A player's perspective of men's rugby's player-oriented leadership
Photos from Silhouette Photo Archives
By Adriana Skaljin
Conor Marshall has been playing for the McMaster men’s rugby team for three years and has followed the sport since the ninth grade.
The fourth-year chemical engineering student decided to play the sport due to its physicality and challenging nature. However, it was not until he picked the sport back up in the 12th grade that he realized that it was a good fit for himself.
“Rugby teaches you about life lessons, as it challenges you to play as a team, work with each other’s personalities, and ultimately move as a single unit,” explained Marshall. “A rugby team is only as strong as its weakest player, which proves the importance of communication and teamwork.”
[spacer height="20px"]At a high school level, Marshall explained how the differing levels of understanding and skill towards the sport contrast the strong passion for the sport that comes at a university level.
“In university, everyone knows what they are doing in the game, which allows us to come together to build the platform needed to win,” said Marshall.
The team is composed of around sixty players, whose age range is staggered across all undergraduate years. A lot of players were recruited this year, due to the loss of several upper-year players. It was one of the biggest recruiting sessions, as people were pulled from all over Ontario, rather than by joining the team as walk-ons.
“We have many talented veterans on the team, who are joined by lower-years that are stepping up their game,” said Marshall. “Our first-year players are providing us with speed, which is changing the way that we are playing. Others are providing us with size and effort.”
Marshall described how having an age diverse team has contributed to strong levels of mentorship and leadership both on and off the field.
He explained how the upper-year players serve to help correct and assist the younger players on the field. This leadership extends off the field as well, as seen through the implemented mentorship program.
“The mentorship program that has been created for the team, pairs up fourth-year players with younger years,” explained Marshall. “Off the field, these upper-year mentors help lower-year ‘buddies’ with their homework and will check in to see how they’re doing.”
It is evident that this mentorship program is one of the many things that led to Marshall’s classification of the team as being “friendship oriented.” Both on and off the field, the team is described to always have each other's best interest in mind, which ultimately allows them to connect on the field.
[spacer height="20px"]“It’s an interesting dynamic as to how the players smash each other in the game, but then can meet up with one another and have a talk,” said Marshall. “The fact that we can do this with the rival teams prove that rugby is a humble sport.
The team also has six captains who share the responsibility of leading the team. The ‘Leadership Group’ decides themselves who the captains are for each game, and attribute to the team’s purpose of being player-oriented.
These captains sit down with the coaching staff and come up with the areas that they believe need the most work. These improvements are then touched upon during their film study session, which occurs on Sundays, and then becomes the main focus of that week’s practices.
“The fact that we get to figure out our own areas of improvement has created a great environment to play in,” said Marshall. “Coach [Dan] Pletch is a player-oriented person and instead of telling you how to do something, he will ask a question and make us figure it out. He calls it problem-based learning, and I find it to be very effective.”
This coaching style forces the players to figure out the problems themselves, which is a challenge that the team has accepted.
“It allows us to come up with ways to better the system,” explained Marshall. “By allowing us to come up with our own solutions, Pletch has implemented a method that makes us very player-oriented.”
It is through a player-oriented approach and the strong mentorship between teammates, that players such as Conor Marshall, have recognized their areas of improvement and the fact that they are stronger together.