Our Director of Coach Development, Dom Wareing, shares what he’s done this year to become a better Youth Development Mentor.


On Jan 1st 2014 I set out to read 12 books before the end of the year, one each month. And unlike 90% of the New Year’s resolutions I’ve ever made, this year I actually managed to stick to it!

One reason I wanted to get back into reading regularly, aside from getting a Kindle for Christmas, was because I have a desire to become a better rugby coach and youth development mentor. I want to be able to effectively help the students and players I work with and I wanted to set the example of a growth mindset – always learning, asking questions and challenging myself to improve.

In 2014 I also took a sports life-coaching course which required a lot of reading and reframed how and why I read books. I really enjoyed the process and it has made me hungry not only to gain new information but to share what I’ve learned in the process.

And so, looking back at all I’ve read in 2014, I’d like to share five books I feel helped me as a Youth Development Mentor, rugby coach, colleague and person and offered good insight into creating a strong team culture!

#1 –Whale Done! The power of positive relationships. by Ken Blanchard


Not a book I would have pulled off the shelf on my own, but because it was a part of my life-coaching course I dove right in. Whale done! is a quick read and tells the story of a business manager who applies the techniques he learns, after a chance encounter from the trainers at Seaworld with Orcas, to his life at work and at home to good effect. One of these techniques is called “WHALE done” and centers on recognizing or catching the positive things people do and celebrating them, rather than pulling them up on the negative.

We do this at Play Rugby USA and call it “T.L.C. – Tell it, Label it, Celebrate it.” Catching positives requires specific praise of a specific action, explaining how it made you feel as a coach and finding an appropriate way to encourage that behavior, with the younger kids it can be as simple as a high five.

This doesn’t mean you ignore negative behaviors or actions, but rather you’re redirecting energy away from it by paying minimal attention to it. Whale done! offers a series of actions to guide you when negative behavior occurs in a session and it’s one of the best takeaways for me:

              • Describe the error or problem as soon as possible, clearly and without blame
              • Show its negative impact (to them, you and the team if applicable)
              • If appropriate, take blame for not making the task clear (did i demonstrate?)
              • Go over the task in detail & make sure it is clearly understood.
              • Express your continuing trust and confidence in the person.

I’ve had the opportunity to work with both young, beginner athletes as well as elite teams and found that there is generally a disparity in the way coaches give feedback to these groups – but why? Each group has a different set of standards, but why should there be less positive reinforcement with the elite athlete? I challenge all coaches to try the WHALE done! technique, even with adults and experienced players, and see if it has an impact. Incidentally had to watch Blackfish after reading this book for another perspective on the techniques at SeaWorld….

#2 –Drive, The surprising truth about what motivates us – Daniel Pink


This fascinating book reviews methods of motivation throughout history and how and why they worked. In the last several decades as jobs diversified the research shows the traditional methods of punishment and praise were no longer motivating people to do their best.

Researchers found that for people to be highly motivated in the modern job market:

  • they must be autonomous over their own actions
  • they must want to get better at what they do and aim to achieve mastery of it
  • Finally, they must have a reason to do it! This is often called finding a purpose & when it’s something that benefits not just the individual but others, whether it’s family, co-workers, the community or society, motivation soars.

I strive to build structures for players I work with to choose their pathway within a season or practice, with lots of games for understanding, open ended questions, and lots of choice both on and off the field. I ask for feedback and opinions all in an effort to keep motivation up. At my club we even have the google inspired 10% time, where players can work on whatever they want for 10% of practice time, either in groups or individually.

For those out there still coaching “like they were coached” by running teams into the ground after losing or making mistakes, getting very animated and shouting a lot, I challenge you to pick up this book, give it a read and see if there is another way to drive your players to greatness.

#3 – Ubuntu! An inspiring story about an African tradition of teamwork and collaboration Stephen Lundin & Bob Nelson

51KbBkBMgML._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_“Ubuntu is a philosophy that considers the success of the group above that of the ,individual” Ubuntu translates as “we are all in this together.”

As a rugby coach “Ubuntu” is exactly the mindset I would like to foster on my teams. The majority of this book seems like common sense, which a lot of leadership books have in common, with the central theme of treating others as equals and as humans rather than objects or just colleagues, teammates or family members, but on a deeper level. Implementing Ubuntu starts with me, “with trust and respect, others will give you the benefit of the doubt. Without trust and respect motivational techniques come across as manipulation.” Here’s what’s working for me:

  • I have been modeling behaviors in line with “Ubuntu” at practices, treating everyone with respect, reinforcing supporting one another, focusing on our common purpose and continually building trust through actions not just words.
  • Problems are addressed as soon as possible in “Ubuntu” with people encouraged to “move towards the problem rather than avoiding it or procrastinating” something i haven’t always done immediately, probably because i wanted to stay positive but now I try to move towards the problem and work out how to resolve it quickly and hopefully easily.
  • The emphasis of having fun while working is a fantastic take away from this book that a lot of coaches and leaders seem to forget, especially the higher up you go. Working hard and having fun can be achieved if the culture is right.

I imagine most of us are striving for “Ubuntu” at our clubs and with our players already, and although a very basic book, reading it may help create some structure for you or provide a couple of ideas to harmonize the group around your desired culture.

#4 – Leadership & self deception, getting out of the box – The arbinger Institute


This is the third book written in a first person perspective from my list and this time there is a distinct focus on the problems facing people everyday in & out of work and how these problems can be avoided. It really makes you focus on yourself rather than the problem or other people… not always easy!

We all suffer from self deception at some point; “the inability to see that one has a problem … It blinds us to the true causes of problems, and once we’re blind, all the ‘solutions’ we can think of will actually make matters worse.” I understood this as always blaming others for the conflict being caused, rather than stepping back to see what the underlying actions are that cause a person to act that way. You might even find that it’s you causing it!

When working with younger athletes that are misbehaving or adults that become hostile to your training style or become completely uninterested, remember that every behavior tells a story. Trying to learn that story – “why are they acting that way” – opposed to placing blame on them – “this guy doesn’t want it bad enough” – you may discover a way to change the behavior instead of perpetuating the negative one.

At PRUSA we recognize that emotions can be shared by the group, whether positive or negative and it only takes one person to bring them down. If we spot the person “being in the box” we can help them to climb out for the good of the group. There are other examples like this in this book presented as a “story” which helps with conflict resolution. I hope you give it a read and let me know what you think.

#5 – Change or Die – Alan Deutschman


“It doesn’t matter if you know what to do, if you can’t do what you know” This Martin Rooney quote gets right at the heart of this book which looks at why knowledge isn’t always power. I really enjoyed this book, based on the well known Fast Company article, and much like the ideas in Drive, it suggests that using tactics of coercion, force or fear really don’t work or have prolonged positive effects. If we apply this to athletes, how do we approach them when introducing new or challenging tactics, or when we make changes that may be unfamiliar? How do we get players to buy in? Relate, Reframe, Repeat.

The first step is to “relate” to our players. Turning up a couple of times a week may not be enough – have you created informal time, before or after practice where you can talk to your players about something other than rugby? In an adult club, do you have contact with players outside of practice? Following up on injuries or calling them on their birthday? These little things go a long way to creating a trusting bond with players and may allow you to help get your message across when, for example, you would like a player to change position on the team.

Asking a back to move into the forwards can been seen as a demotion for someone that believes they are fast. Reframing the change could help get their buy in – “moving into the forwards is vital to the success of the team because we want a new mobile flanker that can get to the breakdowns fast…” This change or acceptance of the change won’t happen overnight so relating and reframing will need to be repeated.

Change or Die also introduces the psych concepts associated with change and has some fascinating case studies throughout. Its a great book and will really make you think about the way can get the most out of your players when introducing a new idea or technique.

There you have it – the 5 books that helped me learn how I could improve as a youth development mentor this year!

I would love to discuss these and other books or articles you have read that would benefit me as a coach and your thoughts on this blog. Just leave your comments below or tweet at me. As part of my quest to continually improve & become a better coach i want to share the things i have learned along my journey so far…so until my next blog, Go forward!

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