By Richard Anderson
Over the next few months, we'll be taking you through a season in the life of a rugby coach, starting from the moment of his appointment, taking you through player management, coaching philosophy, season planning, specific session planning, match planning and analysis. There'll be all manner of drills and skills added on, playing structures and so forth. But rather than just throw these out at random, we want to show how these can best be integrated into your season and sessions. But if you have any suggestions, requests, queries, responses, criticisms, please do fire them here - we'll do our best to respond to them in each column!
When you take on a coaching position, the biggest peril facing you is underestimating the volume of work involved. You can possess all the tactical nous you like, have access to all the brains and websites you want, be replete with a deep well of varied drills and skills sessions. But if you are short of a fat ten hours per week of thinking/planning/emailing/phoning time outside of training, certainly at a season's outset, you are facing an uphill struggle, irrespective of your talent.
This question of time ought thus to be the first of a myriad of questions facing you at the start of a role. It is the one you just cannot underestimate. But do you have the time? Are you ready to make the sacrifices you need to? If you answered yes, then let's get into the it...
A coach is rarely self-appointed, so it follows that whoever has brought you on board has done so because he is pretty senior at the club you are about to coach. He's going to be your first port of call once you're in, as he's going to be the first guy to give you the lowdown on what you've got to play with.
You'll need to know who the leaders in the team are, including leaders off the field. Rugby in the USA is, uppermost levels aside, still a social sport, so you're going to need to have the social animals on your side as well as the playing ones - there is no doubt this will involve a decent night out quite soon after your appointment.
You can also coin opinion from your 'employer' on who the star players are, team culture and ongoing issues within the team, but most important to you is going to be identifying the leaders.
This is because your leaders are going to be the ones who give the second, third and fourth opinions on all the club/team information you got from whoever it was that appointed you. You'll quickly see from the collated information you garner which problems are commonly perceived ones and which ones are either more private gripes or ones that only need an eye kept open for rather than a hands-on approach.
Whether you find problems or not, those few conversations are your first task. If nothing else, it will show the most influential people in the club that you are there to do the job properly and will get them on your side. When you experience things they have told you for yourself, you will be able to relate to those people immediately, a superb foundation for mutual trust.
Your next conversations ought to be, if applicable, with any players who have either indicated some negativity or you have been told they are not all that happy. Often a change in coaching leaves some happier than others for a myriad of reasons, but not addressing any skeptics will leave you and what you want to bring to the mix open to disruption from the outset, not something you want at any cost. And you'd be surprised at the potential leadership and playing talent you find here too - good players often feel a coaching change will be a threat to their aspirations and feel frustrated. If you can boost that confidence, you have renewed hunger, which is often worth more than an ongoing hunger to play.
So, now you have got your leaders and skeptics won over. The social chair knows you will join in the fun side. You've got a team enthusiastic and ready to go. Now you have to deliver.
It never fails to send out a mission statement, a healthy-length email detailing the culture you'd like to see developed within the club, the style of rugby you'd like to play, the things you'll be looking to work on hard, perhaps a few words of inspiration and belief instilment, and a few lines of self-introduction. Whether taking over a top team or not, whether it's the most social side on the planet or not, players need to know that you'll try to develop them and bring them success. Social rugby is social rugby and fun is fun, but rugby is a sport for competitive people and no competitor has more fun than when he or she is winning. So your words and communications need to be positive, upbeat and clear that you will bring a positive approach to the team, and that you will take at least as much pride in the club tracksuit as they do in their jersey.
All this, and you're not even on the paddock yet! But laying these foundations are a vast contributor in terms of preparation for your first sessions. You'll know of things to look for, things to work on sooner rather than later, players to watch. The last thing you need is a first training session full of surprises, for that session needs to run smoother than any other to help breed more trust. On the other side of that coin, players will know of you and have a taste for what you are about. Those you have spoken to will hopefully be passing on a positive impression. In short, you will be taking your first session with a very tiny, but perceptible, bit of familiarity with your squad. It will save a huge amount of stress on that night.
But now you are that far. You come up to the days and hours before the first training session and it's time to start planning the rugby. Next time we'll examine methods and strategies for season-planning.
Richard Anderson is currently attack and skills coach at a Premier club in South Africa. An IRANZ Elite Coaching Academy graduate, he is also former Head Coach of NYRC and Johns Hopkins University.
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