5 pillars to build a championship team

Leadership. Management. Knowing your strengths. A culture of discipline. A learning environment.

Nothing earthshaking here. It’s what most high school football coaches want to do and believe they are doing.

For Eddie Jones, though, these are not just words on paper or fodder for the bulletin board. They are lifetime commitments to success and the foundation of every good team.

As one of the most successful coaches in the Australian Rugby Union, Jones took Japan to a historic showing in the 2015 World Cup before becoming the current head coach of the England National Rugby Union.
He achieves complex goals through simple approaches.

Link to original story at USAFootball.com.

“You’ve got to understand what you are good at, and you’ve got to understand where you’ve got to improve,” Jones told The Telegraph in November.

It’s a 24/7 commitment to these ideas that make coaches and teams successful. Here’s a closer look at what Jones is talking about:


Successful coaches can step back and see the big picture. They don’t have to be involved in every drill and day-to-day teaching. This allows them to maintain objectivity.

Coaches who lead, learn and adapt quickly, all while bringing people along with them. They can plan and implement that plan all the while recognizing that no strategy is perfect, hence the necessity of staying flexible.

Leadership skills also include:

  • The ability to get the best out of the people around you
  • The ability to provide a strong cohesive vision that gives the staff direction to follow
  • The need to understand cultural differences
  • A high work ethic
  • A passion for details


Building the right staff is as important as any philosophy or system. Good head coaches don’t surround themselves with yes men. Differing opinions create the strongest staff.

Though the final decision always remains with the head coach.

Players are looking for consistency from coaches. What is good today or taught today must be the same as tomorrow. A good staff will deliver that.

Coaches create an environment that supports the values and behaviors that reflect on the whole team. They lead by example.

And sometimes the hardest part is knowing when to let a staff member go, when to cut the cord. This is not easy but sometimes necessary.

Knowing your strength

Know your team’s key competitive edge and work constantly to improve it. For Jones, he saw that his Japanese team in the 2015 World Cup was smaller than everyone else so he turned that into a positive by emphasizing a style of play that took advantage of their fitness, quickness and skill.

Do a thorough and ongoing analysis of where are you versus where you need to be. Act on closing those gaps immediately but do not forget what you are good at. Don’t work on your weakness at the expense of your strengths. Remain who you are, become better at what made you good in the first place. Your strength will pull up any weakness.

Remain who you are, become better at what made you good in the first place. Your strength will pull up any weakness.

Know your opposition. Understand their psyche, then plan and prioritize an attack based on your strengths.

Develop a culture of discipline

Jones has a simple rule for rules: very few, very clear and very easy to be accountable for
None of Jones’ meetings last more than 15 minutes so communication is clear and concise. Evaluations fit previously stated criteria – no shades of grey.

If a player needs to be removed from the team for any reason, as a head coach, you must do it. Success is not always about having the best players. It’s about having the best team.

Create a learning environment

Learn from other sports. When Coach Jones was asked about the development pathway in rugby, he cited the Belgian women’s field hockey as a model of how they used their coaches in the pipeline.

That blew me away.

No coach is too smart or too experienced to learn from other coaches or other sports. When you see games on TV, make sure to watch the postgame interviews with coaches. Coaches who are asked good questions are likely to give great answers.

Read everything on the internet. Buy books or get them from the library. Read people you emulate and those who you may initially disagree with. You never know where that key piece of knowledge comes from.

Finally, have the courage of conviction. Always look for a better way than the way you are doing it, and if a way is found be willing to change.

Andy Ryland is USA Football’s senior manager of education and training. A former Penn State linebacker and member of the U.S. men’s rugby team, Ryland helped develop the Heads Up Footballand Master Trainerprogram