dublin, Schmidt shared a story about his early teaching days when he was made the deputy principal of a school in his native New Zealand.

On the second day, he discovered the "moist leaves" of cannabis that a young lad had in his lunchbox.

He suspended him but was legally threatened by the boy’s mother.

Three days later at the disciplinary hearing, with lawyers in attendance, the boy’s mother pleaded for a second opportunity for her son.

“I didn’t know whether to be delighted or thoroughly pissed off because I’d stewed for three days,” Schmidt said.

When he got home that evening, his wife had received a bunch of flowers and a card, along with a voucher for a meal out at a restaurant in the post.  It was from the principal and the card said: “Look, I know your husband has probably been difficult to live with for the last three days.”

“She thought that was funny because she knew I’d been difficult to live with for the last 15 years,” quipped Schmidt.

The card went on to say Schmidt had done a great job and to go out and have a meal.

Schmidt revealed that in New Zealand you can’t offer someone more money because of pay scales. So you keep staff by investing in them, getting to know them, make them feel like they are delivering what needs to be delivered.

“I left two years later,” said Schmidt, to laughter. However, he added that it wasn’t because of that incident – it was because he moved into coaching.

One of the big challenges Schmidt said he faced was at that school. A group of around 1,000 girls from the nearby girls college had decided to march in support of low paid teachers – and they marched to the boys’ school.

Schmidt told teachers to hold the line and not let the boys join them.

“We get through the first five, ten minutes of it,” he said.

One boy jumped the fence and Schmidt thought it was over.

“I yelled out his name and said don’t move – get back over the fence.”

“He looked at me and he looked at the thousand girls and he looked back at me and slowly climbed back over the fence,” said Schmidt to more laughter.

“I knew his name, I knew his mum and dad, I’d invested in him,” he explained. “He was an outstanding sportsman…he knew that because I knew exactly who he was that he couldn’t do what he was going to do.”

“We held the line til the bell went. It was like a boxing match and everybody went back to their corner,” he added.

“If I hadn’t invested in him I would lost him and all the other young men, and they wouldn’t have returned,” said Schmidt.

The Ireland rugby coach said it was important to encourage team members to acknowledge each other, referring to his early Leinster days when he was told the most 'common' positive thing he had introduced was to get the squad to shake hands with one another at the start of the day.

It was a habit he’d picked up from his time in France, he explained.

Schmidt felt ‘broken’ by it because he didn’t see it as a glamorous thing to have brought to the room.

But then he realised that the young boys in the Academy felt uplifted by it because it showed them that star players like Brian O’Driscoll – who they’d always felt were otherworldly – sought them out and shook their hand in the morning.

“It drew them out,” he said, adding that it built on their confidence.

Meanwhile, Schmidt told delegates Einstein said it was more important not to be a man of success, but to be a man of value.

He revealed that he never sets a goal for himself and thinks it’s best not to do so because such goals are built on ‘shifting sands’, while concrete foundations are better.

“I often meet young coaches ad they say how do you get on the pathway,” said Schmidt.

“I say you don’t. Instead it was better to invest with the people they’re working with because if they feel they are only a means to an end, you don’t get the same conviction from them.

“If you invest in them, their response will allow you to take a step,” he said.

He said he had learned more from the players he had coached.

Meanwhile, the same philosophy is carried  through to Schmidt’s own home – and at dinner, the coach  often asks his teenage sons what they did for someone else that day.

“It becomes a base for the people that we would love them to be,” he said.

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