Clive Woodward's latest book, How to Win, will be released in paperback this summer. Rugby World savours his insights from his time in elite sports performance
Book review: Clive Woodward still has the winning formula
Sir Clive Woodward has aged well, judging from a comparison of the cover photos of his two books, Winning! and How to Win. Published 16 years apart, it would be easy to assume a substantial overlap of content. Easy but wrong.
His latest offering, How to Win, was published in hardback last November and the paperback edition is due out in July. Naturally, it touches on the keystones of England’s World Cup-winning success in 2003. However, Woodward introduces a raft of new learnings acquired during other spheres of elite sports performance.
Although the chapter structure, linking his insights to individual rugby positions, doesn’t convince, the quality of the narrative shines through. Thus the chapter called ‘Openside flanker’ is actually an engrossing road map of his leap into the Olympics movement.
Woodward has a UEFA coaching licence and had expected to embark on football management; MK Dons and Wycombe Wanderers had both offered him their manager’s job.
But the prospect of overseeing Team GB’s challenge at London 2012 was too enticing. He started in 2006 and immediately identified the inherent flaws of a Silo culture – 26 different sports operating independently and without cohesion. Furthermore, there was no incentive for Olympic sports to help each other because they were competing for funding.
Woodward went to the 2008 Games in Beijing and was concerned by what he saw. There was too much selfish behaviour, as when the swimmers, their competition over, were partying and disrupting other athletes still preparing for events.
He knew he had to transform the culture and enlisted the likes of Ben Ainslie, Rebecca Adlington, Katherine Grainger, Chris Hoy and Andy Murray to drive the values of his Teamship model for Team GB.
UK Sport set a target of 48 British medals at London 2012 and in the end they got 65 – 29 of them gold.
Teamship principles had provided the foundation of England’s 2003 world title. Whenever a new player joined England’s camp, their first task was to read the Black Book that documented everything expected of them. It contained seven categories, 35 sections and 240 Teamship rules, and was ever evolving.
The Black Book offered “a holistic model of building a winning culture” and the players not only bought into it but shaped it. For example, it was they who devised the idea of ‘Lombardi time’, which meant being ten minutes early and ready to start when on England duty.
Woodward says the biggest change in England’s culture from 1999 to 2003 was the quality of their communication. That extended to planting questions in press conferences so he could control the news agenda. On tour in June 2003, he got Peter Jackson, then of the Daily Mail, to ask about the roof in Melbourne and during that year’s World Cup he engineered a question about Jonny Wilkinson after his below-par match against Wales.
Woodward praises Eddie Jones’s media manipulation and has a lot of love for him generally. The final two chapters focus on Japan 2019 and he makes the striking assertion that the semi-final defeat of New Zealand was “England’s greatest performance of the professional era” – relegating the feats of his own champion team. England’s 2003 Grand Slam romp in Dublin was very special, perhaps even more so than the semi-final in Japan.
Of course, Woodward is a man for the big statement. And he’s earned the right to command our attention. He was in business for 16 years even before taking the England coach job in 1997 and has run multiple businesses on the threshold of technological innovation.
In sport, he has sometimes got it wrong – he admits to grieving after the 1999 World Cup and the 2005 Lions tour – but his willingness to push the boundaries is legendary. “Well-judged risk-taking” is how he might put it but how many people would go to his lengths?
During his seven years with England, he invited more than 50 people to stay with the team at Pennyhill Park. In return for no-holds-barred access, they had to come up with one idea about how England could do things better.
Many of the things we take for granted today stemmed, directly or in part, from Woodward’s quest for marginal gains. Such as the skin-tight kit that arose because Jason Robinson kept getting scragged in his looser-fitting jersey. Such as switching to an attack/defence mode of coaching after watching NFL training in Colorado. Such as using specialist training equipment, like bespoke 19st mannequins for breakdown technique or ‘turtle’ padded shields from Australia for catching high kicks.
We love the fact that the whole team had to wear black boots – making it less easy to spot offside players when in the defensive line – but that the back three wore white boots because they might brush the touchline when running down the flank.
“Inherited thinking is one of the most insidious, invasive and damaging diseases in any culture or organisation,” writes Woodward and he was never guilty of it.
He explores ‘critical non-essentials’ through the famous story of dentist Paddi Lund, and discusses the influence of Yehuda Shinar, the Israeli scientist from whom Sir Clive borrowed TCUP – thinking correctly under pressure. Nobody is born with the pressure gene, you train for it, is the message.
Before he became performance director at Southampton FC, Woodward visited their training ground. Matt Le Tissier was practising penalties. During his career the Saints midfielder converted 47 out of 48 penalties.
Says Woodward: “I find it utterly mystifying that the England football team failed to practise penalties for so many major tournaments, as if being led by superstition rather than common sense and reason. Like Jonny Wilkinson, Le Tissier was out there perfecting his technique.”
Woodward is critical, too, of World Rugby’s decision to call off the Italy v New Zealand game at Japan 2019 because it damaged the credibility of the tournament. “You hire two jumbo jets and play the game in Hong Kong if that is what it takes,” he says.
He advocates playing the Six Nations tournament over consecutive weekends to replicate a World Cup campaign, and champions promotion and relegation in both that and the southern hemisphere’s Rugby Championship. “Meritocracy is the fairest way to run the global game. You should have to earn your seat at the top table.”
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There’s a great deal to like about How to Win, which has been written in collaboration with Luke Benedict, a former journalist and now Head of English at Royal High School, Bath.
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