Why a promising player needs a rugby agent

This is a post worth sharing with parents of and school rugby boys who would like to pursue rugby as a career choice.
I asked well-respected South African rugby agent Dale Troy for the main reasons why a promising school rugby player should have an agent and he was kind enough to go into detail in providing this valuable feedback:

What are the main reasons for getting an agent if you are a promising school rugby player? There is so much to write about here so I propose to rather look at this with the following two questions.

  1. Do you need an agent to get that first junior contract straight after school? And
  2. Do you need an agent?

These two questions, although seemingly related, are in fact very different conversations. Confused, let me explain.

Let’s look at the first question, do you need an agent to get your first junior contract straight after school? The answer is actually no and that is because the spotlight in school boy rugby is so big that the best talent is easily recognised due to the amount of coverage that it gets. However, the second question becomes even more relevant now that we have answered the first one.

When you are looking at something like investing you do have the ability to do this yourself but since you do not have the industry expertise and knowledge you would likely get someone in that does so for a living so that they can setup your portfolio properly to match your requirements. The same principle applies here. Agents have years of industry knowledge to be able to not only get the best opportunities but to structure those in such as way that the player gets the best benefit available. But that is only looking at it from one perspective which really only looks at the financial side of things. At the end of the day we are not dealing with stocks and bonds but people and more importantly young men and women with hopes and dreams. So the agent not only has the industry knowledge from the business aspect but has also done this so often that they also know and understand the human aspect and how best to help players along their career and all the personal battles that come with it.

Professional sport is arguably one of the most cut throat and unforgiving environments in the world today. Regardless of the sporting code, you could be the most promising young talent but that doesn’t always translate into guaranteed success. One just needs to look at the ratio of how many Craven week players every year progress to full-time contracts with professional teams. Then look at the average of how many of these junior contracted players then progress onto signing senior contracts with these professional teams. The numbers make for a really jarring reality.

So does the player all of a sudden become bad at his or her craft if they don’t progress through the system a expected? Of course not, if anything the player will naturally become better due to their exposure to professional coaching structures and systems. So why then is there this huge drop off? The most basic answer of course is that the number of contracts that are available are significantly less the higher up the chain you go along with much higher standards and the player now is competing with not just his own age group, but older and younger players who are equally as talented.

So the player cannot rely solely on talent alone to get through the system and hope that, that in itself is good enough. So what is required? This is where the agent comes in and is exceptionally important. The agent is the person the player needs to not only have looking out for them in terms of career development but also to be a mentor with an emphasis on managing expectations.

I personally look at a players career as a series of stages namely: the junior contract years; the doldrum years; the big break; the self-actualization and finally the wonder years (retirement) and the agent has a very important role to fulfil in each of these. However for the purposes of this article I will look at the first two:

The Junior Contract Years:

The agent of course needs to make sure that their client is getting as much visibility as possible and getting feedback to the player. But the most important thing that the agent must do is ensure that their client remains grounded and aware of the reality still to come. Too often the side-shows of being the school prodigy come with expectations and sometimes demands of lavish gifts, large contracts and being placed on a pedestal. These are all distractions that provide nothing more than a false sense of importance. Couple this with the public, and often family, expectations with the sudden influx of money placed on the shoulders of young athletes who have not had a chance to mature is a recipe for disaster. The agent is vital here in that if they successfully get the player to buy into the vision and understand the expectations of what is still to come and how to manage and plan with what they currently have, the chances of that player progressing through to the next stage is that much greater.

The Doldrum Years:

The expectation of the player, community and family, is that the Pat Lambie or Frans Steyn model is the norm and that basically the player should progress quickly through the system and become a Springbok within the first two years. However the reality is that most players only make their ‘URC’ level debuts around 24 – 26 years of age if they remain in the system long enough to do so. So the reality is that after the junior contract years, what happens for the next 4 to 6 years? Often this time period is met with frustration, anger, questioning of their abilities, questioning the ability and motives of the coaching staff and a shift in focus towards life after or instead of rugby. This is because the player is too old for age group rugby and too inexperienced for senior rugby. So the playing opportunities are few and far between and with that the fear of not being able to progress due t the limited exposure. The agent here again will manage the expectations but also plot a pathway for the player to get as much game-time as possible. This period of time is a very important step in the pathway and one that I feel the player needs to go through in order to grow. But they need to have someone (The agent) who is providing guidance and a way forward to keep them motivated. The agent has a larger network and skill set to be able to assist the player greatly here which in my opinion is the most important stage of them all. 

So you can see that the main reasons for having an agent are not just that first junior contract and to ensure that the player is getting the best value, but more so to ensure that the player grows and matures throughout their career with the right guidance and support. If I could sum it all up I would say that the main reason for getting an agent is to manage expectations (financially and emotionally) so the player can go through the hard times and come out stronger and ride the wave of the good times whilst ensuring that they look after themselves and their families.

 

10 Comments

  1. @beet: Yep, I agree with that. It may sound trite, but being prepared to work very hard is paramount.

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  2. @CharlesZA: @2021: We are living in a changing world. To assume your son is better off trying to climb the ladder to from junior player to contracted senior in South Africa, is no longer the certainty it once was.
    France seems to be tightening their own quota system – JIFF every other year. The opportunity and future financial benefit a young player who leaves for France right after school has compared to a youngster who stays may soon be incomparable simply because having JIFF will almost certainly guarantee an average player a good paying pro contract, while a player without it may have to be a superstar to earn a right to play in the Top 14.
    I think the opportunities in Japan are also on the verge of taking off big time now that their structure has recently become fully professional.
    However these choices to send 18yo overseas at such a young age are not easy ones to make. Even if the kids have great character, some of the environments are difficult to come to terms with at such a young age. This is witnessed by the high number of teenagers that return to SA.

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  3. @Vleis: Hi Vleis. I think everyone has a unique story to tell and within those stories there are a lot of does and don’t that are common to all of them and which would benefit parents with no experience who right now find themselves right at the start of the process.

    The one thing you are outlining is a network, which in your case has been the source of opportunities for your son. I cannot stress how valuable establishing a network can be to any parent of gr.12 boy.

    In my experience a good agent is invaluable. That said to rely solely on an agent for information gathering and decision-making can also prove to very risky and in some cases detrimental.

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  4. @2021: Darem baie hartseer dat hy ons land verlaat het maar hoop hy geniet dit en is baie suksesvol.

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  5. @beet: My experience of agents has mostly been poor. In their defence, the salaries of young pro rugby players who are not hugely hyped are poor, so the agents’ commissions on same are tiny. That said, some of the agencies that I have dealt with (e.g. Esportif) have been disrespectful.

    My lightie has received all of his breaks (nothing earth shattering) via contacts of friends of friends. :roll:

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  6. @beet: Beet jou woorde is so waar. Vir ons was dit n ongelooflike leerskool. Keuse tussen emosies en realiteite. Individue se eie intrepretasies en ander se eerlike opinie. Ons mos leer om mooi te luister en nie net te aanvaar nie. Om teleurstellings te verwerk en te fokus op jou beweegruimtes. Op die einde van die dag is niemand niks gewaarborg nie en moet jy doen wat jy dink jou situasie die beste pas.

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  7. @2021: I also think young players benefit tremendously from knowledgeable parents.

    So many parents look back at their experiences of going through this process of making career choices, contract signing or seeking out junior rugby opportunities and living through what is essentially a quite a unique journey and come out on the other side realising how very little they knew going in and how much they learned along the way. And unfortunately a lot of the time that experience gained is seldom shared with those who could benefit most from it.

    Being streetwise or doing everything in your power to find out what to expect helps a lot!!!

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