May 30, 2019
In this episode, we meet Neil
Craig, AFL Coach and England Rugby High Performance Manager on high
performance environments, your North Star and decision-making under
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Neil is best known as being a
former Australian rules footballer and as the Head Coach of the
Adelaide Crows Football Club.
His other stints in the AFL have
included being the fitness adviser at the Crows, and having various
coaching roles at the Melbourne Demons, Essendon Bombers and
Since 2017, he has been England
Rugby’s High Performance Manager under the head coach Eddie
In this episode we talk
a high performance environment is and how to create
knowing your North Star - your purpose and values - is critical to
to make complex decisions under pressure; and
leadership is not about you, but all about you.
Connecting with Neil
You can reach Neil on
Thanks to Peter Knight for recommending Neil.
On why he has been
think, firstly it's a passion for me. It's something I really get a
lot of enjoyment out of. I don't see it as a job.
- Secondly, athletes don't get to that level
without being highly motivated, and they have a very clear picture
of what they want to do. So as their coach, you have this capacity
to enable people, or you help them to be the best they can possibly
be. I get great satisfaction out of that and also when someone
comes and asks me for help. “Help” is a pretty powerful word…”Can
you help me?”
also appreciate that there is this higher purpose of what sport
does for people or can give to people. It is
On what a high performance
functional high performance environment is really uncomfortable
because of the daily feedback that you get as an athlete, coach or
staff member. This is because of the high standards set on a daily
basis that you have to meet.
high performance environment is not for everyone. I often say that
to athletes that this may not be for them and that's okay. The best
high performance environments I've been in are not for everyone and
they're very clear in their mind that they don't want to make it
an athlete knows his or her why, that's really important because
once the why's embedded it gives them the energy and the resilience
they need to handle the environment. There's a lot of tough times,
'cos you don't win all the time, and you do get injured, and you do
miss out on selection and you do get criticised in the public
arena, and you do have contractual negotiations and you are away
from your family for long periods of time, and it can be lonely,
you don't get along with everyone in the environment. If I just
painted the picture for you what it looks like, you might say
that's not for me. But there are so many good things as well.
That's why your why gives you the energy, perseverance and
resilience and is so important to know it.
On his role with England
and foremost it's to be what I call a critical friend to the head
coach, a guy called Eddie Jones, who coached the Wallabies back in
the early 2000s. It's a lonely position and because of the nature
of the chair that you sit in, it's very rare in actual fact for
people to give you feedback because of the power of the
also do a lot of work with the senior leadership group, which I
third part of my role is to coach the coaches. We spend all this
time and resources in coaching the players when in actual fact, the
people who have the biggest influence on players are the coaches.
Who's giving them feedback every day?
- I do
a small bit of technical coaching in terms of the high ball, which
is critical in AFL.
finally, there’s ensuring collaboration between all the different
departments of a high performance environment. You've got a
coaching department, an analytics department, logistics, sports
science, strength and conditioning, medical etc. So you can just
imagine the capacity for all those to collaborate, communicate, be
on the same page; it doesn't always run smoothly. I, therefore,
spend some time trying to maximise the working capacity of all
those different environments.
On building a high performance
is done via a series of questions. Firstly, I want people to
understand why their company or club existed . This is the higher
purpose about why and why it is important. Is an English national
rugby team important to England? If the answer is yes, then why is
with the head coach or CEO, I’d ask where they want to take this
team or organisation. What does that look like? In reality, they
are a provider of hope to create something different and better in
last question I would ask is when they will know they have achieved
success. In sport, you'll know when the scoreboard shows you have
won. But what will winning look like internally without the
scoreboard? How will you know that you're progressing and when will
you know that you've arrived in those areas you’re
On having mentors
- Mentors are really important, if for no other
reason that they would ask you questions about why you think that
way, what you think about certain things, and why you’ve made that
specific decision. In actual fact, rarely do they give me their
opinion; it's more about them asking me questions.
find that mentors just keep you balanced in your thinking and try
and keep the emotion out of it because the capacity to be able to
lead under adversity is a really important concept.
On decision-making in high
important to know “what's important now” and also know “what's
important in the future” as to where we're going because you've got
to weigh that up sometimes.
- As a
senior coach or as a leader, you have to have calmness in your
thinking and maintain stress levels at a good level, because
they're complex decisions that you've got to make and think
through. You've got to know what the critical information is in
order to make what I call “the right decision.”
more often than not the most difficult one to make because you get
faced with different options. You’ve got the most popular decision,
the safe decision, the best political decision. Very rarely are
those all associated with what's the right decision, so you need to
be very clear as a leader that this gets back to your philosophies
and why as a leader.
On having a coaching philosophy
aka North Star
- You've got to be really clear on your
philosophy and you need to know what you value. It’s also your
capacity to not be black and white because there's never a perfect
answer. There's case studies everywhere. There's the rugby union
one at the moment with Israel Folau. It's not a black and white
decision; some people think it is, but it's not.
values and your philosophy about why you do things do change over
time, but they become your guiding principles, your North Star if
you like. If you haven't got a well thought-out ingrained
philosophy, it will be reflective of your decision-making. You'll
be wishy washy. You'll actually make a decision based on the last
person you spoke to.
On why leadership is not about you, but it's all
not about you because there's an understanding that to get a
performance, you can't create that performance as you don’t do the
you need to select good people, train those people, retain and
develop those people so they don't want to leave our organisation.
And why would you train these people if they want to leave? Well,
why would you want to keep them if you don't train
it is all about you because you have to create an environment where
these people actually want to do the work, they're enthused to do
the work and they share ideas, they collaborate and they bounce out
of bed in the morning, and they want to come into this
On other lessons from his
very careful of the spoken word because once it comes out of your
mouth, you can't grab it and bring it back in again. Verbal
communication is really the only tool we have as coaches to have an
effect, so be very careful or be aware of the words you're using.
Words can be so positive and yet in a lot of ways they can be so
negative and have an effect on you.
- I'm a
great believer that success leaves clues. Go and look at the serial
successful companies who have stood the test of time, because they
have jumped all the hurdles and they've been able to continue to
perform for long periods of time.
On a routine that is working
- I try
and get up at about 5.30am and come down to my study and I spend
about half an hour preparing for the day. I do some journaling,
write down some key things I've got to do today, note down what my
overall aims for the day are. One might say that I continually
recalibrate my thinking to make it world-class.
Books and resources mentioned
in the episode
Legacy by James Kerr