Winning Ugly – a Learning Experience
Yesterday the rugby team I coach were playing the bottom club from the adjoining geographical league and they should have strolled through the game to be honest. Generally, the pre-match prep was good as was the first ten minutes of the game – and after twelve minutes gone they took a 3-0 lead with a penalty.
Then their game began to go very flat – no patterns of play and some very thin tackling on the opposition which led to them almost scoring on several occasions.
Then – on about 25 minutes the referee got injured and there was about a 15 minute break whilst things were sorted with a replacement. From the restart my side were not just flat but shapeless and without backbone, nay almost without a skeleton at all. Eventually half time came, but not after the opposition had drawn level at 3-3.
With such a young and inexperienced team, there is a real danger that once having gone psychologically off the boil (or defocused in a slightly better vernacular), then it is very difficult (a) for individuals to get it back and (b) for the team to function once again as a collective. Things usually degenerate into everyone thinking “well everyone else has lost it so it’s down to me – and me alone – to put it right.” And in a 15 man team game, one (no matter how brilliant) cannot overcome even five of the opposition let alone all of them.
That crucial half time talk….
So – the players tottered into the half time break expecting to be harangued, vilified and brutally cajoled, because it’s the way we tend to do things when we are trying to get people to “snap out of it!” isn’t it? But then all of a sudden (naturally) we would be back in negative phrases territory such as (a) reminding everyone of all the bad stuff they have been doing and (b) the damning and ignominious consequences of their losing to an inferior side, etc. There was a chunk of this, to be fair – however fortunately I had a minute available to guide them to safe and positively stimulating waters – by using the calmly motivating and recent memories of the changing room mood just before kick off. I invited them to float back and recall how they all felt focussed and motivated and properly fired up.
I’m happy to report it did the business for them all, and within 20 minutes we were winning comfortably after 3 good and varied tries. Plus we added one more for good measure to give us a “half decent” finishing 25-8 scoreline.
Summing up in the after-match chat, the skipper reminded everyone that they did just enough to beat a side they should have scored a lot more against. The players, he said, needed to work a lot harder in the upcoming games or else X would happen. My comments were more complimentary in that they had succeeded in overcoming themselves and how they had been reacting to (a) going flat and (b) the very huge distraction of a long delay while the referee was replaced after injury. It’s not an easy task to change the course of your own game, and in learning terms it was a good experience for everyone – by seeing that there ARE ways of dealing with things calmly and positively by using very simple strategies.
Putting it succinctly, they won Ugly – and as such learnt more about themselves than by walloping the opposition by over 50 points.