CAREERS PODCASTS


JACK CLARK
Head Varsity Rugby Coach
Cal Bears – UC Berkeley

As the leader of a team that has won 29 national championships, Coach Jack Clark knows what it takes to perform at your best. Coach Clark offers insights that translate well beyond athletics to help you tap into your strengths for a challenging exam, big interview or important client work.

Coach Clark

Listen on Apple
Listen on Google
Listen on Spotify

Resources

Strengths Based Leadership

Show Notes

Mitch:

Hi, this is Mitch, and my guest today is Coach Jack Clark who's the coach of the Cal Bears rugby team. Coach Clark and his team have won 29 national championships. Coach, it’s an absolute pleasure to have you with us today.

Coach Clark:

Thanks Mitch. Good to be here.

Mitch:

It would be interesting—I think—for our listeners to understand what techniques that you use to prepare for the big game and if, you know, you could, how do you think it might transfer to the big day in court or a big board meeting or, for law students, a big day of interviewing.

Coach Clark:

I think to put some context to the question, in sports we would spend- the ratio would be maybe 20:1. And that would be volume and preparation to actual competition, and even in season where you are playing frequently and that’s on an annual basis maybe a 20:1. And then, in competition, geez, I don’t know, 8:1.

Mitch:

Mhmm (Affirmative).

Coach Clark:

7:1.

Mitch:

Mhmm (Affirmative).

Coach Clark:

So, you spend a lot more time preparing and training and getting ready for competition than you actually spend in competition, and I think that’s the factor in your question. I would say that the high performance teams that I’ve seen—we call it in high performance sports, we call it daily training environment, a DTE. Those organizations that have a really strong DTE would measure everything. In that high volume prep training period, they’re measuring things; they’re ranking people; there competing. And they create what is almost contrived competitions. I mean, a scrimmage is a contrived competition. All of that creates, I think, a hardened edge…

Mitch:

Uh-huh (Affirmative).

Coach Clark:

…which allows people to go into competition with more confidence and more readiness.

Mitch:

Does the intensity of your DTE approach that of a real game situation?

Coach Clark:

It's different in the fact that we’re typically isolating something. When the game happens it's rather random, in the fact that lessons can impose themselves when they do, but in a training environment, you can actually decide exactly what the lessons are, and you can explain the aims of the activity. You can rep the activity—if you will—by way of demonstration, and then rep it again under escalating pressure, and you create a real learning experience, almost to fail, if you will. And then you put a little bit of summary on it and people typically walk away with experiences which will really benefit them when real competition comes along.

Mitch:

Coach, how do you approach going in with a game plan, and how do you make on-field adjustments, and what do you think we can learn from that as lawyers and as aspiring lawyers.

Coach Clark:

I'm always interested in whatever we’re going to decide, that it’s something that we can execute on by way of our strengths. I'm always going to look through the lens of what is it that we do well, even if I thought that the opposition had a real hole in their game, and it was there to be exploited. If I didn't think that we had the competences in that area, I-that wouldn't become a central point in my game plan. Right? I think game plans have to be decided on what you do best and then I think that the next pillar of that is what can you take away from the opposition. Right? It's know thy enemy, right? I mean, I'm always interested in taking something away from them, and it's got to be something they want to do. It's their go to; it's their plan A. And if it works within our strength sets to take that away, then I'm going to put every bit of resource I can into that, and you almost have to play the game out in a very realistic way. I mean, what would the game look like if we win. You know, what are those victory conditions and then decide which of those things is something we actually can establish, and then we can leverage off of that to possibly win this game. Again, that’s probably the second component…

Mitch:

Uh-huh (Affirmative).

Coach Clark:

…is what can we establish, and the final thing is let’s have an adjustment in the bag. Let's know if things aren’t going well and we’re running out of time that we have something to pivot to. That we have - we have our own plan B. It takes some real discipline to decide when you make those adjustments. We’ve been in contests where we had the right plan going in, and we knew we had the right plan. There was great alignment on the team, and we got to half-time, and we’re losing. The first question in the locker room was, “What do you think? Is the plan working? Because the scoreboard says it's not working.” But to a person in that locker room, we said, “No, it’s working. We’re going to win this game. We can see the effects, we just have to follow through on this.” So it takes a bit of emotional intelligence to not let the scoreboard dictate things. Now the scoreboard is important because it matters, and the time matters, as well, because you can't run out of time. And then there's other times that you get in there and say no, we can't go through another quarter like this. We’ve got to pivot right now. Let's go to Plan B, we can win. They're going to have to make an adjustment as well.

Mitch:

You have led more winning teams than anyone in the business. What would you say are the key elements of a high performing team?

Coach Clark:

Well Mitch, it's all coaching right?

 

{Both laugh.}

Mitch:

You're right.

Coach Clark:

I don't really think that the very best teams can have a blind spot, can have an area that’s important that they don't have competence in. You know, I don't believe that there’s shortcuts. I believe that you really do have to check all the boxes if a team wants to be among the best. And I think that’s important to say, and that’s probably different from, you know, if you want to be in the upper half of the table. You want to maybe not be just mediocre. There probably are a few things. Just don’t do this, and do that, and you know you're going to be okay. Right? But I think the requirements for being among the best teams is different, in the fact that there are no shortcuts. Now, with that said, talent becomes, you know, pretty important. Right? It is the most important thing, you know, where I think probably one thing that is similar to sports team, and maybe the firm, is, you know, we’re in the human performance business, and we have got to get our performances right. And that speaks to talent identification. You know, these aren’t just having core competencies or a power zone. I mean, I think those things are good to have. It requires, what you may refer to as comprehensive talent. Talent that is obviously cognitive but also non-cognitive—you know—having a talented team that can grind when it has to grind. It just has more grit than the opposition when grit is required. And I think that the second part of this is—besides talent—is culture. The definition of culture to me is how we do things here. You know, we need to have a high performance culture which can unify us around what we believe in, our values, what we are willing to fight for, what we believe is our purpose, and it's obvious that we’re going to be very different people by way of gender, race, religion, politics, what we do outside of work. But within the confines of the team, it becomes critically important that our culture aligns us around what we believe our purpose is and what our mission is. And I think those are the two things that I would say are the most important.

Mitch:

Let's turn to the physical, if we could, Coach, starting with something that I think most of us lack, which is sleep. How important is it and are there any tricks or compensating when that time is not available?

Coach Clark:

In high performance athletics, what we know is it’s the most important thing. You know, sleep comes up, and I mentioned it to the firm before, and, you know, people almost roll their eyes at me, going like, hey you don’t understand, you know. I wake up at five in the morning and go into a war room, and then I'm in the court room all day and I go back into the war room and in my sweats and I'm sleeping three hours a night. You know? So, I mean, I get it. And I think there's times when, you know, whether it’s the work in front of us, a sick kid or, you know, whatever it is. I mean, there’s times when where we’re not going to get an adequate sleep, and I think we all can get up and muster through it. I mean, there's a tendency to say, well I don't need as much anymore, and I think that it's harder to sleep maybe as you get older but from a performance standpoint, we need it. And I think, you know, eight hours of sleep in a cool, dark and clean, safe place gets you in a better mental agility. It gets you better recall. It makes you crisper. And that speaks to performance. And that’s why it's so important from an athletic perspective, but I think it would be equally important in the firm.

Mitch:

How about travel? You know many of us find ourselves crossing time zones and dealing with long flights for important meetings or cases; obviously your teams do the same. Anything we can learn from how top athletes handle travel or how you approach it with your team?

Coach Clark:

You know, get there early. Get on the right time zone as soon as you possibly can, and you can begin the process at home. We can just pretend it’s three hours earlier anytime we want, and we can try to begin to tell our bodies when it is that they have to perform—sometimes some work pre-travel that you can do to acclimate yourself. I think it’s a good idea to get in a couple days early, and I know that’s hard. It's easier for an athletic team to do that than it is business people, because that’s another night away from home, but I always like, if I'm going to wake up and compete, I want to wake up in the city I'm in to compete. I don’t want to fly in and compete. It's hard enough to be the visiting team. You know, at six in the morning it's three in the morning for us when we go east. Right?

Mitch:

Right, right.

Coach Clark:

And we don’t want to know about Europe, do we? So, all of that stuff matters and where light plays a really important part in our ability to get acclimated and to get on the right times zone is also important. And you get in the winter months as the national team coach I would go to London quite a bit, and, you know, you fly all night and you get there. And you know, you don’t feel too bad when you get off that airplane and everything, but it's only light for about four hours that day, and it's kind of overcast while it’s light. And the next thing you know, you’re in this state, and you can actually can get worse in day three than you were the first day you got there without a plan to pay some attention to it and to have the discipline to not to go to sleep and take a nap that first day and try to get that first good night sleep. And obviously hydration and nutrition all become an important part of that thing.

Mitch:

How about stress, Coach? Obviously, your players are playing in critically important games, national championships and the like against some great competition. How do you prepare them for the rigors of a long stressful season, and how do you help harness that stress into something that is positive?

Coach Clark:

So divide it into two groups, so maybe right. There is a debilitating stress that we don’t wish on anybody. And, you know, that’s a serious condition that we have to protect people from. But there’s also a friendly stress, the stress of wow I don’t have all the answers. Wow, I'm running out of time. Wow, these other guys are pretty good. It helps us grow.

Mitch:

Right.

Coach Clark:

And it puts us under a pressure that once we repair ourselves, in the same way a muscle repairs itself. It grows. It gets stronger. And I think you becomes acclimated to it. You can make friends with stress. I think that there's a healthy amount of stress that helps us grow. I think, I’ve even mentioned this in the firm before. You know? It's kind of one of those trick questions. You say, “Who feels stressed?” And people don’t know whether they should raise their hand or not raise their hand. Like, if I don’t have any stress, what does that say. Well, it says you’re probably not trying very hard. And if I have loads of stress, what does that say? Well, I'm weak? And I think the fact is we should all have a big appetite for more, we should feel like that we’re out over our skis, and we don’t have all the answers all the time, and that we grow from that.

Mitch:

Do you have a view on meditation?

Coach Clark:

I do it and, I mean, I like to take a moment before competitions because I have to make a couple split second decisions. I like to just take a moment to be quiet and to close my eyes and kind of envision, you know, the assets at my disposal and what decisions I might have to make and how I would make those decisions and then try to trip myself up and come back and make it and in a very calm way. And then I always envision pulling down this lever and, when that lever is all the way down, it’s go time.

Mitch:

You guys practiced a similar game day ritual before every home game, is that right and why is that? Why do you do that?

Coach Clark:

Well, just to control the controllables. Those things are in your control, so you want to make sure that your fuel intake is at the same times so it's in your body, and it can be burnt typically three and a half hours before. You want to, you know, make sure that your medical prep is the same, and it’s completed, and your equipment check is done, and it’s completed, and you're just clearing the decks in a very systematic way. There's a bit of comfort in all that ritual. And then you warm up and, you know, you pull down the lever and hit the go button.

Mitch:

Last question. Do you encourage your players to keep notebooks and keep diaries and document what they are doing so they can evaluate all that stuff after a game?

Coach Clark:

I wouldn’t encourage it; I would require it. Right? I mean, now I can present them with all that. I mean, I can just give them a playbook, but I have a philosophy of sport is study. I want it to be the same way they feel when they go into their most challenging class, you know, that there are some resources, you're going to get some stuff. But at the same time, you’re going to have to capture all this information, you’re going to have to sort it, you’re going to have to capture it in a way that you can go back and refer to it and study it. It's critically important that our athletes have notebooks, and they have them with them every time. It's a bad day when you don’t. And yeah, sport is study.

Mitch:

Coach, thank you enormously for sharing your perspective with us and your thoughts, and we’re just very grateful for your insights.

Coach Clark:

Yeah. Cheers Mitch.

Mitch:

Thanks.