Last week, we introduced Leadership in Action | MICR Coaching Fundamentals #1-5 as part of a new blog series by Coach Andres Lopez. As promised, we hope you enjoy fundamentals 6-10. Please read and share with other coaches, leaders, educators, or organizers who play important roles in the lives of young people.
6. Be Patient: A good rugby team isn’t built in a season. Heck- it took Freedom Prep Boys nearly four years! Build rugby players from the ground up. Teach them how to pass and run lines and assume they know nothing – even when you’re two or three months in. Nothing about rugby was “common sense” to me as a 19 year old student at UNC Chapel Hill. We shouldn’t expect our students to absorb rugby concepts/skills too quickly. Train on critical concepts repeatedly. Do not expect any skill or strategy to be mastered during a single practice. After you repeat a concept or basic tenant (‘we need to get staggered/depth’ offensively) ask them, “WHY?” each time to hammer it home. Building rugby players from the ground up is a lot of repetition, driving home concepts, and gradual improvements. I promise that your hard work- and theirs- will pay off when they are rugby players as opposed to someone playing rugby! However, if you think you’re going to simply enter their lives, receive their undivided respect/attention while you endow all your rugby knowledge- you’re putting more terrain on what is already a bumpy ride. Your technical rugby knowledge great- and it’s one of the least important attributes you’ll need- especially in the beginning. Keep reading…
7. Joy Factor Matters: You can’t “Coach Carter” your way through a season or even a practice. No one wants to be on a team that is all business all the time. You can’t be strict and never be warm. Effective leaders can find the appropriate medium between strict and warm. No one wants to be at a practice where it’s 40 minutes of conditioning and three “dry” drills. Even some of our best players aren’t so committed and disciplined that they will do everything to their full extent 100% of the time in the name of “becoming a better rugby player”. Meet these teenagers halfway and let them live- make things funny, exciting, enjoyable, challenging, competitive, and sometimes just entertaining. Note: this does not mean do a drill or game at practice just so there’s “some fun”. Instead, it means be creative and find ways to make your learning objective (2 on 1’s, correct rucking, scrummaging) fun and engaging. Also, use every small moment for building joy. “First one to tag Leroy wins; everyone else has a half lap around the field”. “I think Shamar is faster than Ashton- everyone pick one and they’re racing right now!” “Tries only count if the team makes it in for a try-zone party.”
8. Less is More (Economy of Language): Everything is more powerful when it is done less often- it also sets a strong expectation that if you say something once everyone should pay heed. No one likes to read paragraphs of text in ‘Groupme’, so use economy of language. On a similar note, make sure you include all necessary details in your communications- don’t expect every player to carefully read additional texts because you forgot to give the address, warm up time, and wanted to remind them to bring mouth guards. This also goes for your events. If a student has practice, conditioning, or rugby every single day- they’re less likely to attend everything because they can take it for granted (it’s “always there”). Remember the idea that absence makes the heart grow fonder? You can’t always realize what you’re missing if it’s ALWAYS there! Max out at 3 or 4 practices/conditioning sessions per week so they get some time away. When the season ends, give them a week completely away so they start to yearn for rugby. Also, give them time away from their teammates and you- they will miss that the most and be hankering for more opportunities.
9. Wear All The Hats: Coach is merely one role you play: Logistics coordinator, secretary, spokesman, advocate, cheerleader, therapist, life-coach, mediator, educator, chauffer, and more. The coaching (usually from 4pm to 6pm) is just a small part of coaching. There’s a good amount of paperwork, following up, conversations, getting called into principal’s office, discussions with athletic directors, scheduling transportation, and more! Oh, and don’t forget your actual job! As coaches we must understand that “coaching” our student-athletes means so much more responsibility than just showing up, running drills, and giving feedback. Some of these other aspects, however, can be the most rewarding parts- like seeing your kids meet the Chicago All Blacks after spending hours organizing logistics, seeing Shontiara’s life choices improve after having meaningful conversations over an entire year, or hearing kids say “today was a good practice” after planning it whistle to whistle; or and seeing the headache of transportation go away after planning for, scheduling, and financing a bus. This can be a fun, life-changing experience for everyone- if you’re willing to wear all the hats (or delegate enough so all the hats are worn by reliable stakeholders).
10. Chasing the Ships (Championships and Scholarships): Nothing is more important than students succeeding in school and in life- rugby is secondary to these things. Shane Young said it best in a meeting when he stated, “We’re glad the team is good, colleges are looking at our players, and we are winning championships- but that’s not what we’re here for.” By building a strong team culture, getting parents and students invested, holding everyone accountable, and doing the above things- winning will happen and opportunities will surface. We are not here to make championship teams and USA Eagles players. If we coach our kids successfully and they are kicking butt on the pitch, then great! A student’s future should hinge on a combination of their academics, character, integrity, work-ethic, and determination- not their rugby ability. If their rugby ability, academics, and goals for college line up with D1 or D1A rugby programs- fantastic! If not, then that’s OK too. We shouldn’t send a student with a 3.8 and 26 ACT score to play at a D1 school below their academic capacity when they could play at UTK, Davidson, or Brown University. Conversely, we are also not in a position to push students with a history of academic woes into a D1 program with 22 ACT score and 3.6 GPA. That’s a risk that they assume (financially, daily responsibility, mental and emotional toll) and not us. Their post-high school institution/career affects their future income, upward mobility in society, ease of obtaining jobs, earning potential, and more. Playing college rugby, if at all, is transient and of minimal importance in the big picture. In Memphis- we live by this mindset- check this out: MICR’s ‘School Comes First’ Video