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!