“The will to win is not nearly as important as the will to prepare to win”
– Bobby Knight (American Basketball coach)
WHOEVER pulls on a Scotland shirt, their will to win is 100 percent. This includes the players involved in the opening U20s men’s Six Nations match versus Wales last weekend. Also, those who played in the past few years’ men’s U20s side, whose results have been the cause of deep concern.
The quote can be applied to the strategic topic of how to handle domestically developed players who should play a significant role in the future successes of the Scottish men’s team. The long-term trend is against domestically developed players, as evidenced by a drop from 80 percent to 52 percent homegrown players in the 2011 to 2023 World Cup squads.
Last November, John McGuigan, the new Chair of Scottish Rugby, stated a strong will to have more Scottish domestically developed male players in future successful Glasgow/Edinburgh and Scotland teams, but does the organisation really have the will to achieve this?
Key questions to this are –
- Do they have the leadership expertise in this area to choose a strategy that will prepare young domestic players for the future in a way which will create competitive advantage for Scotland men in international competitions?
- Will they see this strategy through, as it will take three to four years before a real difference is evident at under-20s level and even longer for the senior team?
- Will the required resources be continually invested in this strategy despite the myriad of other financial demands on the organisation?
The Board, along with leading executives, will play the critical role in deciding where the organisation deploys its resources. The Performance Director position is a crucial appointment. There is already a significant amount of Rugby Union knowledge within the SRU, so does this Performance Director need to have a long background in the sport? I think the priority skills are strategic thinking and implementation experience in performance sport.
Then it is about ensuring that the resources for an effective and continuous strategy is strongly represented in senior executive/ Board discussions.
None of the current SRU Boards [the Custodian Board, the SRUL Board or the Club Rugby Board] contain any non-executives with sports performance experience. There is an array of other skills, but not one on a core activity for the SRU. I think this weakens the organisation’s ability to choose the right strategy and implement it.
Whether it be in the Performance Director role or on the Board, the SRU should utilise the performance knowledge developed in the UK during 15 years of sustained success in the Olympics/Paralympics. In this arena, strategies for success by sports over four to eight years need to be robust and are scrutinised by the investor, UK Sport. This includes talent development, as the goal is to prepare sports for sustained success, not just one group of athletes for one Olympics/Paralympics.
I am talking about people of the calibre of Chris Spice or David Faulkner. Spice is presently Performance Director at British Swimming and was Performance Director when England Rugby won the World cup in 2003. Faulkner was an Olympic gold medallist in hockey, who went on to build elite programmes in men and women hockey as Performance Director of England and Great Britain Hockey. His last role was with as Head of Performance for Women’s Professional Game and Pathways with the FA.
I don’t believe that Super Series would have passed the scrutiny of the aforementioned people in what it was proposed to achieve for talent development. Personally, I never saw how it could meet two distinct strategic outcomes – improve the club game and develop a much stronger talent pathway – at the same time.
Super Series was the major talent development strategy of the last five years and whilst it may be an improvement on before, that is not the key question to be asked about it. The talent development strategy needs to be benchmarked against international peers and be better than them. This is the strategic test that the Board should be setting themselves.
To achieve this, the SRU needs to establish effective full-time environments for the best young players from 17/18-years-old upwards. This status will enable them to fully exploit the critical elements to talent development that Sean Lineen highlighted recently – coaching, competition and conditioning.
Exposure to all three of these elements is critical. For many years, Scotland U20s have come up against opposition who are in these types of environments and the results provide evidence of how we are not giving our young players the optimal opportunity to compete.
Competition is the standout aspect. It needs to show players from a younger age the levels they need to aspire to, which are beyond Scotland’s borders. This needs to happen in environments led by coaches who are expert in talent development and using facilities to enable best possible conditioning.
Players should continue their education, including university, if desired. The two are not incompatible but need holistic management. Look at the success of athlete Laura Muir, who became one of the world’s top middle-distance runners whilst studying veterinary science at Glasgow University. In my own family, my niece and nephew are professional sportspeople and each have an honours degree.
There does need to be the avenue for the player who develops later than 18-years-old to become a professional player. Some may spend time playing for a club. However, I don’t see the club competition as having a core role in talent development.
I think there needs to be a strategic change as to who delivers this from 17/18 years onwards. In talent development, the SRU enjoys a monopoly. In other team sports, the professional clubs compete with one another for players, both financially and in the experience/environment they can provide to develop a player’s potential. This competition raises standards in all performance aspects, including facilities, sports science, medical care and welfare support.
The present monopoly in Scottish rugby union doesn’t encourage that competitive tension. Whilst there needs to be some financial controls, Glasgow and Edinburgh should be empowered to lead talent pathways from 17/18-year-olds upwards. Identifying the talented players from schools/clubs and representative pathways, employing them directly and being fully responsible for their development. The people leading talent development should be on the senior leadership executive team of each club, so that when resources are deployed, talent development is a priority.
These are changes, in my view, that demonstrate strong strategic intent towards the development of male domestic talent.
Performance sport is never an upwards linear journey of success for player, team or organisation. That’s why it is a test of will … in this case, to prepare domestic developed male players to be at the centre of future winning Scotland men’s teams.
Enjoyed this article? Quality journalism like ours is made possible by readers like you. If you value our in-depth coverage of Scottish rugby at all levels and want to see more, please consider supporting us with a subscription or donation. It helps us keep delivering the news you love. Thank you for being a part of The Offside Line community!