Aug. 10, 2011 From Confusion to Renewal – USA vs Raptors

From Confusion to Renewal – Aug.10, 2011

Today, August 10th, 2011, was the first of Nigel Melville’s 3 day course for rugby coaches. Melville is the current head of USA Rugby and the former coach of English premier sides Wasps and Gloucester. For four hours Melville cruised through several theories on aspects of developing a winning team sprinkling his PowerPoint presentation with tales from his career in English professional rugby. Although entertaining the information and theories seemed at times out of touch with the reality of USA high school, college, and club coaches who are dealing with teams composed of players who often have very little or no rugby experience in places where there is little or no support for rugby, an example being Melville’s insights on motivating players. The theoretical structure that was used to enumerate factors involved in individual motivation were broken into two groups: hygiene factors and motivators. Although not a lot of time was spent on this, Melville spent a few minutes highlighting that how much a player gets paid is a hygiene factor not  a motivator. I seriously doubt if there was a coach in the room who had ever had a player paid anything to play. The idea of payment not being motivating is interesting and many of the factors listed were relevant for the average USA coach, but in my opinion not enough effort was put into thinking through how the application of many of the theories would be very different for a USA coach than for a English premier team coach.

When talking about how teams change Melville described his theory of the “Change House” which involves a team cycling through the  “rooms” of contentment, denial, confusion, and renewal. He used England’s 2003 World Cup winning side as an example of a team that falls into the trap of resting in the contentment stage describing the moments when they returned to England to open top bus rides through the streets of London while hundreds of thousands of fans cheered and the Queen awarded every player regardless of if he played a minute an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) as the moment the team collapsed. He suggested that then English coach Clive Woodward should have sacked most of the team and started a renewal l with fresh new players. England certainly recovered, though, and were in the World Cup  final match against South Africa four years later and have a strong side going into this year’s World Cup. The USA continues to struggle to qualify for the World Cup every four years (failing to qualify in 1995) and has won only 2 (both against Japan) of their 17 World Cup matches. When asked what room the current USA side is in, Melville replied, “Renewal”, using a belief that the team is young and developing as evidence of this and discounting current poor performances in the Churchill Cup as being caused by using mostly domestic based players. Although  his criticisms of the USA’s very recent loss to Canada because of failure to hold on to a lead going into half and giving away a game losing try at the end of a match are indicative of a team in the “confusion” room, he felt these were issues that were being addressed and the team was moving in the right direction.

The day culminated with the USA XV playing the Glendale Raptors in the lovely Infinity Park stadium. Many of the USA XV will be on the plane to New Zealand in a couple of weeks, but they started out having considerable trouble with the Raptors, the 2011 National Division 1 Champs. The half time score was 19-10 in favor of USA, and it definitely looked like if this was a side representative of what the USA will be sending to the World Cup the Eagles were in denial about not being in the confusion room. The Raptors on several occasions kept the Eagles out of the try zone through multiple phases of play from less than 5 meters out. At the 58th minute USA winger Zach Test scored a try which pushed the score to 34-10 and the flood gates opened. The USA fly half (Nese Malifa who is a Raptor club player in season) began to set-up deeper giving outside backs more time to move the ball wider. Four excellent tries came quickly with winger Colin Hawley scoring 3 of them. (Hawley also scored the USA’s first try of the match.) The final score was 58-10. Hopefully the USA will hold on to what happened at the 58th minute moment of renewal as they move into another match with Canada on Saturday and on to the World Cup.

For Alex Goff’s report of the match go to:

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