R M Cullen
MD MSc MFM BA DipStats DipProfEthics
|elite athlete development||diabetes reversal||genome topology||evolution|
|tamaki sports academy||diabetes blog|
When a professional sports club, runs a reserve grade and a colts (under 20) team, as well as its flagship premier team, what is the role of the colts team?
Rugby league is a fast paced collision sport based on the 4Ses – size, strength, speed, and skill. For the last four years, the vodafone warriors under 20s coach has aimed to win the championship, and his team did so in 2010 and 2011. However, this year has seen a difference of opinion with the incoming premier coach and a new junior coach has been appointed for 2014.
The new approach is that the role of an under20s team is to produce future premier players.
The two approaches are fundamentally different.
The previous coaching approach was to recruit the biggest, strongest, fastest, most skilled teenagers and to focus on attack. The team bullied its way to the championship.
It is far, far more difficult to produce professionals.
The first problem is a biggie. Despite several decades of study, there is no reliable method of predicting which promising 17 year olds will go on to professional careers.
The second problem is acknowledging the importance of mental and character attributes, as well as the player’s home and social environment. These can all be ignored if the goal is to win an age group championship. However, if home truths are not confronted and dealt with in the teenage years they are very difficult to alter later, especially in a pressured environment such as professional sport.
The person is more important than the player.
The third problem, and it is one that is too big for the vast majority of top level coaches, is that these young men need coaching.
Rugby league, in Auckland, is a sport where the junior grades are sorted by age and not by weight. At under 13 level for example, the winning team will have an average weight or around 80kg (180lb) and an average height approaching 180cm (6 feet). The coaching philosophy is simple – either “Smash them” or “all you fellows pass the ball to Jonah”, where Jonah is the local monster or freakishly talented player.
In Auckland, representative age group players are selected for their attacking skills, and representative games are won by the biggest, strongest, fastest group of bullies. A bully is a good thing to have beside you on the league field.
The end result is that young players who have come through the Auckland system almost invariably have one or more areas of skill weakness and, because they have never had to, have problems reading the game.
The coaching problem is not trivial, and skill deficits at age 18 often continue throughout a player’s career.
In general terms the promising Auckland based 18 year old rugby league player comes with a predictable set of problems – his mates, alcohol and parties, his living arrangements, his skill deficits, he is not used to being under pressure for every minute of every game, he has not had his weaknesses targeted by opposing teams, his training programme is haphazard, and his path to the top has been based on the temporary advantage of early physical development.