Read this before signing part 1: The players

Ben Darwin Columnist

By Ben Darwin, Ben Darwin is a Roar Expert

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    Brumbies prop Ben Alexander (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

    Through research, interviews with players and coaches and statistical analysis of more than 10,000 players spanning the last 20 years, I have examined how clubs recruit and create sustainable success.

    When it comes to players changing clubs – whether it is AFL, rugby, league or cricket – the information that’s come to light has had some striking similarities from both player and club perspectives. And it’s data that should not be ignored by either party.

    Before anyone begins citing players that fly in the face of this information, please keep in mind there are always going to be exceptions to the rule.

    I have split the article in two – one part for players and one for clubs.

    Here is the information for players to be wary of. Many of these are mind-numbingly obvious but very rarely thought of when money is being flashed around.

    For players
    1. Moving more than three times rings alarm bells. The more times a player changes clubs, the harder it becomes to settle in to the new club.

    2. Regret related to changing clubs is almost always going to set in some time and usually when it’s too late to do anything about it.

    3a. On average, it takes two years for a player to hit their peak after moving clubs and that is if they manage to hit their peak. Some players are never the same after moving clubs, although through no fault of their own (see point 4).

    3b. If a player moves to an overseas club, the time it takes to hit their peak is even longer, with the chances of it even happening being severely reduced.

    3c. On top of the last scenario, throw a foreign language into the mix, and the time it takes to hit peak performance is lengthened again, and almost out of reach.

    4. A player’s output on the field at their previous club is not just solely because of them. Their output is a product of the knowledge and understanding that player has with the other players around them.

    This is something unique for each player at each club, and is not transferrable. So it should be expected that a player who has recently changed clubs would under-perform at the new club.

    5. A player’s new club is expecting them to perform at the same standard as they did during the last game at their previous old club. Players who have changed teams will struggle to deliver on this. The number of times we have heard players being described as “not the player he was at his old club” is remarkable.

    6. A player’s status in the pecking order of their current club is always temporary. Have patience – coaches change their minds and clubs change coaches.

    7. Staying for less at a current club is worth it most of the time, even financially. Just because the money is more to go now does not mean more money in the long term. There are many reasons why this is so, including:

    a) There is a strong chance a new club will be disappointed with a newly-moved player and downgrade their next contract.

    b) A player’s old club may not want them back.

    c) A player is no longer seen in the same light by the market.

    d) A player may earn more each time they sign a contract with a new club, but in the end, the player will run out of clubs.

    e) Legacies help a player to get looked after in retirement. Clubs have a habit of looking after one-club players in terms of work and connections.

    8. When a player changes clubs, they are initially an outsider at the new club, and, as a result, they won’t be shown the same loyalty the one-club players are shown. The more times a player changes club, the less likely they will be viewed as someone who is loyal, no matter what the circumstances are.

    9. If someone new comes in above a player at their current club, the player needs to remember this new player may only be there a short time. The player should stay and fight it out for the spot. Changing clubs may only end in the player being on the bench.

    10. Players should not focus on one per cent or even 10 per cent more they can earn. Get one per cent better at playing, and the rest will take care of itself. Dan Carter of the All Blacks and Crusaders is a great example of someone who simply focuses on getting better.

    11. Working through the hard times and then winning a title at the same club is far greater than being transported into a team and winning. AFL player and St Kilda captain Nick Riewoldt said, “For me, if I were to go somewhere else and win a premiership would it be the same?”

    12. You can make the national team from your current club. Paul Harragon, former captain of the Newcastle Knights, said, “I wanted to make the Australian team from my own bed. I thought if I could do that, it would be 10 times better and it was.”

    13. Average players can look pretty good when they know everyone around them well. They will support other team members more, and are able to clean up their mistakes.

    14. A player should find the best program they can, as young as they can. Being on the bench or in an academy of a club with a good program tends to ultimately be better than being in the starting team of a club with a poor program.

    15. A player should never leave a club “to play finals”. It says something about them, and it says something not very nice to your old teammates. And, for example, look how quickly the Reds turned it around to win a Super Rugby title in 2011.

    16. We find it very hard to find players who regret staying at their clubs but there are a lot of players who seem to regret leaving.

    17. If a player does change clubs, they need to do it for the right reasons and do it only once. Then it is far easier to overcome any hurdles that may arise.

    The key point I would point out to players is this – be very, very careful of over-estimating the role you play in your own success.

    Ben is a retired former Wallaby front rower who has been asked about his neck injury more than a million times by his reckoning. Yes, it's fine, thanks for asking. Ben was lucky enough to be involved with, mainly as a hanger on, some wonderful sides at the Brumbies and Wallabies. He works in coaching, analysis and media and has started his own analysis company Gainline. Ben's company tracks teams recruitment of players and how it impacts on their results.
    Follow Ben on Twitter: @bendarwin and @GLAnalytics

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    The Crowd Says (72)

    • March 21st 2014 @ 3:11am
      Johnno said | March 21st 2014 @ 3:11am | ! Report

      Ben wow, what some striking analysis awsome stuff. Any player around 20 with some talent should read this.
      I agreed with most points but didn’t agree with.

      -15. “A player should never leave a club “to play finals”. It says something about them, and it says something not very nice to your old teammates. And, for example, look how quickly the Reds turned it around to win a Super Rugby title in 2011.”

      (Thinking your teammates are losers is not supposed to be nice, and a pro-athlete with a strong will to win, shouldn’t care about that, the ruthless pursuit of winning title should be no 1 if you are a true champion) if you wanna be a nice guy and put teammates who you think are not to winning the title 1st, then I would assume being a pro athlete is no the right profession. And never be a coach then, as when you break it down when push comes to shove, being a head coach is not a “nice guy job (as you have to drop players eg Warren Gatland dropping nice-guy BOD and popular dude”) the kiw coach who dropped Wayne Shelford etc Alex Grizz Wylie I think.
      Heck Steve Waugh as one of the tour selectors voted to drop Shane Warne for the 4th test and go with Mcgill/colin Miller, was tough on Warne.

      eg Lebron James with the decision in 2010 as it was billed and hyped up. He was tough on his ex-Clevland teammates, and booed as he was a Clevland local. Hew went to Miami, and a few other good marquee players, and they all had the same central goals to win titles. And I think he took a pay-cut to achieve that goal.

      -Sometimes going to a new star studded club won’t work out, but that’s not relevant. Just as it’s irellevant if a star player, gets offered a fortune to join a crap club, in the hope of putting it up the ladder, but fails to reach the heights for one reason or another.

      -The point is I think it’s a relevant reason for a player to join a team, “To play finals”. Many players are motivated by winning titles.
      -And yes often the big teams in a non-salary cap comp have more money to buy big, bus as said before plenty of players get offered big to join crap teams who have no chance or not much chance of winning the title. eg Tim Brasher got paid big money to join the Nth QLD Cowboys and took the big pay day. Adam Macdougall got paid big money to join Souths, when he could of stayed at Newcastle, he went back later but he left for big money.
      -And Wayne Rooney like Lebron James is an example of a bloke wanting to win titles. Rooney left Everton for Man United, coz he wanted to win EPL titles, and knew with Everton he had no chance.
      So winning titles or making finals is a lucrative carrott, and that’s why I disagree with “a player should never leave to play finals”, and i think it’s a good reason. Not being nice, and loyalty is irelevant in pro sport, winning titles is what’s it’s about.
      Lebron James and Wayne Rooney, both defeat rule no 15, as they left there home towns, to chase winning titles, and Lebron James took a pay cut to do it, and Rooney was not on the same money he is on today, when he left Everton.

      • March 21st 2014 @ 12:25pm
        Eagle roarer said | March 21st 2014 @ 12:25pm | ! Report

        “I agreed with most points but didn’t agree with.
        -15. “A player should never leave a club “to play finals”. It says something about them, and it says something not very nice to your old teammates. And, for example, look how quickly the Reds turned it around to win a Super Rugby title in 2011.””

        Depends what your goals are.. the article is suggesting that being a one club player is more beneficial to you financially so if your goal is to be a professional and have a long term career then staying is best. But if your goal is only to win a comp then you are correct.

      • March 21st 2014 @ 1:20pm
        Gussy Boi said | March 21st 2014 @ 1:20pm | ! Report

        Bit like Berrick going to the Waratahs to chase a title, fail.

        • March 21st 2014 @ 3:40pm
          AJ said | March 21st 2014 @ 3:40pm | ! Report

          Or the classic one, Nathan Buckley left the Lions with same insult. He did get to play some grand finals and got to defeat taste at the hands of guess who?

          • March 21st 2014 @ 6:20pm
            ignoramus said | March 21st 2014 @ 6:20pm | ! Report

            stephen moore, mitch chapman

            • March 21st 2014 @ 6:53pm
              Bakkies said | March 21st 2014 @ 6:53pm | ! Report

              TBF to Barnes, Chapman and Moore the Reds at the time had no stability at all with pathetic results and constant coach changes. Moore and Chapman at least had joined a side that had won titles. Barnes on the other hand experienced the same issues at the Tahs. The Brumbies had one bad season in 2011 the rest have been solid to pushing finals.

          • March 21st 2014 @ 8:12pm
            Minz said | March 21st 2014 @ 8:12pm | ! Report

            All time great mistake IMO. to be fair though, you can’t blame him – Brisbane were a shambles, and things changed dramatically in the time after he left.

        • March 21st 2014 @ 6:51pm
          Bakkies said | March 21st 2014 @ 6:51pm | ! Report

          So far it’s been a failure for Messrs Hooper and Ashley Cooper. Dan Vickermann threw away a Super Rugby title to join them for the 2004 season.

          • March 22nd 2014 @ 12:45am
            gus said | March 22nd 2014 @ 12:45am | ! Report

            Ben Darwin’s comment was a perfect copy of what Stephen Moore was quoted as saying when he moved south. Which is a shame on Moore, as he is one of my and the public’s most respected Wallabies.

            Nevertheless, Berrick and Stephen didn’t do as well as they both would have liked between 2011 and 2014.

            • March 23rd 2014 @ 10:25pm
              Bakkies said | March 23rd 2014 @ 10:25pm | ! Report

              Tbf to Moore he wasn’t far off a title last year and didn’t join a team like the Rebels or Force.

      • Columnist

        March 21st 2014 @ 9:22pm
        Ben Darwin said | March 21st 2014 @ 9:22pm | ! Report

        Thanks Johhno
        I certainly agree with a lot of what you say here . I think i didn’t properly express properly what i was thinking at the time.
        As a few guys have picked up here . Leaving teams to win titles has gone a little pear shaped for a few guys. So if that is your reason it may not turn out you hope.
        When a guy does leave to win titles i think it does say “you guys do not mean as much to me as winning does”. “and i don’t think your you guys are capable of it”.
        It dont think it is a case of certain guys careers defeating point. If i showed you lets 20 examples where it didnt work out vs 5 where it did. Is it still worth it?
        The main reason someone should change clubs is to go to a program that is going to make them a better player. Most of us didnt play to win titles. Its to do what we love. Titles come as part of the process.

        • March 21st 2014 @ 10:31pm
          Bakkies said | March 21st 2014 @ 10:31pm | ! Report

          Ben you must have thought that Karma came to bite Vickermann when he missed out on the 2004 title.

    • March 21st 2014 @ 3:26am
      Stelio Kontos said | March 21st 2014 @ 3:26am | ! Report

      Some poignant insights there… Thanks for sharing, sir…

      A fascinating read!

    • March 21st 2014 @ 4:52am
      Bakkies said | March 21st 2014 @ 4:52am | ! Report

      Excellent article Ben. I would like to see you take another shot at coaching at the Brumbies one day.

      • Columnist

        March 21st 2014 @ 9:23pm
        Ben Darwin said | March 21st 2014 @ 9:23pm | ! Report

        Thanks Runit.
        Thats right a lot of guys have been moved on by clubs that show no loyalty. That will be subject of the next article. About not letting guys go.
        And i am certainly not saying to never change clubs. However guys often dont understand what they may lose in the process. I am also reporting the feedback we received. I try to keep my opinion out of it and fail. I certainly met a lot of guys regret changing clubs as they did for the wrong reasons.

        When guys are moved on they simply have to make the best of it and Brock James is a tremendous example of it. But to choose to leave its really important understand the consequences.

    • Roar Guru

      March 21st 2014 @ 5:44am
      Diggercane said | March 21st 2014 @ 5:44am | ! Report

      Very good read Ben. Thank you

    • March 21st 2014 @ 6:42am
      John said | March 21st 2014 @ 6:42am | ! Report

      Good stuff. Pretty interesting.

    • Roar Guru

      March 21st 2014 @ 7:37am
      Turnover said | March 21st 2014 @ 7:37am | ! Report

      Cheers Ben.