Producing more than just
athletes

It was just another a day at the office for the representative-acclaimed centre. After playing a prominent role in his side?s fifth round victory, his evening appearance at a popular nightspot was never in question. There, he could relive his fleeting moments of glory with coarse-grained admirers and have his manly constitution validated by the nearest blonde scrubber. After hours of beer-fuelled revelry with his representative teammates, the player?s night was crudely interrupted by security staff?s belated action to eject him.

Welcome to the life of a typical NRL player. The foregoing account is one unhappily played out at every club during each NRL season.

?I mean to make myself a man, and if I succeed in that, I shall succeed in everything else.? - James A. Garfield

Rugby league fans and experts alike agree the standard of today?s game is significantly higher than any time in the sport?s history. The sad irony is that, while the quality of rugby league has progressed, the sport?s human capital has regressed. The mores of today?s NRL player are misplaced. Well paid and idolised, he is told, albeit indirectly, that he is invincible. Sadly, this is far from the truth. He may be invincible on the field, but he is all at sea when it comes to the game of life. The corollary of the immortal tag seems to be, away from the football field, a celebration of the worst kind of values.

Part of the problem lies in the development of today?s player. The intensive demands on him are such that - to reach the summit of rugby league - education, imagination, and exploration takes a back seat to repetition, manipulation, and inebriation. In the ensuing process, he learns much about engaging a 100-kilogram combatant, and less about life; upon his retirement, he is well versed in clich?s, but poorly versed in the forces of nature.

These demands ? perhaps some of the same demands that led to Test centre Jamie Lyon turning his back on the game ? are an upshot of the pull of the almighty dollar. Unfairly but unavoidably, professional players and coaches today are the whipping boys of profiteering. News Limited?s Super League vision was a symbol of this reality. How a club performs will determine its sponsorship and game-day revenue: the more successful they are, the higher their revenue. Accordingly, it is unworkable to adopt anything but a ?win at all costs? mentality. Such a mentality is only immortalised at the junior level, where former players and would-be players live through their team, spurred on by the myth that success is measured not by growth but by the vagaries of competition standings. Cases of assault at junior matches, now commonplace are expressions of this mentality.

That today?s player is a victim of an outdated model of player relations is seen in the sheer volume of professional athletes today caught up in tales of drugs, violence, and other acts of irresponsibility.

?Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them become what they are capable of being.? - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

In his book Don?t Die with the Music in You, Brisbane Broncos coach Wayne Bennett calls on the need for an inclusive approach to player development. Not only should a club produce talented athletes, but talented people: ?I find little value in being able to play sport but not life...We have a greater responsibility to our young players?. This shares an affinity with the sentiments American football coaching legend Vince Lombardi who once said his responsibility wasn?t to develop athletes, rather it was to develop citizens; individuals who make a positive contribution on society.

Such a system of coaching may signal the progress of a rugby league player as something more than a mere athlete. Organisations today ? from small business to multi-billion dollar corporations - are discovering the potential empowered employees have on morale and productivity. The Classical approach of working employees like dogs has produced a herd of unhappy, cynical, and unfulfilled souls. Innovation in working hours, processes, and work itself are the epitome of progressive industries. If rugby league clubs are to become more than affordable entertainment for the masses, the way it manages their most valuable asset ? and how players address their role in sport and life - has to be revolutionised.

?Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.? - Albert Einstein

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