No sooner had Bryon Hayward packed his bags and left the Wales coaching set-up, than the double P-word was being thrown around. Player Power had sunk him, according to the armchair experts. But Harri Morgan believes players should all have the power to express themselves, otherwise how can anyone expect them to do it out on the pitch?
In the words of fiction’s finest figure skater – Chazz Michael Michaels – “No-one knows what it means, but it’s provocative.”
Fear not, this isn’t going to be a homage to Will Ferrell, or an elucidation of Black Eyed Peas song lyrics.
Instead, we will delve into the meaning of a Welsh rugby “ism” – a term that feeds on the negative energy, which bursts into being in Welsh rugby during periods of adversity.
We are talking, player power.
A phrase that was thrust into the spotlight in February 2006, when Mike Ruddock, the bloke who had coached Wales to their first Grand Slam since 1978, resigned from his position as head of the national team.
We are not going there again. I would rather do the Black Eyed Peas thing.
What is player power?
Well, say we were in the middle of a global pandemic, and everyone was living in a state of restricted freedom, but one ’player’ decided that he wouldn’t adhere to the law, and instead went whizzing around the country to confirm the ongoing functionality of his vision.
If that ‘player’ was then not reprimanded for the indiscretion, as others would have been, it might be said that the subordinate wielded undue influence over his boss.
It is an event that forces one to reassess the perceived and conventional hierarchy of authority.
When debriefing the media on the removal of defence coach Byron Hayward from his staff, Wayne Pivac alluded to the feedback loop that exists between the coaches and playing group in the Welsh set-up.
No direct chain of causation between the player input and the dismissal was established.
Yet, it was inevitable the warnings of “Watch out! Player power is about!” would start flashing up all over social media.
It’s a phrase that by association has become drenched with negative connotations.
Should it be?
At this point, I draw a distinction between the Cummings and goings in the pandemic example, where the “player’s” defiance is nothing but a nuisance, to a scenario where the power in the voice of the player has the objective of achieving good for the group.
In the mind of the traditionalist, the player should know their role, keep their gob shut, and do what the coach says. Like it or lump it, essentially.
Meanwhile, the same player should feel empowered to make and own the decisions that will determine the outcome on the grass come Saturday afternoon.
A marriage between those two statements is sure to end in divorce.
The playing group are the primary determinant of success in team sport. To exclude their voice from the decision-making process is akin to a company shutting down channels of communication with their consumer base.
By absorbing and analysing the experience-lead views of the consumer, the company will be better placed to shape a more competitive product.
To ignore is to alienate. In the case of rugby, or any workplace for that matter, alienation is a sure fire path to demotivation and failure.
In an environment where a growth mindset is expected of players in the realm of performance analysis, is it reasonable to expect the same individual to internalise their opinions on those matters that may not traditionally have been within their sphere of influence?
Allowing players autonomy and engaging them in discussion is far more likely to develop individuals who are comfortable expressing and developing ideas and understand how to collaborate to solve problems.
It would seem a good starting point for when they are put on the pitch.
Looking at Wales ditching Byron Hayward and it isn’t good in any light.
If Pivac is doing it to relieve pressure on him then it just proves that he can also be sacked after a year.
If it’s player power then it doesn’t point to a good culture that they can get a coach sacked.
— Cardiff Rugby Life (@CardiffRugbyWeb) November 8, 2020
The challenge for a coach is balancing and optimising this power dynamic.
There will, of course, be certain parts of the process where allowing excessive player input would no doubt be a hindrance.
I mean, nobody wants to do that extra rep when their lungs and legs are competing to be first to combust. Not even the captain wants that one, does he?
This is a Wales squad which has been exposed to a world class defence coach.
It is also one that underwent a cultural shift under Warren Gatland – from an atypical Welsh “give it a go” mentality to one where high standards were demanded and expectation of victory normalised.
I would be significantly more concerned about the regressive state of Welsh rugby if the players had issue with the defensive system or the quality of coaching and chose not to put those on the agenda.
So, who’s next?
My concern when Pivac announced his coaching set-up was it was both too Welsh and too familiar to him.
This is not to undermine any of the coaching staff or Welsh coaches in general, but is more of a nod to the rebel ideas school of thinking.
In its most simplistic form, this proposes performance benefit can be derived from diverse thinking and constructive dissent.
A state more likely to be achieved when the working group is compiled of individuals from different backgrounds, cultures and experiences.
I don’t have a name in mind but would encourage Pivac to avoid jumping on the next Welsh cab off the rank.
Mark Jones, for example, is someone whose stock has risen sharply by his very association with a successful Crusaders side in New Zealand.
But Jones’ coaching development and value to Wales in the long term will be enhanced by staying put and consuming a different approach.
Wales head coach Wayne Pivac insists the decision to sack defence coach Byron Hayward was his own – not the players’, not the WRU’s – but was made in the interests of the team. @SkySportsNews pic.twitter.com/wah8ppaag0
— James Cole (@jamescolesky) November 9, 2020
Instead, Pivac should cast his net wide and consider coaches who are going to challenge the norms that have been established in the set-up.
Just as he should continue to encourage constructive dissent and ideas from within his playing group.
Player power is here to stay. Embrace it.