SuperSport Schools Plus

Kearsney’s new Director of Rugby Keegan Daniel discusses his leadership and coaching philosophies

By Brad Morgan , in Rugby | Featured Rugby | News , at 2023-10-24

Since 2000, Kearsney College has produced, among others, Springboks’ Robert du Preez, Daniel du Preez, Jean-Luc du Preez and Etienne Fynn, England internationals’ Brad Barritt and Matt Stevens, and Scotland international, Dylan Richardson.

Their Director of Sport is former Springbok, Waylon Murray. And, on Tuesday, they announced another former Springbok, Keegan Daniel, as the school’s new Director of Rugby.

Chatting with SuperSport Schools on Tuesday, the former Sharks, Kubota Spears and Bok flanker said he told the school’s Board, at his interview for the position, that if all they wanted to see were victories, he was not their man. “I certainly don’t believe in that. I think that mentality is not going to serve you well in life, regardless of whether you play sports or are you going into business.”

Daniel’s view is becoming an ever-increasing norm. The best coaches and leaders are focussing on the process, not the results. There is plenty of evidence, though, that a commitment to the right process usually leads to good results. And the boys are better served and better prepared for their futures, both on and off of the sports field.

It’s not as if Kearsney College would give its Director of Rugby a directive that includes a must-win clause, not that victories are unimportant, either.

There are other extremely important factors: Kearsney has a rich academic history and was the leading IEB school in KZN last year. It boasts a world-class arts and culture programme, which includes the Kearsney Choir, which has won 15 gold and seven silver medals at the World Choir Games and has been named the world champion on four occasions. There is only so much time one can devote to each aspect when a balanced holistic education is the goal.

“These are school kids and they’ve got a lot on their plates, and it certainly isn’t a professional environment where it’s win-at-all-costs and rugby is the only thing,” Daniel said.

Kearsney is a relatively small school compared to many others and the coaches and directors of the different sports need to be aware of the demands placed on the boys, many of whom participate in multiple sports.

Very few, if any, would go on to become professional sportsmen after their school days, Daniel said, so the goal is more rounded: “Hopefully, they will achieve some success on the field, but they will also be successful off the field, in terms of their academics and their culture and that sort of thing.

“We are going to focus on creating well-conditioned athletes. So, we certainly don’t want to create rugby players. That is not going to be our mandate. Our mandate is to create well-conditioned athletes, bearing in mind that we are coaching people. They are not robots. They are not professional athletes.”

Daniel pulled on the famous black and white jersey of the Sharks from 2006 to 2018. During that time, he played with many outstanding players, and under some exceptional captains and coaches.

Keegan Daniel has been involved with Kearsney rugby for many years already, and is seen as an honorary Kearsney Old Boy.
Keegan Daniel, seen here and in the feature photo alongside Director of Sport and former Springbok, Waylon Murray, has been involved with Kearsney rugby for many years already, and is viewed as an honorary Kearsney Old Boy.

Interestingly, the very first coach that comes to his mind as having made a big impact on him is Grant Bashford, who was recently appointed the Director of Sport at Clifton. Bashford, Daniel said, was hugely influential. “He has known me since I was 18 years old, and we coached together at Northwood.

“A lot of my philosophies and outlooks, I’ve learnt from Bash. He’s been a great mentor of mine, and I am hopefully going to try to emulate a bit of what I’ve taken from him and learned. Obviously, you put a bit of your own personal touch on it.

“At the end of the day, I think the decision-making process has to be about what’s for the betterment of Kearsney College, and what’s in the best interest of the people themselves. That’s what I loved about learning from Bash. You’ve got to put away your ego and your own personal agenda and make decisions based on those two factors.”

Daniel was a member of the Sharks during a period when the franchise had many strong leaders, from whom he also learned valuable lessons. “During that period, from 2006 to 2011, there were a lot of seasoned campaigners,” he said. “Certainly, guys within the set-up, like John Smit, Johann Muller and Stephan Terblanche, were all leaders in the team, and a guy like Jacques Botes. He was really underrated, but he was a leader within the team.”

Daniel, who was appointed captain of the Sharks in 2012, said Smit, the 2007 Rugby World Cup-winning captain, now a good friend, was a fine role model: “I learned a lot from him in terms of engaging with people and how to handle the pressure of the media and leadership and all that kind of stuff.”

He added: “There’s no real definition of leadership. I think you are moulded by the experiences that you go through in life, and you take the good and you try and implement that, and you also learn from the things that you maybe wouldn’t want to see in your leadership style, or within your organisation.

“So, just harnessing those experiences and trying to implement that consistently, I think, is key.”

Explaining how he plans to lead, Daniel said he won’t micro-manage Kearsney’s rugby coaches. He wants them to be creative. However, what he wants to do is to create more alignment between the coaches, so that they’re speaking a common rugby language.

“I equate it to being in a choir, and we’re all trying to sing our best, and we are trying to play the instruments but, unfortunately, we have different hymn sheets at the moment.”

He wants to create a philosophy that everyone believes in and buys into, so that what Kearsney is trying to achieve is not just for the benefit of one team, but for the benefit of the whole rugby programme.

Daniel has experience of coaching at Kearsney himself. This past season, he took charge of a talented under-14 line-up. Interestingly, the game he speaks about most fondly is one that his team lost, going down 14-21 to a very good DHS side, which scored an intercept try and a try through a charge-down.

The Kearsney players, though, walked off the field smiling. Daniel asked them, why? They said it was because of the performance they had delivered. It wasn’t about the result. And he loved that. It meant he was teaching them the correct way. Their values aligned with his.

And there is another thing that is vitally important, he shared, from someone who wished him well on his appointment. “They said ‘Congrats. Have fun!’

“Often, we take this thing so seriously, or our position so seriously, that we forget to wake up each day and say, ‘let’s go and have some fun’.”

Looking out over the beautiful AH Smith Oval, the home of the Kearsney College 1st cricket team, he concluded: “It’s an incredible opportunity. It’s a fantastic school, and there are numerous fantastic schools in KZN, but these boys have chosen Kearsney for their education, and they have to make the most of their five years.

“As coaches, we can do so much. We will create accountability in our players, so that they can get the most out of their experience.”

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Brad Morgan
error: Sorry ol' chap, those shenanigans are not permissible.