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Coaches Voice Opinions To Age-Grade HP Leaders

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Coaches Voice Opinions To Age-Grade HP Leaders

Scouting is all part of the process.

Will USA Rugby's age-grade high performance pathway make more sense and be more easy to follow? According to USA Rugby HP Performance Pathways GM JD Stephenson, yes.

Stephenson, along with HP Performance Pathways Manager Brendan Keane, had created a questionnaire for age-grade academy and select-side coaches to ask them what their problems, concerns, and perceptions are on the High Performance process, especially for the U18 level.

Stephenson and Keane then hosted a Zoom meeting with coaches (GRR was also in attendance). The main upshot of the questionnaire and its answers was that coaches have seen so many different formulations of the age-grade system and pathway that many aren't entirely sure how to nominate or promote a player, or how to explain the pathway to players and their parents.

See Fill HP Pathway Presentation Here>>

In addition, coaches said they wanted clearer feedback on players, especially players who didn't make the cut—what, exactly, could that player be working on to move him or her up the depth chart?

Communication, clarity, and transparency were some of the main themes.

Ninety-seven coaches responded to the questionnaire, with 60 of them coaches for boys teams, 20 who coaches both boys and girls, and 17 who coach girls. Some of the key messages included:

Coaches wanted film examples of good skill performance and poor skill performance to help them and their players assess what the HP coaches wanted

Coaches wanted film examples of the type of in-field athleticism that is the standard (or the goal)

Coaches wanted a list of physical performance tests, and expected metrics

It is all about communication, which is spelled out in the following three responses:

Rate the potential value of the Junior National Team 1 to 5: Response: 4.2

Rate how likely you are to nominate a player to the JNT: Response: 4.0

Rate your connection to the JNT Staff: Response: 1.8

Coaches clearly support the age-grade national team, but don't feel they can communicate with its staff.

The communication relates to how players are scouted. This, of course, goes back to mistakes USA Rugby has made in the past. Key among those was for those working in Youth & HS (Kurt Weaver especially) overstepping their purview to make High Performance decisions. Saying the Regional Cup Tournaments were the way to get on the age-grade national teams wasn't Weaver's call, but he said it anyway. And then coaches saw that players had been picked before the RCTs were ever played (because the HS All American or U20 schedules dictated that).

A New Approach

So Stephenson and Keane unveiled a new approach to how things are done. They outlined a scouting system that included stipend-supported third-party scouts placed around the country, who then worked with a network of volunteer scouts to find talent. This Eagle Eye Scout Network will be launched in September.

Another request from coaches was to make tryouts more convenient. That suggestion is being taken up with a virtual combine this month, plus, later, Opportunity Days held around the country. In addition, the High Performance Pathway website will publish standards, examples of good skills and play, and information on assemblies and upcoming events.

Coaches will still be able to nominate players, and in fact Goff Rugby Report will be helping with that in a small way.

Coming later will be a nomination process that will allow those who nominate a player to track what has happened to him or her. For example, if a player was seen at a specific camp and given an improvement plan, you'd know that. Similarly, if you nominate a player and that player has already been nominated, you could be told that through the system. The idea, said Stephenson, is to provide that feedback and communication, and make sure that coaches don't feel that when they suggest a player be looked at, that nomination just gets filed in a black hole.

(By the way, the funding for this is not from Membership but is fully part of the HP side of USA Rugby's operations. And a World Rugby grant is a big part of how this will work.)

Is This A New Dawn In Age-Grade HP?

Obviously the skeptical will say it's not a new dawn yet, but Stephenson and Keane have made big steps to show all their cards and let coaches know what they're doing. There needs to be follow-through, not just this fall or in the next 12 months, but over time. It's that long-term performance on the HP side that will bring more and more coaches in to support it.