Has schoolboy rugby in South Africa lost the plot?
It has all become about who has the biggest budget to spend. I know that none of this is new and that most people who come across this post will say that there is nothing wrong with it. Let me explain to you why everything about it is wrong.
In a recent interview with Eddie Jones on the High Performance Podcast he mentioned what the problem was with schoolboy rugby coaching. “The problem with rugby coaching now is that players are being taught be ex-players and not teachers” (Jones, 2021).
There is a huge misunderstanding of the actual role of coaching, especially at a schoolboy level. Teaching is a fundamental tenant of coaching. As a teacher you need to have the welfare of the kids in mind. “It’s a fundamental floor in education, kids need to be taught and don’t need to be coached at an early age” (Jones, 2021).
The connection that you need to make with a player is important. Teachers know how to make these connections. These connections can be lost when you start forcing schoolboys into a high performance environment.
The fixed mind-set approach to the schoolboy game is our greatest limitation.
This mind-set creates the perception that the only way a 1st XV can achieve results is to ‘buy’ players. The recent debacle of overage players being played in KZN proves this point.
This has resulted in certain school’s no longer willing to play each other. The values that our schools were founded upon have been lost. I made a recent post on the Parent Trap where I referred to the ‘obsessed’ parent.
Parents and supporters have truly become obsessed. No teacher/coach is ever good enough to coach their child. Schools are being forced to continually search for someone from the outside.
Any experienced coach will know that success and failure is a cycle that can’t be changed. You just don’t have the legendary coaches like a Hans Coetzee (Monument), James “Skonk” Nicholson (Maritzburg College), Basil Bay (Bishops) and Kevin Taylor (Selborne) etc. being associated with a particular school.
“Many schools will argue that it’s their biggest marketing tool and when the 1st XV is performing well, the school and boarding establishment are full. Whoever is doing that should not be allowed near kids, and for that matter a rugby field, as it is a part of a bigger problem where the game in our country is dying because of what’s happening at school level” (Stefan Terblanche, 2019).
Terblanche suggests that this is part of the reason for the collapse of the club system in the country.
Schools continue to disguise their bursary programs as giving a better opportunity to the underprivileged player. You only ever hear of their success stories. However, there are many boys who don’t ever succeed.
If they don’t find a playing opportunity beyond school they end up in an even worse situation.
My heart truly bleeds for these boys who literally have nothing after they have been spat out by the school system. The high performance model or approach that has been adopted by many schools often does not cater for them academically and it can end up having an adverse effect on their academic performance in the classroom. You even hear of schools recommending that they repeat an academic year.
This gives the player an extra year to play for their 1st XV. Some schools even use an extra enrichment year to recruit 1st XV players.
Players are being treated like commodities and parents have begun trading their son’s to the highest bidder. Too many players are ending up in two or more high schools. It has really become a sad state of affairs. It is disheartening to witness the level that people are willing to go.
Selling fake promises, luring kids to their schools. Realistically the chances of a player ever really making it are less than 2% according to studies. “Only, 1 in 5 players who play in the u13 Craven Week are selected 5 years later to play at the u18 Craven Week” (Durand, 2011).
With reference to playing U13 Craven Week, “the dropout rate from there on becomes even steeper, with only 0.02% (1 in 6 102 players) of players selected for the national u18 week going on to play at the highest level for the Springboks” (Durand, 2016). The chance of your son becoming a Springbok is slim. I hope that all parents read that again. In another frightening statistic, 95% of school leavers stop playing the game altogether.
Where does the funding come from? Schools will eventually not be able to make their own appointments when it comes to coaching staff, let alone giving the coach the respect to select his own team.
Blackmail and interference will soon become the new norm in the schoolboy game. The obsession of getting better results will soon become the exact reason why teams underperform.
“Rugby can ill-afford to lose any players and supporters, and when this happens at primary school level we rip out the heart, ethos and everything the game stands for, never to be returned or recovered” (Terblanche, 2020).
The authority and respect for the schoolboy coach is in danger of being lost forever. The player’s interest should always be the first priority. “We trying to turn high school teams into high performance teams, where they should be just development teams” (Jones, 2021).
In a previous post called Will my son make it? I address a number of these concerns. As schoolboy coaches, are we missing the point? According to the former Springbok coach, Allister Coetzee we are.
He was quoted in saying that“The first thing that must be taken away from U-13 Craven week is the scoreboard.” This highlights the importance of skill development and not just the result. It is our job to develop talent and to create a future pathway for our players to make a profession out of the sport. We often place too much emphasis on winning in the immediate term.
If we have the players best interests at heart, winning should not always be our first priority. The development of the player should be at the centre of everything that we do.
This is unfortunately lost when we start to worry too much about only winning. Many people misunderstood me when I was quoted in an article written by SA Rugby Mag a couple of years ago called SA schools rugby too results driven. People who know me, know that I am very competitive and that I don’t take losing well.
Everything you try and do as a coach is to ensure that your team wins. However, it is not winning at all costs. “The currency in coaching is winning and the currency in education is building the child up” (Jones, 2021).
Retired players are on the prowl desperately looking for positions in schools. It is sad to hear about what extent these guys are willing to go to get the top rugby job in a school. They are never around for very long and at the first opportunity will leave to pursue professional coaching careers (if they are lucky).
This impacts heavily on the continuity within the schoolboy system. A successful environment cannot be created when there is a high turnover rate. This is not what should have become of the game which we so love and are passionate about.
The great Doc Craven certainly would not be impressed with what has become of the game. “Before it’s too late, people need to take responsibility so that we can once and for all remove those who are trying to damage our beautiful game” (Terblanche, 2020). Schools need to push back and take control of the situation.
The future of the game cannot afford to be captured at a schoolboy level.
This article was written by Allan Miles who is the Head of Rugby (2016-2021) and Head Coach (2017-2020) of Grey High School. He has also coached the First XV's of Graeme College, Selborne College and St Andrew's College. The article was first published on his personal blog - https://coachtalk.wordpress.com/ and re-published here with permission by the author.
Coetzee: Scrap scoreboard in junior rugby. Lloyd Burnard. September 2016. http://m.sport24.co.za/sport24/Rugby/Springboks/coetzee-scrap-scoreboard-in-junior-rugby-20161021
Durandt, J. et al., 2011. Rugby-playing history at the national U13 level and subsequent participation at the national U16 and U18 rugby tournaments. South African Journal of Sports Medicine, 23(4).
Durandt, J. 2016. Early- vs. Late Specialization. SSISA Wellness and Fitness Convention
Jack, D. 2018. SA Schools rugby too results driven. https://www.sarugbymag.co.za/sa-schools-too-results-driven/
Tee, J. 2021. Do Late Developers Really Have a Disadvantage? https://saschoolsports.co.za/do-late-developers-really-have-a-disadvantage/
Terblanche, S. 2020. Age of destruction. https://www.sarugbymag.co.za/age-of-destruction/
Terblanche, S. 2020. Schoolboy rugby losing fun factor. https://www.sarugbymag.co.za/schoolboy-rugby-losing-fun-factor/
The High Performance Podcast. Series Four. Eddie Jones. 14 February 2021. https://www.thehighperformancepodcast.com/episodes/eddiejones