Tony Fretwell: Making The Grade
I recently caught up with RFL National Player Development Manager, Tony Fretwell. As well as running Category 3 Academies and leading the RFL Talented Athlete Scholarship (TASS) programme, Tony alongside Paul Medley, lead the England Talent Pathway Program (ETP). The ETP comprises of a comprehensive programme which caters for under 12s right up to under 16s delivered in both Community Clubs and Schools.
1. The bigger you are, the more chance you have in the the big leagues?
During our discussion Tony quickly cleared up this common misconception, backed with clear ETP strategy. "Players are profiled to assess progress and is totally none selective. This isn't to be fluffy or nice, it is based on the fact that in Rugby League, the relative age effect is huge. If we select, we invariably selected older, bigger more mature athletes, not necessarily the talented ones with potential. Keeping players in the pathway for longer allows that effect to be lessened"
2. How hard or easy is it to make it from amateur to professional rugby player?
"This is a question like how long is a piece of string!?! Many support that by spending 10,000 hours doing something, you can become an expert. That's true - give or take 10,000 hours! For instance, someone might do those hours and still not be any good. Conversely, some players have made a Super League debut with less that 10 games of professional Rugby League.
Recently a boy in the Midlands played for England youth after only a handful of Rugby League games.
To be successful in anything takes a range of attributes. The more of these attributes you possess, the more potential you have. However, again it's not that simple, because having and using those attributes are two different things. This is generally based on social and environmental factors. We all know of talented young players who do not progress, likewise there are a lot of players who come from "nowhere." If the attributes are there, alongside coach-ability and work ethic, then its very possible to progress. Rugby League has a progression rate a lot higher than many sports. In football 1 in a 1000 progress, in Rugby League 5 from every 100 signed play sustained games in Super League
What I will say is that even for those with high levels in lots of key attributes, its never "easy" to become a professional player. Every day is hard work."
3. Some people say if rugby was safer, (with less risk of concussion for example) there will be higher participation. What are your thoughts on this?
"Concussion has been in the news a lot recently because of studies and increased knowledge. Anything that improves player welfare is embraced by all sports and it is vital for the progress of sport. One thing I do believe strongly in though is that rugby is safe. The risks are well managed through coaching, teaching, good technique, the rules and guidelines for games. Incidents will always happen but that is the case in everything"
4. What are some of the demands and expectations of professional athletes and whether you have seen this first hand in rugby?
" A professional athlete is thorough and acknowledges they are an athlete 24/7 365 days a year. The biggest demand is dedication. You also need to have adaptability and the strength to bounce back from setbacks. I love the Michael Jordan advert about failing thousands of times and that's why he is successful. Progress will never be smooth. You will be dropped, will lose form, will get injured. Cope with it, stay focused and work hard. Rugby players can often be stereotyped, but the athletes I have experienced are bright, articulate, inquisitive and want to learn. They ensure every aspect of their lives is dedicated to their work and crucially they are pleasant, sociable, fun to be around and good people.
You have to be a well-rounded person to first make the grade, then be able to sustain it"