EXPERT SESSIONS AND ADVICE FROM QUALIFIED AND EXPERIENCED GRASSROOTS RUGBY COACHES

The 5 rules of selection

Identifying the players to fulfil your vision is arguably a coach’s most crucial role. Your approach to selection establishes the values of the environment you’re trying to create. Read on to get it right…

1. THE GROUP DYNAMIC

One popular image for the group dynamic at work is a chain of mountain climbers, all connected by a single rope. The coach heads the group but is attached to every member of it. Whether he chooses to select or drop a player, he remains attached to him.

So communication is paramount – the coach must explain why a player is in or (more relevantly) out of the team and give him a “work-on” so that he still feels part of the group and contributes to it.

2. BACKING YOUR JUDGEMENT

Once a selector decides a player is good enough, he must stick with him – to give the player time to prove his judgement correct or incorrect. He can only arrive at a reliable conclusion about a player’s mean standard after several games.

The real crime lies in not backing your own judgement, and this cuts both ways – if evidence suggests a player isn’t good enough or doesn’t fit the playing style or group dynamic, he must be omitted.

3. THE DEVELOPMENT CYCLES

  • Development. The coming together of a team. Individuals start to identify their roles and leaders are discovered.
  • Maturity. Individuals perform their roles to full capacity and leaders assume full ownership of the team on the field.
  • Elimination. The cycle that often trips up coaches – knowing when collective potential has been realised and the power of the group has begun to wane.

A coach must understand which cycle his team is in, and adjust selections accordingly. The best coaches are particularly adept at recognising signs of an emerging elimination cycle, and doing their transition planning ahead of time.

The duration of each phase depends largely on the team’s intellectual foundation and the coaches’ ability to freshen the environment with new ideas, something World Cup-winning coaches Graham Henry, Wayne Smith and Steve Hansen excelled at.

4. SNOWBALL EFFECT

When you see concrete improvements in a player’s performance, you must reward that with more game time – so generating an even quicker rate of improvement. This is particularly true with young players, whose learning curve is often very steep.

Again, coaching planning needs to be a two-way door. You must accommodate outstanding new talents but be ready to omit those who don’t fit the playing style.

5. TIMING OF SELECTION

The approach of a major competition is a clarifying factor. Any top international coach will be asking themselves, “Can I envisage ‘player A’ being in my RWC side, 20-odd games from now?”

Individual potential has a timeline in relation to competition objectives. The answer to this question will determine how much time to invest in a player.

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