Leadership groups in sport is important, but when does a leadership group turn into a clique?
The challenge in a team sports environment like rugby is that this dynamic changes from day-to-day depending on a thousand factors. Things like injuries, wins, losses, loss of form and probably a thousand other things have a direct influence on both the mental and physical dynamics within a team environment.
To try and maintain some sort of balance, any rugby team and union relies heavily on mechanisms of control, the most important of which is leadership and management of the environment.
There are different areas of leadership in a team. Administration exercise this, the coaching management exercise this, and of course, players themselves are tasked in performing these duties.
When does leadership become a clique as per my question above?
The answer is quite simple; It is when the leadership core in any of these areas become exclusive, rather than inclusive.
The Sharks team has been the victim of many vicious rumors in the past on this very subject. Personally, I don’t like to deal in rumors when raising points of interest or discussion for the simple reason that it almost always only serves to satisfy a personal agenda, or even vendetta.
It is when a player himself raises the issue of being excluded in a team environment however that I take notice.
In 2007 Waylon Murray had the season of his life. His rise to fame was sudden and dramatic which saw a young 20-year old (at the time) earning his first Springbok cap. It was also the season where the Sharks had a magical year ending top of the Super 14 table and hosting the first ever Super Rugby final in South Africa.
Murray’s form was of such a nature that many individuals were bitterly disappointed when he was overlooked for the Springbok World Cup squad of that year, but where there was no doubt, is that we were seeing the emergence of a special talent.
What followed was probably as dramatic as his rise to prominence. Injuries and an apparent loss of form saw Murray all but disappear from the rugby scene. At his union, the Sharks, Murray also became more of a bench player and utility option (being selected on wing rather than his preferred position of outside center) than a regular starter where he was once described as the Sharks answer to Jaque Fourie.
Last year, Murray left it all behind and moved to the Lions. The move seemed to have done wonders for him as a player and although he is far from the impressive 20-year old we saw in 2007, he is most definitely improving and getting back to some of his best form.
An SA Rugby article recently had an interview with the player, most notable for me was references to a re-birth, or a new lease on life and second chances.
Murray also made specific references how his confidence took a massive knock at the Sharks but more importantly, how he felt excluded from the team dynamic he played such a huge part in their successful 2007 season.
Of course it can be argued that Murray’s fall from grace has as much to do with the player himself than it does with the union or the team and that would be a very important point, but what was interesting was the comments of another Sharks player, his team mate in 2007, all but confirming the situation.
In 2008 promising young center and team mate of Murray, Bradley Barritt left the Sharks to apply his trade in Europe. At the time, similar murmurs of unhappiness within the squad or from certain players did the rounds.
In the same interview with SA Rugby Magazine, Barritt made mention of the fact that he understood exactly what Murray was going through (at the Sharks) and that his ‘re-birth’ at the Lions is testament to his former team mate and center partner’s character.
The Sharks of course have lost many super talented, or in the very least, very promising youngsters since 2007. Apart from Barritt and Murray, players like Francois Steyn and Ruan Pienaar also left the union.
It is not suggesting that all of them left because of unhappiness within the Sharks environment, but the fact that they left as youngsters just starting out their careers does leave one a bit perplexed.
The Sharks have some of the best players, and strongest leaders within their setup at all levels, but one area they are seemingly failing at continually is nurturing and developing young talented players.
Some of these youngsters have started believing their own press too often I believe, and possibly felt they were better than how they were used and managed at the Sharks – but then, part of inclusive leadership is to nurture these youngsters effectively even if they overstep the line, and not exclude them on grounds of ego trips.
I have no doubt that the majority of the individuals within the union are happy and feel part of the setup, what they need to guard against though is that the slightest hint of exclusive leadership, or cliques, as this has the potential to mutate and grow into a potential disaster which can take years to fix.
The May edition of SA Rugby magazine in on sale in most retail outlets