Ulster boss Dan McFarland joined Monday Night Rugby to discuss a unique coaching philosophy that draws on a classical education, dry wit and hard-bitten experience.
The former Scotland assistant coach has been the main voice in the Kingspan dressing room for two years, in what is his first senior head coach position.
Speaking on Off The Ball, McFarland said that he arrived in the Ulster camp at a time when the club was suffering badly due to a lack of success. He says the club has come a long way and is now competing for trophies.
“We are at a stage where we have challenged for championships in the last year. The ultimate goal is to win silverware and there is only one team in our competition that can do that.
“There was a lot of doom and gloom around the club when I came in. I personally didn’t see that.
“Potentially they weren’t playing as well as they should have done. So, it was about focusing the mind and looking at the most important question. It was about what were we going to address.”
— Off The Ball (@offtheball) August 4, 2020
With a focus on last season, McFarland said that his side understands that preparation is needed for every game, something he said he didn’t do against Glasgow in the Pro 14 semi-final.
“In the approach to the semi-final against Glasgow, there was possibly a sense of patting ourselves on the back after we beat Connacht at home, and we had a home quarter-final.
“We played well in that game but perhaps there wasn’t enough edge going into that Glasgow away game. These are small margins but when you do arrive on a Glasgow pitch you need that edge.
“We should have prepared more.”
On his role as a head coach, McFarland believes the hardest thing for him is making the final decisions and knowing what advice to give to different players.
“You do stand in a position where you have to make the key decisions. That took a lot of getting used to. You have to supply advice which is something I’m always learning about.”
McFarland drew on a unique experience with Jacob Stockdale and social media criticism.
“In my role you have conversations with players the whole time. Sometimes you have to keep an eye out for these things. Jacob didn’t come to me the following morning and say he was looking at Twitter and it was upsetting him, but you are aware of a player’s confidence.
“With Jacob’s case, you might be struggling with your identity. My job is to keep an eye out. Do they need support and a certain bit of advice?”
Before taking a career in rugby coaching, McFarland spoke about his degree in Latin and Greek classics, with a later degree in psychology, and how he uses them in modern-day coaching.
"I don’t really use my classics degree though I know where to look if I want to find out about the Spartans. If you’re a coach, have a look at the Spartans and the movie '300'. Players love that.
"I would focus on psychology every day. It gives you access to exploring different avenues of learning and different leaderships. Education is a huge love for me. Leadership is critical with psychology.”
The Ulster boss said how he looks for support and has received advice off other coaches in the game as they are the only ones that understand the pressures of being a head coach.
“There is nobody in the organisation experiencing the same things you are. There is nobody here that I can talk to about being a head coach so talking to other head coaches is absolutely crucial. I can get on the phone to other coaches who can help me with that.”
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