14 Mar 2020

The Long Read: Ollie Richardson and doing the basics well

Ollie Richardson knows how to get the best out of athletes, and he's been running the Giants' pre-season on a simple mantra. Do the basics well.

By Conor Murphy

In Modern Rugby League, there are many different coaching roles in a football department that often have a dizzying array of titles and roles. One such is Head of Performance, a role pivotal to our on-field coaching and controlled at Huddersfield Giants by Ollie Richardson. Richardson explains the role; maximising effectiveness, managing the training schedule and making sure the coaches affect the playing group.  

"It means I’m responsible for leading and managing the program. My role exists to help to give the Rugby and Physical performance staff some structures and processes that maximise their ability to affect the playing group" says Richardson.  

Richardson joined the club in March 2018, with a background in MMA and Rugby Union. He has had a career taking him across the world, working in Japan with Kubota Spears in the Japanese Top League, the top flight in Rugby Union there, working in Super Rugby at Queensland Reds and working in the dominant Leicester Tigers side of the mid-2000s. At Huddersfield, he provides valuable advice to the Coaching Staff and the Rugby Manager, Andy Kelly on coaching appointments as well as making sure there is synchronicity across all of coaching, as well as having a personal specialism in speed and collision coaching himself.  

"I’m responsible for making sure we recruit and retain the best coaches and staff we can to provide a service to the players at a level they deserve as professional rugby players. I work very closely with Andy Kelly, our Rugby Manager to make sure the whole staff are reading from the same hymn sheet and moving the program forward in a common direction. Finally, I coach. My background is in physical performance coaching and I coach primarily speed, contact and collision preparation for the team."
 
The 2020 pre-season is well underway, and Richardson has targeted the simple things as the key to success in Rugby League and wants to make sure the Giants are the team that does the basic stuff by far the best in Super League in the new season.  

"I think it is fair to say we have targeted our core skills, speed of movement and work capacity a little more than last year. I am adamant that the best teams in any sport are not doing anything particularly special, but they are always doing the basics better than anyone else. That is where I would like us to get to this pre-season."
 
Often to the casual observer, pre-season can seem like the same things again and again, but Richardson broke down the planning of this years off-season. The side has just transitions into the toughest block of the season, combining their physical gains into a more Rugby related setting.
 
"Our pre-season works in 3 quite definitive blocks, each of which prepares the group for the next one. We have just started our biggest block where we will go about trying to transfer some of the physical gains we have made into a Rugby modality.
 
"This is the most exciting block as we start to see who we are going to be this season, who is in shape, who’s skills have improved and who is showing the coaches they have a complete understanding of how we want to play. It's a critical block. We aim to break for Christmas with 90% of our philosophy downloaded into the players, well-rehearsed and tested under fatigue. When we get back from the break, we have 3 pre-season games to tweak and adjust things before we go to France to put a marker down."
 
Sports tend to err on the side of caution and stick to what they know. Rugby League is no different, and standing still is going backwards in the modern age. Richardson insists that despite his background in a similar sport, the 15-man code, all sports have common denominators and learning that helps Coaches understand that you can learn from every sport.  

"Everybody thinks their Sport is special and outsiders don't understand, but all team sport operate off the same principles, manipulating space, manipulating people, maximising point-scoring when momentum is with you and minimising points scored against you when momentum has swung the other way.  

"All sports have offence, defence and the transitions between the two. Once you understand that, the different sports just become those principles but with added constraints and rules sets. I like to think I bring a good understanding of developing team sport applicable speed training and contact & collision skills I learnt in MMA (mixed martial arts) with me… but we will see once the season kicks off."
 
When asked about pre-season targets and what he wanted from the squad in the leadup to 2020, Richardson gave a simple response.
 
"The problem with pre-season targets is you don't get any Super League points for them."  

"I do have some general physical goals but I’m acutely aware that general fitness improvements don't always lead to points on the board. My main target and those of the coaching group are to get the best out of this group of players every time we cross the white line, build an environment and culture that the players love being part of, love working hard together and love the process of trying to get better every day. It's not easily done but for me, that is our job as performance staff, maximise the talent and make some memories together along the way."
 
The Squad made memories in 2019, but not always for the right reasons. Looking forward to 2020, Richardson says that home truths forced the first-team to look inward after the nail-biting finish that nearly cost the Giants their Super League place last term. The response from the squad has been exceptional, and each member of the squad has impressed the former Leicester Tigers man in their reaction to the adversity of last year. According to him, they are unrecognisable. 

"Everyone has impressed me. We were in a very dark place at the end of last season and we had many uncomfortable conversations. But this led to us being able to clear the decks, dress ourselves down and start afresh. You wouldn’t recognise the group that walks through the doors every day this pre-season.  

"We are working incredibly hard in all areas of the game to make the Giants fans proud of us and we won’t stop until we do. I can’t promise you results but I can promise that we won’t die wondering."
 
Ultimately though, talent talks and in that department, there is much to be excited about in the Giants squad in 2020. With Aidan Sezer, James Gavet, Ashton Golding, Joe Wardle, Kenny Edwards, Owen Trout and Chester Butler the signups so far, Richardson believes that this team is capable of anything - but the process is the most important facet of the development of this side and he believes if that is done well, the rest with take care of itself, although our exact position on the ladder, he refuses to predict.

"I believe we have an exceptionally talented squad, Simon Woolford and Richard Thewlis have assembled a team that is capable of anything this year. However, I believe in chasing the process and the results will take care of themselves, so I would say our target this year is to play consistently good football, week in, week out. If we can do that, I know which end of the table we will be at come the end of the year."

"Success for us is to build and maintain a culture of improvement and a desire to be better. Everything else will take care of itself. You won't get a final position prediction out of me though."

So who is Richardson looking forward to seeing most in 2020? For him, it's got to be the current Player of the Year.

"It's got to be Lee Gaskell. Despite his vast accolades, I don't believe we have scratched the surface with Gasky. He can read a game like very few others and with a few tweaks we have made, I think we could see him light up Super League this year."

What's certain is, with someone as forward thinking as Ollie Richardson in the Giants, the club won't be looking at doing the 'same old things' again and again.

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