Junior coaches the biggest problem in rugby league...
I was recently asked what I thought was the number one problem with rugby league. My answer? Junior coaches.
I have been involved with rugby league all my life and I take my hat off to the countless number of junior coaches around the state and country who volunteer their time to coach kids and develop rugby league. Some are men or women with vast amounts of rugby league experience and some are just mums and dads filling a void and doing their best. Without these guys, the sport would not be able to survive and some of our greatest players might have never been given the guidance that led them to play at the elite level.
My criticism is not directed at the above-mentioned guys. Instead, it is directed at the "wannabe" junior coaches who are putting their hand up to coach a team for their own gratification. The selfish ones who have their own agenda, the ones that push their own son's cause or the ones that just want to win a premiership at any cost so they can bask in that glory.
I have said this before and I will say it again - junior rugby league needs to be a development path for turning young boys into young men. Hopefully along the way we can make some great footballers as well. I have seen many over qualified juniors miss out because they were not given the proper guidance and I have seen some OK footballers reach the summit due the ethics and values instilled in them in their youth.
One of the greatest things about rugby league is its ability to create mateship. It has always helped boys become men, teaching them values and life lessons. A good junior rugby league coach can inspire and leave a lasting impression on a player, and a junior club can be a great environment for a young boy to learn important life skills. Rugby league has saved many former and current NRL players from a life of despair and this can often start at the junior level.
Other the other hand, poor coaching can have a detrimental effect on young minds, and I sometimes wonder how some bad coaches found their way into such a privileged position. I have seen junior coaches ejected from grounds following altercations with referees, I have seen kids in tears after being chastised by a coach and I have watched in absolute amazement the continued appointment of some of these guys. Is it simply because there is either no one else prepared to take on a coaching role or its just too difficult to challenge them for the position? So I suppose the next logical question to ask is, who is coaching and monitoring the coaches?
My first year as a junior coach was the year after I retired from the NRL. I embarrassingly confess I was a terrible junior rugby league coach. I tried to coach 10-year-olds the same way I was coached in Melbourne and I soon found out how stupid that was. I had to adjust my coaching skills and ambitions as a coach and concentrate on not just building better players but building better people. Rather than mark my success on whether we win the premiership or not, I now mark my success on how many of my team come back to play the following year. We try to win our games along the way, but victory doesn't get in the way of the real goals.
Unfortunately many people don't learn and they still try to coach 12 to 16-year-olds the same way Craig Bellamy, Mal Meninga or Des Hasler coach their men. But junior coaching should be skill based and not result based. We need to teach kids to be better footballers by playing footy, not by following a script. Our NRL ranks are running low on vision players because in the juniors, they are rarely being taught to look up, count numbers for an overlap and play what they see. More often I have witnessed a team coached to give the ball to the biggest and fastest players at every opportunity, to run over smaller players or around slower players, rather than use the collective skill set of the team to craft a try or a line break.
Junior rugby league coaches are presented with the unique opportunity to teach young men so many things about life. Sacrifice, accountability, teamwork, sportsmanship, mateship and hard work are characteristics of the greatest value and should always supersede a misguided, self indulged coach's ambitions of winning at all cost.
Some parents are just as guilty and need to look past their own ambition, especially with kids at such young ages. They need to understand what is best for their young boy and stand up for them if they feel the coach is in it for the wrong reasons. Only a small percentage of junior players make it to the big league but all need to be educated in life values. My eyes have been opened and I hope I can open someone else's.