One of the biggest myths in sport is that players are born with exceptional talent, and that it cannot be coached.
It is a long standing argument which is mainly due to the fact that certain characteristic required for any sport can be measured, and some not.
Characteristics like physical strength, power, height, weight, speed, fitness and most physical aspects or requirements of any sport can be measured and controlled and this is mostly how coaches, and the general public ‘judge’ a player or athletes ability. But when it comes to explaining the ‘immeasurable’, or that certain ‘genius’ certain players seem to posses, it becomes tricky and because people believe this cannot be measured, or controlled, they put it down to a player or an athlete having that something ‘extra’, or having that inbred ‘genius’ that cannot be coached – but they would be wrong.
In rugby union, or any other sport we have all heard the expression of a player having that ‘extra second’ or so much time on the ball which gives him the edge over his peers, enabling to seemingly always make the right decision at the right time to give him and his team the edge.
What most people do not realise however is that this process, or rather ‘skill’ that the player has, can be measured. Not only that, it can even be improved.
Social, cultural, psychological, economic and even your immediate home environment and how you were brought up and situations you were exposed to as an individual either allowed you to develop skills or methods of gathering information and processing them, which is what can explain the occurrences you find in rugby and other sports where certain individuals have already developed these aspects of their play more than others. The point still remains, it is a measurable process, and therefore, a coach-able process.
The reason certain sportsmen and women seem to have ‘more time on the ball’ or better decision-making abilities (what largely defines a great athlete) is quite simply because are able to use the system, or framework in the decision-making process better than others.
Any decision, whether in sport or in life, is made on the information available to the individual and the time he or she has to make the decision. In sport and in rugby it becomes more complex since the decision-making process is different from let’s say, making a decision in the boardroom of a company after studying information.
When information or the situation is in constant change, as is the case in rugby, an individual needs to be coached to improve certain aspects of the processes he goes through in the decision-making model to allow him to make better decisions.
Information is gathered in rugby mainly through two areas, visual and audio (communication). A player, in any aspect or situation in the game needs to gather as much information as possible in order to process this information and make a decision.
Information gathered through hearing is mainly done through communication or players constantly communicating or talking to one another. Pieter Rossouw, the backline coach for the Blue Bulls swears by the theory that no player in the team ever keeps quiet, but constantly communicates to players around him giving him information as to the movements of the opposition players and themselves.
This is a skill or measurable medium which can be adopted by any team or individual.
The gathering of information through your vision, or visual perception is also a skill that can be coached, measured and improved through coaching as the work Dr. Sherylle Calder has done has proved.
The next step in decision making process is the processing of data acquired.
The player now has to process the important bits of information, discard the not-so-important bits and then make a decision.
As can be logically deduced, the ability for a player to ‘predict’ an outcome from the information he acquired, plays a major role in the difference between a good, and bad decision. Clever people refer to a model of novice and expert decision making processes which quite simply means a player with more experience, will be able to identify ‘patterns’ quicker than a novice and therefore is more likely to make a decision quicker – giving him ‘more time’.
It is however important to also remember another vital aspect of this process in an environment like rugby.
A decision made by a player or its outcome cannot only be measured by that individual’s decision or execution as the outcome, or success of the outcome is also reliant on other players part of executing the initial decision. In other words, a player may have made the right decision to do a skip pass, but if the center or wing intended to catch the ball drops the pass the outcome is negative but not necessarily so because of the decision made.
Aspects that also influence decision making in rugby includes sport or position-specific knowledge (experience, familiarity and level of comfort with the position), and mechanical or motor ability (passing, tackling, kicking, etc skills we are all familiar with) of the player.
Again important to note however, all of these can be measured and controlled, and therefore be coached.
Studies have shown that each individual perceives or process information differently or quicker than the next guy, and a large part of this is adopting more efficient visual strategies (how efficient you gather information for quicker processing) outside of normal or better known skills or abilities to improve the player himself, and his decision-making.
It is important to note that no skill in isolation can define success in a player, and that a combination, and different ratio’s that make up the combination which will be different from player-to-player, needs to be applied holistically to improve a player’s overall skills.
What is important and vital in professional sport however, is that all aspects and factors that does influence player ability is identified, and incorporated into the coaching handbook of every professional coach.Tweet