Experience is a curious thing. When you see others with it, you want it. You can never have enough of it. It is valued. And when you have a sufficient amount you just can’t help by try to force it on as many others as possible.
There are varying degrees, of course. There are those that trip over their tongues trying to let as many people as possible know that they have been there, done it and have the loft full of t-shirts to prove it. There are others that just will not accept that they are the crusty examples of the game gone by. Then there are the chat hawks who seek out the kernels from anyone.
For those confident that they have the harmony of experience, though, with the patience to appease the eager huddled near their kit, the acceptance that their aches have been worth something and the well-placed desire to pass it over when asked, there is the logical step. Coaching.
Those that build a reputation out of this, they get the top jobs. Make a success out of the top job? That is how you become the name. There is a progression.
Names are single minded so-and-sos, though. They act like disgruntled teenagers when they lose; they act like greedy magpies when they win. Nothing is ever good enough for them, and when success is achieved it must be explicitly of their own doing.
Perhaps this is why the best dominate positions for so long, insulating as they advance, and begrudgingly giving up when the time is dragging on. Perhaps this is why the best cherry pick their successors.
It may sound like a dirty word. In certain context it is. But in sports coaching ‘grooming’ explains specifically what the experienced and controlling coaches do. They have to plan even further than their own careers and they are compelled to pass on that experience.
This can be seen right now in international rugby. Graham Henry did it, for example. The smile shy winner stepped down after ensuring he would never buy a drink in New Zealand ever again and allowed his number two, Steve Hansen, to take the reins. He may look like a forward roll in a suit, but Hansen is picking up exactly where his long-term leader left off.
In Wales another grin-wary coach is having success. Everyone knows how canny and honest Warren Gatland is, but they also know how much he values loyalty and deference.
He may have broken his heels in a nasty accident and shattered his involvement in Wales’ summer tour, but it is also an excuse for him to plan long-term. By putting assistant Rob Howley in charge whilst he mopes on the touchline Gatland has ensured that a successor has international leading experience whilst also being completely aware of what Gatland would want. Howley can be moulded in Gatland’s image.
In Scotland, too, Andy Robinson has spent the last few years ensuring a future for a younger coach.
Gregor Townsend was inherited as a coach by Robinson, but this did not mean that he was undervalued by the Englishman. Through poor results and offensive misadventures Townsend was kept on with the national team. He was defended when pressmen pilloried the head. Then, when pressure was too great, Robinson cleared space so that Townsend could continue to get coaching chances at the top of the game by installing him as Glasgow Warriors head coach.
Townsend may well be working towards a long career in coaching and between Robinson and himself there is the possibility that he is seen as the natural successor. He is afforded chanes and they will talk often.
Also in Ireland Declan Kidney has retained Anthony Foley as an assistant. Passed over for the Munster job despite being considered the IRFU favourite to become head coach, he has been retained whilst others have fallen away. He is still with the province and he is working with Ireland. There may be a long-term plan for Foley.
With England, however, they are regenerating. Hoping to start afresh, in more ways than one, a new coach has been afforded the luxury of remaking the Rose in whichever way they see fit. If he becomes a servant for a prolonged time Stuart Lancaster may also size up a successor.
So if you are the nause pestering the experienced players, take heed. You have to stick with them for a long time. Take the drip-feed of knowledge, but stay loyal, stay in touch and be prepared to do as they would do. In coaching terms this means selling yourself.
The rewards are great, but the man you have rammed in behind must first be rated highly. If you are part of their successful team you could well be groomed to replace the team’s successful head.