Another season ends and I reflect on what it has taught me as a coach. I think first and foremost it has taught me that the role of a coach in sport is the most masochistic role you could ever choose. You are always taught and encouraged to have a player centered approach to coaching but you will always have personal targets and goals. Yet you have to trust people, you have to put your personal hopes and dreams and ambitions in the hands of a group of people you have very little control over once the whistle blows.
At grassroots level it is even more masochistic. You get maybe 2 hours a week to prepare a team for 80 minutes. A lot of the time you don’t have all the players and so you have to adapt a lot of what you plan to do around that. There is never enough time, there is always so much more to go through. Identifying the most important thing to work on is so difficult. Finding what people want to work on and what they need to work on is often very challenging. The more driven you are as a coach, the harder it is to come to terms with other people’s drive and enthusiasm. It is so hard sometimes to stand back and realise that you need to make it enjoyable as well as challenging and informative.
Within teams you will encounter a variety of players. There will be good players who are held back by a lack of confidence. There will be players with potential that is so hard to access because of the barriers they put up or the excuses they make. We are all guilty of it. There are players who hide, players who get angry. It’s a tough job to manage. The hardest part of the grassroots game is dealing with personalities rather than performance.
There are the things that make it all worth it. The player who thanks you for something you didn’t even remember. Seeing players improve and go from a raw uncertain player to an enthusiastic and positive member of a team is the most rewarding feeling you can ever have. Seeing a player you have identified as having potential, develop and move forward and take on board what you ask is a real buzz.
As a coach it is so easy to find blame in the players and not in yourself. It is important to look at what you have done and ask the big questions, was it right, was it in line with my coaching philosophy and what I want to stand for? What did I learn about myself that could make me better going forward?
I learnt a lot of lessons this year. I would say I learnt that when you are under pressure as a coach it is really easy to do the wrong thing and justify it. It is really easy to overlook things you don’t want to confront and hope they go away. It is easy to let your personal standards slip if you are not honest and I felt this year I wasn’t honest enough when I needed to be. I kept trying to make people into players they were not ever going to be and found myself frustrated when it didn’t work. I should have adapted my patterns to take advantage of their strengths.
My opinions over the season changed greatly, as did my coaching. The more I read, the more I spoke to other players and coaches, the more I became obsessed with trying to coach the chaos of rugby. Rather than focus on the traditional coaching of splitting forwards and backs and going through a prescriptive phase by phase play. I became obsessed with trying to get people making as many decisions as they can as often as they can in a variety of different situations.
One of the most important things I learnt was that I measured success and failure in the wrong way. I think the measure of success and failure at grassroots level isn’t the wins, it’s is not the games where you smash opposition teams with a big score line. It should be measured by whether people came back week after week. Did they feel part of the team and were they were supported by the coach and the other players. Did I do enough to create a welcoming environment for people to come into?
I would probably say I didn’t achieve that, I think in fact that I probably failed in a way that I will have some regrets about for some time to come. I would put that as the area to work on and I am convinced if it can be fixed, then any other goals and targets become more attainable.