July 16, 2019

Bright future built on past experiences - an Interview with Gregor Wood

Written by:
Sarah Juggins

Gregor Wood is one of rugby’s bright young stars when it comes to coaching. A million miles removed from the old school rugby coaches of yesteryear for whom results were everything, Gregor’s concern is to develop the whole player and inspire a lifelong love of the game.

That is not to say the Scotsman, who played for Scotland U21s as well as the SRU Club Amateur team, isn’t also prepared to make his players work hard to achieve success.

“Positive character traits such as work-ethic, grit, willingness to support others and a ‘team-first’ mentality are more important to me than talent,” he says. “Helping the players that I coach develop these (and other) traits is a big focus as I believe hard-work trumps everything else and you get what you deserve – although, unfortunately, often as a 16 year old this doesn’t always happen at the moment that you would like it to.”

Gregor is in a great position to make an impact as a rugby coach. He is currently Head of Senior Boys’ Sport at Stewart’s Melville College in Edinburgh. He teaches physical education and is the assistant coach to the 1st XV. As a busman’s holiday, he also coaches on the Edinburgh U18 regional courses during the summer months.

As a rugby player himself, Gregor has experienced a wide range of coaches and coaching styles. From the fathers who volunteered to coach their seven-year-old sons at local club training to giants of the game such as Iwan Tukalo, Cammy Mather and Donny McFadyen, Gregor has seen a lot of different approaches over the past few years and that has inevitably influenced the way he coaches the sport.

“The way the dad’s ran the Sunday morning coaching sessions had us desperate for each Sunday to come round. But, regardless of who the coach was, the message that stands out for me as I reflect back is the importance of upholding the standards that you, and your school or club, believe in.”

This approach calls for consistency and that is a quality that Gregor pursues relentlessly in his own coaching and teaching. “The environment that a coach can create for everyone involved in the team is vital to achieving success – whatever form success takes for that group.”

One of the School Objectives is to create well rounded rugby players regardless of position who can handle the ball and understand attacking and defensive principles.

This spills over into school life as well. At Stewart’s Melville, the PE Department’s aim is to make the sports programme a key part of every student’s life and that is what the entire department works towards.

“The small details really matter,” says Gregor. “If I am part of a team that prides itself on being together, hard-working and progressive, then that is what we all need to be at all times.

Gregor identifies three key concepts that underpin his own coaching that he has, in turn, drawn from coaching experiences in the past.

“Standards: you should look to live the values and behaviours you believe in and take pride in belonging to your club or school because it matters to you.
It is also important to provide context for your players. Playing games and live practices can be used to provide context for whatever skill or tactic is being learnt or developed.
The third thing is that feeling of unity, cohesion and belonging. This is about more than the sport, it is about having a group of mates that will last longer than anyone’s playing career!”

Like most active coaches, Gregor sees his own coaching as an ever-developing process but there are some underpinning qualities that direct and shape most of his coaching ideas. First and foremost, he wants his players to love the sport. “My goal is not to produce the best U16/U18 player,” he says, “but someone who has a lifelong interest and involvement in rugby because they truly love it.”

He also emphasises the importance of building positive relationships between all members of a squad - from the players to the coaching staff to the parents. As a coach, he explains that he wants to understand just what motivates each individual, not just on the rugby field but in life generally.

“As coaches we are afforded a unique opportunity to help shape the lives of the people that we are in contact with. If I understand the needs and wants of the individual in front of me, be it to gain a professional contract when they leave school, to improve his or her confidence going into a match, or resilience in defeat, then I will be able to help them along their journey more effectively. I know I don’t always have the answers to rugby or life’s problems but I genuinely care about the players’ development and well-being. They understand that and that means that we will work harder for one another and have a better experience during the time we spend together.” - Gregor Wood

Stewart's Melville players celebrate winning the U18 Final. Fotosport/David Gibson

One of the things that many coaches struggle to understand is that 16-year-old players are not mini adults but have their own complex needs. It is something Gregor is all too aware of: “They may look like adults but they are not wired the same and haven’t had the experiences of their adult counterparts to allow them to cope with the demands that some coaches may be placing on them.

“A lot of young people also give off the impression that they are bulletproof, but underneath there is a complex individual who is still trying to identify their place in the world, deal with the increasing pressures put on them socially and academically and who need a lot of time and support through this process. I would say that this is not exclusive to U16s or U18s but will be the same with a lot of younger players going into senior or club rugby.

“That said, I wish that I had grown up with rugby looking as it does now as their skill sets and understanding of the game are ridiculously good. A number of our players have been given freedom within their sessions and are not shackled by the ‘game-plan’ or rugby by numbers, and you can see this in the way that they approach challenges in training sessions and matches.”

The school uses Coach Logic to enhance its coaching and matchplay but this summer, the school is taking the technology to new heights – and long distances. Gregor and other members of the coaching staff at Stewart’s Melville are taking a rugby tour to Canada and Coach Logic has proven invaluable in the preparations for the tour.

“We have been using Coach Logic to highlight areas of play among teams that we aspire to play like. This may be clips of Bristol’s forwards putting the ball through their hands or Glasgow’s ability to generate speed in attack to distress the opposition.

“The discussions that we are having around how we want to play the game, things that we can do better and getting to know each other would not happen without the platform.

“Our players are able to access clips of their performance, both in matches and training, which allows them to take ownership of their development. They are also able to share moments with coaches, ask for advice or to offer suggestions which will make them better players.

“As coaches we will use it to identify or highlight our ‘rocks’ to players within matches such as clips of outstanding effort or creativity, although we are also sure that some players will take the time to go through and watch the whole match, tagging their highlights and development needs to share with us – which is amazing.”

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