The time for summer player camps has arrived, as students bid farewell to school for the next couple of months but not to the sport they love. For the most part, attendees know what to expect at these assemblies: lots of personal attention from high-level coaches, education on nutrition and conditioning, throngs of like-minded athletes. But one player camp is tackling an underserved topic that affects many college – and club – teams: the necessity for player coaches.
Two years ago, coach Scott Stratton met David “Lamb Chop” Helterbran at the East Stroudsburg Player Development Camp (July 9-14, 2013). Helterbran had just been elected captain and consequently player-coach for his team, Montclair State University in northern New Jersey. Hardly a veteran, Helterbran attended the ESU camp in hopes of learning what would be involved when coaching his peers in the upcoming fall.
“He came to camp out of his own pocket, just to figure out what he could do with his own club,” Stratton remembered. “We spent a lot of time talking, and after camp, I continued to send him practice outlines, giving him suggestions on team recruitment, team bonding – and it really turned him around. It gave him a positive outlook, and the team ended up winning 90% of their games. They made the playoffs for the first time ever, and that success enticed a coach to come in because they were better organized. That got me thinking: What can we do at camp that’s better than the typical USA Rugby two-day coaching course?”
That question gnawed at Stratton, who as Small College Coordinator for the Eastern Pennsylvania Rugby Union, continued to interact with teams in Helterbran’s predicament.
“I know there are a lot of teams coaching themselves,” Stratton said, “and I’ve done it. In a nutshell, it’s next to impossible to be a good player and coach. As the EPRU Small College Coordinator, I work hard all year to find coaches for teams, but due to location – like Juniata, Susquehanna – it’s tough. These teams are far from cities and removed from people who can coach. As a coordinator, it’s my job to make sure these teams are better prepared.”
So Stratton suggested that the ESU player camp layer in a special program for college student-athletes who were tasked to serve as player-coaches for their teams. Those camp attendees will participate in the same four-day camp as the rest of the athletes but will receive extra instruction.
“They’ll be running their tails off that weekend, both running drills and then learning how to teach them,” Stratton said. “We’ll meet during meals, at night, during down time. They’ll have a workbook on them at all times and will hop out of drills to take notes and draw diagrams. We’ll make sure they know how to take it back to their club, from start to finish: From how to make their team better passers, to getting into the breakdown, up to game film. We’ll show them what teams are doing right now and how they can integrate that into practice. Or if a certain drill doesn’t work for their team, we’ll show them how to change it.”
Additionally, attendees who sign up for the player-coach portion of the camp will also be eligible for camp scholarships. Stratton was able to allot some of his EPRU budget to the cause, but only for teams in his jurisdiction.
“I was able to give kids from Albright, Juniata and Bloomsburg half-price entry,” Stratton said, “but I told them to put it on their teammates, who should come up with the other $200.”
Catering to player-coaches is a necessary evil; the alternatives being either the non-existence of a college team or an unpleasant, stressful experience. For instance:
“At Susquehanna, there’s a freshman taking over,” Stratton said. “She played four years in high school, so she has the most knowledge. She’s going to get burnt out; that’s too much for a college student.”
Stratton has plenty of experience with this subject matter, from the inspiring interactions with “Pork Chop,” to the perpetual coaching woes of the colleges he oversees in the EPRU. He was also at the center of a team’s turnaround, which serves as even more impetus to educate and prepare young leaders, at least until a coach arrives.
“When I was a player-coach at ESU in the late 80s, we weren’t that serious,” Stratton said. “My first serious coaching stint occurred in 1996, when I went back to ESU for my teaching degree. The men’s team was kind of a mess. They were coaching themselves, nothing was set in stone, players would show up and say, ‘OK, what are we going to do today?’ They wanted me to play, but I was only going to be there for one year. So instead, I got something going coaching wise, and helped turn them around, making the national playoffs in the late 90s. That launched them forward.”
And that’s what Stratton’s looking to replicate at the ESU player camp this year.
For more information, on the entire ESU Player Development Camp, visit www.rugbydevelopmentcamp.com.
For more info on the player-coach portion of the camp, visit HERE.