All teams are comprised of individuals and in order to function effectively – whether it be a professional team or a group of rambunctious minis – an agreed-upon set of guiding principles helps glue them together. Coaches must explore what values matter to them and ask the players to do the same. When it’s decided what matters most, these values not only guide but also help to remind everyone of their purpose when things aren’t going so smoothly.
The following are some of the values that have mattered most to me as a coach and athlete:
Self-Knowledge – Character – Integrity
Responsibility (to teammates) – Leadership (within club) – Identity (in community)
Having Fun – I have always believed that training shouldn’t be something athletes must ‘endure’ just so they can get a game. We ‘play rugby’, not ‘work rugby’. Training should be fun and relevant to developing the complete player, both physically and mentally. I encourage athletes to be ambitious, to express themselves creatively, and to choose the exciting option when it’s on. I take pride in seeing teams ‘play pretty’ through clever play, only taking credit for maintaining a permissive training environment that allows them to work out the best times to have a go. I get more joy from this – win or lose – than grinding out a win by adopting a conservative ‘not to lose’ strategy. Keeping fun at the forefront also allows us to maintain perspective. We must remember that this is amateur sport and but one small part of our busy lives, so there’s no need to take it too seriously.
Safety – Rugby, to the uninitiated, can look more dangerous than it is because its lack of equipment and regular contact. (To which, I say, body on body contact hurts much less and happens at reduced intensity than plastic on body contact in football and hockey!) People do get hurt, but so do people who participate in other sports, or even jogging in the park. That said, I focus on preventative measures and especially teaching athletes proper technique in hopes of avoiding injuries. This includes not teaching dangerous and illegal tactics and discouraging individuals from adopting them if picked up elsewhere. I take our trainers’ advice seriously and will demonstrate extreme caution when we are unsure about a player’s status, especially where a suspected concussion is the concern. I expect players to be as cautious and prudent, reporting symptoms of injury, seeking professional advice and taking the necessary time to get healthy.
Growth – If we didn’t make the effort to learn, re-learn, or improve upon learning each and every training session, there’d be no point in having them. I could ask you to keep fit for Saturday and leave it at that – “See you next week just before kickoff!” I expect players to come to training with an openness to learn new things and a desire to develop their skills. I also think sport allows us to grow as people when we take on new challenges and learn more about ourselves through many different experiences. I spend a lot of time planning meaningful training sessions and analysing progress at training as well as in games. I also do a lot of research into the art of coaching and trends within the game as well. I am always happy to share this extra information with interested athletes and am always happy to hear that players I coach go on to be coaches themselves! Ever-present is the notion that we embrace mistakes as part of the growth process and understand that it is not always linear. Sometimes a backward step can be influential, inspiring, or highlight something that never would have appeared if things were easy.
Class – I see the team I coach as an extension of me and my vision. I believe completely in the ethos that rugby was built upon and while I don’t preach its virtues often enough, I certainly do demonstrate respect, fair play, and humility at all times. I expect players to follow suit and demonstrate their class with each other, opponents, referees, and fans both home and especially when away. We’re a big club and you are a highly-visible element of that club. You all are leaders and must act accordingly.
Support – I think rugby has a greater need for support – not just physical, but also mental – than other sports because of its continuous nature and regular body contact. Where other contact sports involve one-on-one battles, rugby’s contact is more of a sustained group effort. Beyond the physical aspect, successful club teams are ones that support each other on the field and off with empathy, constructive behaviours and a positive attitude. We all have a responsibility to make each other better and it must be a unified and consistent process.
Mental Toughness – Rugby is a tough game that demands players to physically front-up to the challenge of tackling and being tackled. It also requires them to endure conditions – from poor weather, to dealing with loss – that make things even more difficult. Veterans will know this from a playing perspective but it also applies to the training environment. The Premier team has lofty goals, and toughness extends to being present as often as possible, to trying your hardest at all times, and to keeping a cool head under pressure or when things aren’t going well. Rugby can be a great outlet for life’s frustrations, but certain aspects of the game can test your resolve and reveal elements of your character that might not appear in your everyday lives. It’s up to you to maintain your resolve. Calmness and patience go hand-in-hand with determination and resilience as mental qualities needed to meet the demands placed upon you.