Thursday, January 5, 2017

Business and Pleasure - Being a Sociable Coach While Remaining Respectable

Depending upon who you ask, playing rugby will be described as a simple sport that has been made unnecessarily difficult by one factor or another. Coaching the sport, on the other hand, is a process that has also been made increasingly difficult by outside forces. The difference? Coaching rugby has never been a simple process. While it has changed and evolved with time, it hasn't gotten any easier.

One of the most important elements of coaching is creating positive relationships between players and coaches. The short answer to this problem would be for coaches to socialize with players, but doing so in a way that doesn't jeopardize the club or its players is a trickier task - and it is one that has been approached in different ways by different clubs as time has marched on.

There are a lot of opinions on how coaches should approach socializing with players, depending upon things like gender, age and level of play. For the sake of this piece, socializing will mean:
Any sort of extra-curricular activities where enjoyment of some kind is the primary goal and coaches are able to mingle with players and other individuals.
There are as many approaches to this situation as there are coaches and teams taking the pitch. What remains steadfast, are the considerations coaches must make when deciding how to approach the issue of social interactions with the team.

Find a Balance:
The results of a golf outing getting rained out.
With every team and situation, there needs to be a balance between putting a professional product on the field and providing an enjoyable environment. Providing these two elements in equal parts is at the heart of this issue.

Certain coaches abstain all together, opting to keep the player-coach relationship strictly professional. By abstaining from off-field activities, coaches are less likely to get caught up in personal feelings when it comes time to make the tough decisions. While the coach's vision is clear of personal narratives from players' lives, this leaves the governing of social interactions completely up to the players - and everyone knows how well things go when the in mates run the asylum.
"I was very young coaching a college side, probably 26 or so, and I got pulled into socializing with them," said Matt Hudson. "I was there for several years and figured out that you can't socialize with the team if you want to be a serious club. Those lines have to be drawn - coach over here, players over there."
Other coaches choose to enjoy the company of their players in moderation, opting to have a few beverages and some food without getting too "lost in the sauce." Advocates of this approach say that these interactions allow coaches to discuss the game in a less strenuous environment and get to know players on a more personal level.
"I currently am coaching college kids at University of Louisville and I graduated in May of 2015," said Frank Viancourt. "I like to keep some level of socialization. That being said, you won't see me at a college kegger anytime soon."
The Rugby Ball, celebrating 50 years
of rugby in Cleveland, Ohio.
A third approach allows coaches to pick their spots and control the ensuing interactions as much as possible. This means limiting official social outings to things like team dinners on the road and annual banquets. This approach allows the coaches and players to interact and be more informal while ensuring that no one gets out of control. Coaches can also establish predetermined end times, or at least give themselves an out before the scene gets too loose.

What is important to remember is this:
For the most part, none of us is getting paid to be involved in the sport of rugby. Few are being compensated for their time and efforts while coaching. Even fewer are receiving money on the playing end. For that reason, it is imperative that clubs create an atmosphere that makes players want to practice, train and sacrifice for the club; and a little fun goes a long way to that end. It has to be a concerted group effort by club management as to what involvement they will have, if any, in the shenanigans that help players blow off some steam.

Level:
The team's level - and, subsequently, the players' ages - play a big part in coaches' feelings regarding social outings. Rugby can last a lifetime and, if done right, can keep teaching players new things for as long as they are involved. How to remain responsibly social is an important lesson for any coach or player to learn. Just like subjects in school, different lessons have to be approached in different ways depending upon ages. The coach plays in integral role in how that culture is established and introduced to everyone else involved.
"If it's a U-14  side, then I would be socializing with parents regularly," said Dan Prater. "For a U-19 team, if they're getting Chipotle after practice I'll go; and I'm still getting beers with the folks. For players 19 and up, I'll be at the social, you know, socializing. It isn't that hard to maintain a presence while still controlling the idea that you're their coach and not their buddy."

Culture 101: Separation of Club and State
  • The majority of coaches involved with clubs that consist of minors often opt to ship players back off to parents directly after matches and practices. Some opt for the occasional pizza and soda part after matches, or get daring and share a pint or two with parents. This establishes a strict, wide boundary between the coach and player that solidifies the relationship between the two. This also allows coaches to create stronger bonds with parents. This goes a long way towards creating buy-in from them and establishing credibility for the club in the parents' eyes.
Culture 201: Location and Moderation
  • The social scene surrounding senior level clubs is different than the one surrounding youth and high school teams. With that being the case, the expectations, obligations and opportunities are different as well. At this level, many teams have a club house, or at least a home bar, where the group can come together and enjoy each other's company. At this level there is also the opportunity to go on tour or host a team that is in on tour. For coaches that decide they want to spend some quality time with their team, these occasions provide a great backdrop for that. These instances can very insulated, isolated occasions where it wouldn't be out of the ordinary for everyone to be imbibing. Still, it's probably best for the coach and management not to get too loose. The same way that it would be a bad look for a player to make an ass of him or her self because they had too many party pops, the same goes for the coaches. A coach getting sloppy might cause him or her to lose face with the players. Plus, the last thing any coach wants is to be backed into a corner because of an inebriated promise.
Culture 301: Advanced Tactics
  • At the professional - or even the select side - level the separation between coach and player should likely be more clear and distant. At these levels, constant assessment is going on, and players are being sent down or brought up with regard to game day lineups. The last thing any team wants is alcohol fueling an unnecessary argument over an issue that should, ultimately, be handled privately.
Whether a coach is molding young minds and hearts or dealing with slightly older more diva-like children, communication is the best way to deal with the social aspect of running a team. If a coach decides to socialize with players and parents, it is important to delineate when they are acting as a friend or as an authority figure.

Focus on the Effect
More often than not, when the good times get rolling people tend not to think past the next serving. The fact is that the results of one night could have massive effects on a club's future, let alone a coach's. The reputation that precedes rugby isn't always positive, whether it's the sport as a whole or past club shenanigans. With that being the case, it's important to be as responsible as possible and ensure that at all times the sport is being represented in the most positive way possible. Coaches crossing certain boundaries can have major repercussions.

On the other hand, having healthy boundaries and a positive atmosphere can keep a club strong and in good standing. More importantly, the players will benefit and have more success during their time with the program. Normally, the overall goal for a rugby program is to develop people and help them grow during their time with the club. A solid foundation with good leadership can do that to great effect - and as any person who has had a solid coach or teacher will tell you, those positive ripples can be felt beyond one's active rugby career.
"The main objective is developing athletes and young men," Viancourt said. "Friendship comes second to that, but it doesn't mean you have to cancel [socializing] out one hundred per cent."

The inspiration for these words was taken from comments on a Facebook post in the Rugby Coaches group. For a look at the complete list of details and comments, click here.

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