I received this in my mailbox today from reader from the Men's Club community. It highlights how routine and casual decisions by us as coaches can have a heartbreaking impact on players. When we dangle that carrot and say "you'll get a chance to compete", we have to do just that.
body of email:
I play for a D3 club team and I'm in the pack. I have always wanted to become one of those TDMs (tactical decisionmakers) for the team and put a lot of thought and practice into improving how I see the game. This year our team has a need for a scrumhalf, and I was told to train up my fitness to play the position. I knew that two other guys would be competing for it as well; we all have different pluses and minuses.
Last week, after our second week of spring practice, I was told that they wouldn't be using me at scrumhalf, but to keep my skills up because it might "be an option" down the line. I will admit that I was deflated by this, and as an adult club rugby player, it's been hard to motivate myself to keep up the fitness or enthusiasm for practice since then.
The problem I have with the process is that none of our practices even involved any scrumhalf play (they were all just "let's get back in the swing of things" basic skills refreshers), and there was no opportunity to trial for the 9 shirt. While I'm sure I would be disappointed if I was beat out for a position, it is far more disheartening to lose a position without ever having a chance to
compete for it. I believe my skills are better than the other guys, and given a scrimmage, that I could run the scrumhalf position better. If I compete and am proven to be wrong, I am willing to accept that. It is hard to accept being shown a carrot and then having it removed so offhandedly.
I'd love to hear your (and your colleague's) thoughts on what a player should do in this situation. I also wanted to put out there the idea that, in my opinion, coaches should be conscious of players individual ambitions, and not make decisions like this with the appearance of casual judgment.
Its interesting that this email comes the day we're "declaring" our individual seasonal goals at today's training. How do others in the coaching community balance the needs of the individual with the needs of the team?
Anyone have any advice for this guy?
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
I received this in my mailbox today from reader from the Men's Club community. It highlights how routine and casual decisions by us as coaches can have a heartbreaking impact on players. When we dangle that carrot and say "you'll get a chance to compete", we have to do just that.
Monday, March 24, 2008
Every Coach Development workshop I go to focuses on the criticality of developing decision makers - players who can look at what's in front of them, collate and assess all sorts of relevant information, select a course of action, and implement that course of action.
How well are we doing it?
One of the things that's becoming clearer to me, as I examine my own coaching sessions, as I watch other's sessions, and as I talk with players, is that we need to distinguish between planning and deciding.
Very few coaches, when asked, will tell you that they want to play a heavily scripted game. There are a few of us who still hold fast to the 900,000 page play book, but those of us who do stand fiercely by the theory that a "play" is a starting point, it's the follow up actions that constitute the decision.
I'm thinking about that ....
Now I'm not saying we should throw away the play book - every team ought to document their communication system, their game plan, their philosophy of the game.
So today's coaching question is: Are your practices encouraging decision making and creativity, or do your practices encourage planning; an if-then method of choosing from a list of scripted, acceptable choices?
According to all the coaching theory, the process of true decision making takes four steps:
- Recognition: you've got to not only see whats in front of you, but recognize it in a way that is useful. For example, maybe I recognize that my opposite is bearing down hard on me in defense. If I don't, however, recognize that she is leaving her partner behind, and therefore creating a gap in the defense, then I'm not truly recognizing the situation, I'm only seeing it.
- Assessment: once you've recognized the problem in front of you, you've got to take in all sorts of relevant information, and mentally assess various solutions.
In the scenario above, that might mean that i need to know if I have vertical support, and if a short pass to a penetrating runner is a possible option; I need to know if I have wide support - maybe moving the ball out early and far is an option; I need to know if the player outside me is running an angle towards me, if she is, perhaps attacking the gap in the defense is an option; I need to know what the opposing teams back triangle is up to - perhaps a kick is a way to mitigate the pressure. Once I've assessed these various options I need to make a ...
- Decision: The player needs to pick one of the options.
Good decision makers make decisions that put a player across the gain line or get the team out of trouble. Great decision makers make decisions that put a player in the try zone, and turn poor situations to their team's advantage.
- Execution: All the brilliance in the world is for naught if we can't actually run, pass, or kick the ball where it needs to be, when it needs to be there. When the golden opportunity comes around, we need to deliver.
So, in order to teach decision making, we need to first teach players how to recognize and assess various situations. This is where the difference between teaching "planning" and teaching "decision making" comes in.
Let's start with the standard "around the cones 2 v 1". Your instructions as a coach are something like this:
"If the defense sticks to you, pass. If the defense slides, keep the ball." Pretty normal stuff, right?
Clearly, the player needs to recognize what the defense is doing and act accordingly. But is he/she making a decision? Or simply acting out a pre-planned course of action? How about the support player? In this scenario, we're killing the "assessment" part of the four step cycle.
Let's tweak the standard "around the cones 2 v 1". This time, a third player tosses the ball into the grid, for either attacking player to catch, pick up off the ground, whatever. The defender can enter the grid the moment either attacking player touches the ball. Suddenly everything is different - and maybe a little chaotic. Suddenly, all three players have to pay attention to whats going on .... all three players need to recognize, assess, decide, and execute.
Many coaches are strong proponents of the decision tree. It goes something like this:
If x, then a or b
If a, then 2
If b, then 3
etc, etc, etc.
- If the defense commits to you, and you have time to pass the ball out, pass the ball out.
- If the defense commits to you and you have no time to pass out, look to pass through contact .
- If you cannot pass through contact, keep your feet moving till help arrives.
- If you cannot keep your feet, look to place the ball towards your team in the tackle.
These trees can get pretty detailed, and can be expanded to encompass small units, large units, and full teams. Sometimes the options are mapped to field locations and grids. For many coaches and many programs, this approach work just fine.
I see a use for these types of trees, but I think they restrict us, even when there are a myriad of options specified. My primary issue: they only address what is in the COACH's head ... creativity, on the field, comes out of the player's heads - and from the intereactions between players. Like so many scientific discoveries, it happens when two or more events collide in space and time to present an opportunity not previously imagined, and it required a willingness on the part of all players involved to venture into this unknown territory, and "try something different". A dash of "what the #$@*" mixed with a little serendipity.
No matter how detailed our script is, no matter how many options and scenarios we can imagine, we can never BE in the heads of the players on the field, we can never see what they see, and we can never fully understand why they chose what they did. No one every makes a bad decision on purpose; rather, for whatever reason, during the recognition and assessment phase of the process, they saw or assessed (or didn't) something different than what we saw and assessed on the sidelines.
A question to ponder:
Team A: You spend the bulk of practice learning to recognize the field situations, learning to assess options, and learning to make decisions, but your team struggles with execution. Your team is smart as hell, but the mantra on game day always seems to be "right idea, just unfortunate" The last pass, the last tackle, the last kick always fall short.
Team B: You spend the bulk of practice working on execution: pass, kick, catch, tackle, run - that sort of things. You look sharp, but on game day you never really find the gaps, you never really exploit the defense's mistakes. You always look good, but on game day your mantra always seems to be "we're so much better than them, why are we losing?".
So now we take a few sessions with Team A, and work on their execution skills.
We take a few sessions with Team B, and work on their decision making skills.
Which team is going to show the biggest measurable difference? What takes the longest to develop?
I pick A.
It's requires a leap of faith to be sure, and requires a belief that even the most ordinary of players can have moments of extraordinary creativity and vision. I don't know about the rest of you, but on game day, I like surprises.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
The big buzzwords in rugby circles these days are "High Performance". We have High Performance Plans, High Performance Coaches, High Performance Centers.
So I googled it.
One of the most surprizing results was the Discovery Education: High Performance - Sports. It talks not about VO2 max measuring, not about hip-dominance and hamstring chains, not about micro-cycles or high intensity intervals.
The particular lesson plan is designed for 6-8th graders. It might also be relevant to 20-40 yr old men and women.
In a nutshell, the kids have to work in groups to invent a new "game" (sport). They have a list of everyday objects (some sports objects, some not), and they have time. They need to define and shape this sport, and then they need to teach it to the other kinds. It's all broken down into a detailed lesson plan, complete with pre, in, and post session tasks for the kids. One of the most interesting set of tasks is this particular post-session task:
Students will then need to discuss and write about how their game affects a person mentally, physically and socially (mind, body and spirit). This can be done in their groups with one report submitted per group. Students should break up responsibilities of the report into sections with each member of the group writing one section (this will all depend on the number of students per group). Report responsibilities can be broken up as follows:
|1.||How does the pressure of a sport affect you mentally?|
|2.||How does the discipline of a sport affect the way you approach other things in life?|
|3.||What is it about any sport that keeps you interested?|
|4.||Why is it important to prepare yourself mentally for an event?|
|5.||Do you ever feel so drained of energy that it takes away the fun of the sport?|
|6.||Do you ever feel the need to keep going in a sport even though you are hurt or not 100%?|
|7.||What are the pressures like to loose or gain weight while playing a sport?|
|8.||How can physically enhancing drugs help or hurt you?|
|9.||What does it mean to be a team player?|
|10.||What are the feelings experienced when the whole team contributes to the win?|
|11.||What do you learn from loosing?|
|12.||How do you learn to depend on your teammates?|
Pretty cool stuff ...
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Dear rugby community (especially those of you located in the Philly metro area),
Be on the lookout for a set of white/maroon/blue numbered rugby jerseys with the Philly Women's logo. A team member's car was broken into last night, and a full set of jersey's stolen.
Here's two photos so you know exactly what they look like:
If spot one ( or 22 of them) on the street, please email firstname.lastname@example.org , or text 215.421.1823, and we'll take it from there ...
Thank you all!
Recieved this via the EPRU today - the "code of conduct" pieces especially interesting, as this is the first time I've seen match officials, coaches, players, and supporters all address in one documents.
There are some very interesting line items in this doc ... the tread into areas I haven't before seen a union policy paper tread. Since this is a blog about COACHING, I'll pull out the coach-specific stuff here.
Coaches of players should:
A. Recognize the importance of fun and enjoyment when coaching players.
B. Understand that most learning is achieved through doing.
C. Appreciate the needs of the players before the needs of the sport. Specifically
coaches MUST be aware of any size mismatches and move players to
D. Be a positive role model, and think what this implies.
E. Keep winning and losing in perspective, and encourage players to behave with
dignity in all circumstances.
F. Respect all referees and the decisions they make, even if they appear to make a
mistake (remember it could be you refereeing next week), and ensure that the
players recognize that they must do the same. Refrain from shouting out
decisions from the touchline. It simply confuses players and can cause them to
lose potential advantages being played
G. Provide positive verbal feedback in a constructive and encouraging manner to all
players, both during coaching sessions and matches.
H. Provide rugby training matched to the players’ ages and abilities, as well as their
physical and behavioral development.
I. Provide a safe environment, with adequate first aid readily on hand.
J. Avoid the overplaying of the best players by using a squad system which gives
everybody a satisfactory amount of playing time.
K. Never allow a player to train or play when injured.
L. Provide good supervision of players, both on and off the field.
M. Recognize that players should never be exposed to extremes of heat, cold or
unacceptable risk of injury.
N. Develop an awareness of nutrition as part of an overall education in lifestyle
O. Recognize that it is illegal for players under 21 to drink alcohol and those under
18 to smoke. Coaches should actively discourage both.
P. Keep their knowledge and coaching strategies up to date and in line with USA
Q. Be aware of, and abide by, the USA Rugby recommended procedures for taking
young people on residential tours at home and abroad.
R. Coach to the laws and keep up-to-date on law changes.
The full copy for your review below - links to a host of safety resources .
To the Rugby Community:
The EPRU is proud to announce the issuance of two new standards which are intended to improve the enjoyment and safety of rugby by all.
Feel free to use these standards and as well as passing them along to your rugby contacts that would benefit from them.
Comments and suggestions for the improvement of this standards are both welcome and encouraged. Please send them to me at email@example.com.
With you on-and-off the pitch.
EPRU Sets Standards of Conduct for Participants and Supporters
A high degree of sportsmanship and fairness is expected from players, coaches, match officials and supporters.
In its continuing efforts to improve the rugby experience for all involved - both on and off the field of play, the EPRU has issued a series of Codes of Conduct that it expects compliance with from match officials, players, coaches and supporters. This document can be found at: http://www.epru.org/forms/pdfs
All age-grade (ages 6 to 19) coaches and collegiate coaches are required to sign and abide by the EPRU “Rugby Coaches Code of Conduct” which is found at www.epru.org/forms/pdfs
All collegiate players and coaches must comply with the USA Rugby's Collegiate Code of Conduct which states:
'Collegiate rugby players represent their universities and are ambassadors of United States collegiate rugby. As such, each collegiate rugby player and coach is expected to be a lady or a gentlemen on and off the field. Collegiate rugby players should not tolerate obnoxious, impolite or antisocial behavior of any sort which could adversely affect the image of collegiate rugby as a serious and disciplined athletic endeavor. Any breach of this Code of Conduct at this event, either at the event site, area hotels, public facilities, etc., as witnessed and reported by any individual will be forwarded to the appropriate disciplinary committee for action.'
Compliance with these conduct codes requires cooperation from everyone involved in the game and recognition of the fact that we are all in this together for the same reason.
EPRU Improves Its Standard for Rugby Safety
The EPRU continues to lead the way in making rugby a safer experience for everyone.
Since 1995, the EPRU has been pro-active in making rugby a safer sport with its publication of "Safety Precaution Recommendations". In 1998, a more comprehensive safety publication "Making Rugby Safer" was issued. This document was well-received by the rugby community nationwide and is used by many Unions as "their" safety document. In continuing its pro-active approach to rugby safety, the EPRU has issued its Safer Rugby Program and feels its 7-step approach to rugby safety will help to make the rugby experience even better for all involved. Please start using it today.
In recent years, safety has received more focus by both National and International Rugby governing bodies as seen by the wealth of information found at USA Rugby's website (www.usarugby.org ) as well as the IRB (www.irb.com). USA Rugby has partnered with the National Center for Sports Safety ( www.sportssafety.org) to provide its sports safety course "PREPARE" which is now part of the Coaching Certification Program. PREPARE can also be taken directly online at the NCSS website. The IRB has produced its "Rugby Ready Program" ( www.irbrugbyready.com) and can be taken online. Both of which are part of the EPRU's "Safer Rugby Program".
The EPRU Safety and Risk Management section is at: http://www.epru.org/safety
Monday, March 10, 2008
My last post on recruiting practices got its fair share of dialog, a lot of it around 5 year college students.
Just to make it clear - i absolutely believe that players can and should make all decisions regarding their lives and futures; my primary concern is that we have zero ...ZERO.... ethical guidelines for recruiting. My concern is that we, as coaches, control the bulk of the information that enables players to make sound, rational, informed decisions .... and some times we don't do the right thing with either the information, OR the responsibility we have.
At the club level I personally feel there is a lot bigger gray area, and a lot more is kosher (if only with a big K instead of an OU) - simply because the colleges and universities, athletic departments and rec sports offices - are not involved. There are still ethical issues, but without the oversight of a major institution, there is less accountability, so really less to base any standards on.
To the reader who commented that, if a players wants to stay in school 5 years just so they can play more college rugby, or doesn't want to finish college at all (and is around just for rugby), that's totally cool (cuz it's his or her money), I have a question. Would you be willing to take that stand with the university sports or recreation officials? How do you think the university would respond to the player who says "Well, I'm paying the bill, and I've decided my priority is rugby. I'll graduate when I graduate, if I graduate. School is less important than rugby". How do you think the university would respond to the coach who echo's those sentiments? Keep in mind, while the player may in fact be footing the bill, most universities get some sort of public subsidy, and most university clubs are at least, in part, funded by student fees. So while it's mostly YOUR money, some of it is my money.
One reader commented that the sketchy event is rare. It's not as rare as we'd like to think. There are IN FACT college coaches telling players, as freshman, they they need to get on the five year plan. There are IN FACT college coaches who pay the "special" player's expenses for them, to entice them to stay around longer. There are IN FACT coaches who promise players that, if they stay with them, or if they move, they will make this or that all star team.
So the debate isn't about the player's choice, it's about the coaches actions. It's about what we, as a community, think is OK. Its about what our employers (and sorry, even if you are a volunteer you are accountable to the school) think is OK.
Just looking through a range of NCAA documents on recruiting, it's clear that they have had to put boundaries in place. Very little of the documentation describes a minimum, it describes boundaries and limits.
NCAA rules describe things like how often a coach can make phone contact with a player, over what period of time, and starting how early. How often a coach can make face-to-face contact. Even, yes, how often a coach can use text messaging, chat, IM, and email. Their guidelines specify WHERE contact can take place, and its in almost all situations it is school grounds, practice fields, sports locations. These rules are incredibly detailed, and specific for sport and division. They discuss exactly what "deals" a coach can make with a prospective player, and how these "deals" must be documented in writing and reviewed.
Now granted, we're not NCAA. But do we really believe as a community, that there's no need to discuss ethics? That to question what's ethical and what's not is the equivalent of complaining?
I don't think so.
Thursday, March 06, 2008
Alternate Title: the Head Coach as a Recruiting Agent
I'm hoping to open a lively but potentially charged discussion about recruiting. Every team has to do it, those that do it well develop strategies they improve and build upon year after year. Strong teams with longevity are strong recruiters.
My guess is that we all agree - recruit, recruit, recruit. Recruit HS players into rugby colleges, college players onto rugby clubs, and HS, college, and club players into local, territorial, and national select sides. Where's the controversy in that?
Since for the most part our HS and College programs are not varsity, not formally state based, we have little ethical oversight when it comes to recruiting. At the club level, we have nothing. There are a host of ethical questions that repeatedly come up, and I'm sure I'm barely scratching the surface - so what the heck, let's tackle them.
Select Side coaches recruiting for their home club:
This is probably the one that comes up most, and generates the most emotional response. If you, as a club/college/HS coach, are ALSO a select side/national team coach, is it OK to recruit players you're exposed to through select sides over to your own program?
It gets complex in my opinion ... are you a college coach coaching a u19 select side, who recruits high school players to your college? If so, it seems like an unfair advantage to coaches who are not in your position. But, if it's a market based economy, and you've done the hard work to develop your coaching skills and your program, aren't you entitled to promote it, if only "for the good of the player?"
There are two problems as I see it. First the implied influence. I mean, only the boldest of us would say "play for me and I'll put you on the lau/territorial/national team", but even if we don't say it, it's implied. Second is funding ... if your LAU/Territory/Country is funding your Select Side, and you're recruiting through your select side program, isn't the LAU/Territory/Country in part funding your club's recruiting program?
Another layer of ethical question comes into play if you, as a select side coach at any level, coach a team of the same level. Ie, U18/19 select side coach also coaches High School, Collegiate/U23/U20 Select Side coach also coaches College, Senior select side coach also coaches Club. So now, if you recruit, we have a situation where perhaps you are recruiting directly from your competitor. And, consciously or not, dangling the "if you play for me you will ..." carrot.
While this post is limited to recruiting, it's impossible to ignore the other issue ... its near to impossible NOT to show some favoritism to the players you coach daily. Why?
- They understand your communication style, the type of game you'd like to play, the skills you most emphasize
- You understand them, and have the time with them to work specifically on improving whatever weakness you see. With players not on your team, you have to hope their coach is responsive and capable of doing that by proxy.
- The players you play against are always viewed by you in a "how can we beat them" view port, so you are more likely to focus on their weaknesses, and your own player's strengths.
So here's the last question regarding recruiting and ethics .... is it OK to actively recruit players from the team across town? From the other teams in your league? Rivals? Teams from a lower division in your area? On one hand - if you can offer those players something that you're coaching competitors can't, why not? If it is indeed a market based economy, and the currency is indeed rugby players, and we agree that its a free market, the only conclusion is YES, it's OK.
But does it feel right .... or does it sometimes feel, dare I say ... shady? Do we, as head coaches, ignore the social and ethical burden that our recruiting puts on players, or do we just recruit with blinders on? Do we entice them away from home, encourage them to break off friendships, tell them that we are better able to coach them then another coach? Promise them a position? Promise them playing time? Money & Fame? Are there any boundaries? Or is it all part of healthy competition?
Probably the worst thing I've every seen crossed a pretty clear line from "ethically questionable" to "downright sleazy", when at a collegiate tournament, a bigoted coach for club X purposefully outed member of a club Y to a wide audience of college players, and listed it as a reason not to play for club Y, but rather for club X. There is nothing quite like using hate and bigotry as a recruiting tool.
I can tell you from my personal experience that I have been on both sides. I have indeed, in the context of being a select side coach, said to players, "So, I'd love to have you check out my club team when you graduate ..." I've justified such action by telling myself that I make no promises, no assurances, and dangle no carrots of national team or select side glory. I tell them to check out other clubs, but strongly encourage them to check out mine ...
I've also been pissed beyond words when I've felt like an ethical line has been crossed ... PISSED. But even in my angst, I've struggled to pin down what exactly it is that's irked me. The problem at it's core is, we as a community haven't agreed on where the ethical line is, or if there even is one.
And yet another recruiting technique that I'm a little ashamed to say I've unintentionally used is the "guilt card". Essentially, this is the "after all I've done for you .... " card. Yeah, I played that card once. And I felt like a complete s#&t-head, and I haven't done it again. It wasn't premeditated, it was a gut response, and I was incapable in the moment of self-censoring. As it turns out, things turned out just fine, but it doesn't change the fact that, in that moment in time, I was thinking as much about what was best for me, as what was best for the player.
And on to this idea of "rugby players as currency" thing. A highly capable and successful coach once told me that recruiting in rugby was simply an extension of the market based economy. So should I recruit just one or two 100 dollar bills? 20 5s? or a whole lot of singles? It's an interesting metaphor if nothing else.
Last, is it the head coach's job to recruit? The survey I posted a while back indicates that at least half the coaches out there are the PRIMARY recruiter ... yet most every club has a recruiting committee. Any conflicts? Are we making promises to players we really can't deliver on?
Does anyone have any recruiting stories they'd like to share? Or any thoughts/opinions about what's mentioned here? Ethical dilemma's you've struggled with? Share!