Archive for May, 2011

I’m not sure where I heard it – because I like to give credit where it’s due (possibly J. Greenwood or Villepreux) – but I’m currently working on a concept that the entire game can be broken down into a series of creating TWO v ONE situations.

I’ve made this a ‘big concept’ for the women’s team I’m currently coaching, to ween them off the slavish dedication on set moves given to them by previous coaches (and some, from provincial and national programs). The whole strategy on my part is to simplify the game for them and, in this case, to get them to start reading and reacting or creating opportunities for themselves. The 2 v 1 idea is that sudden and determined movements by either the ball carrier or support runner can catch the defender(s) off guard at least a fraction of a second such that the attacking team maintains the advantage whatever the defence do – anywhere. It’s not just about finding over-lap situations, but creating 2 v 1s in even tight space. The key words are SUDDEN and DETERMINED, as I remind them that ‘long’ and obvious moves and half-assed attempts give the advantage of time and initiative right back to the defence.  The rest comes down to the basic elements:  preserve or create space, communication, timing and quality of execution.

A sudden move, with ball still in two hands creates possibilities for carrier and support runners

But the important difference from traditional 2 v 1 drills in training (for adults), is that we’ve gone well away from doing 2 v 1 in a box. This already is easy and almost robotic for them as they’ve mastered ‘draw and pass’ – but early in the season, couldn’t create those for themselves unless it was trying to achieve it out wide. Earlier in my coaching career I learned that closed skills don’t easily translate into dynamic situations, so we even do our ‘basic’ training of 2 v 1s in a 4 v 4 environment. The conditioning factor to go from easy to challenging, then, is space. We start with wide channels so the spaces and angles used are obvious, for a few minutes only, and then reduce the space significantly, adding a scrum half pass or a kick back, a loose ball, etc. to make it more game relevant to game situations.  (The one I dislike the most is where two attackers and one defender run backwards and loop into a small box.)

As Dan Cottrell’s recent article also so rightly professed, ‘failure’ should not be taken so literally, but treated and analysed as an opportunity to learn. I challenge all players in the unit to tell me what they saw, what their decision was, what communication was used (if at all!), and how they might have better acted if given the chance to experience those conditions again.  Another way of doing it is to get those waiting to go give immediate constructive feedback to those who just participated, not only providing guidance but also allowing them to think about and process how they will act next. Acquiring this knowledge and skill does take time, and requires a lot of thought on the part of the players because I’m not so quick to give them the answers.  But I think those challenges early in the season allow them to become more critical and analytical so that later in the season they actually tell me what they should have done before I even ask, if they’re making many mistakes at all!

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By the end of the week, I’ll have been involved in three rather large sevens tournaments for Middle School (approx. 11-14 year old) students on Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland of British Columbia.  Sevens is relatively new to schools rugby around here, but with it’s recent admission to the Summer Olympics in 2016, I gather that the time was right to make the switch.  Some conversations I’ve had over the past few days, and going back to the start of the season, has altered my thinking somewhat with regard to how sevens can possibly take rugby one more step forward in this country.

I’m still a bit sceptical and worried that a full change could come because I fear the shortened code could take over university and even high school rugby, which would be a shame, because I still believe fifteens should be the main focus for our country.  It will always be the high profile sport and we should aim to remain part of that club even though Canada’s relative competitive status has slipped in the last decade and a half since professionalism was made official.  But as a development vehicle – a way to introduce rugby to youngsters and smaller schools / communities – sevens is the PERFECT way to grow the game.

One complaint I heard was that there’s no room for the bigger kids.  As a former front rower, I can sympathise and this is part of the worry I have if sevens were to take over high school sports.  At the moment, high school rugby still has room for chubby kids, but with our short seasons and lack of support / funds (at public schools) to field more than one team per sport, that’d be the end of rugby for them, I’m sure.  But at the Middle School level, the pitches are smaller and the physical / fitness abilities of all students is not yet so pronounced, giving the slow, chubby kid a better chance.  As one coach – surely a PE teacher! – said, it’s also an early enough stage to suggest to those kids that it’s time to take one’s fitness / nutrition / health more seriously and get in shape for sevens and eventually senior fifteens rugby.  If sevens had been around when I was in elementary school, I probably would have ended up the centre I’ve always wanted to be!  (We only had the very pedestrian baseball when I was a boy.)

The other negative comment was how it limited one coach’s preference to play a forwards’ game.  The cynic in me immediately shot back saying that’s a major problem with Canadian rugby now that we need to over-come – too forwards-oriented, without the basic skills and vision across all players to compete with other nations.  There’s no hiding in sevens.  Everyone’s got to tackle and ruck.  Everyone’s got to pass and run the ball in space.  But I do think there’s an opportunity on the smaller fields to play such a game, if one so desired.  … but I still have to think ‘why’???  Rugby’s such an amazing game to watch when people are running in space and the ball is being tossed about.  Even for those who like the biffo, there are still individual battles to be fought and even the close-quarter, up-the-guts battles should teams spread themselves too thinly on defence and allow a couple of the bigger lads to have an old fashioned Northern Hemisphere style rumble.  In short, smaller field sevens for middle school aged kids is perfect to practice any style of rugby in a microcosm. In this microcosm, fewer players means getting involved to a greater degree in both attack and defence, allowing kids a greater opportunity to become better at both!

What I also like about how Middle School rugby is run on Vancouver Island has to do with the spirit of the game, encouraging more kids to play.  First off, girls are allowed.  Despite contact, it’s not a big issue for pre- / early- teens whose growth spurts are all over the place (often in favour of girls until about 13/14!), so why not?  Girls that start that young, in my experience as a women’s coach, are always great later in life.  Related to that, playing levels are weight-graded so that the bigger kids cannot dominate and smaller kids are not on the receiving end.  Some might argue that this is bad for the big kid who has to play up a grade (in some cases where a Gr. 8 is too heavy and hasn’t a connection to a high school to play with Gr. 9s) or cannot, but I don’t think it’s as a cruel thing as some would make it out to be.  In some cases these players still play alongside their team mates, but with a yellow bib indicating they are ‘touch only’ players.  Either way, it forces the ‘big’ kids to use not their bulk and power, but actually focus on the skills and vision all the other kids have to acquire and develop.  We’ve all probably seen kids like this before – ones who dominate because of size at a lower level who have wasted years not acquiring any abilities because they didn’t need to and end up being poor teenage / adult players.  With weight grading, a level playing field is presented that’s good for all.

The final spirit-of-the-game bonus of adopting sevens relates to the growth of rugby on the whole and accessibility.  Instead of having to field a full side of 15 (or 11 as some do on the mainland), sevens allows schools with just 10 interested / able kids – and even less in some cases! – to field teams.  While maybe only one or two might end up sticking with rugby into their teenage years, there’s nothing wrong with growing the game one or two players at a time!  In such cases, sevens allows even the one kid who’s really interested in the game has a better chance of playing as it’s not so hard to get those few kids together, even if the others aren’t that into the sport.  When trying to get a full fifteen together, for a brand of rugby that requires more subs given the extra time and contact, many schools simply wouldn’t be able to adopt rugby at all.  For those schools which do have quite a lot of interest, sevens allows them to field two or even three sides, so that every kid gets a chance at significant game time.  By grouping together A, B (and C!) teams, kids at various levels of ability also get the opportunity to enjoy the game with less likelihood of getting smashed or utterly dominating – ensuring that each gets a fair chance to work on skills and truly enjoy the experience.

In conclusion, I think adopting sevens rugby (contact OR touch) is a great way to grow the game at the crucial grass roots level in Canada, and especially for the pre-teen age group.  I hope this recent increase in awareness and a move to include more kids continues to grow so that we can show that this is truly a wonderful sport for all.

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