How Important is Winning?
Peter Steinberg January 7th, 2013

Peter Steinberg




I am coming to the end of my time in France and am still learning a lot about the French’s approach to the game.  On Saturday I went to watch USAP (Perpignan) against Bordeaux.  The game had an extra edge as the current USAP coach was at Bordeaux the year before.

I had watched the USAP practice this week and spent some time with Dan Leo, a backrow forward who plays for USAP and Samoa and whose sister plays for the USAP women’s team.

I will write a little later about the game USAP plays and my thoughts on it, but what fascinated me was the reaction to the game the next day.  I spent the day with the USAP Women’s practice and had lunch with their staff.  They had a staff of 11 (everyone from the coaches, to the doctor, President etc) and during lunch they talked about the USAP men’s game from the night before.

“Terrible” and “Catastrophe” were some of the words that were used for USAPs performance.  What is strange is that USA actually won 26-16!  For the French public, winning is not enough.  You must also play well.  In fact I think that playing well is probably more important than winning. The opposite of what is true in the US culturally and what is certainly true in the UK where the Premiership and demotion is thought to create negative rugby.

So how does the attitude towards winning effect how we coach and how we play.  Certainly it is more difficult to be innovative and try new things when you are focused on winning, but much depends on the standing of the team within the competition.  I have two different contexts that I coach – Penn State and the USA Eagles – and in each there are different forces driving how I coach.

At Penn State we have consistently been the best team country and our greatest strength is our player development.  Generally we can win our games by having the best players and we usually only get challenged in a couple of games a year.  It is easy to play a very simple game plan and let the superior players perform.  With the development of varsity programs this difference will begin to change.

With the Eagles we do not have the luxury of having the best players as the difference at the international level is not great.  In this situation the need to innovate is great as you find away to maximize the potential by developing a game plan to put your players in the great position to perform.

However we need to find a way to continue to develop our game at Penn State to challenge the players to play at a higher level, and we need to fight against the super complex game plan for the Eagles and let the players be able to just go and play what is in front of them.  Keeping this balance between structure and freedom is the greatest challenge of the attacking coach.