R M Cullen
MD MSc MFM BA DipStats DipProfEthics
|elite athlete development||diabetes reversal||genome topology||evolution|
|tamaki sports academy||diabetes blog|
The NZRL is under a bit of pressure now, with the Kiwis captain and a mate being filmed snorting cocaine outside a gay nightclub after a limp loss to Australia in a test match earlier in the day. However, let's give credit to the NZRL U16 and U18 High Performance Camp held at Cambridge April 26-29.
The boys enjoyed it. They learned things there. There are a few little things. There was not enough food with boys telling me they went to bed 'starving' and then had nothing more substantial than toast and cereal for breakfast. Recruitment to the camp is always a bit of a mystery - only 60% of the boys at the U18 camp were from Auckland when the national distribution of talent is even more one-sided than that given the results of the national age-group tournaments. I was surprised to see Lewis Afeaki playing in the trial. He was knocked out in the final of the Ruben Wiki challenge between the Akarana and Counties U18 teams four weeks or so earlier, on March 25. It seemed to me that Lewis was unconscious for over ten minutes.
The High Performance Camp is not just about the athletes. It provides an opportunity for managers and support staff to improve their skills and use them on a motivated group of athletes. These people gain a lot from being part of the camp.
However, there is room for improvement if the NZRL can find additional funding for the game at this level. Here's how I would improve the camp.
The NZRL should have criteria for selection to a High Performance Camp. These should be circulated widely - to clubs, zones, agents, rugby league schools, and the NZ Warriors. It is odd that zone managers are asked to replace boys who have pulled out in the weeks before the camp by asking around for boys who are interested. There should be a wait list.
Fitness testing should take place before the camp, and the results used to exclude boys whose results are incompatible with selection in either the NZ U16 or NZ U18 team.
The boys are not required to complete much paperwork prior to the High Performance Camp, yet there are some basic things other than parental consent. These include information on regular medications, allergies, disciplinary record, has the athlete been knocked out or concussed before? The camp is not prepared to deal with the diabetic who wakes up hypoglycemic during the night, or the anaphylactic reaction to a food, or the Muslim athlete who wants to pray five times a day.
Feed the boys well
This is basic. There must be hot food at breakfast, and there must be plenty to eat at dinner. These lads need feeding five times a day, although rolls and fruit pretty much do the trick for the middle three meals. Breakfast and dinner need not be expensive. Spaghetti, eggs, potatoes, are all cheap and filling.
Provide relevant education opportunities
The NZRL supports the concept of educational achievement alongside football, but that support is, at present, limited to cheering from the sidelines and welcoming the provision of vocational training stalls at its camps and tournaments. The High Performance Camp offers an opportunity for participants to end the week with credits towards NCEA level 2 and 3, and even towards university entrance (AS91501). For example
The trial game provides an opportunity for boys to gain AS91501. This should be a no brainer. This is an elite camp. Every boy should achieve 91501 with merit or excellence. There will be no debate about the competence of NZRL to assess against this standard. This should be 4 credits in the bag. For many boys these will be four very useful credits.
Similarly, the requirements of US9677 and US9681 should be easy to meet within the High Performance Camp as all the participants are members of a team which has the objective of getting as many of its members as possible into the national team.
The bundle of US10781, US12383, and US4251 will require some dedicated time to deliver and assess during the camp. However, the content of these standards meets one of the key goals of elite athlete development in rugby league.
Recognising and dealing with stress,US12355, does stand alone but it provides an acceptable context within which to deliver various key mental health messages.
Delivery of the unit standards will require partnering with a Private Training Establishment for assessment, and preparation of material for the boys to work on prior to camp, but the benefits are significant.
Provide feedback on fitness test results
Rather than spending time at camp performing the fitness tests, the opportunity should be taken to help the athletes develop their own strength and conditioning programmes informed by the fitness test results, and particularly by areas identified as needing work.
This could be done in in supervised pairs with a view to achieving unit standard 22259, design and implement a fitness programme (level 4, 6 credits) beyond the camp.
Provide feedback to trialiasts
The NZ age group coach, given that he or she is on a coach development pathway and, implicitly, of developing competence, should not select the NZ age group team. That task should fall to a selection panel of suitably experienced people.
It is reasonable to expect that the selectors know why a player does not gain selection. Conversely, the panel should know why a player did gain selection. This information should be provided to the player.
There is room for honesty. For example, in the U18 team selected from the 2017 High Performance Camp trial game the four starting props all made the team - two as props, two as second row. The boys who played the trial at second row are entitled to know why this is so. Should they bulk up and lose their agility skills when this would count against them with most NRL clubs at NYC level? What is the NZRL saying? Or is this just a learner coach selecting on size and aggressive go forward? How do these selections sit with the position-specific coaching provided to second rowers earlier in the week? Or is there no connection? If the coach changes next year, will they have a chance at selection? Why should they believe that?
My own view is that the lads should focus on gaining selection for an NRL club's under 20 team.
I understand that organising this camp each year is a significant task, but if a job is worth doing it is worth doing better.