Just what makes a player exceptional? More importantly, can we measure levels of ‘exceptional’ in order to have more players become just that?
It has been a thing that has long bugged me about the majority of rugby coaches especially the ones in South Africa. We often hear how some players are defined as exceptional or special, but asked for a better or clearer definition of what exactly makes them special or exceptional, most are at a loss for words.
Two current examples, Patrick Lambie and Elton Jantjies. Both earmarked or ‘labelled’ as ‘something special’ or great talents, but when I ask most experts to provide me with clear technical factors to support or explain their statements or define what makes Lambie and Jantjies different from a Willem de Waal for example, I am mostly told to just go an look at how they play and how the evidence is in the performances…
Fair enough, but what they fail to understand is that the performance, or the end result or action is a culmination of factors that contribute to the eventual result (performances) and rather than admitting the obvious that they are something special, why not define what makes them that, and how we can look to not only improving their own skills as coaches but also identify many other players of similar ability by measuring them against something concrete?
Or even more importantly, apply techniques or ingredients that all these ‘special’ players seem to have magically as part of their make-up to other, less ‘special’ players?
Fact of the matter is, how a player’s individual skills are developed over time, make them exceptional. Some develop this quicker than others or more naturally (without outside intervention or specific coaching techniques) because of the nature of their role within the sport or position they play. For instance, perception skills or the processing of visual data (what players see) develops quicker for a flyhalf and fullback than it does for a prop for instance, as this is a major requirement for the position itself, the ‘vision’ people talk about.
The most important aspect of any rugby player is his ability to make decisions, how quick they make them, and how accurate they make them.
There have been hundreds of studies done in this area and the conclusion in almost all of them, is that just about all players follow the same process when making decisions on the field, some are just better at this than others.
Also, knowing the processes that is followed, you as a coach can pro-actively work with players, and identify during which part of this process they struggle and work on that.
More than this, you can apply this to position-specific areas where we already know the role of players and what is required from them changing from position to position and ensure that the skills required from one to the next, is identified and applied expertly.
Assessing players on this basis you as a coach know their strength and weaknesses inside out. You know how flexible they are and with this, define the roles of players clearly in relation to game tactics to play to your strengths.
The very first step in this process which will make such a difference is for coaches to realise the importance of visual coaches such as Dr. Sherylle Calder.
The most important and first thing young players like Patrick Lambie and Elton Jantjies require are the skills to enhance their ability to gather information, or visual consumption of each game situation. It is absolutely vital for youngsters like these who will lack in the experience department, to improve in this area of the game so that the processing and eventual execution of their decisions improve.
One has to remember, the ability of players to make good decisions relies quite a bit on knowledge and experience, where part of the process of decision making relies heavily on pattern recognition and the ability to predict the outcome of events which only improves once the player has seen this, or been in similar situations in the past.
For young guys, and their development as players, the ability to gather information, identify parts of this which is important and ignoring other factors which will not have an influence, is hugely important to assist them in making the right decision, more quickly, more of the time.
The fear from most people are that we might be pushing the likes of Jantjies and Lambie too fast, but to me there is no such thing, not if you as a coach arm them with the right skills in order to be successful.
As you can imagine, this is a continually changing process as the player develops and his skills improve. Therefore the skills you apply as a coach will also adapt over time depending on the player’s progress throughout the decision making process framework, concentrating on his weaker points and enhancing his strengths.
Processes and techniques like this will not only put a stop to selecting players who are not ready, because you can measure his ability or skills, but also remove the risk of players having a dip in form for ‘unknown’ reasons and therefore get more consistency in performances, a key element in sport and rugby.
For that reason I cannot see how the selection of a Lambie or Jantjies being a risk if they are to tour with the Boks later this year would be ‘shocking’ or a risk. What would be shocking is if they are selected without the correct coaching staff and techniques backing them up.Tweet