Legendary All Blacks coach Graham Henry once famously said: “No matter what level you are at, coaching is a challenge.” It’s a sentiment Scott Sneddon would probably agree with.
After all, not many people would travel 14 hours just to make a session with colleagues on the inaugural High Performance Coach programme, but the former Cross Keys, Glamorgan Wanderers and Cardiff fly half did just that – more than once – and he was prepared to do it again but unfortunately COVID-19 intervened.
The High Performing Coach programme sits at level 4 on the WRU coach development framework and aims to provide coaches with a learning programme that fosters critical thinking alongside creativity in the coaching process.
The programme was introduced by WRU performance coach manager, Dan Clements, 18 months ago in an effort to provide a long term learning programme for coaches who were looking to expand on their coaching knowledge and critical thinking skills.
The first intake included nine participants with Hong Kong-based Sneddon joined by Aled James (Cardiff Blues), Matt O’Brien and Sam Hobbs (both Dragons), Gethin Thomas (Cardiff Met), Chris Davies (Ospreys), Emyr Phillips (Scarlets) and Coleg y Cymoedd duo Sam Williams and Catrin Nicholas-McLaughlin.
Being adaptable is part and parcel of being a good coach, and moving the final segments of the course on-line amid the pandemic-hit 2020 didn’t prove too big a hurdle to overcome for the participants.
“The first two blocks I actually travelled back to the UK so it was great for me and an excuse to see the family as well but it was a good opportunity for me to engage with a lot of the group that I’d previously played or coached against,” explained Sneddon.
“It was good to share ideas, obviously COVID came around, it was pretty unfortunate I couldn’t get back for the final two blocks but it shows you can still get a lot of things done on-line, you can still have the interactions, you can still have the engagement.
“I still don’t think it’s as good as it would be in person but the way the course was organised in terms of having breakout groups on Zoom and still being able to give us a lot of group work we have had to put together away from the programme, it is what it is and it’s been brilliant.”
At 35 years of age, Sneddon has already packed a lot into his coaching career. While still playing his club rugby in Wales, he was involved in coach development with Cardiff Blues working alongside Richard Hodges and it’s from there the coaching bug grabbed him.
“It’s quite mad,” he recalls, “when I was at University I did Science and Health and Exercise in Sport and the plan was actually to go into physiotherapy but I was doing some coaching for Cardiff Blues within the primary schools programme and their community projects and I really enjoyed the coaching side of things so I decided to stay on at UWIC for another year and do a masters in coaching science.
“At that time I was working with Cardiff Blues coach development, coaching the age grade teams with Richard Hodges. We took the U16s and U18s and then eventually the Blues U20s – I was 22/23 then and it was something I really enjoyed. At the time I was a bit young to progress my coaching career as I still had a little bit to give from my playing side but it’s been from that age that I’ve really enjoyed and been passionate about coaching.”
Sneddon moved to London in 2013 where he spent four fruitful years with ambitious Rosslyn Park. Four weeks after joining as a player he was player-coach. After a series of nasty injuries he ‘fell into’ a head coach role in his last year at the club.
A flying visit to see his best man Tom Isaacs for his 30th birthday in Hong Kong was the catalyst for his next adventure. He bumped into fellow Welshmen Leigh Jones and Dai Rees who were leading the coaching programme for the governing body. After mentioning there may be a couple of opportunities to coach there, the rest, as they say is history.
Since moving to Hong Kong in 2017, Sneddon has gained considerable success having coached in the Rugby World Cup Repechage 2018. He also won the Asia Rugby Championships in 2018 and 2019 and saw success with the South China Tigers in global rapid rugby in 2020.
Alongside these national duties, Sneddon is also Head Coach of Kowloon RFC while being a specialist kicking coach across the XVs and sevens programmes, working alongside fellow Welshmen Paul John and Jevon Groves.
“I’ve learned a lot as a coach from where I was 12 years ago to where I am now – I have probably changed significantly, hopefully for the better,” he says.
“I think a long time ago coaching was about how I wanted everything to be perfect and a good session to me then would be a success rate of probably 90%, it would be a little bit fluffy and everything would be easy but actually understanding now the challenge and failure is a good thing within coaching, so people learn a lot more from that. I am still quite a positive person and positive coach but I think the main change would be understanding that failure is where a lot of people learn and then they grow from there.
“Winning is good – when you get there – but sometimes when you are winning you can almost paper over the cracks a little bit. Not that you don’t review games and preview opposition and things like that, but sometimes if you are winning you do tend to overlook the little bits of detail because that is not the focus at the time. Whereas you pick up every single bit of detail when you’re losing. It probably can sometimes be too much to the detriment of what you are trying to achieve, but you definitely get a lot more from losing.”
You could forgive Sneddon if he thought he had bitten off more than he could chew, juggling his heavy workload alongside that of his High Performance Coaching programme course work with colleagues 6,000 miles away, but he has taken it all in his stride.
“From day one from the initial conversation with Dan it was wanting to improve myself but also learn a bit more depth than what I had learned around the theory of everyday coaching on the field and off the field and it really excited me,” he says.
“If I’m honest with you, when I was in coach development I think at times it was potentially a tick box but I would say from being on this course over the last 18 months it’s definitely within the context of the game – it’s not just a course for the sake of having a course.
“All the theory on this course is based towards everything that we do day to day, a lot of it is about problem-based scenarios that you come across in everyday coaching and it’s good to understand the theory behind the decisions we make – so for me it’s definitely been the best coaching course I’ve been on and one I’ve learned a hell of a lot from it.
“At 35 I’m one of the oldest on the course and I think there are some very good coaches on the course and credit to Gerry Roberts [WRU Coach Development manager] and Dan for identifying the people that are on there.
“I would definitely say the likes of Matt O’Brien, Sam Hobbs, Sam Williams, and Chris Davies have all been around the game a long time, picked up some good experiences from different environments – they all have the detail and ambition to go and coach on higher levels. So while people may say there aren’t young coaches around there definitely are and it’s more about giving them an opportunity to step into other roles.”
Sneddon is a firm believer that as a coach, you have to move with the times.
“You are always developing, and the game is always developing, the guys you are coaching are always changing. My coaching from 10 years ago to where I am coaching now, I’m coaching a different generation so you have to adapt and evolve. There are always good coaches out there but I think those good coaches are very good at evolving and adapting to change as it happens and I think that is most important thing at the moment,” he says.
So does he think moving to Hong Kong was the right move?
“I was in London for four years, I had a business selling Under Armour teamwear, and really enjoyed it alongside coaching Rosslyn Park and I think my passion then was probably to the detriment of my work. I was really enjoying the coaching side of things – I wanted to coach full time, there was no opportunities within the UK, I knew of the environment within Hong Kong and I knew that it had two professional set-ups with the 7s and XVs.
“It was the opportunity to get into full-time coaching but also a life experience. I guess an adventure to go and take myself out of my comfort zone. I could have stayed in London but there were no guarantees I would have gone into full-time coaching. I leant on Paul John, Tom Isaacs and Jevon Groves for advice and they all said it would be a good opportunity to get into full-time coaching.
“It’s been brilliant for me as I’ve been in the environment for three and a half years and I don’t know if I would have had that opportunity back in the UK.”
Sneddon does however concede he thought the move may have meant he was out of sight and out of mind for any potential jobs back in the UK but his fears were put to one side by the WRU coaching staff.
“It’s always been a little bit of a worry coming across here, I don’t think many people know about the professional set-up over here and the opportunity within coaching and the exposure to different environments.
“I’ve always been wary of how credible it would be coaching out here. When I initially spoke to Dan and Gerry and talked about the international coaching I’ve been involved in, with Rapid Rugby and playing the likes of Western Force, Samoa and Fiji and then playing in the World Cup repechage, they were pretty complimentary of the exposure and experience I had had. So whilst I was wary initially, Dan has given me confidence of firstly getting on the course and reassuring me that the experience is going to benefit me in the long run.”
And so it has proved. Last month Loughborough University announced Sneddon as its new Head of Men’s Rugby.
“I guess my coaching style would be around the detail but what I feel I am good at is making connections and caring about players so the ability to build trust and then hopefully the players will then repay you with the trust they have got.
“The Loughborough role is an exciting one and the main thing they talk about is sport. Sport is a big part of their strategy for the university and again it’s about developing people. That is one of my main missions and values within my coaching philosophy.
“I genuinely feel if you develop better people you’ll get the most out of them as players. So from the Hong Kong point of view I’ve been fortunate enough to coach within the full-time environment and coach some up and coming youngsters and trying to develop those guys.
“But from the club point of view part of my role when I first came out was coaching the U19s and now my role within the club is head coach where I’m aligning the youth programme and the development pathway from the U13s all the way through to seniors so I’d like to think a lot of what I have learnt here over the last few years will stand me in good stead for when I go to Loughborough.”