Former Wallabies and Brumbies winger, Clyde Rathbone and I met at the South African-based Natal Sharks in 2002. As it happened, it turned out to be a stand out year for Clyde with him making his Super Rugby debut, winning the Under 21 Rugby World Championship as captain and signing with the Australian-based Brumbies.
Clyde, since we first met you’ve struck me as a player who took an interest in their own development. What influenced your desire to take ‘ownership’?
It was probably the fact that I did not come from a renowned rugby school or area.
When rugby went professional in 1996 I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I also knew that I was very much on my own (not withstanding the amazing support of my parents).
While the coaching I received was enthusiastic and the facilities I had at school were adequate, they were a significant step down from the level seen at private schools in South Africa.
I read everything I could get my hands on relating to strength and conditioning and rugby. I then went into the gym and conducted my own experiments based on the info I had read.
By the time I finished high school I had a broad understanding of what worked for me and what didn’t, at least compared to my peers.
I do remember being shocked at how poorly informed most athletes were when I was signed into the Sharks squad as an eighteen-year-old back in 1999.
As a young player, and throughout your career, you have been recognised as a powerful athlete (watch the first 49 seconds of this YouTube clip).
There are obviously genetics involved but what training did you find beneficial to maximise your potential?
My grandfather was a South African weightlifting champion and I think the genetic component is significant.
I was always the fastest kid in school. But I poured a lot of effort into my training.
My grandfather sent me a training manual when I was about 13, in the front cover he wrote “Success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration”.
I focused on basic lifts early on and could squat 200kg by the time I was 18.
Any other numbers/maxes (Clean? Squat? Bench? VJ?) you’d care to share?
From memory my best lifts:
- Power Clean: 140kg
- Squat: 180kg/10
- Bench: 140/6
- VJ: 89cm
If you were starting your career now, what changes would you make?
I’d certainly enjoy myself more. The game is ultimately a game and it’s very easy to lose sight of that when immersed in the bubble of sport.
There is no objective meaning to the outcomes of sporting events and they are there to be enjoyed.
Sport acts as a great means to test oneself and it can be extremely challenging. But I feel many players miss out on the present moment by focusing on the upcoming match or worrying about previous one.
From a practical perspective I’d have a much stronger recovery focus.
Nutrition would be totally different, far less carbs and I’d incorporate an evolutionary framework that informed my nutritional choices.
Flexibility would be incorporated much earlier and I’d make my programs simpler still.
I’d probably drop Olympic lifting. I would be far more mindful of proper form and the finite lifespan of tendons, ligaments etc.
Question from Alex Natera (@Alex_Natera): What’s the biggest changes in S&C from your early years to now?
Recovery has become an increasingly scientific part of preparation & performance.
Flexibility, myo-fascial release, sleep, nutrition, rehab/prehab etc. have all been given the attention they deserve.
GPS systems have also made quantifying volume and intensity much easier.
You’ve been at one club for about 12 years. How did your approach to training change over the years?
The last few years that I played the game I focused on identifying the minimum effective dose. i.e. what is the least amount of training that still permits elite level performance?
While I know this is a blanket statement I believe that most programs would improve by halving volume and doubling intensity.
As I got older I needed to spend more time preparing to train. That meant thoroughly warming up, recovering between sessions and adopting a general “less is more” approach.
How did your approach to performance change over the years?
I stopped worrying about it. I connected with the fact that I’m a conglomerate of stardust existing on a tiny mode of dust in an infinitely large universe. From this perspective I could place the importance of performance into it’s proper context.
This made it easy to focus on the present moment, give 100% to the things that mattered and over which I could exert some control, and to let go of the rest.
It’s a mindset that transcends sporting environments and one I’ve found incredibly useful.
What aspects do you rate highly in a coach?
Self awareness, humour, authenticity, humility, empathy.
You’ve had coaches with amazing resumes (World Cup winners, World Cup runners up, S15 winners, etc.) coach you. If you could take aspects from each coach to build a ‘composite coach’ what would they be?
Jake White – Ability to employ the best people. Jake placed a premium on attracting and retaining great staff
Eddie Jones – Dedication. Eddie, along with Laurie are the hardest working coaches I’ve seen.
David Nucifora – I only played under Nuci for one season, and much of that was after the fallout with senior players. But I really appreciated the honest and open way he communicated with me. His demeanour played a big role in attracting me to the Brumbies way back in 2002.
Laurie Fischer – Passion. Laurie loves being a coach. More than any other I played under I feel Laurie has found his niche in life. I can’t imagine him doing anything else. His genuine love for the game and all it involves rubs off on the people around him and the boys love playing for him.
Anyone else? I had a coach in high school named Colin Erickson. He made training fun and didn’t seem to place much importance on the results of games. At the time I remember thinking he was a bit of a loser, but I now realise he may have been the wisest coach I ever had.
You’ve also had some well-respected S&C coaches (Mark Steele, Damian Marsh, etc.). What do they do that gets them their results?
The best S&C coaches love what they do and make it a part of their job to drive high standards.
They are always looking for that 0.1% improvement and they treat athletes as individuals.
What message(s) would you like to get out to parents of athletes?
Leave children alone.
I was really fortunate in that my parents supported me in terms of helping me pursue my passions but never pushed me into anything.
A parents job is to support existing passions, not to import their own interests into the lives of their children. Some kids love sport, others don’t and that’s great.
The key I think is to set a good example for children in terms of health. Parents who exercise and eat well tend to raise children with similar habits.
What message(s) would you like to get out to ‘up & coming’ athletes?
Educate yourself. Never stop learning.
You don’t have to study formally, but you do need to study.
Acquire skills outside of your sport.
Very often these skills enhance sporting performance but regardless of that they open one up to a more interesting and balanced life.
Having played at the top level, what advice would you give to coaches who want to coach at the top level?
Understand that the human side of coaching is far more important than any specific sports related intellectual property.
Learn about yourself, empathise, communicate and connect with people.
Coaching is fundamentally about creating and maintaining the conditions that lead to potential maximisation.
Be a world class listener.
Don’t pretend to know anything you don’t.
Surround yourself with great staff and mentors.
Be flexible, think differently and ensure your day to day behaviour reflects your values.
What could every coach (do to) improve?
Great breakthroughs and advancements never come without risk. I think we need more coaches willing to take chances.
The greater risk is having an idea that never gets tested.
Clyde, thanks for your time and wisdom. Much appreciated.