Coaching The Elite Coaches
‘Disaster Management’ sounds like a coaching badge previous England football bosses should have taken, but not Gareth Southgate, who has transformed the England team.
His latest new waistcoat, however, was a hi-viz Serve On equipment vest as we put him and other top UK coaches through a challenging disaster experience.
Kitted out in safety helmets, goggles and overalls, the elite trainers charged with bringing gold medals and silverware to UK sports were taught how to cope with catastrophe the Serve On way.
It’s a scenario that England Rugby have also been putting their Under-20, future internationals through, and also the England Women’s Rugby Squad.
Serve On was chosen by UK Sport’s World Class Coaching Elite Programme to put their top trainers through pressure situations they would not be used to.
Southgate, along with GB Paralympics head coach Paula Dunn, England Rugby Sevens head coach Simon Amor, British Athletics head of endurance Barry Fudge, GB Rowing’s U-23s and juniors chief coach Peter Sheppard, British Canoeing slalom head coach Mark Ratcliffe and England Rugby forwards coach Steve Borthwick arrived at Serve On’s training HQ in Wiltshire to be pitched straight into disaster scenarios designed to take them far out of their comfort zone.
In the darkness and under the watchful eye of the USAR technicians, the coaches had to dig through rubble to recover casualties from a ‘collapsed building’ and rescue victims of a ‘road traffic accident’ and had to take charge as the operations were complicated by distraught relatives demanding they get their loved ones out.
The coaches also had to deal with a ‘riot’ situation which ended with them being ‘taken into custody’ and ‘interrogated’ by local security forces.
Intelligence experts from the Applied Influence Group put them under intense scrutiny in one-on-one quizzes.
The real pressure ramped up, however, as the trainers ran the Operations Room, managing the constantly-developing disaster scenario based on Serve On volunteers’ own experiences, dealing with rescues, water shortages, communications problems, refugees, incoming supplies and the imminent arrival of a hurricane.
Chris Stott from UK Sport said: “The elite programme coaches are here to learn from the expertise that Serve On has and to see what they can take from how they (Serve On) operate back into their daily training environment and competitions.
“The are also here to really test their own skills in various areas that they have been working on in the elite programme.
Southgate, who took his players for training with the Royal Marines before the World Cup, said: “When you want to go further and learn and develop you have always got to be open to new ideas and new ways of working.”
After being put through his paces by the Serve On volunteers, he said: “It’s been a really good insight into the (humanitarian) work that goes on. I don’t think any of us appreciated exactly how much goes into any operation, and the skills required, the bravery that is required for some of the rescue situations and some of the relationships you have to build with local communities.
“There were a lot of areas that we hadn’t thought about and, in terms of the challenge, it was great that we were being overloaded with information to see how we reacted to that.”
Talking about the practical rescue scenarios they were put through, he said: “I think we have all had to lead at different moments. We have all had to go and do tasks so I think everyone will want time to reflect on it but it will definitely translate back to what we do in our individual jobs.”
He said: “It is always good to apply pressure situations in decision-making and that carries across to our own worlds. We have opportunities to learn within our own environments but they are often quite limited. This was testing us under different pressure and it was all about the team and about making sure everybody was working together.”
He said: “If as coaches we improve then it should improve our players or athletes.”
Barry Fudge said: “It is so different from the world we operate in. We work in a pretty high-pressure environment but very different and the consequences of what we do, or don’t do, are not that someone might die. I have been gobsmacked by what you (Serve On) do. You are mad!”
He said: “I freaked out being in the tunnel, but I learned something about myself.”
Paula Dunn said: “It has been brilliant,” and Simon Amos said: “I’m blown away by what you (Serve On) do.
England Rugby have twice put U-20s players they believe are destined to be future stars through Serve On’s disaster scenario exercises, and players who have gone on to international experience include Ted Hill, Marcus Smith, Ben Earl, Nick Isiekwe and Joe Cokanasiga.
England’s all-conquering Women’s Rugby Squad also went through Serve On’s disaster exercises before the last World Cup and showed just why their on-field decision-making is so good.
Serve On Operations Director Dan Cooke, a veteran of numerous disaster deployments, said: “I am always impressed by the incredible people we find ourselves working with, and to share our world in a way that helps the UK’s elite coaches is a privilege for myself and our teams.”
He said: “We always learn from the challenging missions and projects we deploy to, and see the best and worst of humanity. It’s nice to pass on some of that experience but we also learn from our guests and the elite coaches were excellent in the way they applied themselves to the problems.”