Clarke: Creativity being coached out of the game

TV pundit Phil Clarke says rugby league is in danger of losing its creative edge and becoming robotic.

Clarke, writing for Sky Sports, said the late Roger Millward epitomised the sort of play that we are seeing less of in the modern game.

“The death of a legend is always a time of great sadness, but it should also be a time of great hope and inspiration,” Clarke writes.

“Millward was both a great player and a successful coach… He was fast, brave, skilful and evasive, but more than anything he was instinctive.

“He used his eyes and the creative part of his brain to attack his opponents. He set up and scored hundreds of tries by reacting to what was happening around him.

“In my opinion, most fans pay to see creativity on a rugby field. They appreciate the brutal battle that takes place in the middle of the pitch, and they don’t mind seeing a try from a pre-planned move now and again, but it is magic moments that they talk about on their way home, ones that are totally unrehearsed.

“These are what makes them return for the next game.”

Clarke believes that logical thinking is taking priority over creativity in rugby league.

“The ‘structured’ play of who stands where, runs into which hole in their opponents’ defensive line, passes behind which team-mate, it’s a bit like watching a driverless car,” he writes.

“It just does not excite you even though I can see that it efficiently gets you from A to B, or over the tryline. If we are not careful we are in danger of ridding the game of creative thinking by simply focusing on having more attacking numbers than defending ones.

“It’s logical but it doesn’t fire the part of the brain that makes you smile or get up out of your seat.

“There is a bigger danger that the shift away from an autonomous thinking in attack will become boring – if it hasn’t already. Worse still, we are in danger of damaging young players by encouraging them to copy this style of play.

“Not all coaches are guilty of it but I worry that we are stifling the talents of more players by getting them to play like robots. The obsession with completion rates discourages players from taking a risk.

“We need to radically alter that thinking and encourage players not to worry about being wrong and losing the ball, mistakes will happen.

“It seems to me that coaches need to feed the imagination of their players, not just provide a template like a choreographer would do for the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. Professional sport is about entertaining people and we need to remember that.”

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