No train, No play… No fair?

By Coach Carrol


We are diving deep into discussing a topic that will bear little relevance to many who read this, simply due to their geographical location. There will however be many of you out there who have to navigate the tricky landscape of managing a team when players are unable to make training sessions, some sporadically, some more regularly.


So what’s the right way to manage this?


Many clubs enforce a ‘No train, no play – policy.’ Whilst I’m assuming the original intention of such a policy is to encourage people to get along to training or risk not getting a game, it is also one that assumes our players have the intrinsic motivation required to respond in the ‘desired’ way, and moreover assumes that the other variables that people contend with in their lives bear no impact on their ability to always prioritise netball. I have never personally been involved with a club that has a blanket ‘No train, No play’ policy, however, I have certainly found myself in situations where a squad came up with our non-negotiables for the season, and training was considered one of those. So I am definitely not opposed to the idea that training is non-negotiable for many clubs and teams, however, if you have read any of my previous articles, you will know by now that I do have a bit of an issue with blanket, one-size-fits-all policies, particularly in this day and age! This is why I think that this can be a tricky space and one that requires the careful consideration of many variables that take into account what is in the best interests of the team and individuals affected.

In my experience ‘No train, No play policies’ have always had ‘exceptions’! It’s ok if you can’t get to training so long as you have a legitimate reason! If you can’t get to a training session you must contact the coach at least 24 hours before training... and the list goes on! If you have a ‘rule’ that ends up with a range of ‘exceptions’, surely that is a sign that there really is no hard and fast way to manage this, and that once again, we are discussing a concept that should be decided upon by considering each and every context. There is no doubt training should be highly regarded amongst your cohort as it is a space where you are building work ethic, team synergy, strategy and team plays, many of the things you can’t simply “catch up on”. It should be encouraged so that players understand their commitment to the team and to the club, but should a clear rule be enforced? 



I have heard of clubs sticking with such a policy and being very clear about the few exceptions to their rule, things like attending training or games at a higher level within their sport and school events that are mandated such as camps and concerts etc. They have even gone further to explain the process for selection and how if numbers at training are within a certain range, then the player who hasn’t trained could still be called upon to play. I applaud their attempts to cover their bases and make it very clear to players and parents what their expectations are. 


But in this day and age is a policy like this outdated?


Is a policy like this taking into account our modern world where girls, in particular, have so many more sporting options available to them, where young people experiencing mental health challenges is far more prevalent, where people are time poor and juggling a work/family/life balance? 

I personally have a lot of trouble questioning people’s decisions not to train. I have coached for many years and I believe any coach who has been in the game for a while will vouch for me in saying that they have had their fair share of what on the surface appear to be lame excuses. I have had people text me saying that they can’t come to training because they are sick when in actual fact I saw them down the street an hour earlier. I have had others tell me they have work, yet I have seen images of them heading out on the town (good old social media). But, if my longevity in the coaching space has taught me anything, it has taught me to never make assumptions. To give this some context, imagine you received a message from a player saying that they couldn’t attend training as they were unwell.



At face value that is fine, if you are unwell you can’t do much about it. But the next day you know they have gone to work or school as normal, then they can’t have been too unwell right? That right there is an assumption and it can be really dangerous! What if that player is struggling with a mental health issue? What if that player has anxiety and for whatever reason being at training at the moment is a real trigger? What if there are work or family-related challenges for them at the moment where training is the least of their priorities? Just tell the coach you say? Is it that easy? And should they have to go into detail? Ideally, your players should feel safe enough to divulge that they just can’t manage it right now, and coaches should be receptive enough to see that they need support rather than threats to train or risk losing their spot. I always remind myself that what might appear to be a ‘lame’ excuse to miss training, might be far more complex than I am aware of. Don’t get me wrong, I won’t let my players pull the wool over my eyes. If there became a bit of a pattern in behaviour, it would lead me to discuss with them. 

But my discussion wouldn’t be explaining to them that they would no longer be picked to play in the team due to their continued absences from training, it would first be centred around checking that everything was alright, enquiring into their barriers to training at the time and offering support to help them work through those. Does there come a point where their spot in the team is in jeopardy regardless? Although you are coaching a team, not an individual, that doesn’t mean you can’t approach these situations with a little more sensitivity and support instead of cutting them off at the knees due to your ‘policy’.



So what is my advice to manage the situation you ask?


Firstly, communication. It is a must that you have very clear communication with the members of your squad and explain the situation to everyone. When people commit so much to being at training and to being a part of the team, they deserve transparency, and depending on your group, they may provide feedback and opinions on the matter. So communication is key first and foremost. Secondly, get creative! You may need to have a ‘training’ session following your game where you talk/walk through things; you may train on a Friday or Sunday here and there to get the whole team together, or even employ the powers of the digital world and connect for training via zoom or other video conferencing platforms! There are many possibilities, but it is achievable, you just have to navigate what works for your group and the rest will fall into place. 



This blog is from Baseline issue 5