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The Super 15 rugby final – more than just a game, sports exp

The Super 15 rugby final – more than just a game, sports expert says

July 29, 2014

The outcome of this weekend’s Super 15 rugby final is pivotally important, a University of Canterbury sports education expert says.

When the Crusaders confront the Waratahs at Sydney on Saturday night the public will witness more than something bigger than 30 individuals playing a game, the university’s new Head of School of Sport and Physical Education, Professor Richard Light, says.

Rugby places more importance upon the team as a collective than most other team sports. In rugby the team is more than the mere sum of its parts – its players. Individuals don’t win games at this elite level – teams do, he says.

``This is widely understood by coaches and players but is often forgotten in the rush to break up the game into component parts and to think about all the individual preparation required.

``On the field the team operates as a whole entity - like a complex living organism that cannot be reduced to its component parts. Analogies with machines don’t really work in rugby.

``If we extend this holistic view to the game we can see the match itself as something that lives and breathes as a whole yet dynamic entity comprised of two teams constantly contesting what the French call the rapport de force or the balance of power.

``From the higher level of the stands where we sit or the wider angles provided by television cameras we can see the shape of the game as the result of the rapport de force.

``Players must make sense of this fluid, dynamic and often unpredictable environment and adapt to it. The speed at which things happen on the field and its dynamic nature require instant responses and thinking at action which are embodied through years of playing. This can also be enhanced by training approaches that replicate game conditions such as game sense. Here the Crusaders may have an edge.

``They have a long tradition of training in conditions that replicate game conditions and ask players to react and respond and think like they have to in a match. Athlete-centred coaching approaches such as game sense have had a significant influence on rugby coaching in New Zealand.

``They can make training relevant and transferable to the match and form a central concern of the innovation being developed at the School of Sport and Physical Education at the University of Canterbury. These more holistic approaches have much to offer elite sports but have proven to be effective in youth sport and physical education and offer exciting alternatives to the old fashioned skill drill coaching.’’

Professor Light has coached rugby and taught in Australia and Japan and has conducted extensive research on sport in Japan with a focus on rugby. He was has 30 years’ training in karate, holds a 5th dan black belt and was Australian kickboxing champion.

He is especially interested in the influence of Maori culture on rugby in New Zealand and the Maori conceptions of wellbeing. He has just won a $330,000 Australian Research Council (ARC) discovery grant to research this area with a Sydney researcher.

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