Title

Understanding the decision-making process of coaches and high-performance staff on player training and game availability in the National Rugby League (NRL) men

Author Identifiers

David Boyle

https://orcid.org/0000-0003-2623-9354

Date of Award

2022

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Medical and Health Science by Research

School

School of Medical and Health Sciences

First Advisor

Sophia Nimphius

Second Advisor

Trevor Clark

Abstract

Abstract Abbreviated:

This research aimed to understand better the information coaches and high-performance managers use and how they make decisions on player availability in the National Rugby League (NRL) men. The three factors that contributed to decision-making were: (1) their experience in the NRL, (2) trust (between coach and support team) determines many (if not all) decision-making processes, and (3) managing expectations of coaches, their staff, and players. There was one common denominator across all player availability decisions – data provided a basis for deliberation – but ultimately, the human connection through conversations (formal and informal) determined selection.

Introduction:

The game of rugby league is a physically demanding contest where players repeatedly perform intermittent high-speed running bouts, involving frequent accelerations, decelerations, and numerous high-intensity collisions. These bouts result in fatigue, soreness, and at times varying degrees of injury during or in the subsequent days after a game. With the current evolution of sports science technology in rugby league, the team’s attempt to measure and monitor the physical demands (either internal or external training load) using objective (e.g. Global Positioning Systems) and subjective (e.g. through coach, trainers, or athlete feedback) information. To add complexity, the National Rugby League commission has recently made significant rule changes to speed the game up (e.g. six again call to keep play flowing), resulting in high-performance managers’ having to develop stronger, faster, and more conditioned athletes. An additional evolutionary challenge for elite coaches has been the escalation of staff and player roster numbers, the outcome seen as a requirement to recruit specialisation coaches for specific skills and high-performance areas. These changes in rules and staff structure have increased the need to have management and leadership skills to coordinate the magnitude of information before decisions on player availability are made. The purpose of this research was to achieve a greater understanding (descriptive research or
hypothesis-generating) from an interpretative approach as to what external/internal training load information elite coaches and high-performance managers use and how they make decisions on player availability in the NRL.

Methods:

This research used a mixed-method design with the quantitative component adopting two deductive approaches; the first by extracting data from each participant’s demographic details. The second included a pre-interview questionnaire that was developed to better understand the framework of processes for monitoring, planning, and decision-making. The qualitative component used a grounded theory constructivist design through semi-structured interviews by asking open-ended questions with participants to explore and understand the decision-making process as no current theory exists in this population.

Findings:

This study’s main findings include that coaches and high-performance manager support that,

  • a team first culture and relationship between coaches, medical, high-performance staff and players based on trust is critical for success
  • observation and casual conversations are key areas for monitoring and information gathering surrounding player well-being and preparedness
  • an emotional intelligence leadership approach has emerged as the preferred model to facilitate a functional coach - athlete relationship
  • a proposed conceptual framework of processes for monitoring, planning, and decision-making is supported as being an appropriate model

Conclusion:

Based on the findings this study concludes there are numerous factors that determine critical
decision-making on player availability in the National Rugby League.

  1. Experience in the National Rugby League plays a significant role in player selection
  2. Trust (between coach and support team) determines many (if not all) decision-making processes. Specialist staff provide objective and subjective data to the head coach who determines (through consultation) whether a player is available for selection.
  3. Communication, organisation and effort has positive implications across all functions of an NRL club including managing expectations of coaches, their staff, and players.

Managing expectations (of staff, players, administrators and the media) is a full-time role for head coaches in the National Rugby League and it is forever changing (rules, technology, compliance) requiring a delicate balance of art versus science. There was one common denominator across all player availability decisions – data provided a basis for deliberation – but ultimately it was the human connection through conversations (formal and informal) that determined selection.

Access Note

Access to this thesis is embargoed until 12th October 2027

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