The Rugby Coaching Manual
Being a ‘rugby coach’ will mean many things to many people and each coach will have a different agenda. Some will be working at a level where players’ improvement and development is of paramount importance, but there are many who will be judged on each Saturday’s result.
No coaching advice or instruction can satisfy all requirements all of the time, but there has to be a practical way of assisting coaches with vastly different needs - and the many in between who want results and player development to go hand-in-hand.
There is a tendency in the game to over-elaborate and try to make the whole coaching process far more complex and theoretical than it really is. There are certain key elements in rugby and they have to be mastered, but over-elaboration from the coach to his Saturday players will probably end in disappointment and failure.
I have been to many coaching courses and presentations over many years and the simple truth always emerges that simple things done well tend to work best; ideas that require a university degree to work them out generally fail. However, that does not suggest that simple ideas cannot be improved upon; the successful coach will be trying to get the ‘edge’ with such a philosophy of doing the simple things well. Work out the basics then refine, practise and develop them so that your team is better at them than anybody else.
Coaching is probably what you will do least, in actual time spent, in your coaching duties. It is alarming how many seemingly irrelevant matters take up time, yet it is a problem that is generally only realised after the event(s). Coaching courses, rightly, usually deal with pure coaching practice and theory; this book is an attempt to add some practical advice to the excellent material already available through the national body’s coaching schemes.
Many coaches become almost obsessed with drills and practices without looking at the fundamentals of the game. You can run players through drills till they are exhausted, but they will probably not understand the game any better at the end of the session.
This book is an attempt to demystify the essentials of the game and present them in relatively simple language. A good coach needs to understand what the game is all about before he can have any meaningful impact on his players’ development. He must first understand the game himself then pass on awareness of what it all means to his team. Hopefully, this book will clear up certain misunderstandings in this complex game.
You will be spending many hours in your coaching duties and you will be rewarded by carefully considering how you will coach. A useful starting point might be to read Lynn Kidman’s excellent book ‘Athlete-centred Coaching’ (details at end of chapter 1). This may well guide you towards a style of coaching that can be more rewarding and profitable than a simpler ‘do this because I said so’ approach.
When you are considering this matter of coaching style, meet the players and ask them what they want to aim for in the coming season; by calling this meeting, you have already started on a regime of athlete-centred coaching. At this pre-season stage their aspirations will probably prove to be over-optimistic, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with optimism and it is more useful to any team than a dose of cynicism. You will only be able to tell if their ambitions were over-optimistic after the team has played a few matches.
Try to introduce realism without dampening their enthusiasm as you ask the players to suggest achievable codes of conduct on such matters as training, time-keeping, communication, kit at training and matches, training habits, personal and team discipline and how they, the players, would ideally like to deal with these issues. At this pre-season discussion stage, they will probably promise to be very harsh on the slightest misdemeanour, so do try to go for aims that are achievable – then you and they must work very hard to stick to those rules and guidelines.
This initial meeting can set the tone for your coming season and may offer an opportunity for you to think even further about how you will coach. You have brought the players into this first discussion; why not try to maintain their involvement throughout the playing season as well? You could shout a lot and run a strict coaching regime that is mainly drill-based. If, however, your aim is to improve your players in the long-term, a player empowerment and involvement process may well provide bigger gains. That does not mean that you let players decide how the coaching will be organised, but you might be surprised at what your players can offer if you pose problems rather than providing answers all the time. Show that you value players’ contributions; you will not be showing weakness.
One important item to discuss may be training nights, especially if they have traditionally been on Monday and Thursday. If this is the club routine, suggest that Tuesday is generally better than twenty four hours earlier as players’ bodies have an extra day to recover and training can be harder with (probably) more fit players present.
Pyramid. After you have had a first meeting and you have some idea of what the players see as achievable aims, it is well worth going through a very simple process with them and ask them to fill in the bits and pieces that maintain and support the sporting equivalent of a pyramid. Have a pyramid shape on a sheet of paper or whiteboard with something like ‘success and performance’ at the top of the shape. (A flip-chart is useful as it can be easily carried to any venue in future if you need to use it as a training or pre-match motivational aid).
Invite the players to consider what will be needed to allow and support that ‘success and performance’. You may have to direct the thought processes but generally the players will come up with the appropriate answers. Graft, effort, organisation, commitment, team play, working for each other, clear vision of where the team is going and training as you would play in a game are what you may be offered, though there are many more valid answers. Rugby relies on all of these qualities; without the sweat in training and games, skill will simply remain wrapped up and largely unused because your team will not have a great deal of possession to play with.
The Rugby Coaching Manual is now available for easy order from Amazon. This book will greatly help any rugby coach whether they are an old pro or overseeing their first training sessions. For more tips or information on the book, please visit The Rugby Coaching Manual official site. And check out a preview of the other chapters from the book on Rugby Rugby.
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