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The researchers studied the standards against which the characters of New Zealand rugby players were being judged and found New Zealand Rugby (NZR) had a list of socially orientated “character assessment values", including work ethic, competitiveness, resilience, coachability, and motivation in rugby, which they used to assess players’ character during the selection process.
In a study published in the International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching Associate Professor Tania Cassidy, of the School of Physical Education, Sport & Exercise Sciences, and Otago graduate Ryan Rosevear, reported that while those values all directly impact performance, leading international character academics recommended a focus also be placed on moral values, specifically compassion, fairness, sportspersonship and integrity.
"NZR lacks clear emphasis on moral values. This reflects other researchers’ claims that principles such as honesty and sportspersonship are not often emphasised in elite team sports because they do not win matches," Mr Rosevear said.
The pair called on NZR to consider incorporating values with a moral, as well as social focus, and encourage open discussion about why some values were prioritised and not others; possible unintended consequences of adopting particular values; and the range of behaviours that reflected, and were influenced by, such values.
"The findings of this study are significant not only for rugby, in New Zealand and elsewhere, but they are also relevant and topical for any recruitment agent, employer, selector, or sports coach who either implicitly or explicitly appoints, promotes, selects or deselects participants based on character," Associate Professor Cassidy said.
They found the provincial union adapted the NZR’s character assessment values to produce its own list of ideals, reflecting its context and the values of its stakeholders.
Work ethic was the only value that appeared in both lists.
The provincial union had a less formal approach to the assessment of character, which was informed by other implied policies to recruit local players, capitalise on those already in the representative system, have "no dickheads", and view character as a "swing factor" when deciding between two players.
"In contrast to the NZR, the provincial union does emphasise some moral values, such as compassion, integrity and being a role model. These are not often correlated to performance, but stress an importance on developing the person," Mr Rosevear said.
The researchers believed that may be because the provincial union’s players had a closer connection to the community.
The focus of the provincial union academy was also on player development, as opposed to NZR which primarily focused on improving performance.
They acknowledged NZR had done well to explicitly identify and utilise five values as determinants of expected and desired behaviour, and encouraged coaches and selectors to assess and judge a player’s character against them.
However, they also hoped the organisation recognised its selectors used both overt and implied values to assess players, self-reliance being one example.
While it is not stated in NZR’s list of character assessment values, self-reliance is assumed by some selectors to be a highly desirable trait, especially after ex-All Blacks coach Sir Graham was quoted as saying: "The more self-reliant players we had, the better we’d play".
“The perceived importance of resilience in elite sport is becoming increasingly apparent," Associate Professor Cassidy said.