For too long, coaches have used minimum fitness standards to support and at times justify selections. Rigid black and white standards may come with good intentions (yes we want fit players), although is fraught with challenges, which can often leave coaches with egg on their face.
A coach recently talked about coaching a school rugby 7s team, where the team (actually he) set level 14 on the beep test as the minimum standard to be selected for the national tournament team. The big day arrived and the players stood on the line ready to go. Guess what happened? Not one player got to level 14. So now the coach was in the position of having to pull the entire team out after 2 months of preparation. Thinking quickly, he ran through the possible explanations for the failed fitness test:
a. They weren’t fit enough
b. The CD (remember those?) was playing too fast
c. The distance between shuttles was over the mandatory 20m
The coach decided to go with option B (after expertly examining the CD player) and they all got to go to the tournament. Now imagine if half the team got the standard and half the team didn’t. What would the coach do then? Play with 5? Don’t think so.
Minimum fitness standards are often used because they are easy to measure... Get this many, get under that time, lift this much, run this fast... are all easy ways to capture a players ‘ability.’ We need to think more deeply about this and whether ‘standards’ are needed?
This approach might have its place for the All Blacks or Silver Ferns, but using minimum standards in community, youth and kids sport comes with some warning. We all know the players that never quite make the standard but get selected as they are either a). really good (and will help us win) or b). really crucial to fielding a team (there is no one else). Backing yourself into a corner and reversing on ‘standards’ will decimate a team culture as trust will be lost.
So challenge yourself to think hard about what place fitness standards have (and to reiterate again, yes we want fit players). And if you are in the envious position of having to make selections, are you really prepared to put a line in the sand, even if that means not having enough players?