Driving High Performance by the Numbers at the Crusaders

Last season I had a unique opportunity to head to the home of the Crusaders at Rugby Park as part of a select group, and talk with players Andy Ellis, Cody Taylor and Ged Robinson, Coach Tabai Matson and Performance Analyst Jon Gardner.

img_0313When Tabai said, “you work out how you want to play and win, then it all flows through to how the team trains, and how the player performs their part.  It is about sustaining a competitive advantage and being as efficient and effective in your performance”, you realise the parallels are pretty clear between how one of the best performing rugby franchises develops their team to be consistently high performing, and businesses trying to build high performance in their market space.

You could instantly sense a real desire to improve and be the best.  From walking in the door there is obvious pride and a culture of performance that as we toured the gym and facilities creates healthy competition, banter with transparent performance data to raise the standard.  It didn’t matter whether it was in the gym with the records board, or in the match analytics and data on each player, or the guy out on the field solo training seeking his personal edge – it was obvious everywhere.  While we sometimes see reticence for people to have their performance measured and receive critique in businesses, at the Crusaders having numbers against their performance, combined with a culture of feedback is just part of doing business to pursue that 1% advantage.

Their Performance Analyst is a key part of the team.  He seeks to understand the opposition and looks for the opportunities or kinks in the opposing team, he looks at the trends and the focus areas, then informs the game plan for training emphasis.  They then utilise video technology to develop and shape training and selection.  On game day, live analysis condenses the data, makes it relevant and enables the coaches to identify whether the skills and training are playing out as anticipated, whether the opposition are playing as predicted, look for opportunities, adjust and adapt as necessary – a bit like an on the spot SWOT and action plan.  Some definite similarities in the ‘one page game plan’ approach too.

The interesting part, as Tabai said, “was that the teams can all get the same data – its understanding what you want to measure and what you do with it that makes the difference” – sounds familiar doesn’t it.


The subsequent review of games then enables each player to analyse their performance and focus on key aspects.  The Crusaders have found that they need to layer coaching feedback at least three times to ‘get it beyond white noise’ and get a better acceptance and uptake for improvement.  Jon Gardiner said “The data and video technology analytics enables marginal gains for individuals, but massive gains at team level.  The key is to strip away the clutter – less is clearer”.  So how often do businesses analyse their individual and collective performance by the few key numbers that drive performance?

Tabai’s final insight was about changing the coaching conversation from being via microscope and in the trenches with a player, to getting them to see it from a helicopter or system view, or up to the satellite perspective, so that they can see alternatives and then re-focus.

Thanks to the Crusaders and their sponsors EMDA for this unique opportunity.  Here’s hoping they have a fantastic year under the new leadership team.

Greg is a consultant at Advisory.Works

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