Thursday, March 06, 2008

It's a market based economy, with rugby players as the currency

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?

  1. They understand your communication style, the type of game you'd like to play, the skills you most emphasize
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
But that's a separate topic for later.

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!


Sarah said...

I coach a D2 team. I've been with the team for 10 years and we've had our ups and downs as all teams do, but one of the biggest emotional struggles I've had in the past year is that every time one of our players starts being recognized as being of potential value (to go with your market metaphor) whether through select side play or just by shining in our games all of the sudden she is being stalked by the D1 team down the road. Evidently players of "worth" have no reason to play on a lowly D2 team. As a coach I am offended when the players I've worked with, taught the game and helped develop are told that I (and/or our team) can't meet their needs anymore...

Does coaching a D1 or select side team somehow confer godliness and infallibility? If they're stalking and poaching my players, can I go after theirs?

Great topic. I hope there is discussion.

AOF said...

Great topic.

On a related issue, concerning player retention, I find it really troublesome that collegiate coaches are telling players they must plan on spending 5 years in college to maximize their eligibility. The reports of this seem to be increasing. I was an assistant coach in a program where the head coach met with players their freshman/sophomore year and explained they need to plan on sticking around an extra year.

Kentucky said...


I don't know your team or personal situation, but as a player who had, after two years of development and being recognized as of "potential value", decided to leave my D2 team in pursuit of an opportunity to play for a D1 team. My original coaches are very talented people in their own right, and I loved my teammates, however, they and I both knew that I would not be able to reach my full potential with them.

I was fully supported in my move, and probably would not have left had I not had that support. Having said that, leaving was the best thing I ever did. I had the opportunity to play in a National Championship, be surrounded by more talented players, and have more recognition to play for select-sides. I will never discount my experience or the input of my original coaches. I am of the mindset that we learn from each experience, and none is more or less valuable than the other.

Had my coaches been offended by others telling me to leave their program for development purposes, I likely would not have left. This would have been a selfish move on their part, and I can't tell you how much I appreciate their looking out for my best interest rather than their own.

Anonymous said...

aof, what's wrong with spending 5 years in college?

K-Train said...

What's wrong with staying in college 5 years? Nothing if there is a legimate personal or academic reason to do so. I don't think you can fairly call rugby a legimate reason. The cost of an extra year of college tutition, board and life expenses should not be trivially spent in today's economic climate.

Besides, from a competitve stand point I can't imagine why it would benift you to stay in college longer. The size, conditioning, speed and most importantly, intensity at the point of contact is a big step up for 99% of the college players who move to division I women's club play.

Anonymous said...

There is a huge difference between a player choosing to leave and being enticed to leave with false promises of future glory. I would never tell a player "if you come play for me, then you will XXX" - XXX being whatever the carrot being dangled is. That's not just shady, it's slimy mold growing in the shade. Particularly if the coach making the promises is doing it as someone with influence from a select side or national team.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Sarah - poaching players is crap. I head the recruiting committee for my team and I hate when we do work hard and invest money to recruit good local college players who will help grow our team, only to have the guy across the river tell them they made the wrong decision and that they are with the wrong team. Mind your own bizness and do your own recruiting! My coach has worked really hard to be a good coach and our practices are great but we struggle to keep any select side players because some a-hole who has never even been to our practices is telling them that what we are doing is wrong and that our team won't ever be serious or competitive. Maybe we would be competitive if the a-hole across the river would do is own recruiting and encourage our team to grow. Instead sometimes it seems like he wants to keep us mired in average-land just so he can be the top dog in the area.

If any player ever told me that they needed someone who could teach them something that we couldn't or they needed more competitive games to develop we would totally support them. I'll never believe that poaching is OK. It makes the strong stronger and the weak weaker. It is not in the spirit of rugby or any amatur sport.

Just call me coach.... said...

I've got some seriously strong opinions about the practice of staying an extra year 'to play rugby'.

If a player needs an extra year for academic or personal reasons .. play rugby, play rugby, play rugby. But to extend out your time as an undergrad, JUST to play rugby? For a coach to TELL a player they need to stay an extra year to play rugby? Its wrong beyond wrong.

It tells me that that coach is NOT thinking about whats in the best interest of the player or the team, but about whats in his or her best interest. The 5 year eligibility rule is not meant to be a standard, it's meant as a exception for students who need some extra time. Students who

Are called for military service
Are involved in mission work
Have a medical problem
Have a death or other family emergency family
Are in 5-year programs, or getting a double major, doing something academic that is very demanding.

It is NOT an excuse for a coach to field a bunch of players that have an advantage by virtue of more experience, or to hold on to your star player, or in some other way stack your program.

Its selfish and it's downright cowardly. Be a man, be a woman, and encourage your players to do what the heck they are in college for - to LEARN - and LET GO OF THEM WHEN THEY ARE DONE!!!!

AOF said...

There's nothing wrong with a person spending 5 years in college. In fact, it is now basically the norm at most big universities. However, coaches should not tell players that is the expectation for them to play rugby. It's selfish. It's not about the student and their life plans, it's about the program dealing with turnover.

Steve said...

Most people decide to play for a team/club for several reasons. Some of the reasons include the win/loss record, level of play, "quality" of the team, "quality" of the coach, and their fit with the team and players. Many people decide to play for a team/club because it's the only one close enough. That says to me that the issues you raise, while often frustrating, are relatively rare, so let's put it in perspective. Is this really a problem?

Now, as a coach, you have several goals. One is to win games, but another is to develop players. If you're a good enough coach that other teams are trying to recruit them, you're in good shape. If you're developing the basic skills in a player that allows them to move on to bigger and better things, you should be proud of your accomplishments, and keep up the good work.

If you're a great coach and your team/club is a great organization, you don't have to worry about losing anyone, unless it's up to bigger and better. If you're a poor coach and you're team/club is a poor organization, you're going to lose people to better organizations. Don't complain - improve.

Anonymous said...

There are PLENTY of coaches that haven't even given a second thought of their recruiting tactics...offering jobs, living arrangements, PAYING PLAYERS DUES AND TRAVEL EXPENSES, just to keep a player on a sqaud...when it comes down to it, it is pretty sad and most of all, disrespectful to other club players when that happens...

Anonymous said...

Most of the comments here nullify the PLAYER's role, acting as if players are too dense to evaluate what's best for them. If player X has competitive goals, she will likely seek out the most competitive team, regardless of other perks offered.

Different players have different goals, so, sure, blame it on the coach across the river, but know that the player's reasoning is probably not even grounded in the perks -- it's likely closer to her deciding she'd prefer to play D1 rugby, or that she can find something else she needs somewhere else. And perhaps eventually, you could show more support of said player's decision, even if it doesn't benefit you or your club.

As for players staying in college for five years, who gets to decide that but the player? No one. Again, don't overlook the fact that the player can evaluate what's best for herself. If she's prolonging graduation to extend her college rugby career because she loves to play for that team and that coach, that's her choice. No coach can make her stay - bottom line is, it's her choice. And do we, here, really know what's best for someone else? Especially based on concerns about "today's economic climate"? Are you paying for her schooling? Then you don't get to decide.

K-Train said...

I am going to choose to think that your belief in young adults' ability to evaluate their choices in a way that will lead to rational and healthy out come is based out of naivety.

Because anyone who is honest with themselves and especially those of us who work with young adults on a daily basis know that young adults are capable of making very bad decisions...especially when they are improperly counseled by adults who have their own agenda. When I say young adults, I don't just mean 18 or 19 years old but also the folks who are 22 and 23.

And the very large, ugly reality is that at public universities all across nation tuition is going up and if students aren't careful they might get to year 5 and find out that their source of financial aid; government, scholarships or parents, is tapped out. This leads to a variety of really bad situations that the 19 year old player might not have realized.

It's bad enough that rugby if not put in proper perspective can keep students from engaging in activities that are important to future success, ie internships and other real life work experiences. It's totally unacceptable when rugby keeps someone from graduating at all.

Anyone who is involved with coaching college players should have only one response to a player's idea of staying an extra year for rugby, NO. Finish school, there is plenty of rugby on the other side of the college gates. If they have other compelling reasons to stay in school and are aware of the financial burden, well that's a different situation.

A coach who rubber stamps staying in school an extra year for JUST rugby is not looking out for the well being of the young adults they are being TRUSTED to mentor. It's serious shit, it's someone life. The player might be making the choice, they will be responsible for it but as an authority figure or role model you have a responsibility to give counsel that is in their best interest.

Anonymous said...

I really don't think coaches have the final say in whether an individual stays a 5th year or not. A coach can be pursuasive and suggest a player stay a 5th year. But I agree with the last anonymous that ultimately the player makes that decision. And you have to grow up at some point. That's what happens in life. You grow up, you make decisions for yourself. And if the worst decision you make is to stay another year in college and accrue a little bit more debt, then I think you are pretty well off.

My personal thoughts are that you can work for the rest of your life, but you can't always be part of that collegiate experience. For some people, that experience is a very good one, enriching, positive, and beneficial. I've known coaches that have tried to get people to stay for a 5th year and their motives were not selfish or self-centered. For those athletes who would rather pursue their rugby career at a higher level earlier, good for them. Graduate and leave with your only 4 years of debt. But despite what a coach says or offers, that decision is the player's and it shouldn't be the job of the coach to say NO automatically and discourage everybody from staying another year.

Every single person I know who has stayed a 5th year could not have been happier with their decision, depsite the debt. And those individuals made the choice themselves using rational thinking and considering their options. Some people make "bad" decisions when they are young. Some people still make "bad" decisions when they are older. But nobody, not even a coach, should just say NO. If a coach is what k-train wants in a coach, someone who thinks about the player, then how can completely discouraging a player from staying 5 years be in the player's best interest? Ideally a coach who thinks of the players would help them consider all the options, even if their motivation stems from rugby.

I am offended by k-train's comment: "It's totally unacceptable when rugby keeps someone from graduating at all." Maybe college and graduation isn't for everyone. Maybe it isn't necessarily so bad if you don't finish college. It doesn't make a person any less of a person, even if rugby is the reason for someone not finishing school.

Regarding recruiting, I agree with Steve's outlook. People talk about recruiting recruiting recruiting and complain that other programs are getting players from here or there because they can offer this or that. But what it boils down to is not the talking part of recruiting, but the action. Players are attracted to teams for whatever reasons, but I think for the most part they are attracted to what they perceive the team culture, attitude, and goals are. This stems from the team's and player's actions. If you want to attract players, get your current players on board with a common outlook and drive, create an attracive team for whatever types of players you are looking for, and the recruiting will work for itself. I think Steve said it best: "Don't complain - improve."

Battered Barbie said...

I'm going to throw a variation of the topic into this...I hope that's ok.

Does anyone have any advice on how to approach this situation:

Team A is the only womens rugby club in the area. If you want to play(without traveling 2-3 hours to find another team), you're playing for them. Team A is a DII team that was formerly a mostly social side, but is working VERY hard to become competitive.

Some of the players in the area, who have had great college careers, won't play for your team because your "not good enough" for them. So they don't play AT ALL. How can you win them over?

Do they not realize that their help/experience can make us into the type of team they would be proud to play for?

Any advice?

Meredith said...

To Battered Barbie,

Here are some things I would suggest, having dealt with a related situation on my team. Hopefully, you're already doing some of these.

1. Review your team website, myspace page, facebook profile, and any other public materials that your team has to make sure that they promote your team's ambitions and competitive drive. Nothing counters the message you are trying to promote like having references to player's drunkenness on your myspace page. If your team does not have any of these things, GET THEM NOW.

2. Have your players attend college games on off weekends and talk to teams after the games. Tell them that you are working hard on development as a team.

3. Schedule tough games. Show everyone that you're serious about this.

4. Have players volunteer to help at local college practices if they are skilled and available.

5. Related to #4, have players attend coaching and refereeing clinics. This will improve their skills whether they become coaches and referees or not.

6. Always stress that your team is open to players of all abilities. Some people claim that they're "too good" when secretly they're worried that they're not good enough.

I could probably go on, but I'll stop...