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I have recently been appointed as the head coach for the Great Britain Swans; our national women's representative Australian Rules football team. I can't wait to get started!
Being a minority sport we don't always have the access to the players that we would like (we operate a summer season to try and avoid football/rugby etc seasons) so I am wondering if anyone has any experience of running open talent ID days or combine testing in their sports to try and encourage elite sports people from other sports to come and try something different?
I feel your pain. While our sport (American football) is growing it is still very much the minority and there is the constant issue that people will not have played it before. Alongside that, there is still - even if you try to avoid clashing the seasons - the lure of those mainstream sports, typically rugby that make it difficult to recruit.
While I haven't done this fully at an elite level, when I am putting together a try out day I look for a few things.
1) I try to avoid doing stereotypical combine related stuff. So for our sport that would be things like the 40yd dash, 3 cone shuttle, broad jump etc...Doesn't really tell us anything we could not have used our eyes to gauge. The guy that looks like he exercises all the time is faster than the guy who looks like he is trying to join a club to get fit. That is time wasted, and unless they are really into metrics and working out the potential players are not really going to get anything out of it either.
2) Properly understand your purpose in the event. This will change as the sport/team grows. Right now, I suspect that you are open to anyone trying out in order to try and grow the sport. When you are fully established and are in a position to be fully selecting players to join the squad then it would be different. But right now, this is about retention. The event therefore has to be one that gives maximum enjoyment to the potential player and makes them want to come back for more. So full on drills, I would again caution against. To clarify, I have no real issue with drills per se but rather don't be trying to do one that works a particular fundamental skill but rather something that is more game like to see how they might best fit into different aspects of the game. I will admit I am not as fully clued up on the Ozzie rules as I should be - considering two of my female players just represented Wales! - but in American Football there are very specific positions that require very different body types and skill sets. The drills run in these allow us to see players in those environments and allow us to make an evaluation of potential whilst they are running around having fun.
3) Understand where you might recruit from and speak to them in that language. So our biggest pool of potential players is Rugby. It is an ideal recruiting ground for us as a) they are used to contact and b) there are lots of cross overs. So while they are going around the stations, I will be talking to them about what they are doing within a rugby context - i.e. trying to get them to see the positions in American Football in rugby terms. For me this lessens some of the unknown and allows them to play a bit freer. For example, the obvious one is a winger in rugby as a cross over to Wide Receiver/Corner. Both are used to being on the outside of the field. Both are used to mentally being the one that gets the ball to score. They are used to operating in space. For a Centre, I might ask if they preferred being a ball carrying centre or a tackling centre. Depending on the answer might send them to Running Back or Linebacker. It aint a perfect science, but it allows a conversation to be started in a language that the person can relate to. Too often we can get caught up in our own sports terminology. To us it is second nature, but to an outsider it is meaningless and can create an unnecessary barrier.
4) Cherry pick your existing players into particular roles on the day. Know which of your players are really good at talking and stick them with a group. When we ran ours, we split our current players into groups. One group was distributed around the rookies and they went with them the whole session, constantly talking to them and helping them to understand what was going on as well as just generally chat to them and start a friendship up. Others were then associated with specific stations. They would help with demonstrations - or lead a drill depending on who it was. One of the things that I was very keen to do in mine was to have this involvement of the players and to really try to emphasise that there wasn't any clique in the squad - that everyone was open and welcoming. Again, all designed around the notion that we needed to retain as many as possible at this stage.
5) Try not to coach too much. Coaching will come later. This is just to evaluate what you have and to try and retain the ones that you want. If you can, try to stay out of the delivery of any element so that you can float around. Maybe a quiet word with someone about a little point to see how they react but aside from that, coach just enough to get them to do what you need them to do, on the basis that they will likely be starting with no knowledge of the game. So just basics to be safe.
6) Get as much of a game as you can. But avoid your current players getting too involved. You know what they can do. They just fill in the blanks so to speak.
Hope that helps a little. No real specifics, more about things to think about. Happy to talk more if you need anything else
Be interesting to know how Rugby 7s recruit from Rugby 15...or if they do? Do they have specifics that they look for in physical tests or skill tests? Are some players better suited to rugby 7s than 15 version of game.
From a non Rugby coach the 7s teams seem pretty successful in having highly skilled performers and athletes.
I think you have an interesting role Ian and wish you luck
There are some really thought-provoking points here Simon, thanks very much. I particularly like the point that we can clearly identify people's physical attributes fairly easily as they go about other exercises and drills. Thanks very much.
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