Pat Lam: Our game, culture and leadership drive everything at Connacht
As a player and coach, I've been very fortunate to be involved in successful teams around the world but also very lucky to be involved in unsuccessful teams.
I say that because it has allowed me to understand what is really needed to be a successful team both on and off the pitch.
Before I took the role as coach here, I met with the club for an initial chat and it was clear that they had a vision of where they wanted to take Connacht Rugby and that was exciting. I explained my own philosophy and what I would want to bring to the role.
That hasn't changed in my three years at Connacht and the key areas that I focus on as a head coach and that I believe are vital from my own learnings and experiences are: the game; the culture; and the leadership. And you can't have one without the others.
The vision of 'the game' is a simple one for us. I often get asked, 'What type of game do you play at Connacht Rugby?' From the start, we've stated that we don't want to be known as a team that always kicks or a team that only runs the ball. We want to be known as a team that can be comfortable to adapt to any type of game to ensure victory regardless of who we're playing, where we're playing or the conditions. In rugby terms, we want to have to systems that allow us to go through a team, around a team or over a team. Which is why we have such a big emphasis on players' skill development and increased knowledge of the game.
The players often hear me say: 'Good players play the game; great players know the game'. That's a continual process that we work on from week to week.
Another focus in 'the game' is to ensure that all the players have absolute clarity in what their role is and what the game plan is. As a player, there was nothing better for me than knowing exactly what we were trying to do as a team and what my job was. And that's what we're trying to build here. We want every player - whether you're an academy player training with us, or the most-capped player in the squad - to be crystal clear on what is expected of them.
When it's comes to 'the culture' it's about the way we do things and our team spirit. I always compare it to going to war. When your life depends on it, you want to know who you are fighting for and who you are fighting with. That's why we do our community visits, why we go out to all our five counties.
Obviously it's part of our bigger plan to grow the game across the province, but it also helps when we have a mix of players from Ireland and also from around the world. It's important for them to know who they represent. And when you have that understanding and the right culture, players will do amazing things against the odds.
'Leadership' is the ability to influence people which is why I believe everyone can be a leader, regardless of age or experience. We challenge all our players and staff to constantly improve themselves. If you improve yourself individually, your influence on others becomes more positive which impacts the collective.
The big equation that sums up everything I'm trying to do is: 'I believe your vision drives your leadership; your leadership drives your culture; your culture drives performance, which leaves a legacy'.
When it comes to leadership within our squad, we have a senior leadership group known as 'the Chieftains'. This group of eight players were selected through a survey completed by the entire squad and management. Certain qualities like leading by example or by voice are called out. We then interview the players.
It started out two years ago as a very formal interview process before a panel to ensure that the player really wants the role and see what value they can add to the role. This year the process was less formal and, fortunately, we have a group of men who are passionate about Connacht Rugby being successful. They are not seen as a players' union but are rather the group that lead and drive the culture within our squad.
You can't underestimate how important it is to have all these elements right throughout a big season. As well as our game plan, we will be relying on our 'culture' and our 'leadership' when we go up against the Pro12 champions in Glasgow tonight.