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John Mitchell stated that women will most certainly have a prominent role as coaches in the future.
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John Mitchell stated that women will most certainly have a prominent role as coaches in the future.


John Mitchell has an exciting weekend ahead. He will be celebrating his 60th birthday on Saturday and the very next day, he will be coaching his first game in the women’s Six Nations as the head coach for England. It will be interesting to see if the experienced Kiwi can lead them to even greater heights. The partnership between the bespectacled former coach of the All Blacks and the ambitious group of younger Red Roses is definitely one to watch.

The Rugby Football Union’s decision to not hire a female coach like Sarina Wiegman for the upcoming home soil women’s World Cup was not met with universal approval. Mitchell himself believes that the days of men leading women’s programs are limited and that the future will see more female coaches. The recent appointment of England’s Jo Yapp as the head coach of Australia’s team has reignited the discussion.

Hiring Mitchell, who has had a notable coaching career including roles with England’s men under Clive Woodward and Eddie Jones, is a logical decision. At only 37 years old, he became the All Blacks coach in 2001 and has since proven his ability to perform on a global level. In his own words, “My record speaks for itself in terms of winning Test matches and I know this arena like the back of my hand.” With his experience at the highest level, Mitchell believes he has a strong understanding of dealing with pressure and has valuable insights to offer. He describes his previous experiences as “gold nuggets” that he can bring to his new role.

Despite this, choosing a male leader during this critical moment was compared by some to choosing Status Quo over Taylor Swift as the headliner. Mitchell is not a fan of Swift and his initiation song did not involve any Dua Lipa-inspired dance moves. “I have previously used Oasis’ Wonderwall, but this time I chose Molly Malone. Usually, I rush back to my seat, but once I saw that I had a connection with the group, I walked down the aisle of the bus and put more emphasis on the chorus…”

International coaching involves more than just being a confident performer, and similarly, Mitchell’s character goes beyond people’s perceptions. In his recent book, Danny Cipriani described Mitchell as “Tall, bald as a coot and with different coloured eyes, like David Bowie,” and shared a hilarious anecdote about a team social after a victory against London Irish. Cipriani also mentioned playfully attempting to judo roll John into a large food bin behind a restaurant, which John apparently enjoyed.

England head coach, John Mitchell, poses with England captain, Marlie Packer, and the Women’s Six Nations trophyView image in fullscreen

Formerly, “Mitch” used to live in a different manner. Currently, he resides peacefully in Surrey with his wife from South Africa, Julie. He supports Woking FC, prefers to wear glasses in photos, listens to London Grammar, and finds happiness while grilling in his backyard. An unpleasant incident in 2010, when he was stabbed during a burglary at his house in Johannesburg, prompted him to reassess his priorities in life. He also cringes a little when reminiscing about the macho rugby culture in the 1980s in Waikato, where he used to live with teammate Warren Gatland. In the male-dominated sport, he used to feel the need to have a certain mindset, but now he realizes that it may not be necessary. The focus is on the upcoming game and being serious, something he used to fall into when he was younger.

He has a growing interest in the psychological aspect of sports. His daughter, who lives in Australia, is a psychologist in Perth. Meanwhile, his son, Daryl, has emerged as a talented Test cricketer in New Zealand. As a coach, he admits it has taken him some time to develop empathy. His leadership style used to be very direct and focused on telling the truth. He was not afraid to make tough decisions, and upon reflection, believes they were the right choices. However, he recognizes that he could have communicated those decisions better.

Although the speaker may have aged, their competitive spirit remains strong. Despite their humorous remarks about their unique physical features, they have a firm belief that gender does not affect one’s ability to coach effectively. They focus on treating individuals as human beings, rather than differentiating between men and women. They rely on their knowledge and experiences to form strong opinions, and are open to learning and asking questions in situations where they lack expertise.

Mitchell has subsequently been collating his own first‑hand insights, alongside his assistants Louis Deacon, Lou Meadows and Sarah Hunter, having already spent time with the Red Roses during last year’s WXV competition. Disappointment, he reckons, can take longer to shake for some female players but in other areas they leave the men behind. “These women are hugely driven but I like the way they’re able to be themselves. These girls are able to have joy and fun. But then, all of a sudden, they just turn the switch on. As long as we keep that balance that’s fine by me.”

“Avoid the newsletter promotion and move on”

England head coach, Eddie Jones, with his defence coach, John Mitchell, just before kick-off in the World Cup semi-final at Yokohama International Stadium in 2019

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Honestly, England has nothing to worry about in the upcoming Six Nations tournament as they have won the past five championships. However, coach Mitchell is determined to introduce a more adaptable mindset. “In the world of professional sports, you always have to be ready for the worst-case scenario. Perhaps in the previous World Cup, we were not as prepared.”

Furthermore, he desires for his team to set high goals. “The potential of this group is immense. We have been a strong team, but we strive to become exceptional. Despite our success in the Six Nations, how do we achieve our ultimate objective of winning a World Cup, which has eluded us for 11 years? We must successfully conquer that challenge. And, we still need to fill the premium seats at Twickenham Stadium. This team has a strong sense of identity, but we are still working towards fully integrating into the culture of English rugby.”

In brief, there is a hint of similarities between Mitchell and Heston Blumenthal as he prepares to shake things up in the England women’s game and move on from his sudden departure from Jones’s England men’s team in July 2021. At age 57, Mitchell realized that he could no longer give Jones his full attention and decided to prioritize himself. He believes that players must adapt to a head coach’s style and leadership, but if they cannot, they should be honest about it.

He acknowledges that his diverse coaching experience has helped him identify his personal weaknesses. These may include moments when ego interferes and prevents him from remaining open and aware. However, he does not believe he will be the last male head coach for the Red Roses. He is not solely focused on one term, either. As for when a woman might take on the role, he believes the timing will be right at some point. Ultimately, it is about ensuring that the players have the necessary skills to play the game and exhibit proper behavior, and maintaining tactical clarity. Despite attempts to distinguish between the two, the core elements remain the same.

The women of England may have discovered the key to achieving their long-sought World Cup victory, regardless of their gender.

Source: theguardian.com