Einstein can help Boks

10 October 2016 - 09:25 By Prof Ross Tucker

The first thing that All Blacks rugby captain Kieran Read said after Saturday's Springbok demolition was that the Boks should be commended for coming out to "fight". His coach Steve Hansen said similar things in the build-up (when asked what he expected from the Boks) and after the match. So, too, did England coach Eddie Jones fire the first salvo in his psychological war when he referred to the Boks as "bullies", months before the November Test at Twickenham.That is where we are in South African rugby - reduced to "fighting", bringing passion or bullying depending on your perspective.And while such clichés are overused by opposition coaches and players, you get the sense that this is really all our opponents expect we can offer. This is now a team that has played 221 minutes without scoring a try - every point in home Test matches scored through penalties and drop-goals.In the aftermath of a fairly disastrous international rugby season - or indeed two years - opinion on what must change is hardly in short supply. Let me not add to that noise.However, I do want to offer some broader thoughts on the process by which this change is going to be sought. These are in effect principles for how (rather than what) we can do to identify solutions to restore the team to at least being competitive.First, to paraphrase Albert Einstein, you cannot solve a problem with the same level of consciousness that created it. In other words, problems created with one type of thinking will persist until you think differently - and that usually requires different people (because, in my experience, it takes a mighty epiphany for a person to change their thinking drastically enough).Second, if a problem has taken many years and a few generations to create, you cannot solve that problem in one year, or even one generation. It takes at least the same time to unravel the mess as it did to create it.At least, that's true for complex situations, and the performance of a national team is complex.Third, a principle on failure: knowledge and error flow from the same cognitive source, and only the result can tell them apart. In other words, you have to explore the idea of learning and acquiring knowledge by being willing to make errors. If you never create situations to do that, then you can't learn effectively.This seems particularly relevant to South African rugby, which tends to oscillate between wanting to explore new playing approaches and tactics with new players, and consolidating "old ways" with returning players.Now, taking those three principles into account, consider the next few months for South African rugby. First, the pressure on coach Allister Coetzee and the Springboks is enormous.Our end-of-year tour involves difficult matches against a resurgent England (though with a few injuries already) and Wales, and it's not inconceivable that we'll lose two of the three Test matches over there.That may or may not be enough to end the current era within a year of it beginning, and is hardly conducive to learning through failure (Principle 3). Such is sport.Now we've apparently commissioned a coaching indaba where the top minds will get together to share ideas and "help Allister". The only things this will achieve, I suspect, are a) undermine the confidence and authority of the current coaches; b) put blood in the water for the rest; and c) satisfy administrators' needs to be seen to be doing something, anything.Any indaba that focuses on the current national team will fail, because the national team today is the outcome of the national system five, 10 years ago. A produces B, so the solution will be found in A, not B. Second, you cannot fix A with the same thinking that created it (Principle 1), and you definitely cannot fix it in the short term - which is what a group of coaches in a room will be tasked to (attempt to) do.What, then, is the solution? I'd suggest more listening, less telling. Listen to players, not other coaches, and possibly reduce the voices within the team. In the interests of space, let's leave further discussion of that for next week .....

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