From hard knocks to self-belief

22nd February 2008 at 00:00
Continuing our series on outsiders with a close interest in education, Ewan Aitken talks to Frank Hadden

Frank hadden may be head coach of the Scotland rugby team, but if you go to his office and accept an offer of coffee, he makes it himself. Despite two defeats so far in the Six Nations and the prospect of facing Ireland in Dublin tomorrow, it was the kind of down-to-earth touch that says: "What you see is what you get."

He exudes an unflustered approach and clarity about what should happen next. Perhaps it helps that, as he admits: "I don't read the media headlines during the Six Nations. I can't do anything that will eat away at my self-belief."

Self-belief has been key to his career. Hadden went to the High School of Dundee, which has a track record of producing rugby stars such as David Leslie, Andy Nicol and Jon Petrie. But Hadden remembers playing more football than rugby. His memories of school are the long journeys from school to playing field, and then from playing field to home in Invergowrie.

He qualified from the Carnegie School of Physical Education in Leeds, as a PE teacher, and spent a few years teaching the subject in the city. An invitation from the headteacher to increase rugby to give breadth to an already broad sports curriculum reinforced some of that self-belief.

He saw the power of team sports to do much more than simply give pupils the opportunity to play and get fit. "Sport was an integral part of the school environment," he says. "Standards were high and it added something special to the school and the pupils. We sold sweets at break and fund-raised for strips and trips. It was a commitment commonplace in the school community."

There was little difference then between what was provided by state and private schools, he recalls, but that difference has grown - a trend he was well placed to observe during his time as head of PE at Merchiston Castle private school in Edinburgh.

Not surprisingly, he suggests, this has had consequences for the quality of the national teams, and not just for rugby. "It's about a culture in society," he says. "Why, for example, are Australian schools such hotbeds for sport? It's not just the weather - because they have amazing indoor facilities there. It's the culture and expectation.

"They have exciting competitions for all sports which engage the whole school to get into the team spirit. It brings benefits for developing young people at all levels. People look for it. It's part of their lives."

Hadden has little time for the idea that putting children in a competitive environment is harmful to their development. "The more competition, the better the standards and the higher quality the experiences," he says. "It's that experience of being part of the team, of pushing yourself, of striving to succeed and of building self-belief - and that can happen even if you aren't always winning."

He is clear that, for schools, this is not about PE, but about team sports and extra-curricular sports in particular. The resistance to this goes back a long way, he says, recalling his days as a probationer teacher when he was told not to concentrate on so many teams and focus instead on his curriculum.

He believes it reflects a fear of elitism, but adds: "You need something for everyone, and two hours of training for a team sport will get you a lot fitter than two hours of PE - and you get all the other mental and emotional benefits of being in a team that PE lessons aren't designed for."

So what needs to happen in this country, I ask? "We need to raise the profile of sport, because of the huge advantages it brings to the individual and to society," he says. "It is the responsibility of governments to provide incentives for participation in sport through the facilities and the opportunities - not just to get people playing, but because of the impact it will have on making young people in particular better citizens."

Hadden's present team experience means he has to draw on his own reserves, however. I ask how he copes. He says simply: "It's self-belief and confidence that sees me through the tough times." It is perhaps the upside of the complaint sometimes levelled at him that he does not take criticism well.

But, for Hadden, it's about feeding on those moments when things have gone well, in his case looking at all the times when he was given opportunities to go up the coaching ladder because others believed in him, and drawing on that.

"I don't let anyone knock my confidence through a headline or a comment," he says. "That just eats away at you."


1954: Born Dundee

1972-77: Studied at Strathclyde University and Carnegie School of PE in Leeds

1977-83: Taught PE at Guiseley School in West Yorkshire, playing rugby union for Headingley

1983-2000: Head of PE and director of rugby at Merchiston Castle School, Edinburgh, being appointed coach of Scotland under-16s team in 1994

2000-2005: Coach of Edinburgh Gunners (now Edinburgh Rugby)

2005 to date : Scotland rugby coach.

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