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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Davies

Recruitment Season

As well as gearing up for the year in business, January is a big month in the world of British American Football! Most teams across the UK hold rookie days to attract and welcome new talent and start their pre-season training to get ready for the fixtures which begin in mid-April.

Attracting new players is important for a number of fairly obvious reasons. Firstly, there's a natural attrition year-on-year when players start to get older, pick up injuries or have changing priorities with marriages, kids and job changes so there's an element of back-filling those players to maintain a good squad size. This is important not only to ensure that you get a good turnout at training, drive competition to push standards up and have depth to cover injuries and absences throughout the season, but also because, for most teams, the subs that players pay to the club are the lifeblood of the team. That money pays for practice and game facilities, buses, medical and officiating costs and all of the things that need to be covered. When squad sizes dwindle, many of those costs remain fixed, so teams run the risk of running out of cash and being forced to closer their doors.

Then there's the desire to push on, performance-wise. Most teams want to climb the ladder and improve their on-field product and the fastest way of doing this is by signing existing or former players from other teams, who can bring up the level of the team. It's a pretty small pond to fish in, the world of the minority sport, so there are never any shortage of coaches and players willing to destabilise their neighbouring teams by poaching their best players, offering them the moon on a stick to jump ship!

The battle for talent is something that's spoken about a lot in business, especially in emerging disciplines like data, AI and machine learning, where the demand for skills and knowledge outstrips the current supply and businesses need to work hard to attract and retain the right talent. The world of British American Football is a perfect microcosm of that. Teams need to be attractive to bring in the right players and coaches and they need to have a longer-term focus of developing players and coaches who can do their job at a high level, but this is a slow and uncertain process.

The question is, when you can't attract people by paying them an inordinate amount of money (there are currently less than 20 people in the UK being paid to coach American Football, very few of them making enough to live on from AF alone and, assuming the rules are being followed, nobody is being paid to play it!) how do you do it? That's something that's been on my mind a lot these last few months!

In November, after several years as Assistant Head Coach and Special Teams Coordinator of the GB Mens national team, I felt the time was right for change and so I stepped down from my role at the conclusion of the season. Shortly afterwards, I applied for and was appointed to become the Head Coach of the club team I played for, for seven seasons and have been associated with since 2006, the East Kilbride Pirates. The Pirates had a tough season in 2023, maintaining their place in the British Premier Division but finishing mid-table and losing a few players over the past two years to rival teams. when I took over, the coaching staff was threadbare and several needed a break, leaving very little behind, so the main focus of my first two months was to stabilise the existing roster, create a compelling vision for the future and use this to recruit both players and coaches to push us into our next phase.

A favourite business book of mine, A Beautiful Constraint (which I wrote about in a blog post back in Jan 2022) talks about turning constraints which can be seen as limiting and oppressive into strengths which can allow you to move forward in ways which you might not have considered otherwise. In recruiting for an amateur sports team, there are no shortage of constraints (lack of funds to advertise with, no funds to remunerate candidates with, significant time commitment to name but a few) and so it becomes all about those intangible things which being a part of the organisation can offer. What is it that people look for in their lives? What's missing and where can we fill those gaps?

There are, with the Pirates, plenty of great things to use as hooks. In Start With Why, Simon Sinek talks about the power of recruiting with your Why and that's something that's easily done when you really understand it. For me, with this team, it's about making a difference to the lives of the people who are involved (players, coaches, staff and fans) and building something that makes them proud, gives them strength and enhances their existence. I believe fully in the power of community and of being a part of something bigger than yourself and the Pirates have always been that for me, ever since I joined as a player almost 18 years ago. I've seen, in that time, what the team has done for my life and those of many others around me. It's offered fun and fitness, cameraderie and connection, support and success and been a light in people's lives when everything else around them seemed dark.

It's also a team with a long and proud history. Next year we will celebrate our 40th anniversary, putting us alongside only two or three other teams in the UK who have stood the test of time. A new staff member to the programme approached us out of the blue and he and I spoke at length about what he was looking for and what the team were in need of. When I asked about him and discovered that he lived quite a distance from the team, and near to another significant Scottish team, I asked why he'd chosen us and he spoke passionately about the history and legacy of the team. Sometimes it doesn't need to be you as a leader who crafts the narrative that you use to draw others towards your organisation. Just ask those who are with you on the journey why they are there and you might be surprised at their answers!

You might not run an amateur sports team, but perhaps you're part of one. Or maybe you're part of a choir or a walking group. It might be that you run a business or a department. Whatever your circumstances, new people, fresh blood, new ideas, additional resources, an influx of talent and skills might be just what you need to move things along or freshen them up. What are the things which you already have at your disposal, perhaps without realising, which can help you to grow your community?

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