Ask Rob Gale for a scouting report on any one of the Valour FC players he’s signed to date and he is prone to gush, while offering up a detailed synopsis that hits on a variety of skills.
He talks about pace and speed, ability in the air, tackling prowess, toughness, offensive flair and finish. Invariably – and without being prompted – he also hits on one of the key traits he is looking for in a player: character.
“It’s almost like a stuck record when I talk about these guys,” began the Valour FC head coach in a recent chat. “The guys we’ve signed, they’re all great kids, every one that we’ve signed. We’re so keen on getting those proper characters in and people that we think will fit in well here.
“It’s the old New Zealand All Blacks adage of ‘No Dickheads.’”
That last line, quite clearly, screams out for a little more explanation and detail.
New Zealand’s national rugby team – dubbed the ‘All Blacks’ – are one of the most dominant sporting institutions on earth. Critical in their success has been the core team values they have implemented and are enforced by the players themselves. They include developing leaders and establishing some basic rules – ‘sweep the shed’, for example, insists that all players, rookies and veterans alike, take turns cleaning the locker room after a game.
It’s all part of their ‘No Dickheads’ policy aimed at weeding out players with large egos or character issues. Subtle, it is not. But it has clearly worked for the All Blacks.
Gale isn’t the first coach to take notice of what the Kiwis have done in terms of team building. But he’s certainly not against adopting a good idea when he sees one.
Gale wants to ensure his Valour FC understand the responsibilities that will come with being the first players to represent Winnipeg and Manitoba in the new Canadian Premier League. That will include a trip to Valour Road itself, to understand how the football club got its name. It will also include daily reminders about professionalism on and off the pitch.
This isn’t all just talk, either. Gale scouts ‘character’ as much as possible, both through reference checks and what he sees with his own eyes.
“We do extensive checks into their coachability, how are they in the dressing room, how do they deal with adversity,” Gale explained. “There are certain characters you need, like how they react when the going gets tough. The beauty is I have seen some of these guys in difficult circumstances in El Salvador and Guatemala, Guyana and Grenada and different camps. So, I’ve gotten to read them in different circumstances.”
“It entails everything. How are they on the road with teammates? How do they socialize with others? It’s just making sure that when the going gets tough they’re going to stand up and be accountable and be good teammates. If you get good people, you’re going to have a good club.”
All of this isn’t to say Gale is trying to assemble a squad of only choir boys and do-gooders. He wants mentally and physically tough players and is fully aware that circumstances can reveal character, good and bad
He also understands that when you are putting together your first-ever side, there is a certain amount of flying blind, no matter how much research and back-checking a guy does.
Still, ‘no dickheads’ is a solid starting place.
“Ultimately, a team is like a family,” said Gale. “When you’re building a football club it becomes your family. There’s always a few nuts in every family… the personality stuff I don’t mind.
“It’s just making sure that, No. 1, they are going to be invested in Valour and the project we’ve got here in Manitoba and assimilating themselves into everything we want to do, not just our football philosophy, but our brand and culture. That’s what matters most.”