The coach who guided Fiji to gold and our resident columnist
ONLY A couple of months into the Gallagher Premiership season, most directors of rugby being interviewed looked like they had just come off a stag weekend in Blackpool. Only, to the best of my knowledge, they hadn’t. They had just flogged themselves.
All the focus is on player welfare and it’s vital we get that right, but I want to shine a light on coaches. From late July to late May, practically every weekend is taken up with matches. Players will get time off during the week but generally most of the staff will not. Sometimes it does feel like it’s a bit of a ‘man’ test to get in as early, and leave as late, as possible, but there is work to do and it’s on the increase.
Compare that with the NFL and their season is half the length. In the NBA the workload is massive and, as such, the NBA strictly enforces pre-season and breaks. It’s now getting to the stage in rugby where those involved need some protection from themselves.
A head coach is effectively coaching, leading and managing. Each of those roles takes a considerable amount of planning and often those DoRs are learning on the job. To my knowledge, no coach has ever come from an American-type system of teaching and coaching in schools and universities or clubs outside the Premiership and then into the top league as the main man – with a degree in sports science or similar to also help understand the wider elements of the game and the structure of the club.
I’m not saying a degree is crucial but what is needed is support and aid when required for those at the top. CEOs at Fortune 500 companies have mentors and experts to help them, and they’ve had a lifetime in their sectors.
There isn’t a minimum coaching qualification to be a Premiership head coach. I’m not saying that to protect the pencil pushers but to reinforce the notion that there needs to be more governance and support around these guys. Those who head up the clubs are effectively running medium-sized businesses with the added stress of the pressure to get results or get replaced.
I know of head coaches who get in at 5am most days and leave late at night, missing out on saying goodnight to their kids and spending valuable time with their families. When those routines go on for too long, cracks appear. That might be in more personal terms or it could be in getting the programme wrong as a result of knee-jerk reactions to a loss.
You can say they are well paid and it’s their job, but they aren’t that well paid and we want the product to gleam and glisten, not dull at pinch points in the season. It is hardly a surprise that some say the wrong thing to a player or a reporter after pulling one 70-hour week after another, then losing on a last play. People forget we are still a very new professional sport and we have a lot to learn. Are we getting to a point where we need to give hard guidelines to clubs around the amount of training or contact? In sports further down professionalism, that happens and they have the resources to enforce those regulations. One thing is for sure – the workload for those at the top is huge.
Lengthening the season in England from 2019-20 is only going to increase the stress on coaches because clubs won’t shut down. Big professional sporting leagues also don’t have the myriad different competitions within the sport that we have in England. What is wrong with just having the Premiership and Europe? Then there can be blank weekends or two weeks here and there for everyone at clubs to get a break.
There are far too many games at the moment. It doesn’t just dilute the play, it erodes the joy and the energy of those that work within rugby. A season should never be a slog but it’s become that.
Busy men Newcastle’s Dean Richards and Steve Diamond of Sale