The coach who guided Fiji to gold and our res­i­dent colum­nist

Rugby World - - FRONT ROW -

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

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