One of my sporting heroes is Martin Johnson. His undeniable talent and his towering presence on the field made him a formidable leader. However, off the field, thrust early (too early?) into the role of manager, that presence seems diminished. One reason he did not win our sport performance award, posted on Jan 4th.
The title here was the headline of an article by Richard Williams in yesterday’s Guardian. It suggests there is indeed a worry. Describing the performance at the press launch of the Six Nations, he said Johnson spoke well enough with his customary thoughtful taciturnity and an occasional glint of humour.
The problem, a large one in every sense, was the body language. “Those big strong fingers…were ceaselessly twisting in and out making his hands resemble a couple of baby squids having a wrestling match. In the end, I stopped listening to the answers and concentrated on the hands!”
The article went on “those fingers never stopped writhing…and what they were saying appeared, even in the most amateurish of body language, to betray a terrible anxiety”. Tellingly, it then compared this behaviour with the other head coaches on parade “it was impossible not to make a comparison with those who were able to sit back, drop their hands and have a relaxed conversation”
In other words he lost the ‘media’ pitch, badly. Not because of what he said, but the way he said it.
You could argue that provided he inspires and motivates his players, which surely he can, then their performance will be all the talking needed. The danger, however, is that his apparent, and public, lack of confidence will be picked up by the team.
The indomitable Johnson, I’m sure, will conquer this in his own way and does not need pitchcoach advice. (If he did, then the Rehearsal Best Practice guide could help!)