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Leading From The Locker Room

This is a summary of an interview between Ziwani’s Keri-Leigh Paschal and Joey Mongalo (Blue Bulls Defense Coach), which was recorded at the Ziwani launch on 25 June 2021. You can watch the full video here or listen to the podcast here.


KP: Please tell us about your story and where your leadership journey began.

JM: I’ll start the story in a small Afrikaans town in Brits. My dad passed away when I was 7 years old – my brother was 14 and my sister was 2. So through my mother, I got to see what strength in leadership looks like. She’s an amazing woman who loves the Lord. At the same time, I was thrust into leadership without even knowing it, because I had to look after my sister when my mother was at work – which was God’s way of preparing me for future leadership roles.

KP: Could you give us an idea of what it looks like to be a coach of high-profile rugby teams?

JM: I would summarise it with 3 Ps. The first is privilege. Serving with the Lions and then being picked by Jake White to work with the Bulls was something only God could have done. The second is pressure. Firstly, there’s the pressure on family life. With all the travelling, I have to leave my wife and two-year-old at home quite a lot, and we don’t get to spend many weekends together. Secondly, there’s the pressure to win games. We constantly have to deal with not just the preparation for games, but how to deal with losing games as well. The third ‘P’ is people – and in particular, the coaching staff. We not only encourage one another, but also challenge one another. And then friends like you and Brandon – it’s encouraging to know that there are people cheering me on and praying for me to do well.

KP: How do you build resilient teams and prepare them for high-pressure matches?

JM: I have another model for you: Faithfulness, Faith, and Fruit. Faithfulness is all the preparation work the players put in behind the scenes, so we know that we’ve done everything we can to win the game. The players must then show faith in the game plan and the work that they’ve put in, especially under pressure – because that’s when we’re tempted to go away from what we’ve been faithful to during the week. As coaches, we can do nothing further once the game begins, we need to put faith in the players and the work we’ve done to prepare them. With respect to fruit, Jake White says that we either win or we learn. This means we either have good fruit when we win, or tough fruit – which in the long term is just as good as the good fruit.

KP: How do you build people that stay grounded through both success and failure?

JM: It’s amazing how God took a 7-year-old fatherless boy and gave me fathers (Marius van Heerden, Jake White etc). So I’m very thankful that somebody built me up to be who I am today. On the back of that, a friend of mine who I coached with at the Lions always used to say, “Rugby is what we do, not who we are,” and I love that because it speaks to identity. And as we are building people, identity is key – that is our foundation. So whether we win or lose a game, it doesn’t change who I am. I’m a believer, I’m in Christ, I’m good enough, I’m loved, I’m accepted. So I tell the guys that as soon as they find their identity, they’ve got a strong foundation to stand on, especially if that foundation is Christ because he doesn’t change.

From there, I go to the ‘triple-H.’ I challenge them about humility, hard work, and being hungry. Hunger is just a desire to get better at whatever you do because there is always room for improvement. With respect to humility, the Bible says that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble – and I don’t want to have God in the opposing changing room! And then finally ‘hard-working.’ I believe that 90% of success is working harder than everyone else who is going for the same thing you are.

KP: Please talk to us about your framework around leadership and effective management.

JM: I took time to look back at the coaches I’ve worked with over the years and asked myself what these guys did to get success. That’s how I came up with what I’ve called, ‘default play’ (what do we fall back on when we’re under pressure?), and it’s got three C’s. The first is Care: Create opportunities to care and communicate (informal communication to build relationship). The second is Create: an environment where people can thrive and traction to advance the movement (through competence and consistency). The last one is Contextualise. For example when I’m with a group of people in Stellenbosch, I would rather communicate in Afrikaans because in this environment that will be well received. I can do the first two C’s well, but if I get context and culture wrong, it’s all falling on deaf ears.

Joey Mongalo

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