Mental Toughness Can Be Taught

Eddie Jones got into his profession almost by accident when he was hired as a lecturer in English and rugby coach at a Japanese university.

Eddie Jones is head coach of the England national rugby team.

Q. Tell me about your early life.

A. I was brought up in Sydney. My father was in the army and my mother was Japanese, educated in America. Obviously, being half-Japanese, half-Australian in Australia at the time was a bit different, but I went to a primary school that was strong on sport and I was a reasonable cricketer and rugby player. Sport was a way for me to go forward.

Then I went to university, did a degree in physical education, became a teacher, started off in what then was a little school called International Grammar School, Sydney. I was there for 10 years, progressed up to deputy principal, then served for 18 months as acting principal, which was a fantastic learning experience.

Q. How did you get into rugby coaching?

A. A Japanese university invited me to be a lecturer in English and a rugby coach. I had no idea what I was getting into. But I had had a good run in education — I had gone as far as I wanted to go, and I thought, “Why not give it a go?”

I had 100 students, and the team wasn’t good, but it was the best learning experience of my life. I was coaching Japanese university kids. I didn’t improve them much, but I learned a hell of a lot about how to adjust in a new environment, how to be productive in a new culture, and I learned about coaching.

Q. Mental toughness is something we hear about a lot, in sports and in other domains. Can it be trained, or is it innate?

A. It’s very much trainable. I think everyone’s born with a degree of mental toughness. I think it depends on your family life, how you were educated by your parents, what sort of school you went to, but then the environment you go into in a team can create a much higher level of mental toughness.

Q. Even at the professional level?

A. You never stop learning. And the fact is that if you think you’ve stopped learning, your career is almost finished.

Q. So what do you understand mental toughness to mean?

A. Mental toughness, to me, is your ability to keep doing what you’re supposed to be doing regardless of a situation, regardless of whether you’re physically or mentally fatigued. Because it hurts. High-level sport is uncomfortable. We try to teach the players to be to be comfortable at being uncomfortable.

Q. You are known for working people hard. Do you think you’ve ever pushed people too much?

A. Definitely. I’ve made mistakes in the past. One of the things you learn is how far you can push each player. When I was young, I felt that everyone should have the same level of commitment as I was prepared to put in. But you learn as you get older that everyone has their own way of doing things, and sometimes you’ve got to allow people to do it their own way.

Q. How do tell someone they’re not good enough for the team?

A. Well, one of the things I’ve learned is that whenever you tell anyone something disappointing, whatever you say after the initial conversation, they don’t hear. So conversations need to be short.

Q. How about your own personal disappointments? How did you cope with being fired as coach of the Australia rugby team in 2005, after a string of losses?

A. Probably, in retrospect, not well for a couple of years, but at the time I just moved on and got on with other jobs and absorbed myself in other jobs. I probably didn’t reflect hard enough on the mistakes that I made. I think whenever you get a disappointment like that, whether it’s right or wrong, the most important thing is your ability to reflect and understand where you need to improve.

Q. Do you look back on that as a formative experience?

A. Oh, 100 percent! When I look back, I’m not thankful that I was sacked as the coach, but it has allowed me opportunities to do things that have been enormously rewarding: coaching South Africa, coaching Japan, coaching England. The Australia job really helped me in that regard.

Q. What is your proudest moment as a coach?

A. I would say that’s to come. I think one of the things in leadership, you can’t dwell too much on past victories, it’s all about what you can do better.

Q. Tell me about your planning process. How detailed are your long-term plans?

A. You always have a broad strategic plan about how you want to develop the team. Then, at the same time, you’ve got to be looking at the environment and trying to adjust to changes.

Q. You’ve talked about players’ relaxing. Are you not worried about this going too far and seeing players in the news headlines? We see this sort of situation fairly often in sports.

A. Well, the situation is that if they’re drunk, they won’t be on the team. They’ve got responsibilities. You’ve got to give young people opportunity to show leadership. If you don’t give them opportunities to show leadership, how do they grow? So you’ve got to be prepared for people to make mistakes.

Q. What advice would you give to a young person?

A. Players go stale and stop learning when they’re just doing one thing. I think it’s important that you find the time to study and meet different people, because that broadens your outlook on life. And you’ve got to teach yourself to manage your own time; if you want to be successful at anything, you have to be very good at your own personal time management.

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