The story of an Open Men’s Representative side 2014–2016
Continuing from parts one and two, the story of the Ipswich Diggers men’s representative team of which I was head coach of between 2014 and 2016.
Avoiding ‘over coaching’
A golden rule I have always followed when coaching rep footy is to put a huge amount of faith in the players at your disposal. They are rep players for a reason and they have been selected because they have skills and abilities to bring to the table. So it’s my job to bring those skills to the fore.
I have also worked out over the years that I can teach everything I want to teach the players about how I want them to play the game in three sessions of maximum 90 minutes length each. So, 270 minutes in total.
One thing that you don’t know prior, though, is how quickly the players will adapt to what is being asked of them. In 2014 and 2015, we did six sessions to prepare over a three-week period. So basically the above plans for sessions doubled in length from three to six sessions. After the cycle of doing sessions one to three, as coaches we could use sessions four to six to zoom in on any areas in which we felt we were deficient or, alternatively, just go over them again for repetition purposes. In 2016, I decided to condense the whole thing into a week of four sessions but I planned for three of the sessions to last 120 minutes rather than 90. But in 2016, the players picked things up especially quickly, which meant I actually cancelled a planned session and told the players to stay at home and rest instead. BONUS!
I told the coaching staff we had to be clear and concise in our coaching, do lots of coaching ‘on the run’ and to limit and ‘chunk’ the information so we were focusing on doing only a few things but doing them exceptionally well. I also spoke with the coaches about what and how we corrected. We discussed how we wouldn’t be able to change the way a player caught, held or passed a football but we might be able to influence the angle of run, or how he engaged a defender. We also encouraged the players to remember what they could and communicate it constantly because ‘not everybody will remember everything, but everyone will remember something – so tell everyone else what you have remembered’.
Getting the boys together
It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book but there is nothing like getting the players together for some time to relax, over a nice meal and a beverage of their choice and as many beverages as they want. The IRL supplied it all free of charge to the players and in the three years, I have found if I treated the players like the adults they are then they acted like adults. What they did in these bonding sessions helped relax them but also did absolutely nothing to impact negatively on their performances or the Diggers’ reputation in the community. We structured the events so they were not at risk of being detrimental to performances.
Allowing home comforts
For tournaments in Ipswich I was offered accommodation in a hotel for our players. I respectfully refused it. I wanted the players in their own beds and in their own homes with their own families to maximise the home advantage. We also structured video and recovery sessions in late afternoons in order to allow players to spend time with their families in the morning and go to and do their daily chores if they needed to!
Without the unwavering support of the IRL executive committee, headed by chairman Jack Rhea, I wouldn’t have been able to do my job and neither would the staff around me. It is essential for any coach to know that he has the backing of his committee. Yes we got so close to winning in 2014 but 2015 was a horrible year for us and it would have been easy for Jack and the committee to blame the coaches and look elsewhere.
In 2014, we implemented a plan as outlined above and with it we came as close as ever to winning the trophy. It created a buzz again around the Diggers. On the back of that, Jack said I had the job as long as I wanted and I was happy to do it for the long term. Fast forward 12 months and what we considered to be a better and more refined version of our 2014 pre-tournament processes didn’t work. Not only did it not work, it went horrendously wrong, with our Diggers suffering a disappointing loss on day one and an absolute hammering on day two.
Immediately after that terrible loss to the Gold Coast, I went up to the chairman and operations manager of the IRL and immediately offered my resignation. I was told rather politely that it wouldn’t be accepted and to file a report on what I thought went wrong so things could be fixed. The IRL committee in that moment showed their support to myself and the staff and that is so important for any coaches.
In my report, I identified some key areas of breakdown around the Diggers concept that I felt were outside of my control and, in an attempt to come up with remedies, used these key areas as the basis for my recommendations for the future. Obviously that report is not for public consumption but it is fair to say that no stone was left unturned in getting the Diggers to the top.
So it wasn’t easy. Anything worth achieving rarely is.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org for your free programs.