Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Competitive vs Social

This is a topic that many of you probably deal with on a regular basis, and one that will be with us for a long time. I have my own personal reasons for pondering, if anyone has any insight, please share away :)

Is your club (or you ..) competitive, or social? Is it possible to be both? How do you define each, and, how to you reconcile things when your teams goals are in conflict with your own?

I've always taken that stance that whatever your goals are, daily, weekly, and long term preparation must map to those goals. The coaches role is largely to guide preperation in a way that maps to goals. In other words, if the team's goals are to "be competitive", preparation, decisions, and actions must give the team the best possible chance at success. How this relates to the win-loss record is obvious - competitive teams generally want to finish out a season with more w's than l's, but thats certainly not the bottom line. Sometimes, a team moves into a new division, or seeks out opponents who are significantly stronger in order to become better, and "success" is measured in different ways - did you play as a team, improve communication, get new players hard game experiences, work on decision making, focus on ball retention etc.

The bottom line IMHO, is that a competitive team sets goals, does whatever preparation is necessary to achieve those goals, at at the end of the day reflects, as a team, as individuals, and as coaches, on how close you came to achieving said goals. Action plans are put into place, goals are set again, and the whole process starts over. This process takes place at practices, at games, during the off season - continuously. So, if we could sum it up in one word, it's my believe that being competitive means being accountable. Not just doing what you said you would do - but preparing to do it, trying to do it, assessing how well you did it, and preparing again. Being a competitive team is hard - you've got to learn to give and take criticism, and you have to be willing to take action to improve your performance in a way that bet suits your team. You've got to be willing to let the player who DOESN'T prepare sit on the sidelines. This applies to us as coaches as well ... you have to make and own hard decisions, and YOU have to be accountable to the team.

So how about being a social team? Any time that word is thrown around, partying and drinking come to mind, but I don't think that's an accurate assessment of what social rugby means (seriously, doesn't everyone celebrate in some way after a well played match?). I think that a team that defines themselves as "social" probably is more concerned with the relationships between players than the performance of the players. Selections are probably focused more on participation than performance, and accountability is measured differently. The raw experience of playing a super fun sport for the pure joy of playing is what is sought as an ultimate outcome, and the social networking and membership in a club is valued as much as time in the gym, on the track, or at high level camps. As a coach, your priority is inclusion and the "enjoyability" of the experience.

I do not suggest that one is better than the other, nor do I suggest that the two cannot find common ground. There are "social" players on competitive teams, and there are "competitive" players on social teams. There are teams that manage to be competitive, yet still have a strong social culture. NY immediately comes to mind - as recent National Champions, with a zillion Eagles in their ranks, clearly they are competitive. But, they are tremendously supportive of their less accomplished players, and I've repeatedly seen the zillion Eagles running water out to their Developmental players. This in my mind, is a terrific example of a team culture that's managed to do both.

I'm interested in hearing about anyone else's challenges or experiences finding the balance between social rugby and competitive rugby.

The holy grail of coaching, would certainly be to run a team in such a way that competitive goals are achieved AND every single player, regardless of skill level, has a positive experience. Saying that such a task is easy would certainly be naive. There will aways be the big game, that the whole team has been preparing for, and the one player with the golden heart who's just not ready to take the pitch at a game of that level. We have to build a culture that is strong enough to withstand those situations, and is strong enough that every player, top of the roster to the bottom, feels valuable. That takes a lot of time, a lot of communication, and a lot of commitment.

And what happens when goals are in conflict? As a coach, what do you do when your personal goals are different then your teams goals? How can you influence the teams goals, and should you try? I guess it all goes back to being a pusher. What if the team, as a whole, doesn't want to be pushed? Can you make the relationship work? Should you?


Jenna said...

This is a great topic that has been at the forefront of a lot of the minds of NYRC players - as we live and breath it every day we show up to practice. I will be the first to say that I can truly put it out there that NYRC does manage the balance as best as possible. I will also say that it has NOT been an easy road to get there - by any means. NYRC has tried various different models throughout the seasons to attempt to achieve such - each model having its pluses and minuses.

You hit the nail right on the head when you said - we have a ton eagles (15's, 7's, U23's) - and 45-50 players whom are committed to coming to practice each week. We also have players who are brand new to the sport. We have this because we are the one of the few major cities in the country with only a single Division 1 program.

Basically I think the key is that we attempt to instill in everyone that is that "you are not bigger than the club". You must respect your teammates for who they are regardless of whether their personal goals are to play in the World Cup, or to make the starting 15 in the Developmental Side game.

Personally, I believe it works because there is that balance of players where social players can remind elite players that rugby is fun and elite players can teach newer players how to improve their game - there is a level respect flowing both ways.

As a club we decided that our goal was to win Nationals - and for some players their contribution to that goal was to show up to practice consistently to provide competition knowing that they would never be in the 28 names selected for the Nationals roster. This is possible because our Developmental side (made up of both strictly social players as well as to-be elite players waiting in wings) attempts to schedule as difficult a playing schedule as possible - often taking on some Division 1 A-side squads - thus feeling like they are accomplishing something if they do in fact defeat a Div. 1 A-side.

Clear communication is also an extremely important factor as each player must agree to be on the same page in terms of goals and sign onto achieving those goals as a club. If everyone does that and the expectations of you as a CLUB MEMBER, regarless of playing ability are set - it's not surprising to see an Eagle playing water girl to the rookie winger!

All that said - there are still the same issues that all teams face everywhere - dissapointments with selections, playing time, attendance etc. In the end, if you believe in the club, love the team and feel part of it - you tend to stick around - even if it means you spend the majority of last 5 years playing on the developmental side. :)

Jim said...

Since you coach a college team, you know how huge of an issue this is at that level. I play for a cross-town rival, so I know what it's like balancing social and competitive. At the collegiate level, I think, it's harder because so much depends on the freshmen and sophomores who come out. If they are a bunch of serious athletes, the team will get transformed into a seriously competitive team that will avoid the frat party Friday so they can seek glory Saturday.

Similiarly, its where rugby gets placed in order of importance to the players that determines so much. Rugby is second only to classes for me. But for alot of my teammates, they have other clubs or jobs that they'd put in front of rugby. It's maddening to see one of your better players skip practice to go to a frat event or some other club. And in that situation, you quickly get regulated to a social club.

I do believe, strongly, that you can achieve that wonderful balance between having a ton of fun yet play at the top levels of rugby. I think have a number of sides (at least a consistant A and B, ideally a C and D) that play at a competitive level helps. So being able to retain numbers, at the collegiate level especially, is key.

What I wonder, is how. How do we make rugby #1 to these kids? How do we make sure that fast little freshmen sticks with it so he/she becomes a nasty wing in 2 years? Do we try our best to treat rugby as a varsity sport and hope competive nature takes over? Mandate time at the gym, on the track? Do we emphasize the zulu runs and boat races and songs? Call up the freshmen and sneak them into bars on weekdays? Both? I'd love to know.