I have been around SACS for a while now, from my school days to my coaching here, and for a while now I have been fascinated about the psyche of our rugby teams and players. I am determined to find out what it is that holds us back from performing against the so-called stronger rugby schools. I do not believe we should be seeing the results that we do, as they are appalling to say the least. And yes, I can say this because I coach a team that should be performing better than they have been, but unfortunately are still not. I can assure you this is from no lack of effort or enthusiasm by the players, as they really do want to do well, but seem to be undone every weekend by their beliefs. I truly believe that once we as a school stop celebrating mediocrity and come to the realisation that we are no where, and that it needs to stop. Thus I have been trying to find out who we are as a rugby school and what type of players we possess.
At the moment I have come to the realisation that we as a school LOVE being the underdogs because there is no pressure to perform, there is no pressure to win, and losing is the expected outcome. If a team beats another school, it is considered a fluke, and they go back to being the underdogs. This leads to permission from the coaches and players to lose, even if inadvertently, this kind of thinking is holding us back. Consider when a team from SACS comes up against a stronger school and they just lose, or the score has been kept lower than the expected slaughter the parents, players and coaches celebrate this as some kind of achievement. On the flip side, when SACS teams, especially the A teams, are considered to be the favorites, they either fail to impress or lose to the teams they were never meant to lose to.
The other main aspect that comes out of believing the other teams are better than ourselves is that we start matches extremely slow, giving in and letting ourselves be bullied until the scoreline is at the point which was pretty much expected before the match. ONLY then do our players realise that they are not inferior and that they can match the opposition if they try hard enough. What we lack in rugby expertise and technicalities, SACS players certainly make up for it in passion and determination. However this is usually too late for the result to be effected. For me this is the most frustrating aspect of coaching here, is that the players can pull off wins when they are not expected to, but it boils down to the belief we have in the school right from u19 down to u14.
Because the older boys have decided to accept the SACS belief of always being the underdogs and being inferior to other schools, the junior boys pick up on this as soon as they enter on the first day. It has me extremely troubled when you hear u14a players exclaim how inferior they are, when the previous year they beat the self same team they now fear. Not much changed in 8 odd months, but what did change was the atmosphere they entered into.
I find everyone in the school all exclaiming how bad we are at rugby as a school, and how much better the other schools are. What amazes me further is that our players know more about the opposition players strengths than they do of their own or their team-mates. They know their names, what type of step they have, their speed etc etc, but when asked what strength do they think a team-mate has, they cannot answer you. Again it is this self defeating, inferiority complex we possess, which to get rid of will take a MASSIVE commitment from every player, coach, parent and spectator. As I talk to individual players around the school at each age group from 1st team to u14a, all may pretend that they don’t care who they play, but you can sense the apprehension in their voices when they talk about how amazing the opposition are, and how poor their team are. They will even go as far as to say how unbelievably bad their team-mate is and how many mistakes they make, but will never talk about their strengths, or their contribution to the team. I often see SACS players laugh, yes LAUGH when a team-mate makes a mistake. Are you KIDDING me? As a result do you think he will ever try to fix that mistake again? Chances are, he will never, and will continue to make that same mistake even when he plays 1st team one day. It is this demoralising atmosphere we operate in, trying to fix the rugby at the school needs the combined support from everyone involved in the game. We cannot have the current situation where coaches exclaim out loud to their teams, that they will lose on Saturday because the opposition are absolute monsters and superb rugby players. How do we expect to give the boys confidence like this? Every coach should believe that their team has what it takes to win every match, because if they don’t it will filter into how they coach, and what they say.
From what I have learnt from my dealings with the u15A team this year, is that they are no different, and all dream about beating the other schools in the league. BUT what holds them back the most is that they never believe they can actually win. What I have realised is that I can teach them the basics of the game, the tackle, the sidestep, the scrum, but none of this will help if they don’t play with the type of determination and passion that is required to beat the opposition. So far I have never seen them walk onto the field knowing that they can beat their opposition if they play to their potential. The forwards have one hell of a scrum, and have developed into a good pack, capable of taking anyone on. The backline has been hit with injuries that teaching them the basics has been pointless because it changes every week, so maybe thats why their is no confidence at the back. BUT what I know, is that even with the best basics, the best moves and tactics, they still will not perform until they believe they can play at this level.
I think we as coaches made a mistake in the week leading up to yesterdays game, in that we demanded a favorable result. We did this because we knew they were capable of it, as we saw it in glimpses against Paul Roos. BUT what we forgot was that SACS teams love being the underdogs, and that is when they perform their best, because they have nothing to lose, but everything to gain if they win. By putting them on a pedestal, expecting them to win, they got nervous and over hyped up, which lead them to worry more about the result than the actual playing of the game. I think the fun got taken out of it, because perhaps egos took over or whatever from our side, but what I know for a fact is that the team that ran out yesterday against Paarl Gym was not the team we have seen and become used to so far this year.
It was hugely frustrating to watch them in action, because we as coaches know what they can do, but when they play like they are scared to lose, then you know we didn’t quite hit the right buttons. After the first try you could see their heads drop, because now they were losing, where we expected them to win. A rookie error from the coaches, but one that has been learnt and will never happen again. Sometimes with teams you can get it right, and at other times you can get it horribly wrong. But that is the nature of a team sport, and that is what makes it that much more interesting.
Obviously I am frustrated at myself and with the team, but as I think about it more, I think we, as coaches, have learnt more about them than if we had won. Yes I am looking for positives out of a loss, but then again who cares? It’s u15 rugby, it’s junior rugby, and this is where all the learning takes place, so that in a few years time, they will be able to cope if they play 1st team. As I will keep repeating, and will remind myself again, that this team is on a journey and one that is taking time, yes we went backwards yesterday, but not as much as we think. I think the team will come back stronger than ever, because I know I am going to make sure we do!
I will never deny that losing by 29 points is acceptable, nor will I ever be happy at such a loss. It is a loss, and I don’t celebrate mediocrity. I still find it laughable when people come up to me and say but it was Paarl Gym you played so you can take comfort in that…
Screw that philosophy because Paarl Gym played SACS
And if we as a school ever want to become a reputable rugby school, then we best start accepting that what we are seeing at the moment is not acceptable, and more needs to be done.
We need everyone to change their mindset and start believing that we as a school can do it, because we have the players, but we need them to back themselves and the teams they play in, because if we don’t then we are just accepting mediocrity. And to me this is unacceptable.