Clive Woodward | Interview | Podcast | Maria Franzoni | MFL Global

Interview with GB’s Former Director of Sport for the British Olympic Association, Sir Clive Woodward

This week Maria interviewed Sir Clive Woodward, the World Cup winning head coach who led England’s rugby players to World Cup glory in Australia in 2003. He himself is a former England international and British and Irish Lion. During Clive’s tenure as head coach, England moved from number 6 in the world to be the number 1 ranked team, winning every trophy an England team could win.

Clive was GB’s Director of Sport for the British Olympic Association.  He worked in close partnership with key stakeholders to support the national coaches and athletes at the Beijing and Vancouver Olympics. As well as to deliver team Britain’s most successful Olympic Games at London 2012.

Maria:  

Sir Clive Woodward is the World Cup winning head coach who led England’s rugby players to World Cup glory in Australia in 2003. He himself is a former England international and British and Irish Lion. During Clive’s tenure as head coach, England moved from number 6 in the world to being the number 1 ranked team. Winning every trophy an England team could win.

In 2006, Clive joined the British Olympic Association as team GBs Director of Sport. He worked in close partnership with key stakeholders to support the national coaches and athletes at the Beijing and Vancouver Olympics. As well as to deliver team Britain’s most successful Olympic Games at London 2012.

Clive is the founding chairman of Hive Learning. An app, which has digitized Clive’s coaching methods and has designed to improve the quality of learning in business and sport. He is the Director of Sport at the APEX 2100 International Ski Academy, which aims to become the world’s leading high performance academy for young aspiring alpine skiers.

Hello Clive, how are you?

Clive Woodward:       

Hi Maria, I’m very well, thank you.

Maria: 

I think I’ve just torn your way from a bacon sandwich, is that right?

Clive Woodward:      

I’ve now finished with my bacon sandwich, I’m all ready to go.

Maria:  

Fantastic.

So I’d like to start and find out where your love of sport began?

Clive Woodward:    

My love of sport I think, I was lucky enough that my father was in the Royal Air Force, so as a young kid growing up I was on Air Force bases where literally the kids really did go out and play. And I love football, football was my absolute love. Still is in many ways. I can recall being on the Air Force base in Linton-On-Ouse in Yorkshire in 1966 watching the World Cup final. Those players still now I can name every player, they’re still my heroes. From Bobby Charlton to the late Bobby Moore and Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters and Gordon Banks and Stiles, I love them all. So I love football but I was able to play looking back, we just … if we weren’t at school, we were outside playing and we didn’t spend much time in the house. We were outside playing and I just played football. That’s where I think my love of sport really started from.

Maria:  

Fantastic.

What a great history to have as well to have seen those amazing players. Do you think it’s important to have played a sport to be able to coach a team in that sport?

Clive Woodward: 

Yes and no. I think it helps, there’s no doubt about it. I think if you play the sport, I think you play with a love and a passion for it and a bit of inside knowledge, but it’s not prerequisite. The biggest thing, some of the best coaches haven’t played their chosen sport but like a player, as a coach you’ve got to have a passion for it. If you’ve got a passion for doing anything you’ll do it well. So it doesn’t matter if you’ve not played the game before or the sport before. If you got a real passion, want to really learn and understand it and you’re a good teacher. I think that’s a good point to make, you can have as much knowledge but you’ve got to have the teaching skills and the communications skills to get your knowledge across. So it’s both, Maria, to be honest. I think it helps but its certainly not a prerequisite.

Maria:           

Okay, good.

So you famously led the England team to the World Cup in Australia. What in essence do you think that team did differently to the other teams to get to number 1?

Clive Woodward:  

I think what you said there was very key, we arrived at that tournament as the number 1 ranked team in the world. So winning the World Cup wasn’t sort of a fluke, it was just a stage in points in winning in 2003. We were the number 1 ranked team in the world. I think looking back one of the big, big things  – every single person, every single player on that team, player, coach and medical person … one of my favourite sayings is, “A great team’s made up of great individuals.”

I think sometimes we can over do all this stuff on teamwork, I think teamwork is really important, I’ll never underscore teamwork. But I think if you get every individual operating at their absolute top level, the team stuff becomes a lot easier.  I think what that team did to all of us to a man we absolutely took personal responsibility for our own performance.

I often said before games, “If everyone does their job properly, we will win this game.” That’s a lot of pressure. But the actual peer group pressure within our group was fantastic, in a real positive way. They drove each other on in terms of … it wasn’t just we did in the training pitches, it’s what, how you learn your life 24/7 and 365. Individually, every one of them became real superstars. For me running that team was just an absolute privilege and pleasure because once you get in terms of the culture, you can’t totally focus on just the tactics, how you’re going to play the game, all the other stuff’s happening behind the scenes. But if a player takes responsibility anything is possible in terms of his or her own performance.

Maria:   

I like that “group of really top individuals” that’s fantastic.

Tell us a little bit more about your role in the British Olympic Association.

Clive Woodward:   

I had 8 wonderful years coaching England.  I had a year in professional football with Southampton, I was about to become a football manager. And then London won the Olympic Games, Seb Coe and his team did an amazing job with Keith Mills. They won the bid which was fantastic, we weren’t favoured to win the bid and then out of the blue I got a call from a guy who called Colin Moynihan, who was a chairman of the British Olympic Association to say, “So we’ve won the bid, so home games, we got to really go for this. We’re all going to create this new post called the Director of Sport, we’d like to talk to you about it.”

So they contacted me, I went to see them and it was very different. It’s not like coaching a rugby team where you’re in the changing room, you’re in charge, you’re the boss. This job was putting me over the top of all the 26 sports that go into making team GB. My job was to work with all the 26 head coaches, and to make sure when we came to Olympic Games we all really all operated as one team.

So my whole job was behind the scenes and for someone like me it was just an amazing opportunity because it just gave me access to all these incredible sports, from cycling, to sailing, to swimming, athletics, and you got behind them all. My job is to make sure, come the games we all operated as one team. Which isn’t quite as straight forward as it may sound because these sports are very, very different than … I can’t even start to explain the difference between the culture of say British cycling and British athletics, they’re just completely different businesses and yet they come together for Olympic Games. Everyone expects them to get along all hunky dory, that’s not the real world.

So it was a great job and I did three Olympic Games, Beijing, Vancouver and obviously London was what it was all about and I’m obviously very proud for how that whole event went in terms of Team GB and how London portrayed itself in terms of as a host city to Olympic Games.

Maria:  

And you should be very proud it was fantastic.

Currently you’re working with young aspiring alpine skiers. Are you facing similar challenges with them as you did with the rugby squad and with the Olympic teams?

Clive Woodward:

It’s very different, we’re building a ski academy in a place called Tignes in the south of France. It’s an international ski academy so we’re still building it, it will be open in September 2019. We’ve got six young British kids on the programme already, their ages are 12 and 13.

So I feel very lucky, I’ve got three amazing kids who have all grown up, they’re in their 20s and 30s now. But it’s the first time I’ve really coached kids and I’m putting this whole program together, a whole ski program. And unashamedly we wanna be the best in the world, I’ve been around to manage the top ski academies. I think it’s something that we can achieve through hard work and expertise.

It’s really just kind of bringing the sporting expertise just down in age group and how did you do this and it’s a very different world because when I was coaching the rugby team I didn’t have to deal with parents too much. Where this is all about parents, it’s all about … everybody thinks their little Johnny or their little Jenny is the world’s best skier. So different opportunities and problems, it’s been fascinating so far. But great opportunity and I love doing it.

Maria:  

That sounds like a very different challenge and you like to take these challenges on. What drives you to keep challenging yourself in doing these different things?

Clive Woodward:              

I think I could honestly say Maria, I say this to my kids, I’ve never planned my career, I’ve never sat down and worked out.  I’ve just … my career and it’s strange … it’s kind of like 8 year cycles. So I don’t bounce around from different jobs but almost every 8 years something has come across my desk or a new opportunity. In rugby union, I never thought again that rugby would go professional, then it goes professional. I get chosen as first full time professional coach, and I then left my successful leasing finance business to become the England head coach. I never thought I would go professional, you know I did that for 8 years and this ski opportunity just another project came across me. This guy called Hugh Osman, who’s the main funder, got hold of me and he took me on and wanted me to do due diligence, is it possible can we build this academy in the mountains? Can we really help all skiers, but especially British skiers?

It was just a great opportunity, I think I’ve got the skill set to do it and the experience and that was it. I never planned my career this is another great opportunity, I’ve been doing it for 3 years now, and I really enjoy it.

Maria:  

Fantastic.

And what do you do in your spare time if you have any spare time?

Clive Woodward:      

I’ve never … someone often asks me that … it’s almost like saying work life balance, I mean I feel very, very lucky in terms of … I can honestly say there’s hardly a day I’ve ever had to get up and say, “Oh crikey I’m going to work today.” I just do what I do, all my sporting activities, business activities kind of mould into one and family are all part of the whole thing.

But in terms of my real down, down ledger I’m a mad golfer, I love golf. I’m quite a sag, I don’t think I can play the game quite well so I get really kind of cranky when it doesn’t go well. But it gives you the opportunity to compete and it’s just a great, great game, golf.

Within reason, you can play golf until you can’t walk anymore, so I really love golf and I’m taking it probably more serious now than I’ve ever done it before. So I’m just trying to get really good at it.

Maria: 

And people will be watching you, they’d be expecting you to be good because of your coaching abilities and they’ll be expecting the mind-set to be there that you’re going to do well.

I also know, a little birdie told me that you’re a big fan of Strictly Come Dancing. Do you dance, Clive?

Clive Woodward:   

I am the world’s worst dancer. But I object, I love all those programmes, I love Strictly Come Dancing. I’ve been to it as a guest many times because some of my players, Austin Healey, Ben Cohen, you know these guys have all been on it. So I’ve been lucky enough to go and see the programme live and I promise you, I’ve done some pretty high pressurised things. When you see this program live, this is just amazing, these people … one it’s generally live and the dance floor is incredibly small and these people come out of their comfort zones as sportsmen and newsreaders, or whatever they do and they are suddenly performing in front of millions of people.

The pressure is enormous, so I kind of … I just sat there and watched them for the first time I went to see it live but my goodness, this is serious stuff but I’ve never been tempted to do it, if that was your question.

Maria:

That was-

Clive Woodward:

But I love watching it.

Maria:  

That was the next question, you’re not tempted at all?

Clive Woodward:  

No, I’ve been asked but no, I’m just absolutely been happy to watch it. I would not even think about doing it because even for me, a pretty scary thing to do. And I’m a hopeless dancer.

Maria: 

Okay, I believe you.

So we’ve worked together for quite some years now. And we’ve done various speaking engagements and workshops. How did you start on the path of delivering speeches to business? Where did that start for you?

Clive Woodward:   

Yeah, it started really when I started the England Rugby job. You’re certainly in a … for whatever reason again goes professional was my full-time career and job and I brought on a guy called Humphrey Walters, who’s a well-known speaker on The Circuit. I brought Humphrey in to just work with me as a different pair of eyes. He made his reputation by doing the BT global around the world yacht race. I heard him speak about what this was like; you know sailing around the world with a bunch of strangers on a very small boat.

So I brought him on board just to really work on the England team, on just all our detail on some of our teamwork. He just said one day, “You don’t realise now what you’re producing here is amazing, all this story and content. We should document it and the corporate world would be very interested.”  I think the kind of difference with me, is because I’ve got 16 years in business background. 8 years working in Xerox, a big large corporation and 8 years running my own small leasing and finance company.

So I’ve sat on the other side of the desk in terms of corporate world. But then now you’re coaching the English Rugby team as I stressed over with the England rugby team, it’s a small business. It’s the same skills, same challenges and one of your early questions about playing the game. I played rugby at the highest level, in terms of England and the Lions but the best skill set in terms of me taking on the England rugby team was running my own business and working at Xerox. The learning I had was fantastic. So I could walk into this rugby scenario quite confident, I knew I had to run a business and really Humphrey said, “With your business background, and now your coaching background with the England rugby team, you’ve got a good story to tell.”

And it started then, when I was full-time with England I cleared a few in terms of the time, but the other thing I started to really learn was when I do these talks and I say we’ve done many of them. I always ask the people I’m working with, “Can I come in and listen to the whole day?” And there’s nothing better to me to sit in the back of the room with a pad & paper and coffee listening to the people speak. I’ve never been to a single conference or talk where I’ve not learned something.

And also when you speak, it helps you with also, you pick up the vibes and what’s actually happening. But you learn loads, I’ve picked up so many ideas and new thoughts from the business world that I’ve applied to the England rugby team and coaching just by listening.

So I love sitting at the back of the room listen to other people speak because A: it’s interesting and B: I know how hard it is as well.

Maria:  

That’s really good because a lot of speakers don’t do that, I think that’s a very good thing to do. And obviously because I know your content, one of the messages that you deliver that really resonates with me very strongly is T-Cup, and I wonder if you can share that with our audience today?

Clive Woodward:    

I talk about a whole range of things and I think one of the strengths of what we do, we try and we personalize every talk to what that company really wants. Either I or my business manager, Matt Moore goes and does the real proper briefing. So we don’t just deliver standard talks, we really try and personalise it.

One of the areas that’s … a lot of companies like to hear me talking about is T-Cup. And T-Cup is quite similar to how you handle pressure. T-Cup is kind of an English word but it stands for Thinking Correctly Under Pressure. And I just share examples with sports and business where people have handled pressure situations really, really well. Also, pressure situations where people have really handled them badly.

In a case I showed their lives had changed because of not being able to handle this pressure thing at this moment in time and what I make it clear to people, that you can teach people how to do this, this is not instinctive, you’re not born with this, it’s something you can coach people how to think correctly under pressure, make the right decisions when it all kicks off, however you define pressure.

It’s not theory, that’s what I stress to people and I share real examples including stuff myself and I share examples where people’s lives completely changed. There are ways of doing it, you can coach it, you can teach it and you can make people handle pressure better. Finally, I make it clear that I think in any champion individual any successful individual your ability to perform under pressure normally sets you apart, I think I’ve got a way of showing people how to actually do it. It’s one of the various things of my talks that I really do enjoy kind of covering with everybody.

Maria:  

Yeah, and I said it definitely resonated with me, so I’m very glad you shared that.

With regards to sport and business, obviously you’ve got the benefit of having both backgrounds, but sometimes I get resistance from clients who don’t understand how somebody from sport can actually add to their business. They often want to go back and have a business speaker as opposed to somebody who can talk about sports examples. What would you say to that? What are the things that really make sport work well for business learning?

Clive Woodward:   

Well for me, all I can speak about is myself, I’m not trying to be smart. I think I’ve got a unique CV because of my 16 years in business. But I make it very clear when I start, I’m not here talking theory, I’m not here to lecture to people. I’m going to tell people exactly what I do today. But it’s all based on my business background and my sporting background.

I’m very clear, you know sport’s a business, it’s absolutely a business. It’s no different than me working at Xerox or in my leasing company. And there are certain traits that I think are absolutely key. But I think with someone like myself in a sporting speaker because you can give examples from sports and business it does bring your content to life, so you’re just acting as a consultant and saying well I think doing this is a good way going … I just use real examples.

Today I am Director of Sport of a ski organization or a ski academy we’re building in Tignes. I run a small company of 50 people in Hammersmith, we’re building a piece of software called Hive Learning. I’d say all these things, I’m applying these business practices to that are actually that I think are fundamentals to success. And I do a certain amount of management consulting behind the scenes, so I love doing the one off speaks they’re my bread and butter, which I enjoy. But also, I get the opportunity sometimes to do more team building and management training with boards of directors.

So what I talk about is right up to date, it’s leading edge especially in the digital world we live in. I think we have over 100 percent record so far of people actually enjoying what I say and once I finish many people are surprised. Oh crikey, they thought they were going to hear about scrums of line outs and it was completely nothing to do with that.

Maria:     

Fantastic.  You’ve embraced technology throughout your career and that’s why you created Hive, I’m sure. How does Hive work?

Clive Woodward:    

Basically Hive is how to process what I coached the rugby team in or do any coaching or I run my businesses through … and this is something I kind of learnt through the business world and I learned as a coach.

I call it 4D learning and this is undoubtedly how it is on coaching a rugby team that went on to win the Rugby World Cup. What we’ve done is we’ve simply digitised the 4D learning process, so from doing a process that was kind of long hand, I did as a coach and my businesses before. We’ve now digitised it and so employed 50 people now.  It’s on your phone, it’s on an app. And it’s all about capturing not only your own knowledge and learning but your whole team. Then capturing it and then okay, when you got this knowledge what do you do with it, how do you we leverage it, how do you find what I call the key points of all this knowledge.

One of the things that really make a difference throughout being successful and not successful, then the third part of the process is that now how can we do it better, how do we practice it, how do you coach it, how do you train for it?

So it’s a learning process, we are having huge success with it.  The people who invested in this to help me build it, when they saw my presentation about what it is all about, they said, “Look, we’re going to do this because this will work in sport because of you because it absolutely makes sense in sport.  But the main reason we’re doing it is in the commercial world, the business world, this is absolutely brilliant in terms of really showing people how you collaborate together, how you share information, knowledge and it won’t surprise anyone that this is not done very well, so far in any business that I’ve seen first-hand. They kind of talk about it.  We have this bit of software that doesn’t only do it, but you can measure it, you get amazing analytics at it about who is actually contributing, who is not contributing. So, it’s a real kind of way of people learning and improving together.

Maria:    

It’s a fantastic collaborative tool, it’s great.

So, we touched a bit on how you work, that you like to go and listen to other speakers when you’re booked to speak, what else can I client do to help you to make sure that you deliver the best you can, when you’re with them?

Clive Woodward:  

The briefing is really important, I would never go into a talk cold ever. So,we either do a briefing on the phone, we try to do it at least a week or a couple of weeks before I speak. So, I get a proper briefing from the client and then I just encourage them to please send me anything to do with what they’re trying to get out of their day, their seminar, their conference. Send me as much information in confidence as possible.

Then myself and Matt Moore, my business manager who’s excellent at this, we really kind of study this and then we have a second call to then present really about this is what we think we want to talk about.

So, you get real engagement and there should be no surprises, but I also make it clear from the client that I’m not there to entertain, that is a serious business speech. I do want it to have some fun in it as well, and hopefully everyone enjoys it, hopefully there’s some sides to it that make people smile and laugh, but you know it’s serious business messages. And I’m there to really make sure by the end of my session of 45 minutes to an hour, that people will take something away to thinking I should use next day whatever job they’re actually doing. It’s just the more I can work with the customer in preparing the better.

And again, it’s amazing, some clients are fantastic and other clients are a little bit resistant and eventually when they understand it, they get it and it does make a big difference to how a speaker can really come across well within a conference.

Maria: 

A huge difference, a really huge difference.

Finally, one of the questions you pose to business leaders, I’d like to pose to you, how would you like to be remembered?

Clive Woodward:     

Yeah, I pose that, and I pose that in the rugby team when I first took over. We really get one shot at this and I think it’s a really powerful statement to make and it makes people actually think.

I just myself, I just love to think anybody who’s worked with me or knows me that they were … the one thing that they would always say is he’s never late. That’s the one thing they’ll say, that’s one of my absolute DNAs, I’m never late for anything, I’m neurotic about time.

But I think you know I love the words trust and respect. And those words you don’t get trust and respect by being in a position or being the top guy in a national position or the organisation … you get trust and respect just by the quality of your actions.  And the quality of your actions to me is, yes, you’ve got to have processes but it’s just throwing every amount of energy and passion at the subjects.

I think the other thing I’d say in terms of remembering … I do believe in the saying that great teams are made of great individuals, I absolutely believe it. If I could work with every individual and get him or her performing at the best level and help them improve, they’ll never forget you.

If you help somebody improve, I think you got a 100% chance that the teamwork will be better if the whole team does it. And they won’t forget that. Now I think these words trust and respect start to come in because you’re there to help them for the right reasons – to make them better, but I know if I could make them better and more productive, do their job better, then the team does better.

So I’m doing it for all the right reasons. So, I guess that’s a bit of a long answer, but that’s how I would like to be remembered.

Maria:   

You’re also a very modest man, Clive. Thank you so much. Thank you very much indeed.

Clive Woodward: 

Great talking to you as always.

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