Selection in rugby teams in tough. Especially when you are dealing with 12-year-olds.
In England, the RFU says that all registered players must have at least half a game in any scheduled match. Sounds totally fair and right on the surface, but what about situations when you have more than twice the players required to field a team? What about those players who are new to the game and are at risk of getting hurt? What about those players who are there at the will of an over-enthusiastic parent? The need to fulfil a rule on participation may be counter-productive in the long run if nervous players are forced to be involved.
And what of the players who are naturally competitive? Who want to win and have the means to achieve victory? Must they miss out just to allow a less willing and/or able child to play? And does the rule still apply to those who only turn up for games or when it suits them? Apparently so according to the RFU. And this is even before we consider the merits of the players themselves, the positions they might play and where they can be effective.
Such is my dilemma.
On paper it sounds easy. Spilt them in half and let them all run around. It is fair that way and if it is fair, then everyone is happy. Well, no, frankly. These are people on the verge of becoming young adults – emotions and hormones are running high. Moreover, this is not the way the world works and it seems foolish to try and prepare children to become good young adults by having a quota they need to fulfil, rather than understanding their needs and capabilities and making judgements accordingly. And before you ask who am I to judge, they call me Coach.
It is the responsibility of the coach at junior level to ensure players are kept safe and enjoy themselves. It is not about winning. It is about teaching. As I constantly remind my players, if we do the right things on the pitch, the scoreboard will take care of itself. To that end, it is important to ensure the players know the right things. If they don’t, I am setting them up to fail. Of course everyone learns more in a live environment, but what sense is there in putting a child, still developing physically and emotionally, into an environment where they will potentially get hurt (physical) or embarrassed (emotional) for longer than necessary.
And then I think of the parents.
The people who have entrusted the club to teach their child to play and to be given an opportunity to do so. Every parent should want the best for their child, and this becomes an opportunity find out if they are good. They have also paid, transported, stood on the side-line in all weather, to watch their child get involved. No-one wants to be the cause arguments and as these people are only familiar in this environment, how do we know how they might react. We like to think they will understand that we have their child’s safety and best interests at heart, but they also might start quoting the rule book.
What one is left with is a balancing act. We have to trust ourselves to make the right decision, to have the awkward conversation, to be a nurturing arm, as well as to motivate and have the players at their best so they all finish proud of their efforts however much they play. We cannot always get it right and please all of the people, all of the time. So what do you do if it feels like you are stuck between a rock and a hard place?
I once read that religion was doing what you were told no matter what is right, and morality was doing what was right, no matter what you were told. A healthy dose of this advice helps in the selection process.
We all have to make difficult choices and the hardest ones to make are when you know someone you care about is going to be worse off. Consider the rules and obey them where you must, but if you know the rules can hurt someone, it might be an idea to bend them.