I was in a bit of a discussion about passing and fundamental skills last night and stumbled upon a great free resource from All Blacks coach Wayne Smith. If you click [this link] you’ll find a link to a video from The Rugby Site, where content is generally something you have to pay for. You still have to sign up before you can access the video, but trust me it’s worth it!
The recent clinic I attended gave us a free membership to The Rugby Site, and on first glance it looks good. I’ll give it a proper review later, but regarding this video I appreciate hearing – again from an All Black coach! – that there are some very simple elements of the game which they regard as crucial. It was interesting hear Smith say in the video that when Henry took over the team and brought he and Hansen in they were determined to enhance their players’ fundamental skills. I think sometimes the temptation is there to try the higher-ordered stuff done by the top teams at our level without ensuring that our kids / amateur adults can adequately perform basic tasks such as passing.
I’ll leave Smith to transfer his knowledge and lessons on passing via the video, but will add a few comments of my own in case some areas are unclear.
1. Passing off the ‘wrong foot’. What he means is being able to pass, say, to the right with the right foot forward. To be able to put more power behind a pass, one gets the ‘back foot’ forward – in our case, the left foot – so the hip and torso can rotate into the pass and deliver more power. With the right foot forward, passing to the right is somewhat inhibited without this rotation, but he focuses on developing the wrists and triceps to account for this. Focusing on this is important because the pressures of the game often means players need to be able to pass effectively off either foot and in either direction.
2. I like that he uses progressions, giving the athletes a ‘warm-up’ to the activities later on. He starts with wrist flicks and focuses then on the ‘punch pass’, emphasising keeping the ball on the hip, snapping the ball out with the triceps and keeping the hands together through the follow-through which, combined, allow the ball to get to the target quickly and accurately. These are things which can eat up a lot of your practice time, but should be drilled into players’ minds as passing the ball is probably the most common thing done in the game aside from running. Once these ‘rules’ are established in the players’ minds, they are the sorts of exercises I ask the players to do in their own time, or do it before training starts while the coaches are getting set-up.
3. The use of questioning. If you check out Lynn Kidman’s Athlete Centred Coaching, Smith features quite heavily as someone who favours genuine learning via ‘teachable moments’ rather than by always ‘coaching’ atheletes with specific directions and solutions. If you notice during most of his “Whoa, whoa, whoa…” moments, he doesn’t: a) Yell at the kids, b) Tell them what they did wrong, or c) Give them the answer. Instead, he’s probably let little things go that weren’t seen in the video, giving the boys a chance to try the drill a few times and giving them the benefit of the doubt as mistakes will always happen. He remains positive by not criticising their decisions or abilities abilities. Most importantly, and this is where even the nicest of us can miss an opportunity, he gets the boys to come up with their own answers by asking leading questions, like “What was the most difficult thing about that? Why does that matter? Where were you going?” He’ll present some options and let the boys truly learn which is the best option. Too often, we give them answers and it takes time – if it sinks in at all – for the players to truly understand why that’s the best option or why it’s important.
I’d add that it’s important to stress to your players that they should be aiming for perfection, especially if they’re doing some of these exercises on their own time. I’ve seen players get it in just a handful of passes with helpful guiding and their own determination to follow guidelines and find what’s comfortable for them. Here are some suggestions:
- Partners should challenge themselves with regard to distance, but not stretch beyond a comfortable range until sufficient strength is developed. Too far away and the passes will be less accurate and lose ideal form.
- Passes should be flat, with no lob so they’re delivered quickly. Push passes should not wobble. Spin passes should have an even rotation and not be tilted upward as such passes tend to carry on flying upward, above the intended target (think of a rifle bullet flying straight flat).
- The hands of the receiver should be up and out, ready to pass on, but also giving the passer a clear target.
- Passers who aren’t quite getting the spin pass should be encouraged to alter their hand positioning ever so slightly to find what works best for them (move positioning of hand to middle / rear of the ball, check firmness of grip, use more finger tips than palm, alter positioning of the guide hand, etc.)