Interview | Steve Black

From Benton To The British Lions

Issue 30

Much has been written over the years about Steve Black. As one of the foremost sports and business coaches globally, he has achieved a respect few others in his field, could emulate.

Northern Insight’s Michael Grahamslaw and Gordon Taylor had the privilege of interviewing this giant of motivation recently. It proved to be one of the most insightful, compelling and fascinating question and answer sessions we’ve ever done, so we decided to publish it in that format so readers can relate precisely to Steve’s words.

From a sports coaching perspective, how do you go about defining the best programme for an individual from any discipline?

There’s facts and then there’s the truth. It’s science which underwrites everything. Everyone is different and people have different personalities, so the approach for each should be bespoke. In both sports and business, people should prepare in a bespoke fashion when coming up to an event. In life we should set up our careers and families in a bespoke way too. When dealing with my clients, the most important thing is building a relationship. People will only listen to you if they like you, so much time is spent forging those relationships. I’ve been so fortunate in my life to have been able to give my advice to people who understand the information is well intentioned and, generally, both sides seem to have benefitted greatly from it over the years so it’s been, and continues to be, mutually rewarding.

Predominately I coach people and, although I am regularly asked how I deal with each, I always say it's the relationship with people which matters

Steve Black

How does being a sports coach differ from the work you do with general business organisations like Proctor & Gamble or RBS?

It doesn’t differ much. It’s all about people. I’m often asked how I work across disciplines from premiership football or international rugby, to golf or fencing. Predominately I coach people and, although I am regularly asked how I deal with each, I always say it’s the relationship with people which matters. Individuals need to really know each other to optimally work together and that really doesn’t take long to achieve. In my job there’s an overriding desire not to let the individual down and them getting to know me and my methods is as important as me getting to know them. In business I help them work towards purpose, to a cause, to a project, through to planning and recruitment – the whole gamut of a business’ requirements really. Company teamwork is a vital component to try and develop. If you genuinely care for people and can demonstrate that fact, you will be able to help them sports wise, business wise or psychologically.

What would you define as your most important achievements in the fields of sport and business?

My finest achievements in life are my kids. First of all, I couldn’t love them anymore. I’m so proud of the people they’ve become, watching them progress has given me and my wife Julie an amazing amount of pleasure.

What is it that motivates Steve Black? Most research shows that about 90% of enthusiasm comes from your own personality. It’s not down to winning the lottery for instance. Most people think “I’ll be happy when…” not realising you’ve got to snap out of that and be happy now. That will bring out the best of you for the future and, certainly where I’m concerned, enthusiasm always motivates me.

What differences do you see in coaching or motivation to people of different ages?

Ability doesn’t change but perhaps older people have a tendency to be wiser, in the strictest sense of the word, because experience is a learning tool. There are thoughts out there that older people are less receptive to new ideas but that isn’t the case at all. With older people I find it much easier to light the flame in them, so they can realise that age is nothing. It’s all about having respect for views and experiences all round. There should be four areas in working with someone: teaching, coaching, managing and mentoring, and focussing on body, mind, heart and spirit and these areas fit in with any age.

Why do clubs in team sports insist on overtraining players to the point where they break down and are out for a protracted time?

It’s 100% common sense to avoid overtraining in certain sports. I’ve been preaching that philosophy constantly. What happens is, if I’m training a long jumper, triple jumper or 100 metre runner, they need to train up to a point but they may need to train to be absolutely physically fit for the job once or twice a year, sometimes once every four years and you therefore have to train to that. What you can’t do is train footballers or rugby players like that and the reason why, is because they play games all the time. I have to keep changing my hat. When athletic coaches started to get involved in team sports, they would invariably come in and say “I can make him faster or I can make him stronger” but if they do that kind of thing without restraint, the player runs the risk of always being injured. You don’t win games by getting good fitness results, you win by having players on the pitch as constantly as you can. If you train specifically to play your respective sport to the best of your ability, you’ve got a real chance.

Who do you admire in the field you work in?

The people who have most inspired me are from the old American sports and they seemingly had better coaches a long time ago! Vince Lombardi, Tom Landry and Bill Walsh and different basketball coaches like John Wooden were all superb in their field. I’ve also spent a lot of time learning from baseball coaching throughout the years. Having talent is only the beginning and you’ve got to gel the talent to get it to win. Those coaches were good at that and had a deeper understanding of team chemistry. On the business side, the approach of Jack Welch of General Electric has inspired me greatly.

If there is a Steve Black mantra, what would that be? I live by five questions which will help anyone in any field on a daily and lifetime basis. 1. How much effort or energy have you invested in your life today? 2. What has the quality been with that effort? 3. How eager have you been to interact, both to help others and receive help from others? 4. Has your behaviour today enhanced your reputation? 5. How much are you enjoying what you’re doing? How do you see coaching, motivation and training methods developing in the future? I think the basics will remain. Change though is inevitable but what we may see come to the fore is things we did yesterday may come back round. If there are any changes, I think they’ll be slight, just little tweaks to time honoured methods. What is vital is to take all the experience we have and sit down and share it. At the moment that isn’t happening. Coaching is nowhere near what it should be and that has to be improved.

How do you deal with players with psychological problems, such as fear of failure or barriers to achieving success?

It’s an interesting one and is always a very personal thing. I’ve been fortunate to work with a wide variety of people and all of them have different hopes, aims and aspirations driven by their own different goals, fears and personality traits. Some like Johnny Wilkinson had a natural in-built drive to achieve success which very much came from within, with others it has to be drawn out more so you look for, and seek to press, the right buttons to help each individual. When Johnny came to me, I explained that we needed to train, rest and play. That sounds simple and it is. He is an unbelievable trainer, really quite incredible, and immeasurably committed in his playing but the body needs to rest and you need to cater to that. Letting strength come back into your body is vital, so we had to ensure he rested well in between sessions and games demanding exceptionally high physical commitment. The ethos is what it is for everyone; looking at the core drivers of what they need to do and creating a situation where they will be the best they can be at those core drivers.

As a voracious reader, what are the best books you’ve read?

Legacy about the All Blacks, The Score Takes Care of Itself by Bill Walsh, The Success Principles by Jack Canfield and The Pyramid of Success by John Wooden. Winning by Jack Welch too is an important read.

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