What Drives Performance: Processes Not Outcomes

TAGS: What Drives Performance, Suntory Rugby Club, 2015 Rugby World Cup, strength and conditioning coach, Rugby, Ashley Jones

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I frequently get emails from a range of young coaches asking for advice on personal development, programming, career advice, and possible internships. After receiving some emails from a young Japanese coach, I asked him if it was okay to use our correspondence as the corner piece of this article.

I first went to Japan in 1999 on a three-month strength and conditioning coaching consultancy with the Suntory Rugby Club, based in west Tokyo. Subsequently, I have made numerous trips as a tourist and as a strength and conditioning coach, specifically with the Panasonic rugby team (formerly Sanyo), based in Ota City, which is situated about 90 minutes northwest of Tokyo.

I have always had a deep respect for the Japanese culture; the work ethic and desire to improve the Japanese rugby player is second to none. This desire went a long way to securing a major win in the 2015 Rugby World Cup against South Africa.


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In our industry, there is a tendency to focus on what we individually do best and not necessarily what the athlete needs. I was guilty of this in my early career. In my earlier career, I would have said that I could easily objectively measure my success through the number of my players who were hitting their individual targets. After years, I am not tied to those thoughts anymore; I am successful if the processes that I have developed over time are adhered to and if they produce a good performance on the weekend game.

I like to say that we are process-governed but outcome-judged. The bottom line is that irrespective of what and why and how we do things, we will be judged purely by the end season position on a table. It is out of our hands in a lot of ways, but at least if I am out of a job but have adhered to my processes and not compromised my principles or my morals and values, then I can honestly say that I have been successful in my role as a strength and conditioning coach. As a mentor for younger coaches, the other aspect is how many assistant coaches or people I have mentored have gone on to become head strength and conditioning coaches.

I realized early on that I definitely would have to have thick skin if I wanted to be process or principle governed, because I am the first one who has to buy-in to my own process of strength training and have the firm belief in it, especially at the high-performance level such as club and international rugby. I had seen many times, even here in Scotland when I first arrived, that strength and conditioning coaches were training players to pass tests and achieve standards rather than make them better rugby players. I have attempted to erase that mentality and introduce my process-driven philosophy into all programming here where I can influence it. The tried-and-tested methods and exercise selection form the backbone of the program; strength underpins all elements of performance, but it is not the endpoint of programming.

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Self-belief develops over time with a knowledge of what you are doing that is driving performance. You see players develop into fine rugby players and are selected for higher honors along the way as well. Certainly, if you do not believe in yourself or your program, then it is doomed to be a failure. You have to sell the program each and every day with passion. The players pick up on this and will give you more — that is why the job is so demanding on coaches since you put so much of your heart and soul into each and every day.

I return to meditative practices when I am under the most stress in my working life. I find that this breathing meditation has always been a source of great mental help in achieving what I wish to achieve. It has also helped in the belief that this is just not a job but a vocation or a calling, if you like, to help others become the best that they can be.

I have been interested in the Samurai from a very early age, and have read all I can on the Way of Service and the Code of Conduct. This, combined with a very basic knowledge of Zen Buddhism, has helped me maintain my focus of what is important in my life. I have not practiced a martial art but have read heavily in the lives of the masters that have developed each of these ways. Some of my favorites have been:

  • Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi
  • The Teachings Aikido by Morihei Ueshiba
  • Mind Over Muscle by Jigoro Kano

I also do suffer from bouts of low self-esteem but find I can shake these off by lifting in the weight room and writing and returning to the books that give me great focus. The joy of reading instilled in me by my late mother has been my greatest refuge in times of self-doubt. My times traveling to and living in Japan have also allowed me to see first-hand some of these wonderful ideas in action.


MORE: The Evaluation of a Strength and Conditioning Coach: A Process-Based Profession in an Outcome-Based System


For those of you that are contemplating a career in this line of work, I thought it might be an opportune time to conclude this reflective article with an outline a typical day so you can see what goes on. This will vary from week to week and from program to program (and even from person to person), but hopefully, it will give you an insight into the life

  • 5:00–5:30 AM — Usually wake before the alarm
  • 5:30–5:45 AM — Breathing meditation
  • 6:00–6:30 AM – Double Nespresso Pod coffee and attend to emails
  • 6:30–8:00 AM — Drive to the training center, do my training session, preview the day's training, list what equipment is needed
  • 8:00–9:00 AM — Set up equipment, answer any phone messages, meet with coaches, assistants, and physiotherapists as required
  • 9:00–1:00PM — Player monitoring into training sessions with players (more neural type sessions such as speed, power, and skills)
  • 1:00–2:00 PM — Designated lunch break for everyone
  • 2:00–5:00 PM — Training sessions with players (more metabolic types sessions such as aerobic, anaerobic conditioning, and activities)
  • 5:00–6:00PM — Review the day, answer work emails, and make any phone calls that are required
  • 6:00–8:00 PM — Maybe a yoga class, dinner, a bit of television, music, personal emails, personal development time, personal phone calls, reading for pleasure
  • 8:00 PM — Mobile phone off, breathing meditation, and then lights out

Well, this is my life Monday to Friday during the season. I hope it gives you some insight to how I spend my day.

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