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Back to the Future: Steve Hansen on Vulnerability

Steve Hansen shares his thoughts on how and why coaches should show vulnerability. 

**This is video is part of a six-part video series, featuring Steve Hansen talking about leadership throughout his coaching journey. To view all the videos in this series, click here. 

What is vulnerability and why does it matter for coaches? 

Vulnerability is something that we don’t automatically think of when we think of coaching. But, as Steve Hansen outlines in the video, it’s a critical attribute for coaches when it comes to building relationships, and ultimately building trust with their athletes. The definition of vulnerability is  

“The quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.” 

It’s an interesting definition. In this instance, coaches might consider this to be the state of opening yourself up and showing a part of yourself that isn’t always seen, but people can connect to. And it’s that last part that is critical. The point of showing vulnerability is to connect with others, to show that you understand them and to help them understand you. That understanding leads to trust, and trust leads to improved connection and ultimately, improved performance.  

A key message from Steve Hansen, right at the start of the video, is important to take heed of. You can’t expect your athletes to open up to you, and to be vulnerable, if you aren’t as their leader.  

“If you don’t show it, they won’t show it. You’ve got to lead the way by showing that it’s ok, it’s safe, that no one is going to take the mickey out of you.” 

How can coaches help players to be vulnerable? 

Coaches are leaders. Vulnerability is a critical leadership skill, and as stated above, if coaches role model vulnerability in their coaching process, their athletes are more likely be vulnerable with them, and with their teammates. The story Steve Hansen shared about the player (Gareth Thomas) from Wales provides some good insight here: 

“By being able to show my own vulnerabilities (I shared a few stories about my own upbringing with him). Straight away through that he began to trust me, and that was the change of our relationship.” 

The other story shared about his conversation with Richie McCaw highlight another key skill for coaches to understand linked to vulnerability, and that is the ability to observe and notice your athletes. Take the time to step back and observe how your athletes are interacting, who seems upbeat, who seems flat, who seems nervous, who seems happy. Based on what you see, follow up with a one-on-one conversation to check in. Doing this shows you’ve noticed, and it shows you care. Which again builds trust and increases the likelihood of players opening up to you.  

Key takeaways 

  • Trust is a foundational element of any successful team. 
  • To build trust, your athletes need to see you being vulnerable. 
  • If you role model vulnerability, your athletes will reciprocate. 

View more of the Back to the Future Series with Steve Hansen below: 

Part 1: Steve Hansen on Innovation 

Part 3: Steve Hansen on Motivation 

Part 4: Steve Hansen on Alignment 

Part 5: Steve Hansen on Resistors 

Part 6: Steve Hansen on Leadership 

Image Credit: James Coleman