Grey High 2014 Rugby Season: Inside the Dream Team with Tim Goodenough

First published on written by Lungelo Mdlalda










Photo via Cath Wilson Photography

Grey High School’s 1st XV has made some impressive achievements this year, with the most prominent being their defeat of Grey College after a 10 year long wait. The boys were labelled the dream team due to their consistent results since the U14 age group. The school also provided EP with 7 Craven Week players and 3 SA Schools players. Mental Coach, Tim Goodenough, analyzes some of the processes the team and management went through this season.

Can you describe the type of work you have been doing with the Grey 1st XV players, management, and Coaches?  
Tim Goodenough: The Grey High School Director of rugby Brent Janse Van Rensburg asked me to get involved at the school earlier in the year and from a diary point of view the first time we could make it work was in the middle of May before the Wynberg Reunion weekend.  I had worked well with him whilst he was at the NMMU Madibaz, and on the strength of that relationship I would always be interested in working with him again.

His vision is to create a Grey Rugby Talent Pipeline

His vision is to create a Grey Rugby Talent Pipeline where each age group has targeted culture, rugby skills, unit skills, conditioning goals, tactical goals and mental skills goals. This will create a steady growth progression culminating in a rugby player with all round rugby, mental and life skills leaving the school after achieving on and off the field throughout his schooling years.

This year’s 1st team was labelled by some as the “Dream Team”

We are currently discussing and fine-tuning all the particulars and processes that will be part of the Mental Conditioning part of the Grey Rugby Talent Pipeline and my extended involvement in the school, and I am pretty excited about the project. My first trip in May was to teach fundamental High Performance Mental skills and principles to as wide a base as possible, so that everyone can build from there. I had sessions with the 1st and 2nd team squads, u14 and u15 rugby squads, various coaches at the school as well as other identified top talent. Since then I have returned for two follow up trips, the most recent on the Grey College weekend.  I have been a regular speaker at Grey over the last few years, so I was fortunate to have several people in the system who have heard my “Raising Talent” message before and had bought into it.  The support of the school and in particular the Rector Mr Neil Crawford and the strong relationships created a great platform for me to work from. Thank you for all the coaches, teachers, sponsors and other support staff at Grey- I truly feel part of the Grey family.

My goal with sports teams is to first identify where they are and their current challenges and help them find the next step, whatever that may be. I then provide whatever High Performance theory and/or mental skills techniques that are relevant to support the team finding their own lessons and solutions.

How did you help the players in particular prepare for the match mentally?
Tim Goodenough: I help players and teams identify their recipe to be their best, and once we have locked that down I help them develop the mental skills to follow their recipe regardless of the circumstance or help them remove the interference that is stopping them following their own recipe.

I probably can add around 10% to a team, or stop them from losing 20%

In my job, in the short to medium term, I probably can add around 10% to a team, or stop them from losing 20%, however to do that I need buy-in and support from the management and players. As the metaphor goes, I can’t be the cake, I can only be the icing. Fortunately for me a tremendous amount of hard work had already been done when I came on board and my contribution was just helping the team evolve that little bit further.

A healthy attitude to failure is critical for individuals and teams who want to be truly successful.

As an example of this, the Grey High Performance pathway includes a technical department. Passionate and hardworking Grey juniors run that department and use a professional rugby coding software tool to label and sort the match day footage they capture themselves on match day for all “A” Rugby teams, from u14 upwards.  This enables all “A” players to review their game during the following week as they prepare for their next game. At 1st team level this footage is combined with footage of opposition games and is done in more depth to provide the same level opportunities for learning and analysis as a professional team may have. The technical department was launched this year and there has been a steady progression in quality and understanding of what is needed from all involved. It’s this kind of environment that I personally thrive in, as all the other high performance aspects such as conditioning, medical, technical, tactical, unit and individual work is all being incrementally improved to a very high standard, it creates a great platform for me to do what I do. I get to add the icing ☺

It was about building positive individual and collective belief even though there had been some disappointments

How was the team ethos in your very first sessions with the team and management and what changes did you see take place towards your last sessions with the team and management?
Tim Goodenough: This year’s 1st team was labelled by some as the “Dream Team” as they had really good results throughout their age-group rugby years. This is a tough label to live up to and deal with, and what made it especially tough was that the team had lost their 3 most recent games where they had been dominant for large periods of the game. My job was to get them talking at a deeper level, to really unpack the lessons of the losses and to reconcile the “Dream Team” label with a team that had lost a few and help them come to a choice point about what they wanted to do about that. From that point it was about building positive individual and collective belief even though there had been some disappointments. A healthy attitude to failure is critical for individuals and teams who want to be truly successful. Much to their credit the team responded very well to these difficult conversation and since then they have been steadily accumulating belief, lessons and results. The more recent sessions have been on fine-tuning the team’s performance recipe and using the techniques I taught them to enhance team culture and deal with mental interferences and doubts whilst pulling the team closer together.

My purpose is to use sport to help people become better people

What goals did you set for yourself going into working with the Grey PE team?
Tim Goodenough: As strange as this may sound my personal goal is not about winning. I love to win and compete, but what is even more important to me is to help the team or individual’s I work with to create inspiring moments for themselves that they can fondly reflect on in 20 years time. These moments create a special bond for all involved, and these moments often lead to significant life lessons. My purpose is to use sport to help people become better people. We create inspiring moments by going after meaningful goals together and challenging ourselves and each other to be the best we can be. There has been several “goosebump” moments this year and many of them where off the pitch. Because of that I count this season as a success and the results were just a bonus.

The depth of leaders within the squad definitely contributed to the success of the team

Were there any individual players that you thought the team looked up to?  
Tim Goodenough: I thought there were many strong young men in the team who lead in their different ways, from the Captain Johann Van Niekerk to Vice-Captain Jeremy Ward to other role leaders, including an important role in my process the Captain of the Vibe: Robin Stevens.  In my opinion the depth of leaders within the squad definitely contributed to the success of the team. My sessions are more about the players talking then they are about me talking and there were some crucial contributions from a wide variety of players throughout the season.  I also think the Management team worked incredibly well together under Brent’s leadership and the players benefited from this cohesion and unity.

What were the initial challenges Coaches and management faced with the team?
Tim Goodenough: From when I joined the team it was the dip in form and finding a way to pull together amongst all the challenges – the team was already doing all of that, I believe I just accelerated it a little bit ☺
Was there any internal competition between players competing for a starting XV placing and how did you work on eliminating that so that players worked in unison?

Tim Goodenough: I believe that every schoolboy 1st team squad member who completes a challenging pre-season would want to play for their 1st team. I think Grey is no different in this regard. Obviously when a player doesn’t make the team it is a disappointment, however the combination of the close integration of the 1st and 2nd team, Brent’s honesty to the player about his non-selection and the opportunity to play your way onto the 1st team field as a substitute with a quality 2nd team performance all helps. I wasn’t aware of anything other than healthy competition in this regard.
The buildup is planned and scripted with nothing left to chance

How important was the Coaches’ and management’s role on the day of the Grey College vs Grey PE victory?
Tim Goodenough: Our job is to prepare the team to the best of our ability, the players have to go out there and play the game. There is an incredible amount of planning and detail that goes into a season, and this is really evident on game day, when the week’s planning goes into the final phase. From the Friday before the game the buildup is planned and scripted with nothing left to chance. Brent and his assistant coach Tim Fraser drive this process along with the larger management team of John Karantges, Fenner Barnard, Barend Pieterse and more recently conditioning coach Andre Goosen and myself. Other key members of the management team are Dr Konrad von Hagen the EP Kings medical doctor and Andri Voigt the team physio.

On game day our job is to stick to our (proven) processes, deal with any hiccups or distractions proactively and effectively, keep level-headed and focus on enjoying the occasion as a form of leadership. From a strategy point of view there are some strategic calls to be made during the game, and our job is to keep objective and focused to provide the best possible support to the boys on the field, most of our work is done by game day, it’s up to the players then to enjoy the experience and give their best.

How did the players feel after they won, can you try and describe their feelings?
Tim Goodenough: We had spoken about what winning would mean to us as a team and the school, to the old boys and especially to Mr Vaughan Jones – a beloved Grey teacher who had tragically passed away on the Tuesday before the game. We created “movies” of what it would look like having the school run onto the field after a win, and what we had to do to earn that experience. I have been fortunate to meet many of the parents of the boys in the team, and seeing many of them and their sons hugging after the game was a particular highlight for me. I think the players were incredibly proud and satisfied with what they had achieved for themselves, each other, their school, their parents and Mr Jones.
Winning and losing are both certainties in sport, it’s good to appreciate and extract lessons from both.

What was your feeling after the Grey PE team won?
Tim Goodenough: Watching the joy, hugging and tears in the immediate aftermath of the final whistle amongst the Grey High players and supporters, as well as the grim and disappointed faces of the Grey College players, these thoughts crossed my mind: It’s always special to win an important game and to see the delighted expressions on the faces of people you have come to know and care about. I am often called on to assist in derby’s which is a great privilege but also a technical challenge as there is normally not a lot of time. I have learnt to only accept if I have complete buy-in and support from the coach who has a complementary philosophy and style to my own. I also need at least 2 sessions of a few hours each with a team which gives me a chance to influence them. This allows me to be part of the team contribution and supports me learning valuable lessons regardless of the outcome; to appreciate the victory or take responsibility if there is a loss. Over the last few years I have lost a few and won a few and so every time we win I am grateful for the experience whilst at the same time remembering the feeling of what it felt like to lose. Winning and losing are both certainties in sport, it’s good to appreciate and extract lessons from both. What I have found is since I changed my philosophy from just having to win to creating opportunities for inspiring moments I feel less pressure and I’m able to walk away from losses without such a heavy heart.

I did not hear one excuse or one bad word about anything

How was the level of sportsmanship during the match?
Tim Goodenough: It was a quality match that was played hard and with good sportsmanship. What impressed me most was that every single Grey College official, from the Principal Mr Deon Scheepers, to the Coach Wessel du Plessis and every other Grey College staff member I interacted with at the after match function where all incredibly gracious in defeat. I did not hear one excuse or one bad word about anything and for a proud school to behave in this way after what I would guess for them was an unexpected loss deepened my admiration for them and made the success more meaningful.

Before the team played Grey College they hadn’t achieved victory since 2004, How did that weigh on the whole group (Coaches, Management, and Players) mentally and how did you help them believe that is was possible to break that victory drought?
Tim Goodenough: Part of my team process that I have fine-tuned is dealing with doubts, fears and limiting beliefs for teams on an individual level. I call this process Scanning. It’s the same process we used for the SA u19 boys for the Junior Cricket World Cup in 2014. What was interesting for me in this case was that by the time we got to the Grey College game very little work needed to be done in terms of belief and dealing with doubts and fears. The players had already done a lot of work themselves so our build up was more focused on connection, togetherness, enjoyment and following our recipe for success.

What lessons do you feel players take from this experience that you feel they can apply to their daily lives?
Tim Goodenough: I haven’t asked them this question, however I am hoping they will take away the sure knowledge that when they fully commit to meaningful and audacious goals and work very hard in a focused way – they give themselves a great chance of success whilst inspiring those around them.  My belief is that they will carry that knowledge with them not just in rugby, but in life.