Q&A with Heyneke Meyer – Springbok Coach

BRLP:  How do you change the attitude of the team during halftime, in the locker room?

Meyer:  Halftime starts way before the actual game. You build respect of your players by going the extra mile for them. They respond to you because of a mutual respect. I do psychological profiling of players as well, which helps me to understand the individual, how to motivate every individual. For some players you need to extend a challenge, others you must take the pressure off. That’s the art of coaching. During half-time some coaches will get stuck into the young or new players and not the older, experienced players. I was different. Sometimes I would climb into the more senior players because they can take it and this pumps up the junior players as well.

BRLP: How do you figure out what to hold on to from the past coach and what to change and how quickly?

Meyer: I think it is important to be yourself. What De Villiers did was take the team to the people and I want to build on that. I will ask for the views of the management team that stays with me. I don’t want to look at previous mistakes but simply be who I am. When I complete this mission I want to hold my head high and know that I made a difference.       I don’t always know the secret of success, but I know that the secret of failure is to try and please everybody. One should do things for the right reasons. I am going to be myself and do what has worked for me before.

BRLP: Do you deal with issues honestly or politically?

Meyer: Obviously one is an ambassador for the country. But, I would say I deal with issues honestly. Players know if you are not honest. If I tell the media that I care for the players and I don’t then they will know. Again, it is about being yourself and I am not a politician. I am there to deal with what happens between the lines and that’s what’s important to me.

BRLP: At what point do you decide to have courage and stand up for what is right?

Meyer: My Mother believed I would become a lawyer, because when I was young I loved debating and arguing for the sake of doing it. I have since learnt that you cannot win an argument, although you can win the overall war. One may argue for two hours and ‘beat’ the other person, but he walks away thinking negatively about you. So you lost the argument anyway, or you lost the battle and perhaps the overall war. In the bigger picture of South Africa, I will definitely stand up against things I believe are wrong. But I will not get involved in arguments about issues that do not make a real difference. If it is a moral or values issue I will not mind treading on toes. That’s why, all through my life I never had a lot of friends, because when one takes a stand there are people that don’t like you. Leaders are often like eagles, they fly high and alone. That’s part of the job, because the buck stops with you. I never try to be popular with the players, because it does not work. But I want them to respect me, which is why I will be brutally honest with them and stand up for what I believe in.

BRLP: Explain the sportsman’s psyche? Do they live in another world from us ordinary humans in a way?

Meyer: The sportsman’s psyche is definitely different from the ordinary person out there. Even in youngsters one can see the difference, the competitiveness. It is sometimes difficult to be the successful player and be a nice person, though one can be both. I personally prefer a great person to someone that is a great rugby player only. Obviously though there are attributes that great sports people need in order to win. When they go on to that field they never give up. In rugby, intimidating the other team is important and it is a tough contact sport. On the field one must be competitive. After the game and off the field one can be different. You almost need a ‘professional brutality’ in sport, and especially rugby. Though it does not sound right, when one goes on to the field it is about winning and losing. To win in rugby you need a certain killer instinct and mental toughness. It is brutal out there. The higher you go in sport the more attitude takes over from skill. When these top players play darts, or touch rugby, they become aggressive and competitive. So, you can’t switch off because it is who you are. You are either competitive or you are not. But you need not be ‘nasty or rude’ to be competitive.

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Louis has been fanatically endeavoring to uncover universal leadership principles and models for longer than most of us have been alive. He is an author, leadership expert, father, grandfather, and the Co-Founder of Leadership Platform.

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