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Winning! Sir Clive Woodward: The DNA of a Champion

Head Coach of England’s World Cup winning rugby team in 2003. Team GB’s Director of Sport at London 2012. It’s an impressive CV and that’s before you even mention Sir Clive’s successful career as a business coach and speaker.
30 October, 2019

Head Coach of England’s World Cup winning rugby team in 2003. Team GB’s Director of Sport at London 2012. It’s an impressive CV and that’s before you even mention Sir Clive’s successful career as a business coach and speaker.

Following his half-day MasterCLASS on team building at this year’s Business Excellence Forum & Awards, we quizzed Sir Clive on his career highlights and his top tips for building great teams.

Sir Clive, let’s start with your career in sport. There have been many highlights, but if you had to pick one, what would be the stand-out moment?

I’ve been very lucky to work with some amazing teams and individuals and I’m going to have to pick the two highlights that stand out for me; working with the England Rugby team, who won the World Cup in 2003, and with the Team GB Olympic Team at London 2012. Both were very special times, teams, and moments in time.

How does an achievement in a business environment compare with those on-field victories?

I’m a naturally competitive person so I get that same excitement from winning whether it be in front of 80,000 people at Twickenham, on the weekend at my local golf club, or in a business environment

What are your top three tips for becoming a champion coach?

Listen: As a coach one of the most important skills is listening. Coaching should be a two-way dialogue between the coach and the individual being coached.

Share: Where possible, and without giving away confidential information, getting other people you trust and respect to look at your coaching can be a really useful way of learning new things.

Learn: As a coach you don’t need to have all the answers and should never stop learning.  The moment you do, you are likely to come second!

How do you build a team you can trust? How do you measure trust?

I don’t think there is any shortcut to building trust. It is something that has to be earned through the quality of your actions and behaviours over an extended period of time.  You can produce quite sophisticated psychometric tests to measure trust, but again, you could just score an individual or your team out of 10.  The key then is how you coach individuals or your teams to improve their score.

How can leaders ensure their team perform well under pressure?

I don’t think anyone is born with the ability to perform under pressure, but it is something that can be learned and can be coached. I coach pressure using this very English acronym – T-CUP – which stands for Thinking Correctly Under Pressure. The key word is Correctly.  With the England rugby team, in any team room I always used to have three things on the wall; a clock, a scoreboard, and a white board. Using these three things we used to go through scenario after scenario of possible things that could happen both on and off the field and rehearse how we would perform in those given situations.  

The key point here – backed up by the most sophisticated data – is that if you come across anything you haven’t experienced or thought of before, the chances of you making the correct decision in the real world are considerably less. All these horrible words; choke, freeze, bottle, ‘rabbits in the headlights’ kick in. Whereas if you come across something you haven’t experienced but have at least thought through or discussed with your team, you are far more likely to make the correct decision in that pressure moment.

What tips do you have for inducting someone new into your Teamship Rules?

Any new player who joins the team must read and agree to the team’s Teamship Rules.  When I first started this with the England Rugby team, this used to be printed in a book. Now it’s all digital using the Hive Learning App. To join the team, they must agree to the Teamship Rules – however if they think there is anything we can do better they must stand up and say so at their first team meeting. Never underestimate where new ideas can come from; just because you have always done something a certain way, it doesn’t mean there is not a better way to do it.

How do you manage a Teamship ‘dissenter’?

I haven’t really experienced this with the teams I have worked with. The powerful thing about Teamship is that the behaviours are created by the team and not by the leader, so you find that the rules are self-policed. Yes, people can accidently go against something which has been agreed by the team, but I haven’t worked with anyone who has consistently and deliberately become a dissenter. If you do have someone doing this, in my opinion, they have to go. 

How do you go about identifying sponges?

This is an art and not a science, but in the teams I have worked with in both business and sport, I think these people naturally stand out through their passion and enthusiasm. In small businesses or teams, it is very easy to identify these people. In larger organisations or teams, sometimes these people are less easy to spot.

As a leader, what steps can you take to stop yourself growing into a rock?

I love the term ‘relentless learning’.  I would fly anywhere in the world if I thought there was a chance I might learn something that would help me as an individual or the team to perform better. The moment you stop having this passion for learning, I think you are likely to come second.

Soak up more of Sir Clive Woodward’s knowledge and learn from other speakers at the 2019 Business Excellence Forum by reading the Next Level Magazine.

To find out more about the 2020 Business Excellence Forums and book your place please go to