Inside Michael Cheika’s team bonding exercises including ‘kidnapping’ players, private investigators and family trees

Argentina head coach Michael Chieka. Credit: Alamy

Argentina head coach Michael Chieka. Credit: Alamy

Argentina boss Michael Cheika has revealed some of the crazy and outlandish things he has done to help build team spirit in his previous jobs.

A unique idea came while he was in charge of Australia as he proceeded to test the players’ resolve by ‘kidnapping’ them and putting them in front of a ‘private investigator,’ who would then ask a series of questions in a dark room.

In a hilarious interview with The Good, The Bad & The Rugby Australia, Cheika discussed what this particular team bonding exercise entailed.

Guns and a dark room

“I sent them a text so they didn’t freak out; they knew it was coming from me. I said: ‘Be at this address; I want to talk to you,’” he told the podcast.

“We were in this industrial warehouse, and I got these two guys – I can’t say where they’re from because their employer might not appreciate it – and they had this whole spy kit.

“It was all set up inside the factory. They came and knocked on the door, let them in. They’re fully kitted up, with the gun, the dark room, everything.

“They (the players) got the message from me, so they must have known.

“None of them know until this day, but I was sitting right behind them when they were getting all the questions asked of them.

“There was a guy in front of the players saying: ‘You’ve got to look forward,’ and then there was a guy behind them who asked them questions in true FBI tactics, or whatever they are.

“There were some times I couldn’t stop laughing, so I had to go into the room at the back.

“If I was the players, I would have told them to get lost!”

Shared experiences

Despite the eccentric nature of the exercise, there was a good reason for Cheika to do it.

“We did it with everyone. It’s about having the shared experience,” he added. “They were told, ‘you can’t tell anyone you’ve had this.’ They’d all knew they had it, but it’s that question of ‘do we talk about it?’

“Two or three months later, I brought in the guy who was doing the questioning, and everyone was going, ‘I’m sure we know your voice’, and eventually we spoke about it.

“But no one ever knew there was a small GoPro which was videoing the guys.

“Shared experiences, as crazy as they are, they start off as a bit of a gee up but they sort of take hold. It’s got to catch fire authentically, you can’t push it.”

In another one of Cheika’s ideas, the current Argentina boss used family as a way of bringing the Waratahs team together in 2014.

It proved beneficial as they ended up claiming the Super Rugby title at the end of the campaign following a narrow 33-32 triumph over the Crusaders.

’Defend for them’

“We went on a pre-season tour and I said to the boys, ‘Right, I want you to do a picture of what your life will look like in 20 years,’” Cheika said.

“It came back with a lot of family stuff, so I get everyone to do their family trees. I did mine; there was about three sheets of paper!

“Everyone did one, took a photo and we went back to HQ, where I put them all up in the corridor. It wasn’t long after Kane’s (Douglas) mother had passed away, so it was quite emotional.

“There was a lot of guys around him, a lot of family connection going on.

“I would often see the boys in the corridor looking at the family trees. I remember Nick Phipps told us a story about his two grandfathers being in the same prisoner-of-war camp – there were just amazing stories.

“One week, we were playing against one of the African teams, and we were struggling a bit on ‘D’. I took down all the posters, and I got someone to type all the names up and we did this huge photo, a poster that said: ‘Defend for them.’”

He added: “You can turn that emotional side to try and connect back to what you’re trying to do in footy.

“Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, it just depends on the openness of the players and the people you’re trying to effect.”

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