Brian Ashton MBE -Former England Rugby Union Head Coach now Performance Coach Developer and Advisor

May 24, 2021

A fabulous and insightful discussion with Former England Rugby Union Head Coach – Brian Ashton – who would describe himself as ‘rebellious’ and someone keen to push boundaries for peak performance.

We explored the idea of VUCA coaching and followed the energy of the conversation.  In the spirit of not being constrained by boundaries and limitations of belief we covered some real ground and jumped around. It was a huge amount of fun full of ‘intrigue’ and ‘mystery’.

This is well worth an hour of your time. It has a rugby union flavour yet there are so many key principles and ideas relevant to other sports, coaching, leadership, business and life in general.

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Success quotes or sayings:

I am a child of the 50’s – Street Games

Adolescent of the rebellious 60’s

Teacher of History

Played in France and Italy – provided a great insight into rugby and life. Exposed to different cultures

Explore the term VUCA coaching

Kevin Roberts was a close mentor and friend and introduced the phrase – VUCA –  to him

  • Volatile
  • Uncertain
  • Complex
  • Ambiguous

(Military foundations)

Survive – Revive – Thrive

Many sports could be classed as VUCA games

Or could VUCA mean… (from Stanford Uni) This could be SUPER

  • Vibrant
  • Unreal
  • Crazy
  • Amazing

Coaching clichés for example – there is no space?

These are often ideas and stories for people to hide behind when things go wrong?

Constantly practicing the notion of impossibility

‘We were very self-reliant and self-sufficient, and we found a way of doing things’

Over time developed a mentality of finding a way and believing anything is possible

Having a growth mindset and accepting personal challenge as part of your DNA

What may be stopping people – FEAR!

Create this vibrant ‘family’ environment as arguably this is the strongest bond we have

This is environment and set up is very difficult for the opposition to play against and fantastic fun.

Nothing more exciting then doing something different and seeing it working.

Crazy coaches – take the ‘impossible’ notions and make them work. Good example is Dick Fosbury

Crazy coaches have a ‘changing mindset’

World class coaches or world changing coaches?

When I started I was the very opposite to a super VUCA coach

In my early days in the classroom I taught the subject and not the pupils and as a coach I coached the game and not the players.  So, I had no emotional connection [to the learners/players]

I sort out Pierre Villepreux and spoke with him. I ultimately spent a great deal of time with him.

The easy way is to tell people what to do but you only get short term results and will have to probably tell them again.

I brought him over because he was better than me. It was brave doing this.

He has a much more holistic and global approach to his coaching. He coached from the game itself

I developed a much more outcome-based approach to my coaching and tapped into the knowledge of the people and players around me.

There still seems to be a fear of seeming not ALL knowledgeable – Omniscient (Knowing everything)

A team that played for a whole season without kicking the ball

Wayne Smith   – ex All Blacks Coach

“ It’s the way you run the race not the way you win it that counts !” Get the processes right.

 Super VUCA coaches – you do not ignore the fundamental basics of peak performance when coaching. They underpin. Its how you fit them in.

Develop game intelligence and mental robustness and agility in order to be a ‘Super VUCA’ coach

Need to focus on 2 things..

  • Always keep the bigger picture in mind -whatever that might be.
  • The ability to focus intensely at the task in hand.

My purpose as a Rugby Coach was – Play to win by scoring tries

Pep Guardiola quotes as saying ‘When the players cross that white line, they take control of everything that happens next’

‘Prescriptive leads to restrictive’

Need to get these 3 things right – Responsibility, Ownership and Leadership – then can give them the Freedom

Enjoyment underpins everything

Dan Carter said “We have got to keep the fun in the game or we will all go stale”

The uncertainty is really exciting.

 The All Blacks do work incredibly hard to sustain excellence whilst off the pitch are laid back and ‘chilled’

Sir Graham Henry – “I arm my players with intent and step aside as the week goes on”

There are no fancy ideas in New Zealand Rugby – They play with clarity and simplicity and are given the freedom to play. They coach game intelligence from day 1


Quick fire questions:

How do you describe yourself as a coach?

 Change the way the game is played – is my raison d’etre

ad infinitum, et ultra  (to infinity and beyond)


In one sentence – What advice would you give to your teenage version of yourself?

Make the best of what you have got

Keep improving all the time

As a coach – Recognise you are on the planet to help other people

Lead from the shadows


Who has made a big impact on you?

Pierre Villepreux

Wayne Smith


Coaching questions I would like to pose:


In your work and home life – what phrase or belief are currently hiding behind to reinforce your view of the world and holding you back from what you can achieve?


Brian mention FEAR may be stopping people – what is your relationship to fear? What are you fearful of in work and at home that is stopping you maximise you impact and not bringing your creativity to life?  What do you need to do..?


Where could you access or invite somebody better that you into your world to help you improve? What is stopping you?


What are the fundamental basics of Peak Performance in your life? How do you fit these together? How could you do more or differently to maximise your  impact and performance?


Contact info:

Contact Dave Levine at Sport Stories and I will pass on your details

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