Leeds Tykes

In conversation with…

By Angela Rimmington Brown
Head coach, Mike Aspinall

Head Coach, Mike Aspinall

The Leeds Tykes’ Head Coach had a chat with the former Richmond Director of Rugby, Steve Hill. Here’s what they talked about.

Why did you get into coaching rugby and how did you arrive at your current position?
I coached rugby to some degree for most of my playing career: I coached Harrogate RUFC first team for a few years whilst playing for Leeds Tykes. I then transitioned into full-time player coach with Harrogate before returning to coach at Leeds. After eight years out of the game, having left rugby in pursuit of more financial security, I took the opportunity to come back to a club that means a lot to me, Leeds Tykes, as head coach.

What is your profession outside of coaching rugby?
I am CEO of multiple businesses I founded and I’m also a property investor and developer.

How would you describe your style of coaching?
Adaptive. The Leeds Tykes squad this year would say I have very high standards of performance and I’m obsessed with growth and getting better. Initially, there was quite a bit of ‘tell’ and ‘drill’, but the ownership of what we’re doing is starting to pass and my style can evolve.

What are the most challenging aspects of coaching?
Working with people whose standards and attitudes don’t match my own. Victim mindset is truly a poison to growth. Our job as coaches is to educate and hold up a mirror to people to enable them to change. I guess in the end … ‘if you can’t change the people, change the people’.

What would you count as your most significant coaching achievement and why?
I am incredibly proud of the environment we created at Harrogate around 2015. On a shoestring budget, we managed to finish in the top four of National 2 and win back-to-back Yorkshire Cups. The friendships and learning the group of people that lived that culture has taken away from it has made me immensely proud for many years since.

We have an opportunity to do something special this year with Leeds Tykes, but the job. is far from done.

Name a player you have really enjoyed coaching and why?
Jake Brady at Leeds Tykes. Seeing Jake as a leader and all-rounder on the field in terms of his habits, ability to see the game, to communicate, organise and add value has brought a big smile to my face. I remember him arriving at Harrogate from Pontefract not really having a clue what he was doing. The player he’s turned into is due to his work ethic and attitude.

Yorkshire is England’s largest rugby county – what is required to have a team based there playing at the top level?
Funding and the right people in charge. Rugby League is a rival code where you coach.

How do you cope with that and what can Union do to be stronger?
League is huge yes; my first taste of rugby was rugby league. However, Union is also enormous in Yorkshire. Of course we can compete with League, but kids need things to aspire to and we come back to the conversation of a sustainable Premiership club in Yorkshire. Leeds Tykes has a lot to do to achieve this. My focus has been within my remit to put a much better product on the field. We’re on track to do that.

There have been a lot of negative comments around rugby. What are the positives?
Positives in rugby have always been the characteristics of the people that play the game. There isn’t another game like ours that enables people to learn lessons in team-ship, leadership, work ethic, integrity, emotional control to name just a few!

The game needs to learn how to move into the modern times off the field. but on the field, I think it is bang on. In general, the ball is quicker and people are being more experimental in attack.

The product from a spectator perspective is better than it’s been for years. We just need to learn how to market that and help our players to thrive in the modern world.

How would your players describe you as a coach?
I asked our two player-coaches who I coached many years ago. One said diligent and empowering, the other said a guide and non-conformity.

What advice would you give to anyone just starting coaching?
Lanny (Stuart Lancaster) said to me fifteen15 years ago: “You need to become a student of coaching, get obsessed with it.” I think he was right.

Credit: as published in The Rugby Paper Sunday 11 February 2024