DEVELOPMENT : NOT JUST A FOUR-LETTER WORD


Re-marco-able !
  Four years in the Charlie Hofmeyr 1st XV has seen Marco Manus
grow in both size and presence - plus he's scored 42 tries ! (photo: Gail Barnard)

The word “development” has unfortunately become something of a thinly-disguised euphemism used either to justify the presence of teams comprising players from formerly-disadvantaged communities at elite festivals or, more generally, to describe the upliftment of the game in such areas. However, in its purest sense, it has only positive connotations.

With this in mind, it has for some weeks been my intention to publish an article to balance out what may have been seen as my support for the inroads being made by professionalism into schoolboy rugby.

Several factors fortuitously intertwined themselves to force my hand this weekend.

The usual banter at the lunch-break in Milnerton High 1st XI’s game against The Settlers naturally centred on the impressive innings of the one Millies opener, who was approaching the century mark. The Millies coaches were thus rather surprised when I pointed out that it made no difference whatsoever to my enjoyment of the game (and the team as a whole) whether he got there or not.

Despite most of my tertiary education having the involved the study of Latin (and Rome), it was the fundamental belief of a Greek philosopher Heraclitus that has stuck with me the longest.

In a nutshell, he believed that everything in the universe is constantly changing. Simply put, you aren’t the same person now that you were when you started reading this article.

This has helped shape my outlook on sport in general and schoolboy rugby (and cricket) in particular. To my mind, the most important aspect of these sports is not who wins or loses, but the enormous and very rewarding pleasure one gets from watching individuals improve.

Their age alone means that children are naturally going to have the longest journey to come anywhere close to perfection in anything, be it sport or academic endeavour.

While this might frustrate the individual – or the overzealous parent on the touchline – it provides a fascinating opportunity for the neutral observer who is fortunate enough to be able to follow the progress of youngsters who are forever being shaped by their own determination and dedicated coaching.

Don’t knock this approach until you’ve tried it. I’ve watched more high school 1st XV games than any of you, at least over the last two years (140 odd Men of the Matches, which doesn’t include the TSRF games) and it certainly floats my boat.

But where does this tie in with an anti-pro approach ?

Well, the oldest high school in the country, SACS, steadfastly maintains a policy of having all its rugby sides coached by educators at the school.

One of the foremost reasons for this is surely headmaster Ken Ball’s conviction that the very people entrusted with guiding the learners’ quest for knowledge in the classroom are in an ideal position to shape their talents on the field. It stands to reason that, after the lads’ parents, they know their charges best.

Not only is this a glowing vote of confidence in a large group of excellent educators, but it also bestows on these gentlemen the rare privilege of being able to follow even more closely the development of the young men whose futures have been entrusted to them.

To many this insistence might seem little more than a hankering for the past when the minister, the schoolteacher and the member of parliament were the pillars of the community. Times have changed, they will argue, and we no longer live in a society which admires the style with which aims are realised; only how much can be achieved and how quickly. Even if you could be bothered to find the roses, no-one can afford the time to stop and smell them.

Before you condemn this approach, have a look at your – or any other school’s – mission statement. Every one of them will state that the institution aims to produce well-rounded citizens fully capable of acquitting themselves in the society in which they live or words to very much that effect.

SACS is simply adhering closely to the letter of (rather than contemptuously sidestepping around the spirit of) such an undertaking. The school is not prepared to take the risk of letting an outside coach cause them to deviate from its path, even if it means success is harder to come by.

If the coaches are inexperienced to start with, the appreciation of personal growth works both ways. In the quest for self-improvement the coach and his players feed off each other. At the end of the process, everyone is considerably richer for the experience.

It does take a brave man to stick to these principles in these increasingly professional times, in which the battle to stay ahead is all consuming.

Which is the cue to bring in the article in a national Sunday newspaper on 19 October 2014 claiming, with the hyperbole that is currently the unfortunate norm, that local schools rugby was in a state of crisis because three Port Elizabeth schools had decided not to play against a fourth as from next year.

Aware that calling into question the educational lessons gained by losing by demoralizing margins against the other school might be deemed insufficient grounds for such a decision, the increased possibility of physical injuries was also cited, a suggestion which hints at a whole other can of worms.

What is interesting is that the four schools – Alexander Road, Westering and Victoria Park, on the one hand, and Pearson, on the other – have been regular visitors to the TSRF up until recently and they were pretty much of a muchness until the last-mentioned appointed a director of rugby two years ago.

The Pearson side that attended the Wynberg Festival this year was neither bigger nor perceptibly better than either of their local opponents, getting thumped by Stellenberg and losing narrowly to Under-Achievers of the Year Bellville. Furthermore, mindful of their rising profile, they even declined the opportunity to play the visiting (WP 3rd tier) Milnerton side, quite possibly because the latter had had the temerity to beaten them a few years ago in Port Elizabeth.

Also in the Eastern Cape, Allan Miles, the accomplished Director of Rugby at St Andrew’s in Grahamstown, has opted to leave his post to join neighbours Graeme College. Is it not unreasonable to suggest that frustration at his own school choosing not to make its learners available for the EP Country Districts Craven Week side of which Miles was head coach was a bit too much ?

The moral and the connection ? Not everything runs smoothly, even if you have a director of rugby.?

Back to where we started. Four days short of four years since his very first 1st XI outing (a T20 game against Wynberg), the Millies opener got his century, his first for the team. What’s more he is set to rewrite the individual run-scoring record for the school’s top side. At first he took ages to nail down his place. Now everyone is apprehensive about how the side will fare without him.

Thanks for the journey, Branden, er, Boardwalk !

 



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