Monday, November 20, 2006

This weekends LAU tournament ...

So this weekend was the MARFU U-23 Collegiate All Star Tournament (LAU Round Robin). I thought it would be interesting to blog about the process from my perspective. I'm now starting my second year as the MARFU U-23 coach, and have a clearer vision of how I want the program to progress. All the TU coaches probably have different processes and outlooks, this was mine ...

Three teams competed, representing VRU(Virginia), PRU(Potomoc), and EPRU(East Penn). PRU entered two teams since they were the host union, so there could be a Saturday game and a Sunday game, and teams would only play one game a day. We were in Baltimore and it was cold.

This event is NOT a tryout for the MARFU U-23 team. It is however, the first of several events where players can be seem. I personally really wanted this event to mean something, so selected an honorary "all tournament team", and we will be inviting players to compete in another event as part of the MARFU U-23 Developmental team.

So all day, Saturday and Sunday, was spent watching players. I had a small army of volunteers who were dedicated to this task, and all I can say is THANK GOD. There were a total of 93 players present, and that's a lot. So here's how the process worked ..

First I get the rosters from the LAU coaches via email. I look for familiar names, scan the birthdays, etc (u23s need to be born 1984 or earlier to be eligible). I look to see who's name I don't recognize. Then, when I get to the pitch, the team managers give up match rosters with jersey numbers.

Next i get all the "assessors" together. I try to get folks from every LAU, but it's hard. This year the Philly Women really helped out by sending some of their senior level players to watch, so whenever possible I asked them to watch players from OTHER unions, since they are familiar with some of the EPRU players. I split players up by positional groups - back triangle, back row, inside backs, tight five, etc. Each of the assessors gets a form where they can track the activity of their assigned players. I was fortunate that some terrific notes were taken by all the assessors. Thank you Ginger, Deb, Angie, Mancini, Roshna, Eileen, Bill.

I must add that late in the games there is the crazy scramble to keep track of players, because folks are going in and out, and all jerseys are getting traded. The coaches are busy coaching, and not thinking about random assessor #2, so we go insane trying to figure out who were are watching. If I had my way, at these types of events there would be 30 jerseys, and every player would wear the same jersey all weekend. That would be EASY!!!!!!

At the end of the game, we all have a caucus on the field and i ask everyone to give me a 1 minute data dump on the players they watched. Then we get another pair of rosters and do it again.

By the time the second game kicked off, the temperature had dropped 10 degrees. By half, it had dropped another 10 degrees. By the final whistle, another 10. It was COLD. No matter, we still have a caucus. As soon as we're done, I hunt down the LAU coaches and invited them to a meeting so we can brainstorm about players, do the probables/possibles thing, and also identify some candidates for a scholarship to one of Julie McCoy's Footwork Camps.

We check into the hotel and proceed to the tavern for a much needed beer, lots of appetizers, and some wonderfully heated debate.

This is the part of the process that is the hardest, the most interesting, and always the most emotional. We sat down as a group, and as step one, went through all 93 players with the goal of saying SOMETHING. Whenever we get to a particular coach's players, there's always this slightly perceivable tension. Everyone loves their own players and I'm no exception. So whenever we dialogue about the "favorites" you can just see the coaches itching to say lots of positive stuff, but holding back just to not seem impartial. Eventually everything that needs saying gets out. PS Gabe, I'm still mad at you.

Another thing that's tough about this process is the positional thing. Just like on our clubs, players don't always play where they "project". For example, on a club team the player with the greatest chance of making the national team might be playing 8, but the reality is, she won't make the national team at 8, but she might at 1 or 3. Well, what if you have lots of really good 1 & 3s, but she lights things up for you at 8? Do you do whats best for the player in the long run, or whats best for the team (and all those other really good 1s & 3s) in the short term? There are no easy answers, and every single situation is different.

Other things that come up are related to age. There might be a young player on a very steep learning curve who "projects". There might be an older player who is better right now, but is unlikely to advance further the LAU or TU play. Who do you take?

And then there's the school thing ... players from lesser DI, DII, and even DIII schools often are the ones who get the most from select sides, and who bring stuff back to their teams. A lot are player coaches. Some of these players, if they were playing with one of the Big Name schools and a Big Name coach would be insanely good, but they find themselves struggling because they don't play surrounded by high level players, and they don't play competitive matches every weekend. We have to find a way to get them exposed to what they need.

Anyway, we spent a good portion of time hammering things out, and at the end wound up with about 30 names of players that would get invited to a Developmental event. Some of these players are not actually developmental players, but are more seasoned TU select side players. Their presence is necessary to keep the standard as high as possible for all the new faces, and to work on their leadership skills.

Since MARFU is such a hotbed of collegiate rugby, we can count on several of our teams participating in Collegiate Nationals, which means there are lots of spring conflicts. That actually works out OK, because it opens up lots of spots for these developmental players. They'll get prepared through the developmental events, and be in a better position to compete with the top D1 players once the open camp rolls around.

Anyway - my companions and I checked out this fun dueling piano bar down on the waterfront (in Baltimore), and then I left them to their fun while I went back to the hotel to get some sleep. My throat was starting to get sore and my voice was going out. Sunday there were more players to watch. Late in the night I couldn't sleep - I always have a hard time at rugby functions. I was doing spreadsheets in my head, and kept trying to figure out all the "what ifs". IE, what if players x, y, and z are going to nationals and can't come? What about players d, e, and f? What if I was wrong about player x? So, to settle my head I got up, dug out my laptop, went through the lists again, and added 8 more names, positionally mapped to the players I knew were unlikely to be available. In addition, I put together the list of "players to watch", for Sunday, based on input from coaches and assessors. Whew!

So Sunday the two PRU teams played each other. There was more possession this time around, so we got so see some players do things they didn't do on Saturday. (if you've got a great wing, but she never gets the ball, no one will ever know she's a great wing!).

The final game between EPRU and VRU was a barn-burner. It always is. The two teams played completely different games, with the VRU moving the ball very quickly away from the point of contact, trying to quickly exploit vulnerabilities, and the EPRU going vertical as much as possible, trying to suck in players and take it a meter at a time. The final score was 15-10 VRU, but I think everyone had their fingers crossed. At the end of both games the selectors again quickly caucused, to say what we learned about the "players to watch".

I fell asleep about 80 times on the way home (thanks for the ride Ginger), and lost my voice completely. All in all it was a tremendously productive weekend.


ChiefCUA said...

Lisa, thanks for the mention on the blog-- even though its never good to be on the bad list; again, I am sorry.

But on a more excited note, having coached the PRU team(s), I was able to see both the VRU and EPRU in action, and I think that you will have some very tough decisions to make this summer. Just scanning through the rosters, it is great to see players coming not only from the college teams, but from the Club women's teams throughout MARFU.

Anonymous said...

Yay! we're definatly going to win this year :).