If you were to stroll down to your local Rugby Club on a Sunday afternoon, you’d see that typical scene of plenty of coaches/parents willing to help develop the new generation of Union’s superstars. With the IRB implementing ever changing laws, coaches now need to understand every part of the game as well as the best coaching techniques and practices to help progress your junior side. Coaching Junior Rugby is certainly no walk in the park, as players become increasingly competitive, coaches need to be able to balance the desire to achieve with the desire to develop.
The best way to progress as a coach is through NGB qualifications, like the RFU Level 1, 2, CPD’s and most important through practice, especially with varying ages and abilities of players. Points that are processed and approaches that are demonstrated from attending said courses give coaches food for thought when it comes to not only their own characteristics, but especially the desires and goals they seek to meet as a coach.
This piece will give you an insight to all the basics of coaching the 15-a-side game focusing on the amateur level and it will also delve into my own personal experiences on my Level 2 and coaching experience with Premiership clubs.
Whether a 15 year old wanting to hit the heights of the game or a 34 year old in it for the socialisation and the beer guzzling, coaching should always centre around the player. Repeated countless times on my Level 2, a Player-Centred approach is believed to be the most effective way of allowing players to develop skills, parallel to facilitate their creativity. The prominent factor in coaching always surrounds the players ability, willingness and comfort in performance. There is no doubt each player’s attitude will vary, however coaching is about getting players all to a similar level that relates to your individual goals. You may seek to win the league, win 5 home games or simply play a unique attacking style of Union, in order for performers to follow you and support one another, it can be good to lay down your vision early on and enthuse players to get the on board. It’s also worth looking at the ability of each individual and dividing training sessions so that as a group, they blend and connect, however the less able players have time to work on both technical and tactical aspects to their game. However, without one overriding factor, enjoyment, players will never truly play at their prime standard. Training is tough, playing is tougher, but without enjoyment and sustaining a person’s passion for the game, playing may feel more of a chore than a leisure activity.
Having every qualification under the sun would ensure a foot in the door at almost every club, although, as aforementioned, coaching abilities relies heavily on previous experience rather than just a certificate. As a 15-a-side coach, a solid understanding of every technical and tactical aspect of the game, plus a Laws book to hand is imperative, but most of all, an resourcefulness to pull all of those aspects together to make a rounded, high achieving squad. Undertaking the Level 1 and Level 2 continually reminds you of the 5Cs of coaching; Connection, Character, Competence, Creativity and Confidence. Every session you lead it is important to allow all or at least a few of these components to develop, be it through encouragement, positive reinforcement or team-building games that allow the players to develop a more desirable atmosphere to play through bonding. Personally, one thing that has stuck with me and that has changed my coaching style and lifestyle is that good coaches have vision’s, feedback, ideas etc that they continually feed across the players, be that as it may, the best coaches know when to speak and when to allow the players to think for themselves. My approach before any top coaching experience or my RFU Level 1 was a constant need to get every desire, praise, criticism out of my head, whilst needing to explain and sometimes re-explain games or practices in a overly detailed manner. Don’t be complicated, understand when to be talkative. Finally, coaching styles revolve three main areas: Autocratic, Democratic and Laissez Faire. All styles are greatly effective, when used at the right time. A mix of all 3 will be sure to benefit your coaching on a dramatic scale, although always remember a Player-Centred approach so you may try to stay away from Autocratic, dictator like style. In relation to this is the Coach-Centred and Player-Centred continuum that identifies four coaching styles to be: Tell, Sell, Ask and Delegate. At one end of the scale, a coach will sometimes need to tell a player or a group about possible handling errors they may be making and how to address them, whereas the delegate side of things will surround the nurturing of creativity and active learning.
Keeping enjoyment always in the back of your mind will go a long way in ensuring the progress of your team, aside from that though is the need to maintain participation in the sport. As tough as it is for many u16, u17 plus sides to retain players due to Sixth Form, Employment, University etc, it is vital that coaches do not fritter away players by boring, critical or disheartening practice! So focus on maintaining participation rates at your club, and balance winning with the taking part as it were.
Developing the core values is also a crucial task for coaches, particularly early on. So that your side may begin to play the sort of rugby you desire and do so as a unit, sustaining the 5 Core Values of; Teamwork, Respect, Enjoyment, Discipline and Sportsmanship, outlined by the RFU is a never ending process. Remember that it is important everyone buys into such values other the tradition of the game and each individual club can fade.
Plan. Do. Review. Always, always reflect on each session, because without reflection you will not be able to pinpoint the weaknesses in your coaching and act upon them. Also, make sure you plan, whether it’s rough or detailed, the best coaches show strong initiative, however even the best have a rough idea of what they are going to work on and how they are going to condition it. This is perhaps the most important thing for a coach!! Alongside that, when describing a game, its rules or objectives, be clear, precise and focus on a few main points. If you over complicate things it’s easy for players to become confused, frustrated or bored. Start with one simple point and progress it as you go.
A skill is a technique that is performed under pressure, so in order for it to be perfected, you need to condition it and gradually increase pressures on the individual technique, be it; space, time, opposition etc.
When coaching the core skills, don’t shy away from brining in mental and physical aspects of the game so to individualise each player so they feel able to develop with support.
With learning, players will move through the Cognitive Stage through to the Autonomous Stage, so it’s all about developing the right parts of the game depending on their stage of learning. You would look to ingrain all the basic core skills, rules and other generic skills early on, developing an athlete rather than a rugby player. Next it would be to give the player a specific role within the side, develop their physicality and tactical awareness. Finally, fine tuning all those aspects plus adding the upper most detail, so possibly looking at the dexterity of the fingers on a Scrum Half’s pass. But, as you can see from many sports, Golf especially, if a player finds a technique or process that works for them and gains the correct outcome, don’t change it, embrace it.
A session should always be APES: Active, Purposeful, Enjoyment, Safe. If it meets these criteria and reaches the coaches objectives, it will be successful.
Lastly, as well as the 5C’S, core skills, physical/mental development and APES, you will need to understand the Principles of Play. These are the main components attributed to a game, and if you are failing to score/win, it will be down to one or more of these components. All these 5 components are underpinned by communication-
- Contest Possession
- Go Forward
Recently, I have become more accustom to the Sell and Ask coaching styles, as the majority of my coaching is aimed at the mini side of the game. Yet, I have become a fan of the Delegate style of coaching from my observation of peers. It will always be necessary to tell players what they are doing wrong and how to correct it (fault identification), however facilitating players so that they figure out how to come to the successful outcome will engender both confidence and ability quicker in my opinion. Therefore when planning a session always try to select certain parts that minimises your input and maximises the players.
Equipment- 10 Balls, Cones, 10 Bibs
Session Time- 1hr 15
Goals for the session: Develop Counter Attacking ability with attacking plays
Core Skills developed: Handling and Running
Principles of Play components focused on: Go Forward, Support and Continuity
5Cs focused on: Creativity, Connection and Confidence
Core Values focused on: Enjoyment, Respect and Teamwork
Additional notes: ASK QUESTIONS!
Warm Up (10mins):
10 Pass Game
- Players are divided into two teams.
- One team starts with the ball and aim to complete as many passes as possible between one another.
- The opposition can only turnover the ball via an interception, or the side in possession dropping it.
Variations: Time on the ball, Space, Type of Pass, Object being passed.
Key Points: Remind players of movement off the ball, ask players about what makes a good pass (weight, accuracy), underline importance of verbal communication and body language.
- Players are divided into two teams.
- Players play standard Touch Rugby rules, with a Chicken Scratch (roll ball through legs) taking place after a touch.
- No maximum amount of touches.
- When Chaos is shouted, the ball must be placed down and all players have to run round either corner cone of the line they are defending.
- Once they have done so, they can return to the game.
This game in parts will mirror the disorganised attack and defence in a game of rugby when on a counter-attack. It will allow players to develop attacking plays and creativity by playing ‘what’s in front of them’. They will develop confidence by being successful in their creativity. Also will allow defence to develop methods to cope when disorganised.
Variations: Shape of defence ( condensed, overload, facing other way), amount of touches, ball introduction.
Key Points: More important what you do without the ball, identifying the 5 different types of space (above, behind, between, flank, in front), precise handling and close support as to go forward and maintain continuity, vary speed in attack as to offset defence.
Part-Small sided practice (20 mins):
- 8m by 8m pitch divided into two equal channels.
- 2 defenders, 1 in each channel, defenders have to stay in their channel.
- 3 attackers, 1 in each channel, the first two attackers have to stay in their channel.
- The last attacker is a ‘roamer’ who can attack in both channels.
- The objective is for the attackers to score in one phase.
This practice will develop players ability to be clinical when having more players, it will also allow them to experience varying starting positions and tempo’s similar to that of a counter-attack. Players will need to put the successes of the practice back into the game.
Variations: Players starting position, ball introduction, amount of players, space.
Key Points: Identifying space, precise passing, effective running lines, verbal communication, creativity through attacking moves.
Whole-Game (20 mins):
Cool Down (5 mins)
This is a quick example of a session plan that gives you the terms and objectives you need to keep your delivery succinct and interesting. Notice the Whole-Part-Whole plan that focuses on a group of skills in a game, then you practice a corresponding skill with more focus and then take that skill back into a pressured game. Lastly, always, always ask questions. Utilise your When’s, Where’s, and Why’s, encourage players to use that brain of theirs, because more often than not, they will have a very intelligent answer.
For any coaches out there, stick by your philosophy, stick to the core values, APES etc and interact with the players. If you achieve this, success should soon follow. I recommend completing the RFU courses and attending Continued Professional Development courses like the Scrum Factory.