Monday, August 10, 2009



A Mother’s Response to ‘Child’s Play No More’ by Gary Robertson, Herald on Sunday 09 August

I had a good giggle reading the above article, because Robertson could have been writing about my son’s team.

I’m a Rugby and Rugby League Mum.

I have two boys a 7 year-old who plays Rugby for Auckland club Ponsonby Ponies, while the 9 year old plays Rugby League for Ponsonby Pirates.

Why are the boys, who are close in age playing two different codes you ask? That’s another blog.

You have to take your hat off to the volunteer coach - always a parent who’s passionate about doing good for their kid and so when the team needs a minder, you cheer a sigh of relief when someone else’s hand goes up. But what happens when the volunteer coach becomes a vexatious megalomaniac? What happens when according to Bruce McFadden Canterbury Chairman of the Metro Junior Board “…coaches’ egos get higher and higher...they want to win at all costs?”

I gotta coach like that. A volunteer father ego-coach, who sends on average two emails a week, expounding his own virtues, detailing his rationale for game plans and training methods and rounding off the missive with an ode to his own passion for the kids and the game. I find it weird! That’s self-gratification. But how else is a volunteer coach meant to get accolades?

SPARC; New Zealand’s parent body for sport and recreation reckons about 500,000 volunteers exist. They admit it’s an estimation because it’s difficult for them to confirm actual numbers. SPARC go on to state that volunteers usually take on the role mainly for altruistic reasons. But the number of ego-coaches popping up particularly in Rugby and Rugby League would contradict this. So what is the motivation for taking on a role that can at times see them abused by players and parents alike, used as unpaid slaves by clubs (SPARC notes) and often have them forking out cash from their own pockets to make up fees and regularly double as taxi driver for kids who aren’t mobile or whose parents who aren’t motivated? Ego of course. Whether it be for ‘the-love-of-my-kid’, ‘the-passion-for-the-game’ or ‘I’m-a-better-than-Graham-Henry-coach’ it’s all about ego.

The thing is, we’re seeing more of the ‘I’m-a-better-than-Graham-Henry’ coach particularly in rugby and rugby league. According to McFadden they’re someone who over-coaches; someone who sends on the strongest players for the full duration of the game, ahead of boys with lesser skills. Often these sidelined-boys see a paltry 10 minutes of paddock time this inspite of rugby rules stating all juniors must play at least half a game. McFadden also reckons over-coaching coaches are usually found in the cities. He’s wrong of course, ego-coaches are everywhere, city and country, here and overseas according to East Coast Cam Kilgour a rugby development officer in Canterbury and Queensland. So why are these ego-coaches allowed to remain? It’s because they’re volunteers and sports of all types are desperate for coaches.
The ‘I’m-a-better-than-Graham-Henry’ ego-coach are allowed to flourish under the current volunteer environment. They’re given a captive audience – the kids and their parents, a clipboard that marks their position of authority and when you get 10 to 15 little tykes doing what they’re told (as best they can) what a ‘mana’ buzz that is.

All clubs must give their volunteers coaching support in the way of manuals and training clinics. But it’s not enough, in fact like the old adage says; a little bit of information can be a dangerous thing in the wrong hands. So what’s the answer? Are we staring down the barrel of paid coaches for juniors?

My two boys (inspite one of them being a league player), participated in the Pat Lam Rugby Academy in the July holiday break. The Academy was for 7 to17 year olds. Each day involved interactive coaching and one on one tuition. The coaches included the Auckland Blues Coach Pat Lam and several others who were obviously experienced in handling juniors and age restricted players. Several former All Blacks were on call, with the highlight for my boys - performing the haka with Buck Shelford. The Academy was a seven hour, week long experience. It cost us $110 (food not supplied). Money well spent I thought especially considering our 7 year-old was named Academy’s Most Outstanding Player. Even if our boy didn’t get the top prize, we still would have thought it money well spent because our kids were being taught good skills by professional coaches. I for one would pay for a good coach who just gets on with the job of coaching who has outputs to meet which includes developing age appropriate skills and techniques.

In fact part of our club fees should be given to pay for these coaches. This would mean coaches would have to undergo an interview process to ensure they have the right credentials as set by the NZRFU. Pay to coach would ensure good volunteers are paid while establishing a filtering system to minimise ego-coaches being let loose on the kids.

In the meanwhile we continue to endure ego-coach emails over analysing game plans and psycho-scrutinising of breakdowns. In the meanwhile like the rest of the parents I too shall mumble from the sideline behind a raised hand, ‘It’s only for the season, we’ll get a better coach next year, but for the grace of god it’s not me!”

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