Keeping coaching simple

originally published in The Star, July 2, 2014

It’s late on a Friday afternoon, and the Christchurch Boys’ High School 1st XV are putting the final touches on their preparation for the next day’s game.

They’re taking it very lightly, running through some of their back-line moves, and falling to the ground unprompted rather than being tackled.

Then they switch to line-outs, refreshing their memories as to what their game plan is at set-piece time.

Then it’s on to scrums.

Watching from the sideline, their coach Rhys Archibald barely says a thing, merely serving as timekeeper, letting his players run the show.

Friday afternoons are the captain’s run, he says.

“We try to give the responsibility to the older boys in the team to actually run that.”

Eventually he brings the session to an end, and the players trot off to the changing sheds, many of them shaking their coach’s hand or patting him on the back as they do.

They mostly call him ‘Arch’ or ‘Archie’, but there’s also a lone “Mr. Archibald”.

It’s a reminder of his dual role.

As well as coaching rugby, he’s the school’s head of geography.

They are passions that began around the same time, a little more than 20 years ago.

“A friend of mine at St Pat’s Silverstream asked me to come down and help him out with an under-15 rugby team, when I was playing senior rugby in Wellington,” he says.

He was studying to become a teacher at the time, and once he graduated, he moved north, taking his first job at Palmerston North Boys’ High School.

He says he got into teaching because he really enjoys working with kids, and it’s the same story with coaching.

“You get into it at first, I think, because you think it’s about yourself, but the longer you do it, you realise it’s not really about that at all. It’s about trying to develop young guys to be better than they are.”

He spent 13 years in Palmerston North, and was coach of the school’s 1st XV for the last nine of them.

His tenure there was a pretty successful one.

“We had our strong years and our not so good years.”

Archibald says he never really gave any thought to moving on, but then one day he saw an ad for a geography position at CBHS, and, on a whim, decided to apply.

“I thought, if I don’t do it now, I probably never will,” he says.

At the start of the 2012 season, the CBHS 1st XV role open up, and Archibald tossed his name in the hat.

His team found success straight away, winning the Crusaders region competition, before losing to Otago Boys’ High School in the South Island playoff.

Last year they made it to the semi-finals, where they lost to eventual champions Marlborough Boys’ College.

Now, his team are at the head of the pack once again, having won eight from eight to start the season.

Archibald can’t speak highly enough of them.

“They work real hard. They’re not really a team of superstars, but they just work for each other — running themselves into the ground, emptying their tank, pushing themselves as far as they can.”

“I’m pretty proud of them for that,” he says.

When Archibald arrived in Christchurch, the local scene was dominated by St Bede’s College, who had won the Crusaders competition for four years on the trot.

These things come and go — before St Bede’s run began, it was CBHS who were the dominant force.

Archibald says there are four or five teams that do stand out at present, with Nelson College, Marlborough Boys’ College and St Andrew’s College the other teams of note.

CBHS narrowly overcame Nelson a few weeks ago, 23-22, and St Andrew’s and St Bede’s lie in wait after the school holidays.

At present, the focus is on Marlborough, their next opponents.

At training, Archibald likes to keep things simple.

On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, the team has gym sessions before school and outdoor trainings after school.

Then there’s the captain’s run on Friday afternoon, and games on Saturdays.

He says there is nothing fancy and nothing too flash about what they do.

“We don’t try to bombard the boys with too much information.”

A typical training session starts with a meeting in his classroom, where they go over things they’ve been doing well, and also the things they haven’t.

Then they just get out and train, says Archibald.

The team has a real good feel to it this year, he says, and that comes down to the fact that they just enjoy playing for each other.

From St Pat’s, to Palmerston North, and now at CBHS, Archibald has spent plenty of time at schools where there is a proud rugby tradition.

CBHS might be the proudest of the lot.

The school has produced more than 40 All Blacks, including the likes of Andrew Mehrtens, Dan Carter, Fergie McCormick and Richard Loe.

“We do say things to the boys like, they look after that jersey for one year or maybe two then they give it up, there’s lots of guys that have been before them,” says Archibald.

But they also hear about it from a lot of other people, like their brothers and fathers, so the coaches don’t have to concentrate on it a lot, he says.

The traditions of the sport weigh heavily on Archibald’s mind, and he’s sad to see some of them slipping away.

At Palmerston North, Archibald’s team played in the Super 8, a competition which spans across the entire central North Island.

“Every Friday our boys were billeted or billeting someone. We would have to do it five or six times during the season.”

He says it allows the boys to make connections with likeminded people from around the country, and then see those connections pay off down the line.

Archibald has plenty of stories to tell about how his players have run into their billets some time later — one about a guy who turned up for his first day of university and recognised two of his fellow boarders from when they stayed together during their rugby days.

“They’ve already got mates straight off to go and have a beer with,” he says.

That’s why he’d like to see them brought back.

The wide reach of the CBHS rugby community is evident on Saturday morning.

Archibald likes to be down there from 9am onwards, taking in as much rugby he can.

“I try to watch as many teams as I can so I know the players coming through,” he says.

As he does so, people keep coming up and saying hello.

With the kids, he asks how their games went, and the replies are usually of a positive nature.

CBHS has 23 rugby teams, so there’s always someone winning.

Then it’s on to his own game, against Marlborough, which he watches from a position down one end of the field.

It’s a strange place for a coach to watch a game from, but it’s his usual one.

“I do struggle to stand still,” he says.

His assistant, Danny Porte, joins him, and as they watch, they have the reactions you’d expect: Sighs when their players don’t make the extra pass, moans when the referee makes a mistake, cheers when their team scores.

By half-time, CBHS have pretty much put the game to bed, up 31-6, and Archibald heads across the field to talk to his team.

No matter the situation, he keeps on keeping things simple.

He never has more than three things to say.

“I just find you’ve got to hold back because they’ll never absorb more than that.”

His instructions on this occasion are for the boys not to let up.

They have already racked up 31 points, and by full-time, he wants it doubled.

In the end, they fall four points short, winning 58-13.

Even so, it’s still their biggest margin of the season.

“We racked up a good score against a pretty good team,” he says, his week’s work done.

His players, meanwhile, are ecstatic.

As the game came to an end, they were already reliving its highlights, praising their teammates who scored, and taking the mickey out of those who did something foolish.

They lament not reaching their coaches target, but come to the conclusion that they would have got there had they only kicked better.

One of them sums it up:

“Archie will be pleased. Maybe not.”