#TuksRugby: Tennis coach wants Tuks rugby players to be “champion people”

Posted on October 21, 2020

"Coach says" are according to a study done in the USA the two words most often used by young athletes around the world.
To John-Laffnie de Jager, that pretty much sums up the responsibility that comes with being a coach. He is a firm believer that coaching should never be about winning at all cost. 
"Any coach has an opportunity to make a massive impact on people's lives. That is why their focus should be on 'champion people who are world-class'."
De Jager, who has worked with some of the best tennis players in the world, is now also part of TuksRugby's coaching staff.
It is not the first time that he will be working with rugby players. In the past, he has helped the likes of Pieter-Steph du Toit a Springbok lock, as well as assisting the rugby teams of Grey College. 
"I have been privileged to have met and worked with the likes of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. It is always interesting to listen when they talk about what they do to be at their best. A lot of what they say can be implemented in team sports. 
"Imagine a team whether every player is a focussed as an athlete competing in an individual sport. 
"I am in regular contact with international coaches of different sporting codes. My aim is to try and establish what that one thing is that every coach does to get players to continuously improve.
"For me, success in sports starts by focussing on being a winner from the field. For example, to have the right attitude when you study. Thanking a professor after a class. The way you treat a waiter in a restaurant—your reaction when your mom asks you to help her. The emphasis should always be on the small things we can do better. 
"No athlete should be obsessed with winning. Their focus should be on fixing mistakes in a technique so that they can be better today than they were yesterday. Once they master that the results will take care of itself."
"On the field, it should be about playing hard but also with gamesmanship. When a player gets a yellow-carded for a late tackle, what does he do? Just walk off the field? Or does he step up to the player he wronged and shake his hand? This is what being 'champion people' is about."
De Jager talks from experience. When he was born, his heart stopped. The doctor had to give him an injection to get my heart going. 
"Instead of injecting me in my thigh, they injected me in my butt and basically hit the main nerve going down my right leg, so I only had 10% use of my nerve in my right leg.
"The doctors told my parents that I only had a 12% chance of walking properly, and I'd never be able to play any sport. My right leg is an inch-and-a-half shorter than my left leg; I was in a cast until I was three years old. Until today I can hardly move the muscles in my right foot."
It did not stop De Jager from becoming a top international doubles tennis player. 
In his playing days, De Jager was considered to be one of the world's best doubles players. He represented South Africa at the 2000 Sydney Olympics losing in the semifinals. Contested the French and Australian Open's mixed doubles finals as well as playing in the men's doubles semifinals in Australia, the USA and at Wimbledon. In 2000 he was ranked 11th in the world. 
De Jager went on to coach South Africa's Davis Cup team as well as the Federation Cup Team. He has also coached teams to win the World Team Championship on two occasions.
- Author Wilhelm de Swardt
Published by Leonore Jordaan

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