A change of pace for me this week, and maybe a bit of controversy! Also, probably much to Mark’s chagrin, perhaps not too much of the impress Formula! I am handing the reins of my Bees Colts side over to my very capable assistants Mike & Ski. To be fair the lads will probably enjoy hearing a fresh voice for a change!
This is because I’ll have one of my other Coaching hats on. That of a North Midlands School of Rugby Coach. You probably haven’t heard of it. Which doesn’t surprise me.
I guess a bit of background might be useful. The School of Rugby was first set up by the RFU with the backing of the Premiership Clubs back in 2007 as an initiative to give better coaching to the stand out players from U13 to U15 and it was sold as being the first rung on the ladder of the Elite Player Player Development Pathway. The pathway for pro and hopefully England Players of the future!
The Pathway goes something like this:
School of Rugby
Premiership Club Elite Player Development Group
The first thing the powers that be did was to start selecting coaches. As the North Mids SoR would be based at Worcester Warriors under the wing of their Academy, the Coach selections were run at Six Ways under the beady eyes of various RFU Big Wigs and Warriors Academy Coaches.
After interviews with the Brass and running trial Coaching sessions I was lucky enough to be selected with a number of other Coaches and we would make up the North Midlands School of Rugby Coaching Staff.
Due to my location I was selected to coach at the Worcester Satellite based at Bromsgrove School with 2 other coaches. We also have satellites at Shropshire, Herefordshire, Birmingham and the Black Country. This covers the whole North Midlands Region.
Players have to go through trials to get in the School of Rugby and we are the ones that do the selecting. Always a bone of contention! The first problem during selection in 2007 was that we were instructed by our superiors to only select players who showed superior pace, agility and handling skills.
Maybe you have already spotted a flaw in their plan?
As one myself, I pointed out this criteria would be prejudicial to front 5 forwards. If you extrapolate this selection policy a few years into the future we would have a dearth of players wearing the numbers 1 to 5 on their backs coming into the Premiership and by default the England Team. But what did I know? I’m just an amateur coach. The RFU are the professionals with the good health of the English game as their sole raison d’etre. They obviously know what they’re doing.
Year 2 saw us select on 2 criteria. The original one and one more suited to front 5 forwards!
But, and it’s a massive but, the pressure to select certain players still remained whether they performed well during the trials or not. If I recommended any of my young Bees players I would not talk about them to other selectors. I’d let the players do the talking with their skill sets at the trial.
This wasn’t the case with the various Alikadoos at the trials. Constantly in our ears and almost ordering us to pick their lad, sometimes for the most outrageous of reasons. This is a true story from one NMSoR trial, I know because I heard the exchange first hand.
Our Manager was berated by an irate district representative because one of his top boys wasn’t selected. I quote here, because this is forever imprinted on my mind, “How could you not select him? He fences for England!”
While not a typical argument, there is almost a sense of horse trading being done to try to get their players in. Maybe I’m hopelessly naïve, but this kind of thing does no-one any good, least of all the player who in all likelihood will be dropped at his first NMSoR session! Isn’t the welfare of your athlete your first priority?
One thing we have been told we have to start to select on is “Mental Toughness”. As we only see our players for 4 official NMSoR sessions a season I am not certain how you can assess that. I know my Bees players very well. I know the tough ones, the fragile ones, the eternal optimists and the manic depressives. As you know them so well you can adjust how you coach them to get the most out of them. Not so with NMSoR players.
But this will be a chance for me to deploy some impress Formula on them. Usually we have game based sessions, usually highlighting a core skill. As we have selected them we know they are above average players. This is a chance in the sessions to highlight their permanent qualities, be it their ability to pass and catch effectively or their vision in identifying space. Whatever it is we can talk about it to them and get them thinking about it in the correct way.
If they’re having a bad day, quite common at the NMSoR sessions due to nerves, that is something we can dismiss as temporary and not affecting their permanent qualities at all. Quite a common phrase I hear off them after a mistake, while they’re quaking in their boots is, “I never do that usually”. That highlights to me they’re seeing the mistake as temporary which is a good sign that they’re mentally strong and will park the error and crack on.
I’ll certainly to help them “Manage their State”, Step 2 impress, by getting them to focus on the game. One of my favourite phrases to players thrown out of their comfort zone is “It’s just another game of rugby and you know how to do that really well or else you wouldn’t be here.” Usually that calms them down and gets them to focus on the correct thing. This has the added benefit of another impress principle, that of practicing rapport, (step 3). Once the lads know we’re on their side instead of being intent on de-selecting them they do relax visibly.
The more confident ones will not even comment on or react to a mistake (Unless us coaches question them about the error in the spirit of fault correction). They have what I call “The eye of the Tiger” and just get on with the game without any external expression. If we do get them to talk about an error, they certainly frame it as temporary and dismiss it without further comment! Actually thinking about it now I’m writing it down, those are the lads who generally progress further. Coincidence?
I think I’m right in saying the other NMSoR coaches have not come across the impress Formula before. I’ll be studying their words more closely at the session than I normally do instead of watching the practices they run and watching what the players are doing.
It should be fascinating. Hopefully I’ll be writing about it next week.
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