The story of an open men’s representative side 2014–2016 Continuing from Part One, the story of the Ipswich Diggers men’s representative team of which I was head xoach of between 2014 and 2016.
Getting (and keeping) the right ‘type’ of people ‘on the bus’ The bus in this instance is the Ipswich Diggers Express Service to Success! This is probably the single most important thing I had to do, make sure I had the right staff around me and in turn, we were going to pick the right players – but not only that, the right ‘type’ of player. By that I mean, the right players to do the job but also people with the right attitudes towards the Diggers. Players who didn’t miss training, players who were in good condition, players who were reliable, players who cared.
Staff wise, I went with the following people…..
Assistant coach – Josh Bretherton.
Josh (aka Bretho) was my assistant in my day job as well and he is technically an excellent coach. He is also very adept at editing and analysing game footage and this was to play a big part in our strategy. Myself and Josh had sports analysis software on our laptops and Josh often edited and sourced clips which we reviewed together. It is such a big job that we need both of us needed to do it but obviously, as head coach, my attention got taken elsewhere sometimes, so Josh just ploughed on through the footage. We also had the added bonus of Josh knowing how I wanted my training to look so I didn’t have to worry about ‘training up’ a new assistant coach.
I asked Josh to analyse the opposition weeks ahead of me, provide a report and then I compared it with my own analysis which I did nearer the time of our game against that particular opponent. He provided me with great detail and it is then up to me to decide how much of it I wanted the players to focus on. He was a key part of my off field team.
Conditioning – Peter Poole
This wasn’t as typical a ‘conditioning’ appointment as they tend to be. It was more about monitoring players, monitoring fluid loss, diet and injuries. ‘Pooley’ gave the players weights and fitness programs to follow in their own time, on top of their current club commitments. Like Bretho, Pooley was on my coaching staff in my day job too so it made a life a whole lot easier. Pooley did this job for the 2014 and 2015 campaigns with a family bereavement sadly affecting his involvement in 2016. Pooley is an absolute guru when it comes to health and wellbeing of we humans and he is the most organised man I have ever met!
Various – Shane Harris
Shane was the youngest member of our staff and was a trainee with us during the day in 2014. We brought him into the Diggers set-up as an extra selector and to observe the training and game day structure. By 2015 he was a fully fledged member of staff with the Diggers as a third assistant coach/manager/conditioner. We felt we needed that extra pair of hands involved. By 2016 he stepped up to assistant coach due to Pooley no longer being involved. It’s fair to say that in 2014, Shane was still trying to work out what he wanted to be with regards to footy; he is one of those guys who is an excellent coach but also excellent in the ‘trainer’ role and he can actually referee quite well too! By 2015 he was clearly morphing into an assistant coach as his knowledge of the technical nuances of the game was growing by the day. I also noticed he was studying coaching methods a lot in his own time so it was is a pleasure to help him on this journey. He is now the assistant coach of Ipswich Jets Mal Meninga Cup side and assisted me with Poland.
Admin Manager(s) – Byron Whitehead and Joe Colthorpe
Byron was the Treasurer of the IRL and he was a great link between the IRL offices and the group. He also cooked up great feeds for the players and looked after all off-field needs. The players loved him and referred to him as “uncle”. Joe has been involved in some kind of capacity with the Diggers for many decades. He was my link to the history of the concept and it was for someone like him that I wanted to see us succeed. He’d never seen them win and really wanted to. He also keeps statistics on everything. We had many moments looking for historical facts about the Diggers – anything to help preparation.
Revamping Selection Processes
Round one of the IRL competition back then was always played at the grand final venue, the North Ipswich Reserve, meaning you can get to see every team in one sitting! Our coaching staff was given an executive box and supplied with food and (non-alcoholic) drink to help get us through the day. In the box, myself, Bretho, Pooley and Shane watched the games intently. The brief I gave all watchers was: if somebody showed anything, write them down as a possible and we will study them in more depth. And when I say ‘in depth’ – I mean it! I think this was the first ‘most important’ or game changing thing we implemented.
The video man Gordon was giving us a live feed of the game into our laptops and Josh was ‘tagging’ the footage of the players we identified and starting to build files on them. So as soon as one game finished, Josh or myself would get to work on editing it on our laptops. This always left two or three watchers to keep watching live. We probably ended up with a shortlist of about 50 players at the end of round one each year we did this job. This short list was narrowed down over the first five rounds of the IRL and we also watched the Ipswich Jets reserve grade side each year to find their best players too.
The edited files allowed us to just watch the players in isolation which makes it a lot easier to build up a profile of that player. With the edited files, myself and the coaches compiled a draft 17, a reserve 17 and a third 17. I can promise you that, each year we have done this job, we have never ended up with our preferred original 17! There are always injuries and players who aren’t interested or available for very genuine reasons. In 2014, our squad ended up mostly from our reserve 17, 2015 it is fair to say we went into a 5th or 6th draft with close to 32 players unavailable but 2016 was a smoother year and we ended up with the majority coming from our first choice 17.
Now for the second ‘most important’ or game changing thing we implemented. Who we selected, how and why.
The competition the Diggers play in is a three-day round robin, with players having to perform twice in either a 24 or 48 hour period. I felt that as a result, we needed mobile men – men who were fit enough but also young enough to recover for that second game. With a thought that the Diggers needed a ‘new broom’ due to some attitudes, this meant it was an opportunity to make our squad younger overall. I also felt a mobile brand of football would be easier to implement based on the players available and the tournament style format of footy. I felt I wanted to let the opposition chase us around rather than picking big men to plough through their big men, and getting bruised up themselves in the process.
I’ve always had a rule about training in all my coaching years. If you don’t or can’t train, but don’t have the courtesy to let the coaching staff know via a message of some sort, then straight away I’ll just assume you don’t care and give your spot to someone else. If there’s a genuine issue such as a work commitment then please let us know and we will work around it.
Also when it came to training, the players were told they had to talk. This wasn’t an option. I wasn’t encouraging them to talk or asking them to talk, it was a coaching order and something expected of a Digger as a bare minimum. If the talk was not sufficient, they would be told. In three years I never had to remind the players to talk after that initial chat.
My third non-negotiable was, as of our first training session, everyone was a brother. Again, there was no ‘phasing in’ or ‘getting to know you’ sessions. It was a coaching order, not a discussion point. Any club differences had to be put to one side straight away.
These may sound like quite harsh approaches but I found the players appreciated these things being addressed and brought up straight away and being diluted as a potential issue from the off. After the difficulty of the previous years I felt this was a necessary step.
Lee Addison is the head of performance for Spain Rugby League. You can find him at rugbyleaguecoach.com.au. He is also offering FREE four-week training programs for Coaches and Players to help recover from COVID. Please visit the ‘Rugby League Coach’ YouTube page, click subscribe and send a screenshot to email@example.com for your free programs.