January 26, 2016

Elements to Recruiting at Club Level

Written by:
Dan Ritchie


What strategies do coaches use to entice a player to join their organisation?
What characteristics should a player possess in order to make them an asset to your team?
How do you build a team on with little/no budget?

In any sport at any level, the recruitment of players and coaching/support staff has a large impact on the results and running of the team. There are many factors to consider when recruiting a prospective player to your team/club, for this piece I will predominantly focus on recruitment at an amateur/semi-professional level. The majority of the time the prospective player is not always looking to move, which in turn means it is up to the club to ‘sell the dream’ in order to convince the player to join the club. Coaches tend to use a range of methods to convince a player that their club is the right move for them.

In a semi-professional environment the most common practise is coaches offering various amounts of money which are often labelled as match fees, retainers, petrol money or expenses to the player. When offering money; particularly if your budget is not large; you need to consider what you are getting by investing this money into a player or group of players. I’m not simply referring to the on field ability of the player, I’m looking holistically at how the player can contribute on a larger scale to the club.

Will they be the person who hangs around after training chatting away with his team mates, or have a few post-match lemonades with everyone in the clubhouse? Are they an experienced player who can mentor younger squad members? Will they help coach the juniors in the club, who idolise the first team players? When there is a working bee at the club, will they turn up with a shovel and help repair the fields or remove the snow from the field so the game can be played with all the other club veterans? Are they going to turn up to club events and socialise with the battler from the third team who just wants someone from the first team to give him the time of day?

Why all these questions you may ask? Without answering yes to almost all of the above questions, we end up creating a mercenary or ‘hand-out’ culture, where it is all take and no give. Has the money spent on recruiting a particular player improved the results, atmosphere, comradery or feeling within the club? In any environment be it work or sport, it is important to immerse yourself amongst your new colleagues, failing to do so you risk ostracising yourself from the group and most likely will not enjoy your time there. I have seen first-hand, players brought into a club and contribute nothing outside of training two nights a week and playing 80 minutes on a Saturday. This has resulted in poor performance and a sense of resentment from other players towards the player being paid.

On the contrary, I have also seen the benefit of recruiting players who are wonderful ambassadors for their club who socialise with all members of the club, coach the juniors, work behind the bar and help the club out in every way possible. Often Rugby clubs will recruit players from overseas; the ones who have the best time are the ones I just described. They are the players that club stalwarts remember as legends of the place, not necessarily for what they did on the field, but more importantly; what they were like off the field.

The other common recruitment strategy is to recruit players who stand to gain an opportunity they may not be receiving at their existing club. Players who may be able to cement a first team starting spot or players fresh out of school are the two most common types who fall into this category.

The existing club player trying to establish himself in a first team is a coach’s dream, as they feel they have a point to prove and simply giving them an opportunity to earn their spot is payment enough. These players will work their backsides off in order to earn that spot.

School leavers however, can be slightly more difficult. If the school player has tasted some success in either winning a premiership or gaining substantial representative honours (E.g. Australian Schoolboys); there tends to be a sense of entitlement from their end. Instead of a ‘what can I do to help the club?’ mentality; they tend to feel they have a right to say ‘what can the club do for me?’

School leavers often attempt to ‘shop’ themselves around for the club that offers the most incentive, or in some cases it’s the parents who shop their children around. In my experience the most successful players post school have been the ones who have played at a club because it is their local club or they have sensed an opportunity to play at a higher level that they may not have received at another club.

In Australian rugby each year, there is an endless production line of talented schoolboy players who dominate representative selection. When these players finish school they look to continue their rugby through colts rugby (U19 or U20 depending on the state) or for the select few; Premier Rugby straight out of school. Many colts’ coaches look to build their program around these marquee players.

Generally the clubs aligned with a university are the most successful at recruiting these type of players as they are able to provide assistance with a players university tuition fees in the form of a scholarship. What player would turn an opportunity like that down? Other clubs can compete by offering apprenticeships or job opportunities through members of the club, which can prove quite successful. The reality of club rugby however; is that an amateur or semi-professional outfit can’t afford to pay everyone’s university tuition, nor find everyone a job/apprenticeship, so what are the alternatives for your recruitment strategy?


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