Why is it that you can make a career out of rugby if you are good enough except in the field of coaching?
It is a question I have been struggling with for about a week now after a New Zealand rugby fan asked me firstly if I think we have world class coaches to which I replied that I can arguably count them on one hand. His follow-up question was predictable but no-less important; “Why?”
With a country so rich in rugby resources and tradition why is it that we cannot turn out world class coaches, or leaders in the coaching environment at will?
It really comes down to a combination of things, but two things for me stand out – one is more of a global problem but the second I believe is one we can easily address.
It seems that in professional sport there is a trend globally that past players usually end up as coaches once they hang up their boots. This in itself on the surface is not a bad thing necessarily, some guys become great coaches and their experience of playing at international level in many ways prepares them for the pressures of coaching there.
But then you also have the old thing that not all players become good coaches (there are many examples of this) and you also run the risk of falling into the trap of not being innovative enough or changing as the game changes – a case of doing what worked when you played when the rest of the world has moved on.
Innovation is a big thing in coaching and that is arguably the biggest challenge for ex-player coaches. The Springboks have just recently been accused of showing no innovation and being overtaken by teams they dominated last year. You obviously also run the risk of not modernizing yourself as a coach by including necessary elements or expertise in modern sport such as specialised conditioning/fitness experts, bio-mechanics experts and of course the psychological or mental experts to name a few as you did not ‘need them when you were a player’.
Coaches often limit themselves more than structures or the environment they operate in do, and this is the most obvious failing from ex-player coaches.
Some even believe that guys who have/had a massive passion and love for the game at a young or junior/amateur level, but knew and understood their limitations as players and always had to innovate themselves to keep up with the more talented guys are the ones who will apply the same type of innovation as coaches…
The second problem is one that can be managed however.
Rugby is a professional sport, meaning that you can make a career out of the game like many do at the moment. Aspects or certain areas of the game compliment or help you to achieve this through the structures in place like player and referee structures, but some progression structures specifically in coaching is non-existent.
If a rugby player is good enough to make it to the highest level, or even a level where he can make a decent living out of the game, there is a set structure to support him.
From schoolboy level you have systems like Craven Week in place, this progress to club level where local and national competitions allow you to progress through the ranks. Naturally and if you are good enough, you end up in union structures with stepping stone platforms like the Vodacom Cup through to Currie Cup, Super 14 and eventually Springbok rugby.
Throughout this process the demands get more on the individual, but they also improve and learn additional skills and with experience become better players. The best make it to the top but some might just hit the ceiling at Currie Cup level but even then, a system backed them up and helped them make a career out of the game of union.
No such thing exists for coaching or individuals interested in becoming coaches.
In recent years academies have sprung up in South Africa and although a few are closely linked to unions, even they do not provide you with a platform to progress as a coach.
In fact, those who end up in coaching, like what happened to me in the past, became involved completely by chance and being in the right place at the right time.
Of course no system will guarantee vast numbers of successful coaches being delivered but modern day coaching is more than just carrying a whistle on a training pitch directing players. Like any career there are areas of specialization that opens up for individuals or which suits their specific strengths, like psychology, mechanics, analysis and planning, skills, fitness, defense, attack, kicking, contact, running and many other specific areas of specialization in which they can move into which all forms part of the environment or challenges of coaching.
Like all players are not destined to become Springboks, not all coaches will be destined to become head or senior coaches but at least through a proper system or structure, we can ensure that we produce specialists or coaches who are innovators and leaders.
Currently two of our top 5 unions in South Africa are coached by foreign coaches and all of them are coached by ex-players, some hanging up their playing boots as recently as 2005!
This is not to question their quality as coaches, but it is a clear indication to the pattern which is followed and perhaps answers the Kiwi-rugby supporter’s question as to why we struggle in South Africa to produce quality coaches in which I would have to use at least both hands to do a roll call!Tweet