The Burden of Being an Arm Chair Critic - By Biltongbek
At the end of the rugby season I find myself mentally fatigued and have come to realise the long season does have a timely break.
Ten months of analysis, debate, commentary and emotional highs and lows take a serious toll not only on the mind, but indeed the body as well.
I could easily end the season on only having two or three fingers useful on the keyboard, as calluses, blisters and the odd broken finger from punching the wall too hard is a regular occurrence.
Some may be of the opinion that being an armchair critic is easy, and something anyone can do.
In fact, how often have you been told as an armchair critic that you could never do the job of your team’s coach, if you could you would be sitting in the coaches box and not on the couch having your laptop at the ready to criticise?
I have been giving it some thought and started wondering how many coaches would be able to do our job. In my usual analytical manner I started comparing the life of a head coach to that of an armchair critic.
A coach has first-hand information at his fingertips. He will have the sprint times, power stats and fitness stats of every player, he knows about each niggle, who is mentally up for it and ready to perform. He will have every detail on match performance by each player available.
We, on the other hand, have none of those statistics readily available. We spend endless hours of research on various websites to collate, confirm and finalise our statistics, we scour the web for news, searching endlessly to gain the necessary information to form our unbiased opinions.
The coach has a dedicated management team compiling statistics as well as specialist coaches who lighten his load and assist with selections. He does not need to concern himself with the daily logistics or daily program.
As an armchair critic, I actually prefer to be called an amateur rugby analyst and commentator. We have to fulfil all those roles, we need to be fathers, lovers, educators, decision makers, financiers and supervisors in our own homes while keeping up to date with the latest information required to conduct coherent rugby debate, something only the select few are capable of.
If we are lucky, we may have a spouse or partner willing to drop off the occasional beer as the kitchen was en-route to their intended destination anyway. Between texting and Playstation you may be fortunate enough to have an instruction completed to your satisfaction by your kids. Other than that you are basically on your own.
Time and money
Coaching is a full-time job, these days a highly paid job, where travel and accommodation expenses are taken care of, performance bonuses and Per Diem allowances are the order of the day and the coaches can spend 365 days a year focused and dedicated to their profession.
The amateur analyst and commentator on the other hand has a day-time job, something totally unrelated to the sport he so lovingly observes and follows. His research, debate and commitment to the sport is done on a part-time basis, no matter how obsessive you may be towards your chosen sport, it is not a full-time occupation.
Coaches have captains at their beck and call, a leadership group who can make on-field suggestions and share in the responsibility of making decisions.
We don’t, any decision made in your life, the responsibility and accountability rests squarely on your shoulders. The dissatisfaction or disapproval so regularly observed by the diehard rugby supporter in the eyes of a spouse, adolescent teen or parent due to the dismissal or neglect of any other family-orientated pastimes in favour of watching yet another Super Rugby or Test match is a cross we ultimately bear alone.
The coach has a professionally appointed media officer who takes care of the media, the only real responsibility the coach has towards the media is a post-match conference or interview. In all fairness, that is nothing but providing a bit of lip service, confirming everyone was fantastic and saying that they will learn from their mistakes and the opposition is respected.
As an amateur commentator your every word is in print and open to criticism, not only your completely unbiased and well formulated opinion, but your use of language, your vocabulary is under scrutiny, your writing style, your use of a few well-placed smileys when the message might come across as slightly harsh or sarcastic.
And tomorrow you have to be back to defend it all, every day, 365 days a year.
The coach has a full medical team in support of his players, be it the physiotherapist to sooth sore muscles, a doctor to tend to injuries and getting players to and from hospitals, dieticians to ensure healthy living and sports psychologists to ensure sound mental health.
What do we have? My wife is a panic mechanic when it comes to accidents at home, when she sees blood her usefulness is completely negated. If it is necessary to transport anyone anywhere in an emergency it is up to you, and these emergencies have a tendency for bad timing.
A coach gets to tour without his family where he has no distractions, when not on tour he gets to go to an office where a secretary blocks all unwanted access to him. Yes, even his family can be denied access to him when it is required.
All this so that he can immerse himself in the latest ground breaking move, unless perhaps it is Heyneke Meyer, he may use this time to call Japan, France or the UK to coax retired players back to the international arena.
We on the other hand have continuous distractions, the wife wants to show you her latest knitting project, your son wants you to fix his bicycle or your daughter wants you to take her to the mall.
Every day brings new challenges to distract us from our chosen pastime.
Protection from criticism
It is said that ignorance is bliss, and coaches have the option to stay away from sport forums. They don’t have to read them and therefore can be blissfully unaware of how the public perceives their selections or game plans.
We as amateur analysts and commentators do not have that luxury
His way or the highway
The head coach of any team has the advantage of having it all his own way, ultimately he gets to pick the match day squad and the game plan. It is his decision when the substitutions come on.
This is the hardest part for an amateur analyst and commentator. This is where the glaringly obvious selection mistakes, errors in judgement in subbing players and antiquated game plans come to the fore. Whether it be on a 27-inch Telefunken Television set of 1984 or the latest 50-inch LCD from Samsung, it is there in more than 5000 vivid colours every weekend.
This is where we question the credentials of our coaches, stare in astonishment as the same play is being employed over and over to the point where you can no longer relax your core muscle group and crush anything at hand. I have lost count of the number of remotes necessary to get through a season.
This is where the decision to substitute a hooker when you are five metres from your line becomes an inexplicable reality and no matter how much video footage there is on YouTube to confirm the fallacy of the substitution, it continues to happen.
This is where an ageing winger is outsprinted by the new young loosehead prop of the opposition and you can only ask yourself, why?
The evidence was there during the week when your injured hooker out-sprinted him during the time splits at training.
We often get criticised for our hindsight, some suggesting that it is an exact science of which we have the benefit.
No, the coach has the same hindsight, aptly explained earlier in the piece. Yet we are the only ones criticised for using it. Coaches should be criticised for not using it.
Coaches have the opportunity to experience first hand what it is like to spend time with our heroes. He gets the opportunity to rub shoulders, drink beer, tour and talk to the best players.
They share jokes, triumphs, heartache and elation, in fact you could suggest the head coach has the best seat in the house, whether it be in the changing room, the stand, the aeroplane or the bus.
What do we get? Observing this all from a bloody couch.
So there you have it, spare a thought for your co-amateur analysts and commentators as they take a well-earned break.
Enjoy the festive season, and see you back at the grindstone next year.