“Though she be but little, she be fierce”
Helena, A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream
What is it with props? In all the teams I have ever been involved with as a coach or a player, it has always been the props who drastically over-estimated their ability. They almost always felt they could be quicker, tougher or more skillful than everyone on the team. Sometimes they were right, often they were deluded…
This was exactly the case today when I set a challenge to the team in our classroom session, one of our props saw the clip and said: “Easy! I can do that!” The challenge was a ball flick up performed by Rosemary Quesada Guzmán who is clearly a very talented athlete and rugby player from Lima, Peru. The short video below (viewed over 18,000 times!) is the skill in question:
The rationale here has been for me to use female players as examples of a skill or tactical decision making, as I have done previously with male players. It also was a nice challenge to set to the team in training that day – the over-confident prop nearly hurt himself while attempting to replicate it….
Last weekend was a fairly odd game for us. We had started with real focus and determination, carrying over a lot of what we had worked on during the week. We even got an early score and were looking like getting over for another within the opening 10 minutes. In terms of the game-plan, the first 20-25 minutes could not have been more aligned with what we had hoped to achieve. I was a very proud coach. Then the 26th minute happened. And the opposition scored. Then they went onto to score another 59 unanswered points. I have never seen a momentum swing so sharp and yet so at odds with the start of the game.
In the aftermath of the game, we tried to draw on those opening exchanges where we were really determined and had earned some reward for our efforts. One of the players suggest we go around the group and suggest something that impressed you about another player during the game. My pride and faith in the team was very much restored as this idea came from the playing group and not from an adult. When it came to my turn to contribute, I said that our winger kept chasing back after a line-break was made even when he had little chance of getting to the opposition player and even when the line-break occurred on the other side of the pitch. I told them team it reminded me of the best try-saving tackle I ever saw and I promised them I would show it to them, which I got around to today:
I have seen try-savers where players dislodged the ball as it is almost touched down or ones where they just manage to knock the ball-carrier into touch but I have never seen someone work so hard for so long to make that tackle.
Danielle Waterman – take a bow.
After witnessing her efforts here, the team were suitably impressed and we will refer to Waterman’s nickname – ‘Nolli’ – if someone on our team does something so impressive that evokes such hard work, determination and raw effort.
While I had always hoped to work in examples such as Guzman and Waterman above, I was especially eager to do so this week as I read with real interest about the 20×20 campaign happening back home in Ireland. The aim is to have 20 times more sponsorship, participation, attendance and support for women’s sport. The tagline for the campaign is:
‘If she can’t see it, she can’t be it.’
The idea behind this is to encourage more female role models in sport for young girls to aspire towards. It is also why I feel that in a male environment, I am trying to showcase female role models where possible. I feel that initiatives such as 20×20 are hugely beneficial for society as a whole and I would hope that the aims to be achieved by 2020 are given support from grass-roots all the way through national governing bodies.
High-Five to Victory:
While we were looking to implement our game-plan on the weekend, we also were measuring what we call “Positive Interactions” between players. An example of such could be a pat on the back, or a high-five, picking someone up off the floor or a slap on the shoulder. Such exchanges can reveal much about how cohesive a team is and could explain how a team might respond to adversity. We do not enforce such exchanges or want players to exaggerate how they interact with one another but just draw their attention to how they might express themselves to one another. In the game on the weekend, our “Positive Interactions” were 68 – up from 31 the week before. In light of this focus, we looked at the following study by University of California:
Exemplary Team Cultures:
Finally, as we continue our journey as a more empathetic and compassionate team, I wanted to give them examples of other teams who were the very embodiment of such ideals.
We started with a brief discussion about South Africa and what rugby means in that society. We also recapped over some of the social tensions that emanated from the Apartheid era. Then we watched the following short clip about Ashwin Willemse’s rise from being a gang member in a township to pulling on the Springbok shirt:
Our discussions afterwards found many of the group really fascinated about the situation in South Africa (many of them were born in 2001/2002) as they knew little of its history. Even my mentioning of Francois Pienaar’s lifting the World Cup in 1995 drew vacant looks and blank faces.
Next we looked at Gareth Thomas’ story which is one that is perhaps more well known to those of us who have seen him in either the red of Wales or the red of the British and Irish Lions. This was also an area I was keen to introduce to the team as they themselves begin to become more aware of their own sexuality.
What seemed to really resonate with the group was how damaging this secret was to Thomas’ mental health. A few weeks ago, we had looked closely at how anxiety had eaten away at Leinster player Niall Breslin and this is something that has stuck with the group. The fact that who you might be sexually attracted to being able to cause such difficulty and mental strain was baffling for most of the group. They felt this largely because of their own inability to fathom such a crisis of identity but also because of how little it would affect them if someone they knew came out to them.
When we compared the two stories, it was interesting to hear which one spoke to certain members of the group. Some commented on the issue of homophobia in sport and spoke about the different cultures of acceptance in certain sports. Many spoke of how it should be something people should not have to bottle up and sport should be somewhere they can fully be themselves, especially to team mates or those closest to them.
What’s the plan?
I got asked last week if I had a goal for the team this season. The first ideas that sprung to mind were around making them better technically: good decision makers, more refined catch and pass skills, rucking machines, competent tacklers or tactically astute. While these are all aims I do have for them as individuals and as a collective, I am not sure if it is the main goal. The more we examined the teams that Willemse and Thomas were a part of and the more I explore team dynamics, the more I want the group I coach to be a better team. By that I mean a closer group of people who support and care for one another. If I can do that then I have a feeling they will figure the other stuff out anyway.