Dane Coles is arguably one of the world’s best and most dynamic rugby players. In the combative position of hooker, Coles regularly goes head to head with front rowers around the world in both Super Rugby and International Rugby. He is fast approaching 50 tests for the All Blacks (recently voted the world’s most successful sports team at the Laureus Sports Awards) and is a Rugby World Cup winner. PDP Editor, Dave Wright spoke to Dane about his player development journey, not specialising too young, the types of coaches he responds to and the value of mental preparation in performance.
Dane Coles grew up in a small town on New Zealand’s Kapiti Coast, about 45 minutes north of the nation’s capital, Wellington. He has fond memories of his childhood there, saying “we didn’t have things like PlayStation back then”. He remembers “constantly being outside playing all kinds of sports, including rugby league, touch rugby, softball, football and cricket”. As Dane puts it, he “just gave everything a go”.
Despite the lower North Island of New Zealand being a rugby heartland, it may be surprising to hear that Dane’s school wasn’t really “a rugby school”. However, this may be what helped him on his way to rugby success, as he managed to make the school’s 1st XV at the age of 14. The following year, aged 15 Coles played in a tournament for his province, Horowhenua-Kapiti, which resulted in him making the New Zealand U17 squad.
It was then that he decided to give rugby “a really good crack” and see where the journey would take him.
Initially, that journey from school XV to World Cup winner began by being “smashed by big scores” while playing for Horowhenua-Kapiti. But, as Dane says, “we were just happy to be playing against some of the bigger names in New Zealand rugby at the time.”
We start our interview discussing those early formative years.
How much of your development as a young player was coach led versus free play?
I was quite lucky really, my old man coached a fair bit and we had another good coach called Ray Hayward. There were elements of coaching, but they kept things pretty basic. Looking back, I think playing with so many of my good mates probably had a bigger influence on me than the coaches. It was mainly about going out and enjoying yourselves and playing with your friends, but my Dad and Ray were a pretty good coaching team. In my last year of school we managed to win division three and they guided us along the way; we had a fantastic team culture.
As a young player what kind of coaches did you respond to or look up to?
It’s funny, you know. You come into contact with a variety of coaches along the way. I think the coaches that gave me the enjoyment and freedom to just play worked best for me, especially when I was at school. I think sometimes now it all gets taken a bit too seriously too soon. Back then it was all about learning the basics and more than anything creating a really good team culture and having fun with your mates. Even now I look back on those days as some of the best of my life. I generally didn’t respond that well to coaches who were really hard on us or who took the fun out of the game.
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