MARK KEOHANE details how schools can build the most powerful and professional rugby management teams.
So many schools rugby teams do special things in a season. So many have players with X-factor qualities and so many simply have great stories to tell. But they never get told. It is assumed everyone knows, alternatively that no one really cares.
Be assured: Not everyone knows and someone will always care, be educated by the story, hopefully entertained and most definitely inspired.
The 2007 Springbok World Cup-winning coach Jake White, when hosting a series of courses aimed for high school coaches, asked me to speak about the value of story telling through the media, the effective use of social media, how to market the school’s 1st XV and also how to maximise use of resource to make the 1st XV more than the 15 players who get to start.
During these courses I spoke about my experience in the Springbok management and as a rugby writer covering Test rugby, Super Rugby, Currie Cup rugby and schools rugby – and the differences and similarities when working in South Africa, England and New Zealand. All three nations have a rich tradition and culture in schools rugby – and all three are seen as on field leaders when it comes to schools rugby.
South African schools’ Achilles heel is how little emphasis is put on telling the story of their season. Schools generally have Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, Instagram accounts and a YouTube channel.
The exception is the engaging telling of the story on these mediums through consistent content that focuses on the players, coaches and support staff that makes for a season. It should be the general rule, especially in a digital and social media environment that takes a school’s story global with the click of a button.
Schools rugby is massive in South Africa, in terms of support and interest. There is a strong old boy’s connection to results and who gets the Monday morning bragging rights.
There is a 100-year plus history of classic clashes and of traditional fixtures, aligned with a vibrant and very organised series of schools Easter festivals, tournaments and weekly schools schedule that starts in March and ends in September.
Schools coaches are among the most passionate you’ll find in the game. They do it because of their love of the sport. But their stories are seldom told. Ditto the players and those who are aligned with the full package of schools rugby.
The counter to my belief that each schools 1st XV should have the most potent of support teams was that the schools weren’t the Springboks and weren’t a professional international team. How to finance such a thing? It costs noting, by way of cash.
My counter was that the schools, by default, were gifted with the resource by way of students whose skill set were numerous. This is the template I suggested and it is my belief that it should be applied from the 1st XV down to the most junior (in pecking order) of the under 14s.
Schools have media technology as an option to pursue, in terms of service to the school or a subject. Each team should have a pupil who is the official photographer. There is bound to be one per grade with a passion for photography. Identity that person and formalise the effort with service reward.
Videography is a huge part of any professional team’s management and at schools level the videographer’s role is two fold. He/she films, edits and produces visual content around the team, be it on match day or in terms of profiles and events concerning the team. The videographer also cuts the footage and makes up the clips (at the coach’s request) for the visual analysis.
Find a student who is a fantastic story teller, loves language and enjoys the written word and the game. Make it part of that individual’s language projects, in which he or she can excel, and also add the incentive of service awards. Let them write the match reports, even if guided by the coach from technical aspect, and let them do the selling job on social media about their team/s.
Schools rugby is about good-news stories. Tell them. Get up to date Twitter feeds, vibrant and energetic interaction and engagement and encourage those aligned to the school and those with an interest in the schools rugby scene to retell the story.
For those schools who look for corporate investment to help financially, sponsors and investors want an association when there is interaction, engagement, the build of a community and where there is inspiring and consistent storytelling.
Involve those clever pupils with an understanding of alignment, angles, mathematics etc, and get them to work with players when it comes to appreciating support running lines, changing of attack (based on science as much as gut instinct). I could go on for a bit but you get the picture.
There are those pupils who have done basic first-aid courses and who want to pursue a medical career of some sort. Get them involved in the team as a medical support staff and scout among the pupils if there is a parent with a medical background who would assume the role of match-day doctor. If you don’t ask, you don’t know.
There are so many pupils who put corporates to shame with organisational and managerial skills. Again, take the responsibility away from teachers and identify pupils who can pull it all together in the guise of team manager. They are out there, in every grade and at every rugby school.
It takes a bit of initial effort but if the template is there for the 1st XV, it filters through every team and across all the sports.
Suddenly rugby is not just for those gifted with skills or size but it also encourages active participation from those with other skills that make for an imposing and impressive rugby team structure and set up.
Hopefully I’ve triggered a few ideas and hopefully some teams are already operating with this template-like support teams.
– Keohane is a former Springbok communications manager and multiple award-winning rugby writer