Rugby Australia needs to treat its case of learned helplessness

Steiner Roar Pro

By Steiner, Steiner is a Roar Pro

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    In psychology, learned helplessness is a depressive mental state in which an organism forced to bear aversive stimuli, or stimuli that are painful or otherwise unpleasant, becomes unable or unwilling to avoid subsequent encounters with said stimuli.

    This is the case even if the stimuli are ‘escapable’, presumably because the organism has learned that it cannot control the situation.

    Does this sound familiar, Roarers?

    Basically, it means an animal, person or organisation assumes through previous experience it is helpless and cannot control the negative situations around it, so does little to avoid them in the present or future.

    The term was notably used by former Australian Defence Department head Allan Hawke to describe the prevailing mindset in his department’s bureaucracy around the excruciating bungles that kept happening in major defence capability acquisitions that cost taxpayers billions of dollars.

    I watched Raelene Castle’s Kick and Chase interview, in which she represented herself very well.

    The questions from the panel covered the hot topics of Israel Folau, Quade Cooper, the 38-0 statistic against New Zealand teams, Andrew Forrest and the future of SANZAAR. While most parts of Castle’s responses were well weighted and considered, she did little to convince me that RA or its board had any answers to their challenges – or any sense of urgency to develop solutions.

    In fact, it struck me that RA was, and has been for a long time, still locked in its own iron grip of learned helplessness. That includes the other state union members and nominated individuals who make up the RA board.

    RA’s positions on Izzy, Quade, Twiggy, overseas player drain, and SANZAAR all show symptoms of an organisation that seems to believe it is powerless to do anything in situations that they perceive are beyond their control. And they keep ending up in these situations, especially when it comes to SANZAAR, where it seems the prevailing attitude is ‘we’ll just stay flex and go with the flow because we’ve been here before and nothing we do can change the situation anyway’.

    That kind of helpless approach does not favourably shape any sort of outcome, nor fix the underlying decision-making structures that have resulted in negative decisions to shrink Australian rugby, isolate the grassroots, and pay millions to poach league stars or to pay high-profile players to not play Super Rugby.

    There is clearly a pattern to RA’s behaviour and decision-making processes as an organisation that reinforces a learned helpless mindset. Until this is addressed, no CEO can do what they need to do.

    As a life-long supporter of rugby in Australia, I almost yearn for the early John O’Neill days, when at least the ARU and its board members weren’t determinedly helpless passengers, but rather driving the situation instead of passively accepting it as beyond their control.

    RA’s massively bureaucratic reaction to Forrest’s offers of grassroots assistance and his new competition exemplify the glacial pace RA now moves at as part of its learned helplessness, and that contributes to its struggle to manage and adapt to change. Why move quickly, decisively, and with agility when we ain’t got a hope anyway because SANZAAR and Fox are driving this bus, right? Twiggy who?

    Can anyone believe that the New Zealand Rugby Union would be this passive, docile and slow in meeting the same challenges or opportunities? Heck no – and they haven’t been, which is why they are where they are now.

    If Castle really wants to make an impression, she can call out this culture of learned helplessness in RA’s bureaucracy and start herding the cats to fix the organisation’s decision-making apparatus so it avoids short-term fixes and Australian rugby is proactively on the front foot again based on a sound vision.

    There is not the luxury of aeons of time that it seems RA need to even address the most basic of issues. It is supposedly a competitive sports business now as we kept getting told, so stop acting like a big government bureaucracy and get on with urgently tackling the systemic issues crippling the game in Australia as a professional, competitive and agile organisation.

    Maintaining a helpless, ponderous and unresponsive mindset is not an option for RA if it seeks to revive the game in this country.

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    The Crowd Says (43)

    • May 12th 2018 @ 3:48am
      stu said | May 12th 2018 @ 3:48am | ! Report

      Yep some excellent points here.

      Without proactive leadership RA is stuffed. Never understood why the did not sit down and deal with Twiggy. Fear of change, Loss of control? Cowardice? Laziness?

      I wonder exactly how much of my son and daughters playing fees goes straight to RA instead of to the club and the local comp.

      • May 12th 2018 @ 9:58am
        Noodles said | May 12th 2018 @ 9:58am | ! Report

        There is so much Tosh in here I suspect Steiner is already an ARU board member.

        • May 12th 2018 @ 11:23am
          woodart said | May 12th 2018 @ 11:23am | ! Report

          a lot less tosh than the continuing calls for NZ rugby to sacrifice itself on an alter of transtasman selflessness. calling for aus rugby to step up and be pro-active isnt tosh at all…the constant wringing of hands over folau’s provocative public media utterances is shameful. NO player is bigger than the game itself.

        • May 12th 2018 @ 3:33pm
          Steiner said | May 12th 2018 @ 3:33pm | ! Report

          I think you’ve completely missed the point Noodles but thanks for the feedback. And no I am not an RA board member.

    • May 12th 2018 @ 4:59am
      mad mick said | May 12th 2018 @ 4:59am | ! Report

      How are Rod Kafer and Mick the kick working out for the ARU. Those blokes are con men self centered and a load of bull.

      • May 12th 2018 @ 5:58am
        Mzilikazi said | May 12th 2018 @ 5:58am | ! Report

        “Those blokes are con men self centered ” Interesting observation, mm. I spent some time in the same conference room with these two guys at what was termed a coaching summit just before the Tens competition. I did wonder about both of them then as really dynamic and decisive men, able to “cut to the chase”. Kafer sounds impressive initially, but words are not actions.

        I thought Byrne’s body language was not great, and what he had to say ws not really inspiring either. But I would hold judgement on him, as he was, I believe, employed by NZRU as a skills coach for some time, and I have long ago learned not to judge people on first sight.

        Also on Mick Byrne still, I would not say there has been any marked improvement in the Wallabies handling skills as yet, and a lot of the tactical kicking is really poor.

        But in Byrne’s defence, I would concede that he should have handed to him on a “silver platter” players who already have a high level of skills from their super rugby roots. All he should have to do is add the final, but important, final touches.

        • Roar Guru

          May 12th 2018 @ 10:57am
          PeterK said | May 12th 2018 @ 10:57am | ! Report

          the wallaby forwards passing and catching skills have improved a lot since Byrne started.

          They were non existent and now are competent.

          Cheika doesn’t believe in kicking so it isn’t worked on.

          • May 12th 2018 @ 12:24pm
            Jameswm said | May 12th 2018 @ 12:24pm | ! Report

            And footwork

            • May 12th 2018 @ 3:43pm
              Steiner said | May 12th 2018 @ 3:43pm | ! Report

              Agree he can only work within the teams playing style and Foleys kicking out of hand shows some improvement

              • May 13th 2018 @ 7:06am
                Bakkies said | May 13th 2018 @ 7:06am | ! Report

                Apart from getting charged down.

      • May 12th 2018 @ 12:00pm
        Malo said | May 12th 2018 @ 12:00pm | ! Report

        Agree jokes, getting paid millions

    • May 12th 2018 @ 5:35am
      Ken Catchpole’s Other Leg said | May 12th 2018 @ 5:35am | ! Report

      Two Micks
      One can kick
      One is mad
      and One Rod
      That makes three
      Why oh why with such an army onboard
      Don’t we have Prosperity?

    • May 12th 2018 @ 6:05am
      Mzilikazi said | May 12th 2018 @ 6:05am | ! Report

      Very interesting article Steiner. Thanks.

      “If Castle really wants to make an impression, she can call out this culture of learned helplessness in RA’s bureaucracy and start herding the cats to fix the organisation’s decision-making apparatus ”

      And she has taken on this job knowing the situation, and it is therefore her task to make hard decisions, indeed totally ruthless decisions, to lift Australian rugby from the mire it has sunk into.

      • May 12th 2018 @ 9:17am
        Steiner said | May 12th 2018 @ 9:17am | ! Report

        Thanks MZ. She certainly has a hard road ahead of her but it’s these challenges that define great CEOs v business as usual types. I don’t think we can afford BAU from RA anymore.

    • May 12th 2018 @ 6:59am
      Drongo said | May 12th 2018 @ 6:59am | ! Report

      OMFG. Don’t swallow this claptrap.

    • May 12th 2018 @ 7:10am
      Masher said | May 12th 2018 @ 7:10am | ! Report

      Good points but the real question is How? When people get into this state it is the ability to lead them through it that defines success or not. Merely pointing out yet another problem without providing some techniques, plans or processes to improve it is only going to compound the issue.

      • May 12th 2018 @ 7:24am
        Steiner said | May 12th 2018 @ 7:24am | ! Report

        Hi Masher. One of the averse stimuli is the decision making structure of the board based on its amateur era constitution. Getting the members to change this is a tremendous challenge. Other national unions have managed it but we haven’t yet.

        • May 12th 2018 @ 10:19am
          John said | May 12th 2018 @ 10:19am | ! Report

          Absolutely. The problems with the board stem from the amateurish setup where NSW and QLD have too much power. I don’t things will get better until that changes and unfortunately those people are too self centred to make the change until it’s forced on them. It took NZ being kicked out of the 1/4 finals of a RWC to face up to the issues and I think this load of fools will need the same or even worse to occur before the change happens. I just hope rugby in Australia can survive the crash that is coming.

          • May 12th 2018 @ 1:22pm
            richard said | May 12th 2018 @ 1:22pm | ! Report

            What issues did NZ have going into the 2007 RWC? They were easily the best team in the world at that time – it was solely down to Henry over-thinking it and going with the “rest and rotation” bs.

            NZR has been in a good place since Henry took over in 2004.

            • May 12th 2018 @ 3:46pm
              Steiner said | May 12th 2018 @ 3:46pm | ! Report

              Pretty sure John is talking about the NZ structures that have delivered dominance in test and super rugby in the last 5-6 years.

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