Calderdale Rugby League Development Squad

When I was growing up (yes, some may argue that never happened) the highlights of my week were when I was playing sport. Whether that was rugby, football, cricket, golf, swimming, whether it was organised or just us on the park playing an impromptu game of American Football! It meant that I didn’t have to think about anything else…

What made me really proud, though, was playing for the area teams, the county select teams or representative teams. These teams made me feel like I’d achieved something, like the work that I had put in on the training ground, in the gym, pounding the street was not all in vain.

So it saddens me, now, to see lads within Rugby who don’t have an area team to play for, or a West Yorkshire squad to aim for. These lads at 13, 14 or 15 either get into an academy or don’t. If they don’t, they keep playing for their local teams knowing the better players have been whisked off into a professional outfit and they’ve, well, they’ve just lost their best players.

I’m no scientist who has conducted study after study on why competitive games at 14 will break the ‘system’ (but is the system working anyway?). I’ve not researched why having selective teams (i.e. representative teams) will suppress the will of those not picked and send them into obscurity. I’m going by common sense and my own experience. At 16 I went to a Yorkshire trial day. I got through the rounds and was in the final match – 15 against 15. The other stand-off was better than me. And as they read out the 20 names of the selected players, my heart sank.  Mine wasn’t on there. I was nearly in tears.

So did I go home and quit rugby? No. I worked harder. I got fitter. I trained better. And the next year I played for Yorkshire U17’s. In my honest opinion, I think that we worry about hurting kids who don’t get picked. We reduce their resilience by giving everyone a reward. We don’t prepare youngsters for the real world where not everything is fair. I think it’s summed up brilliantly by Jeff Walz, a basketball coach.

So whilst everybody is happy in their non-selective fraternities, Calderdale College’s new rugby academy are expecting kids to turn up ready to train and play in a pretty professional environment without ever having been involved in anything like this before. Amateur to professional in one jump. Some make the change easily, some struggle but I feel that’s our fault for not preparing them.

And that’s the crux of the matter. We haven’t prepared them, so lets prepare them. Let’s get the lads that haven’t been selected for a Super League academy and give them an opportunity to develop in a game that has shaped my life and personality. The friendships I’ve formed, the places I’ve been, the experiences I’ve had. Most of the best ones are in some way linked to rugby. Why should these lads fall out of love with a life changing sport because they are, at 15, not deemed good enough to be at an Academy.

Let’s provide them with that environment in the form a development squad where we can help them learn the ‘art’ of rugby. Let’s add to the amazing job their amateur coaches do and give them some things that these coaches don’t have the time or resources to give them. Lets provide professional strength and conditioning advice. Lets give them sprint training. Lets get a sports psychologist to talk to them about the mental side to the sport. Lets provide full analysis of their training sessions and games. Lets put it all into practice and get them competitive games against harder opposition.

Oh, wait. We can’t do that. The Rules say we can’t have competitive games. That might mean somebody loses and, well, we’ve seen what happens if not everybody gets a trophy.

Yes, I may have a small bee in my bonnet about this.

I recently saw a documentary about rival sporting teams. This one was about 2 American Football teams. The biggest derby in Miami. But these were different. These were 4, 5, and 6 years old. There were different reasons for them playing in one of the hardest neighbourhoods in Miami – they were playing to keep them off the street, to stop them joining gangs and to stop them from being shot and killed. But at 4 and 5 years old they were playing full contact sport and smashing it. In 2016, Miami accounted for the most  starting NFL players – 27 – with most emanating from Liberty City, a 5 square mile area where these two teams play and with a population of 19 725. The nearest competition for producing NFL talent? Houston, with 18 and a population of 2 489 558 more than 6 times larger than Miami. And players continue to spill out of Liberty City, so much so, that Ivy League Universities visit every year to offer kids coming out of Liberty full scholarships at ages as young as 13. So, even though for different reasons, this example shows that competition from an early age produces exceptional talent.

So because we can’t have competitive games, we find a work around. We are allowed to have ‘training’ games so we can just organise training around a game scenario….is this just a wolf in sheep’s clothing? Yep. But rules are rules.

We currently have 29 lads in our training squad. We meet once a month and have ‘training’ games if and when we can find opposition who want to train against us. We have been formed for 2 months now and we’ve had one such match. The match was videoed and all the players have access to the footage. They have received group and individual analysis, they have the game broken down for them so they can watch defensive sets, exit sets or good ball sets. They have completed self-assessment forms that we talk to them individually about. We discuss what they did well, what they thought they can improve on and we decide on an improvement plan together.

This month we’re working on speed and in the month prior to this session, we have emailed all the players with pointers and advice on the subject we’re covering. We ask them to do additional work (not to overtrain) but to do extras after their training sessions. This may be as simple to complete 50 passes off each hand. As we’re working on speed this month, we’ve asked them to actually do some short and medium length sprints – to actually practice sprinting (who does that??) and get used to how sprinting actually feels. We give them information on the subject, advice on where they can do further research and how they can incorporate it into their training. What we want is for them to get used to being responsible for their own development.

We don’t stipulate that you have to be at a certain level to attend, but what we do ask is that the players attending have the right attitude. I would much rather work with an average player who works hard, than a prodigy that can’t be bothered. If the players don’t want to do extras, don’t want to learn but just want to play, then the development squad probably isn’t for them.

So – is picking players on ‘coachability’ being selective? Yes. Yes, I think it is….

 

3 thoughts on “Calderdale Rugby League Development Squad

  1. Chris, for me talent is a given when you get to a certain level and the problem for me within what you say is the top two inches are never coached correctly or developed, which then reflects in our proffessional game. The mental attitude within the game is all wrong and means talented players always come up short against less talented but better mentally developed players. Mentally developed and trained players will always make the winning team. Kids are not empowered at school or when they are being coached, we live in a society where we look to signs and guidance from those in the yellow jackets, who know the rules and know nothing about talent and how to allow that to nurture and develop. I have watched young kids being taught to run a set of 6, coaches that scream instruction from the side lines. Empower the kids and the rest will naturally sort itself out. You don’t want to be stood in a team with players who have been given a fair chance to get there, lifes tough the sooner the kids learn that the better. Top 2 inches for me Chris

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  2. Since leaving university, one of the main things that stuck with me from my Sport Science degree syllabus was the psychology units and how, I believe, this is so under-utilised or ignored. Week after week you see teams that are poorer on paper beat the favourites. “They wanted it more” “We were out-enthused” “We just didn’t turn up”. The mind is a wonderfully powerful tool and great coaches let players loose with what’s in there….so, yes, definitely Phil, let the top 2 inches run free!

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  3. For me feedback is key. Whether it is following a ‘trial’ process or a training session. Constant communication and discussion (player led ideally) engages your players and gets them to come back better players next week, next session, next year, next sport.

    I won’t go on, just yet, but there are still too many sessions (on and off field) that run without such ‘comms’; turn up (no idea what’s in the session), play touch (probably doing everything you should not technically in a match), stretch (please not static, no more), do some skills (just like last week & the week before…….), split forwards & backs or units – run unopposed structures (& look brilliant, hmmm doesn’t work like that at the weekend), come together and play a game (unopposed again? Or maybe with those wonderful tackle bags that have no arms and legs and don’t move…..just like the oppo at the weekend, me thinks not)

    Rant over as I am doing an injustice here to the coaches out there that put in many hours as volunteers and simply do not have the time, resource or assistance to maybe try something a little different or the assistants needed whilst the coach provides a little 1-2-1 or group micro coaching. A big help here would be the NGB who often put on the coaching courses, well done but please don’t charge £££s to clubs and volunteers already taking some form of financial hit if only in volunteer hours!!
    Sorry far too many topics in one post and only tangibly linked to the blog ha ha, just passionate!

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