Pilsner Urquell

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


What Is "Fun" (in the rugby context)

Jason posted a comment from a rugby discussion list to our email list about the principles of rugby. One expression of them:
  1. Enjoyment- We play Rugby to have fun
  2. Go Forward- On offense and Defense
  3. Support- Again on Offense and on Defense
  4. Continuity- Keep the ball moving on offense and keep our defensive structures continuous (no holes in our lines)
  5. Pressure- If we perform 2-5 it will result in pressure on the opponents.
I agree with this one the most: "1. Enjoyment- We play Rugby to have fun." And, I've had some stuff rattling around my head for a while that I'm going to disgorge on the approximate 300 of you who check in here each month (and thanks for checking the site out!). Fair warning: it is long-ish, serious, and somewhat abstract and academic, but I've tried to include concrete applications. Go watch the video in the previous post again (and again, and again) if reading is not fundamental to you. Now "Lay on, Macduff, And damn'd be him that first cries, 'Hold, enough!'"

For most, if not all, American rugby players, Fun must to be paramount. No matter how good you get at rugby, you're never going to be on the news, and probably not even in your local paper. You could be a professional player scoring the "Try of the World Cup" and playing for Biarritz, but no one in America is likely to be aware of this. So fame is right out. I guess you could play for the money, but there are few Americans who get that opportunity and if money is the goal, there are easier ways to make more of it.

In my opinion, if you're not playing for the fun of it, you're in the wrong sport.

But it is helpful to define what is meant by "fun."

I recently became aware of a definition of fun used by some psychologists to measure the fun of computer games (which is the industry I work in). Instead of simply asking players if they think a game is fun or not, they broke the definition of fun into discrete elements that are more easily measured academically, and actually help predict the financial success of a game based on how it scores.

But all that is introduction. I don't want to suggest that we can measure this as easily for a sport, but the defining of "fun" is helpful. The analysis was very eye-opening for me and I can see it's application in many elements beyond computer games, such as rugby. I think it is not only very helpful to thinking about the playing of the game, but also in thinking about how team practices are organized. Most of the rugby any rugby player has is at practice. If practice isn't fun ("fun" not meaning frivolous, easy, or unproductive), why bother?

The presentation was from Scott Rigby of Immersyve, formerly of Penn.

Much of the presentation is in article form here, which is more in-depth with a lot of specific application to computer games and may be too 'inside' if you're not familiar with modern game terminology and classifications - it is still worth a skim for more on the points I'm about to make).

The Player Experience of Need Satisfaction in Rugby

Rigby and his team call the model for measuring fun the Player Experience of Need Satisfaction ("PENS"). For something to be 'fun', the following basic psychological needs of players must be satisfied:
  • Competence,
  • Autonomy, and
  • Relatedness.
Breaking fun down into these elements is helpful, Rigby suggests, because "fun" is an "emotional outcome". These needs are more "causal" and help predict what will be viewed as fun, where evaluating emotional outcomes is more difficult and not especially useful. For instance, spending time on the treadmill is not fun, but it helps you play more rugby so it leads to the outcome of fun.

Competence: the need to feel effective.

It is taking satisfaction from performing a perfect pass, or winning a scrum against the head. At the extreme, it is totally dominating a weaker opponent (but that quickly becomes not fun as there is no challenge). In general, competence is the ease with which Intention is translated into Action. "Mastery in the moment-to-moment action of gameplay."

This is why I've tried to stress fundamentals amongst our players over the years. Enjoy making that perfect pass, or being in the right place for a pop pass, or setting a perfect ruck. Get those individual things right and enjoy the discrete accomplishment as an individual. Then you put those together to play your best game.

It also suggests not doing things you do not feel competent at.
(Game Tactic Note: If you haven't mastered the 5-foot flat pass yet,
don't try the Magic-Johnson-Behind-The-Back-No-Look pass).

A key component of this is that the player must feel that they are getting better over time. To me, that suggests changing drills at practice and adding complexity to them as players learn them.

How would you measure competence in a rugby context? Anything you can score and keep track of. In practice, timed drills or runs, pass drills where you count missed passes to a fixed target, etc. In games, tracking dropped passes, turnovers, stolen/lost scrums and lineouts, good kicks and bad kicks, proper/improper/missed tackles, etc.

Autonomy: is the feeling that your actions are freely chosen

Rigby uses the terms "personal agency" and "sense of volition" to stress this is not simply "freedom." To maximize the sense of autonomy, you should maximize the opportunities for action.
(Game Strategy Note: 'Where there is more space, there is more opportunity.')

Rugby has always had an advantage over games like American football in this regard because of the free flowing nature of the game. When you have the ball in your hands, you're free to run it, kick it, pass it, set a ruck, set a maul, etc. Compare that to the more limited option of a wide receiver or running back.

Autonomy doesn't mean the player has to be able to do all the things he can - it's about "perceived opportunities." Yes, a prop should never kick for touch. But it is still good if he knows that he can, but always chooses not to. (Your Props May Vary.)

(There's an interesting side issue here: altruistic behavior increases a player's sense of autonomy. I think that might apply to rugby too. "Giving the ball away', making the pass to the player that scores a try feels great. You can feel responsible for that even if the receiver ran 80 meters to score it - but for your pass, it wouldn't have happened. Or even just giving a teammate the opportunity to do something can make your own enjoyment of the game grow. Which I guess means all ballhogs are sad inside.)

No plan survives contact with the enemy. In American football, that's fine because no play last more than a few seconds. In rugby, it usually much longer, so there is more time for any plan to go wrong and be useless. (This isn't to say 'don't make plans', but rather to highlight how critical it is to be able to adapt to changing circumstances).

This is why teaching good decision making is critical. If you'll pardon the aside, there is a parallel here to US airborne infantry tactics on D-Day, in which the plans were out the window as soon as they landed and many soldiers were completely cut off from their command structure, dropped in the wrong place, often without much of their equipment, and had to improvise. Many historians have noted that because their training emphasized the ability to make decisions independently the paratroopers were able to almost seamlessly go to work against the Germans to achieve their overall objectives, which they all knew well. So, when your team ends up with props in your back line in the third phase, they need to be able to make good decisions to deal with that, and they all need to understand the overall game plan. ('When rugby gives you props, make prop-ade.')

Relatedness: forming meaningful connections with others and working together.

Teamwork and Socializing. This has a huge impact on sustained participation, i.e., if players experience relatedness, they'll keep coming out. This is where a good core of 'old-boys' or veterans keeps a club together because relatedness is often reinforced through many out-of-game avenues [Yes, I'm looking at you DARC/Our Gang/Blues Old Boys. Come impart some wisdom on the young'uns]. These should be fairly obvious: a pint after practice (even if only one - I'm of the opinion that everyone should go to the pub on Thursdays after practice and for 'One and Done' at a minimum - one water, one soda, one pint, whatever), the post-game parties, but also includes email discussions lists or groups, etc. We certainly saw an improvement in this when we stuffed all the young'uns in the van for the Midland and Austin road trips last season.

It is important to minimize things that 'de-motivate' players, but also to provide positive feedback in a relevant context. Relatedness feeds back into a player's sense of competence and autonomy as well, and for a team sport, it is obviously critical. It is social bonding and teamwork/collective action. And I think not just within the scrum and within the backs, but the team as a whole. So mixing things up at practice from time-to-time is probably worthwhile. And for the club as whole, including old boys, spouses, girlfriends, non-rugby playing friends, etc.

Fun is what a player experiences when his need for a sense of competence, autonomy and relatedness is satisfied.

If you read this far, congratulations! "So, thanks to all at once and to each one"

I hope find the PENS model as interesting as I do. Because Rigby's analysis is based on basic psychological needs of people, separate from any game or sport context, I think it has a much wider application to life, such as to your career.

Video of Zee scoring for Biarritz

Denton Rugby posted in a comment below a link to a RugbyDump post of Heineken Cup highlights. His try is at about 2 minutes in. Thanks for the link, Denton!

Also, all you backs should pay close attention to most of the trys seen here. Notice how the back are already moving when the ball comes from a set piece and then they go faster? As if the ball was a magic acceleration power-up? (It is you know. The ball makes you go faster, and I can prove it, but only if you're moving when you catch it).


Fun friendly against Alliance and Friends

Although the City of Dallas scheduled three events for the same pitch at the same time, DARC waited for the Diablos to play Oklahoma City then got started sometime after three. Alliance was short a couple so two or three from DARC and a couple from OKC filled in.

Lots. Of. Tries. The final score was 70 (12,5,0,0) - 10 (2,0,0,0). Tries were scored by Mark W., Cardell, Jay, Drew, Gonzo (allegedly - I didn't see him at all on Saturday and am not sure he played), and *cough* Sam wisely played To The Whistle ("a nod's as good as a wink to a blind bat"). I might have missed one. The DARC backs worked pretty well together this day. Lots of timely inserts and counter-attacking. Good hands, nice working of the ball out.

Tackles weren't as sharp as the previous week. Nor was forward fitness, they got around much better last week (or, it might be that the back did a better job of working the ball to the forwards). Either way, there was a bit of mid-field forward grazing to be seen. And our backs need to do a better job of getting out of the rucks once formed. Sure, backs often need to start a ruck as their often the closest, but they need to get out just as quick.

A little bit of hot potato on occasional kicks. Forwards need to condense on the ball where ever it goes on a kick off. No watching, no pop-passing. If you're not catching the ball, you should be running to get an arm's length or less behind the person who is!

Friday, January 25, 2008


Biarritz Gear

I ran into Dozer the other day, who sent me the link to Zee's recent scores for Biarritz, and the topic of getting some Biarritz gear game up. I found a site that has a lot of stuff: Jerseys, T shirts, Caps, Scarves, Balls, etc. Rugbyshop.com.

The game jersey you see here will run you 75 Euros: about $110. Not counting the $45 per order for international shipping. If we got a group order together, we could save a lot on the shipping fee - especially if we were able to have them brought over by a certain winger for a team in Biarritz (and maybe he could get us a discount?). Zee? Are you listening? Hello?

Reminder! Saturday we host Alliance. Let's see if we can improve on the crowd support. Forecast is mid-50s, partly cloudy, wind 2-6 mph - also known as Forwards' Weather.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


Zee also winning

Dozer sent word that Zee had a good game for Biarritz this Saturday, scoring two of his teams four tries against Viadana.

Monday, January 21, 2008


DARC defeats Denton: 22 - Nil

DARC and Denton faced off on Saturday. We managed three tries in the first half. The first was from some nice attacking pressure on the far side - the forwards won some ball and it was sent out wide to our backs, with Mark W. scoring it.

The second try was from a lot of pressure again. My memory is a bit vague here, but I think we were close to the Denton line and a small kick was dropped by a Denton player, just inside the try line, and then there was a scramble for the ball the DARC dotted down. (I'll have to check my notes on who got that one).

Late in the first half, the forwards walked in a scrum from five meters. There was some confusion at first, with two DARC players competing for clear possession but our hooker Josh finally released the ball so that the referee could clearly see that scrumhalf Timmy still had possession and had touched it down. Good on ya', Josh.

The angles were too steep for Voss's attempts at conversion, but he may have been more focused on tackling and rucking, which he did well, especially for a winger.

The second half was a much dryer for DARC scoring. Denton came back fairly strongly keeping the ball with DARC's 22 for a solid 15 minutes. DARC wasn't able to get clean possession or clear the ball effectively. Our rucking got sloppy and Denton was able to turn rucks their way a couple of time. Rucking was clearly Denton's strength on the day. From the sidelines, I was worried because their rucking looked great. Every ruck, two black shirts driver over low showing clean ball to their scrumhalf. If our scrappy loose forwards and centers hadn't done a great job of spoiling their passes and crashes, it might have been a much different outcome. As it was, DARC's tackling was much improved overall. Lots of nice low tackles by committing to the tackle instead of trying to grab the ball. Particularly effective was the pressure from the backs on defense: Philip, Red, Tommy.

Denton's second half pressure was hard but DARC was able to exploit a crack for a try. I forget how it started, but it was some loose forward play on the near side, then the ball got out wide for a phase. Then Amir wound up with a nice 30 yard run or so, dishing it to Rashaad who finished it between the posts. Jesse gave us the conversion and the final: 22-0.

Our fitness appeared to be generally improved a bit. A lot less of the 'herd of tired' forwards in the middle of the field (but a lot of that might have been careful pacing and decision making by Timmy and Cardell). And the scrums were solid, several won against the head at key moments. Also several lineouts spoiled by Drew and Captain Nick.

Denton brought out a tremendous amount of support, showing up one of DARC's failings. It's embarrassing to have more of the opponents at your bar. Nonetheless, a few of the old guard made it out: Dave Morgan, JT and Meskunas.

There was a rumor that Gonzo played but I don't remember seeing him.

A message from Frank Waller

Frank wanted to post a comment to everyone on DARC and Plano:

How 'bout those Giants!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Denton Saturday (Jan 19), Alliance Next (Jan 26)

We've added a game hosting Alliance on January 26 at Lake Highlands.

Of course, we host Denton this weekend.

Practice is still at Clark High School in Plano. See the map two posts down. We're behind the school. Look for the lights. Here's what the intersection looks like from Google's StreetViews (from Spring Creek looking North on Stadium - just east of Alma).

Wednesday, January 09, 2008


Running Schedule Update

With our packed game schedule this winter, the first opportunity we'll have to run is the St. Paddy's Day Dash Down Greenville on Saturday, March 15th. I was hoping to get an event in February, but the timing doesn't work. This should be a good one for us to do as a team. You get your exercise in for the day and then your on Greenville for St. Pats to undo all the benefits from running.

So, that's two months notice. At the slow pace I run, I'm asking for less than 35 minutes of exercise from everybody. Cost is $20.

Thursday, January 03, 2008


Practice Moved! Clark High School - Tuesday, January 8

We're moving practice to Clark High School in Plano. We'll be sharing the field with the Plano High School and Allen High School.

Clark High School is on the south part of the High Point Complex, at Spring Creek and Stadium (between Alma and I-75).