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Establishing a high performing culture in an emerging rugby nation

Hall, Andrew J.A.



Building and sustaining effective high performing team cultures has been at the forefront of sport research for a number of years. Findings from elite level teams, talent development and collegiate environments share several key features of effective high performing cultures that include a clear vision, strong and adaptable leadership, daily displays of shared winning behaviours and long-term holistic development for example. Although these features – and others - may provide guidance for future theoretical and applied work in these specific domains, there appears a lack of understanding regarding how to build and manage sport team culture in emerging nations.

Emerging nations are unique and may experience context specific challenges such as smaller talent pools and less financial and/or resource support for example. Emerging nations may look towards more established environments to mimic best practice, with the movement of coaches from established teams to emerging nations part of this transfer of knowledge. However, although the boundary-less features might be applicable, for a culture to be effective it needs to be the right ‘fit’ and, due to the specific nuances of teams in emerging nations, directly lifting practices from more established environments may be questionable as the emerging context is ultimately different.

Subsequently, and with the aim of increasing the knowledge base of building and sustaining a high performing culture in specific sporting contexts, this thesis aimed to provide pragmatic, evidence-based guidelines for building a high-performing culture in an emerging rugby nation, with three key objectives:
1. To examine and evaluate the creation of a high performing culture within an existing emerging rugby nation
2. Given the global nature of today’s sporting landscape, to investigate best practice in nurturing a high performing culture within multicultural teams and as a foreign coach
3. To investigate the ‘opposite pole’ of best practice to highlight what should be avoided when building a high performing culture as a foreign coach.

These objectives were met through chapters three to six. The first phase of the research included two studies (chapters three and four) that addressed the first objective. Chapter Three, to the researcher’s knowledge was the first study of its kind in examining an emerging rugby nation’s team culture. Eleven full time professional male rugby union players, the Head of the Hong Kong Rugby Union’s (HKRU) Elite Rugby Program (ERP) and the HKRU’s peripatetic sport psychologist were interviewed. Through the unique theoretical lens of combining Performance Management and the Resource Based View, inductive thematic analysis of semistructured interview data revealed five emerging themes, namely, 1) an amateur environment that required change; 2) ERP’s professional culture building blocks; 3) leadership strategy and managing key stake holders; 4) evidencing and reenforcing the change and 5) managing ongoing challenges in the ERP’s professional culture. Theoretical and applied implications for practitioners and program leaders responsible for driving cultural change in their respective emerging environments were revealed.

Following the unique qualitative insight into the development of the ERP’s team culture over a four-year period, ascertained in study one, study two, in further meeting the thesis’s first objective, aimed to quantitatively examine the current status of the ERP’s culture. Triangulating the findings from the previous study, the specific aim for study two was to quantitatively evaluate the evidence-based features of an effective rugby talent development culture in Hong Kong. The cultural tool used for this purpose was Martindale et al’s. (2010) Talent Development Environment Questionnaire (TDEQ). Although not an explicit cultural assessment tool, the TDEQ appeared to be appropriate for this current sport context due to; 1) its focus on identifying environmental strengths and weaknesses to inform intervention needs; 2) its factors and items are representative of effective TDE culture in sport and 3) the evidence of strong ecological validity and reliability in this context and its applicability through a range of sports.

Results from the TDEQ indicated a number of current cultural strengths of the ERP; such as the regularity with which players’ performances were reviewed; the effectiveness of the integrated, accessible and approachable support staff; the robust planning of training and training content and the extent with which players’ dual careers were developed through the ERP’s ‘Earn or Learn’ scheme. There were also a number of items that were identified by the players as areas that required improvement. These individual items were themed to help shape potential intervention strategies. The four themes were 1) role models and peer pressure; 2) forward planning and welfare; 3) clarity of required process focus and 4) player empowerment. In meeting the first objective the combination of findings from the first phase of the thesis provided a more rounded understanding of the ERP’s team culture.

In meeting the second objective and increasing the paucity of knowledge in how elite coaches acculturate and how they manage their acculturation environment, study three was carried out. This study was again unique in its examination of the acculturation experiences of elite rugby union coaches and their management of multi-cultural squads. Five male elite coaches participated in the research. Each of the five coaches arguably fit a ‘best of the best’ criterion, boasting between them multiple European and UK domestic championships as well as multiple Super Rugby titles with similar accomplishments at international level across fifteen and seven-a-side. Using Berry’s (1997) Framework for Acculturation, inductive thematic analysis of semi-structured interview data revealed two emerging themes, a) proactively managing personal acculturation and b) pro-actively managing player acculturation. Implications for coaches managing their own acculturation experience and their respective acculturation environments are discussed with findings synthesised for the emerging context.

Finally, in meeting the third objective, study four examined the ‘opposite pole’ of best coaching practice and, developing the knowledge surrounding failures of sport leaders, examined the failure of an elite rugby union coaching team through the specific lens of leadership derailment. This study was another unique contribution to the literature given there were no prior reported studies of leadership/coach derailment in sport. Eleven male elite rugby union players participated in the research all of whom were part of the playing squad during the failed season in question. Data from semi structured interviews was abductively analysed and revealed previously established derailment factors that were pivotal to the derailment of the coaching team; namely, problems with interpersonal relationships, an inability to lead the team, an inability to adapt and change; too narrow a functional orientation and a failure to meet performance objectives. By examining these findings, several unique contributions that offer both theoretical and applied advances in the ‘opposite pole’ of sport coach leadership were presented. In keeping with the pragmatic philosophy adopted throughout the thesis, with the aim of providing real world solutions to specific problems (Giacobbi et al., 2005), practical guidelines emanating from the four studies, combined with researcher reflections, were provided for coaches of teams within emerging nations to help steer future direction in the creation and development of high performing cultures.

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Sep 7, 2022
Publicly Available Date Sep 7, 2022
Public URL
Award Date Jul 7, 2022


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