What SACS Rugby has meant to me – Barry van Selm
Coaching is a really enjoyable aspect of being a teacher. At the end of the school day at SACS, we get to run onto the fields in arguably one the most scenic setting in South Africa to coach a sport we love. I have really enjoyed meeting the various parents, boys and other coaches, be it at SACS or other schools over the years. I can hardly sleep on Friday nights before games, especially derby games. At home games, I am on the fields at 6am to check everything is just right for the day ahead. Here I meet a passionate band of parents who run the SACS Percy Montgomery Foundation. Over a cup of coffee, the banter has started for the day……too lovely.
At SACS, all the head coaches of teams are teachers at SACS. We then compliment them with one or two assistant coaches. But, the teacher is there to instill an educational value when coaching the team. He will need to guide the assistant coaches at times and hopefully manage everyone on a Saturday morning when the games get tense. When I started coaching, I was certainly more vocal, but one day I took a step back and decided the let the boys play and make decisions for themselves on game day. Sometimes this is difficult and I still on occasions shout encouragement at the boys, especially when the “warrior” needs to come out. We see coaches these days getting far too involved during the game at school level. I certainly blame these rankings of school sides for a lot of this over-competitiveness. Coaching teenagers at different ages had also taught me a lot. U15 is definitely the most challenging. These boys are no longer the youngsters of the school, their hormones are either confused or in over-drive and the parents are still very vocal from the sidelines and from the “car-park” in terms of what they think should be coached or which players should be selected.
U14 is a fantastic age group to coach. It is nice to work off a clean slate as it were. This is because you don’t know them really when they arrive at High School and your first selections are based on what you see during the first few weeks of practice with little game time to really test the players. Here is where you can see the character of the youngsters emerging. Some start off in the U14C after your original selection, but don’t give up as they want to prove you wrong. They eventually are selected for you through sheer determination. Others make the A side, much to the surprise of their grade, but you selected them, so you give them a chance. Perhaps they weren’t as ready for A team as you thought and you have to drop them. Again, not a great coaching experience.
I have watched many school boy rugby games and absolutely love it. This is pure rugby. You coach them skills, game plans and tactics, but they are boys and sometimes like to express themselves. When it works out well, the coaches are happy, but are in complete despair when for example the lock chips the ball straight into an oppositions hands for him to go score the winning try in the final seconds. That is school boy rugby and we should celebrate the fact that our boys are out there playing for themselves and their school. Rugby is so much more than just a game to keep the boys occupied two or three afternoons a week. I have learnt so much from coaching this sport. It certainly makes you have a better relationship with the boys as a teacher, which you take into the classroom. The boys see a different side of you too and also seem to react in a more positive manner towards you in the classroom.
They are taught about the true meaning of team work, respecting decisions and what is means to rely on each other. They are taught to handle disappointment and to push ones body and mind to places they have not been before.
The International Rugby Board (the governing body for rugby around the world) charter states:
“Rugby owes much of its appeal to the fact that it is played both to the letter and within the spirit of the Laws. The responsibility for ensuring this practice lies not with one individual — it involves coaches, captains, players and referees. It is through discipline, control and mutual respect that the spirit of the game flourishes and, in the context of a game as physically challenging as rugby, these are the qualities which forge the fellowship and sense of fair play so essential to the game’s ongoing success and survival. Rugby is valued as a sport for men and women, boys and girls. It builds teamwork, understanding, co-operation and respect for fellow athletes… It is because of, not despite, rugby’s intensely physical and athletic characteristics that such great camaraderie exists before and after matches.”
The part of coaching I have most enjoyed in recent years is the teamwork among the coaches at SACS. We have worked towards a strategy to improve the rugby at SACS. This had taken a few years to develop, but the boys have reacted positively to this “game plan”. I have learnt an incredible amount from Rowan Belchers of Lockstep, David Williams, Graeme Wepener and Nic Maurer (all except Graeme pictured left). We have sent numerous coaches on the Investec Rugby Academy, funded through the Percy Montgomery Rugby Foundation. Our 1stXV coach and U16a coach attended Bath Rugby Club when Gary Gold was head coach there and spent a week learning about how we can take SACS Rugby to the next level. They then imparted this knowledge on the rest of the coaches at our annual season review meetings and coaches meetings. Rowan Belcher’s has worked with all the coaches, but more recently with the core coaches in developing SACS Rugby. The professional development for all of us at SACS Rugby has been a wonderful learning curve and I am even more excited about what we are still wanting to achieve.
The journey over the past 6 years has been a steep learning curve and there are many aspects to the success of SACS Rugby. Coaching has certainly played its part, but the amount of different people involved behind the scenes makes a lot of this possible. We have used a fair amount of intellectual capital at our disposal and roped in the knowledge and advice of the SACS community. All the while we are meeting people and really engaging them about how to improve our rugby and our coaching. The SACS Percy Montgomery Rugby Foundation have been a large contributing factor in allowing us to attend these coaching courses, get assistant coaches in, but also run certain social events. These not only raise money for SACS Rugby, but more importantly create awareness about how we are improving our rugby. One only has look below to see this fantastic lineup at our SACS Rugby Legends Evening.
From left to right: Howie Khan, Rassie Erasmus, Gert Smal. Jan Boland Coetzee, Divan Serfontein, Andrew Paterson, Carel du Plessis and Christian Stewart.
I am particularly looking forward to the next part of the SACS Rugby journey. Meeting the next group of U14 parents and sadly saying until next time with the current Matric parents. It is wonderful to see old faces on a Saturday morning with one mutual love….. rugby.
This beautiful game of rugby brings so many people together and holds the conversation with the guys (and girls) around the fire. The debate around selection for your Super side or the Springbok team can go on for hours. How can men talk for so long about rugby? Very easily.