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How to Retain Players; and Make Your Team Their Choice

When it comes to the highest level, some players are tempted by club offers, whether it be a specific path of development, or an attractive financial package that can support the individual as well as their family.

Money isn’t everything, even if some European rugby clubs might successfully argue the point.

Many players will consider some crucial factors:

-    Am I becoming a better player in my current environment (and will I improve in my potentially new squad?)
-    What are the lifestyle factors on offer?
-    Beyond money, will my family benefit from the move?
-    Am I missing out on something in the future?

But the retention of players can be a simple thing.

Think of it as an extremely well maintained relationship.rugbyfamily.jpg

No player will leave an exciting nourishing environment (although later years may alter this mindset).

So what are the things you can do to make sure, at a club or domestic standpoint, that a player commits to you long term?

-    Keep dialogue open at all times with all affairs. A player who is a stranger is less likely to stay.
-    Encourage team building activities, from the basics (a milkshake at the club house) through to the hard core (some major physical challenge where lives could be at stake).
-    Ensure that needs outside of rugby are cared for where applicable.
-    Make sure that an individual has room to grow.
-    No clandestine talks or chatter behind the back. Make sure that no-one feels like they are being alienated or talked about negatively.
-    Establish a policy, as simple or as complicated as you like, that puts in place penalties for friction in the squad. You will be surprised how 50 push ups for the entire team after a heated group argument keeps tempers in check.

There are also wider factors at play.

-    Is the team going places, or not. Sometimes both options are appealing to different players. Walking into a championship team might give you a crack at winning a title, but you might pay second fiddle to some big egos – but equally coming into a struggling team you might be able to make more of a singular impact.
-    A no (ahem) heads policy is a good start. You don’t need one abrasive negative personality poisoning the entire culture.
-    As a coach, and as a wider executive team, are you a good fair boss or not? Sometimes the iron rod harsh approach will drive away many players – but a warm welcoming management environment has rarely been responsible for defections.

Sometimes, it is just about the reward.

R – Remuneration, is the player paid fairly?

E – Entertainment, is the player having fun?

W – Weigh it up. Does the player feel this is the best place no matter what others offer?

A – At home. Arguably the biggest thing of all. A player and his family must feel welcome.

R – Risk. A contract and environment that has benefits left, right and centre is what a player wants, few head to new pastures with any major risks.

D – Development. Will the player, or the team because of the player, become better overall? Not many professional athletes like to stagnate.

Some say that money will do the final talking, and in the face of some giant financial offers, with clubs bankrolled by Fortune 500 companies, it may be difficult to argue.

A seven figure salary or, what some European media outlets suggest is a 300% pay rise (that is, many international players who sign up with Euro clubs get their salaries tripled), is a big incentive in a finite career.

But it can be miserable, away from friends and family, playing in unfamiliar conditions to a team structure that is worlds away from what you remember – or more to the point, enjoyed.

Debate that ‘taking the golden pay check while you can’ is fraught with danger is the player aspires to be among the best.

There are exceptions to the rule, but few players head off to ‘lessor or foreign’ leagues and return a more complete player. This seems to apply to backs more than forwards.

And then there is the family.

Will your non-French speaking wife/husband and children enjoy Southern France as much as they might areas of rural New Zealand?

Sometimes even the thought of moving kids from school can be a potential road block.

This is where a club and coach can help.

Encouraging and growing these areas can be massive. Think of the clubs that quickly and with no fuss get older player’s children playing in the junior levels, to the point where families literally rotate from players to spectators at rugby events.

Think of the coach that might be the face of an organisation that pays a lot less, but they have never forgotten the names of your family members, and has always asked great questions about hobbies and of course rugby fears (and potential improvements).

Every member of the team, from the backroom members to the coach to the CEO, to the other players and the partners and children of the other players – is part of an extended family.

The tighter this family unit is, the harder it will be for any player to leave.