Ian Thomson: Coaching UYWRUFC
For anybody who doesn’t know, could you tell us a little about your background – how long have you been involved in rugby and coaching, and what are a few of your career highlights?
I started playing rugby at school. I came to York in 1984, before that I was at Lancaster – played rugby league there – and we were dominant, we didn’t even play York in the Roses [tournament] because they were so crap – then I’ve been at York ever since.
Coaching-wise, I started coaching the women’s rugby team at York in 1986 and we ended up in the National Cup quarter-finals – pretty much unbeaten for two or three seasons, playing the likes of Waterloo and Headingley. Then I had a long break from coaching, took on my junior team and we ended up winning two Yorkshire cups and were in the Yorkshire Cup finals for the ones we missed.
I coached York St. John for two years and I coached the Yorkshire RFU Senior Women’s XV Coach for two years from 2013. After that, I came to the University of York team in 2015 whilst also being the backs’ coach at York [rugby club] and we’ve done quite well since then! I won Active York Coach of the Year in 2017. I’m now the Director of Rugby at York [rugby club] as well, so I’m pretty much a professional coach there.
How would you say coaching rugby has changed from when you first came across it, to now?
It was very structured when I did my coaching badges (I’m level three). When you did your coaching badges, they kind of told you how to do it and everything had to be done by the books. Then as you get into it a bit more, you decide to do things a bit differently so it’s now a structured game with a bit more chaos involved as well. It’s also a bit more about trusting the individual to do the right thing, and then allowing other players to play outside of that as well.
How would you describe your coaching style?
What I try to do is challenge everybody and really try to treat everybody as an athlete rather than a ‘woman trying to play rugby’. I’m more interested in ‘you’re an athlete who’s giving rugby a go’ and we’ll go from there. So, I’m quite demanding, quite challenging of people – I don’t see gender in it so the point being is that if you do something wrong then you will be asked to rectify; it’s not just a case of ‘oh well, you know what it’s like’. So that’s the thing: always challenging, always trying to make people better and always striving to improve standards.
How do you identify players who have the potential to be very good at the sport? Are there any particular traits that you look for?
You’re looking for an athletic ability but you’re also looking for people to be willing to learn and actually be confident in their own presence – they don’t have to have confidence in knowing what they’re doing (because they probably don’t know what they’re doing), but they can have a little bit of confidence in ‘yeah, I’m going to be good, I want to be good’ and ‘what do I have to do to be good?’ Generally, we can improve most players from that base point.
What are your expectations of a UYWRUFC player?
To be the best player that they can be, to be the best version of themselves – and that’s on and off the pitch. Before and after a game we’re always very, very respectful of the opposition; the opposition when they come here [to the Uni of York pitches], they come first, we let them do everything first, we have the home advantage so we have the choice of which ends [we start play from] but aside from that; very respectful of the opposition and I would like to expect the same when we go to other teams. Then on the pitch, we are aggressive, competent, we don’t sulk, when we make a mistake, we get over it and we try and enjoy whatever it is we’re doing, either on the pitch or off it.
Without giving too much away, what are your goals for the UYWRUFC going into the new season?
From January, we need to win as many games as we possibly can - both teams - and if we lose, we lose in a competitive manner. I don’t set targets because it costs me money!
One thing I’ve always liked is ‘we’ve always got to expect to win because we play better if we expect to win’. If we expect to just try and do well, we’ll play badly so that’s why we expect to win.
That being said – win or lose, we’ll have a booze and if we draw, we’ll have some more!
There may be some freshers reading this who want to play rugby at York but do not have any experience with the game. What would you like those girls to know about the sport and the club?
Well the sport and the club go together for me because this is my seventh season with the club and it is the best club to be involved with, as far as I’m concerned (I don’t know too many others but, as far as I’m concerned) – supportive and all that but the reality is that they [the girls] are all focused on being the best rugby players they can be and that’s the most important thing. That’s what I’ve always taken away from them, whatever year it’s been; they’ve always wanted to be the best team that they can be and that’s why you enjoy it. Winning’s always better when you do it with a smile on your face and when you do it in a respectful way, and so is losing.
What are going to miss the most about UYWRUFC when you leave?