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Archive for January, 2013

I’ve recently joined the Twitter-verse and despite being sceptical before about its value, a friend encouraged me to try it out and just look to ‘follow’ people who I might find ‘in the know’ on subjects important to me.  I’ve been trying to find stuff to do with coaching and some have already paid off, with some offering interesting thoughts and others links to articles, etc. I’d not have found on my own.

One such person is a coach from Australia called Damon Emtage ( @damonemtage ) who seems to post regularly articles, videos, etc. to do with coaching across many sports.  I find this extremely useful, because sometimes I feel that rugby’s a bit behind other sports with regard to introspection and examination of the finer points of what we do.  (My first sports were American football and basketball and even at the high school level I feel I was taught more about tactics and techniques than I even see in elite rugby programs.)

One article he’s posted that’s got me thinking about the new season is entitled “Coaching Behaviours: Working towards a Greater Coaching Philosophy – An Interview with Ben Bartlett” which featured in Soccer Coaching, vol. 54 (2011).  A pdf of that article can be found HERE.  Bartlett is a regional coach development manager for the Football Association in England.  I met a couple people in this role with the RFU at a clinic a few years ago and they blew me away with their knowledge of the game and the coaching practice.  The interview with Bartlett highlights a few areas that all coaches should implement as part of their coaching philosophy and team structure regardless of level.

The highlights for me are:

1. Developing an actual philosophy and outlining a set of personal values which is shared with your team (and parents of your athletes if you’re working with teens or younger, in my opinion) so they know what to expect from you.

2. Maintaining a strong, if not total, athlete-centred focus.  In my opinion, only at the university, provincial or international level should ‘winning’ be at the forefront of one’s focus.  At all other levels, we should be encouraging athletes to enjoy the sport, learn more about it and themselves, and to grow as both athletes and people.  With my teams, we treat winning games and the league as the bonus on top of all those other good things (our ‘Dream Goals’).

3. Encouraging athletes, in the framework outlined in point 2, to take ownership for their learning and development.  Establish expectations for both athletes and coaches.  Do this with their input, if not actually demanding they create them as a team, with you there to clarify / re-direct unrealistic expectations.  These can be as simple as attendance expectations and go as far as keeping a diary to track progress.

4. Establish a professional relationship with all players to be able to track their progress and hear their concerns.  It might also be useful to bring team captains into this so that players know they’ve got several people to turn to if one is preferred over another.  This will allow coaches to know how things are going and to be able to better support / adapt / alter as needed.  Even knowing something simple as ‘For what reasons are you playing?’ and ‘Are you enjoying yourself?’ can allow a coach to know how to plan the season and training sessions to meet players’ needs.

One that wasn’t covered directly, but is a way to establish and measure the above, is to hold a goal setting session with the team.  Again, I encourage players to come up with these themselves and I’ll be on hand to help clarify, but not direct.  If they’re not used to the process, the language will be quite vague so the coach’s best role can be to chose the best wording for their input and check if all agree on it.  Their goals should be SMART – specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and time-referenced.  I like them to set a few team goals related to performance, and then encourage units and/or individuals to set one or two (maybe an attack and defence) personal goals.

Some won’t be interested in the individual goals, and I think for club or school athletes, that’s fine.  The team goals, for example, can be measured on points scored / limited (on defence), or by tactical criteria – esp. if you’re not scoring or being scored on a lot! – such as line breaks made or tackle completion percentage.  These are difficult to keep track of, but video cameras are relatively cheap these days and there are often volunteers available among injured players, students needing volunteer hours, or parents who’re willing to operate it!

Finally, it’s important to have some meetings to check how things are going and see if goals need altering, and then the entire team should re-visit these at the end of the season to gauge success and see where to go next season.

Goals should:

  1. Have a clear definition
  2. Have justification for importance
  3. Have a clearly outlined pathway for achievement
  4. List possible obstacles and strategies to overcome those obstacles
  5. Include a declaration, preferably signed by a witness (as I feel it establishes accountability)

Attached is a sample of the goal setting tracking sheet I used with a high school team.  I’d probably simplify this next time I use it as there’s some repetition and the purpose, at this level, should be to provide some focus and accountability, not necessarily establish a professional approach (unless you have athletes who are already in provincial or national sides!)  As mentioned above, not all of my players were interested but for those who were, it allowed me to support their progress and even to incorporate their goals (as most were so general they’d be shared by others, whether they told me or not) into my practice planning.

Goal Setting Sheet

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I recently saw this great clip featuring French player Francois Trinh-Duc’s doubly-clever move to set up a try for his team mates.  What’s on play here is a sound knowledge of the laws of the game not just by Trinh-Duc, but by his team mates as well.

1. The player in white kicks the ball out ‘on the full’, meaning that the lineout will go to the blue team back from a line where the ball was kicked because the player doing the kicking was in front of his 22m line.  (This also is true if the ball kicked was passed back to a player inside the 22m by someone outside of it.)

2. To ensure this happens, as it’s probably unclear to Trinh-Duc if the ball is truly going to go out, he straddles the touch line BEFORE making his catch.  Simply put, he did not carry or knock the ball out.  By having at least one foot in touch when he caught the ball, he was already out, and as such made the ball that was kicked by his opponent out.

There are a lot of situations like this that can be very confusing even to veterans of the game, largely because we rarely see them.  There’s a great document from Australia that outlines pretty much every possibility, including both feet in, one in and one out, and while jumping in the air.  It can be found by clicking THIS LINK.

3. Knowing that a quick throw is possible before the lineout is set, Trinh-Duc runs forward to where the assistant ref marks the spot that the lineout will occur.  Up until this season, the quick throw could only take place from the spot the ball crossed the touchline or further back toward one’s own goal line.  This year, as can be seen in this video, the quick throw can take place at the ‘line of touch’ – or where the lineout will occur when kicked out on the full.  Explanations and further examples from the IRB Laws site can be found HERE and HERE.

4. He makes a quick throw – which must go 5m – to a team mate, who sets up another for the score.  Trinh-Duc could have taken the quick throw from where the ball went out.  But knowing that it’s now possible to take the throw from where the lineout will occur, he took the opportunity to run it forward and gain some free metres (as well as get behind most of the opposing players who’d chased the kick).  This can be a bit confusing if you’re new to quick throw-ins, but the new Law trial actually makes more sense than the way it was before because the options then were take a quick throw down field or wait and have a proper lineout upfield.  Now players have the option of making a quick throw anywhere from where the lineout should occur all the way back to one’s own goal line.

Courtesy:  irblaws.com

Quick throw can occur anywhere from kicker in blue back to the goal line.

This is entirely possible at any level, but players wanting to make a quick throw must use the same ball and it has to be taken by the person who fetches the ball (not chucked to someone else who takes the quick throw).  Catching the ball cleanly before this happens makes setting up quick throws that much easier.  Hopefully refs at your level are aware of these things as well!

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I don’t have a lot of experience coaching pre-teens, but fully respect those who do as I think it requires a lot more patience than I probably have.  It’s an important time in the development of young players – one not so well developed here in Canada, where most people don’t start until they enter secondary school (Grade 9, typically aged 14).  The one year I did coach a team at this level, I worked with a group of U13s in a full-contact school sevens league.  It was a rewarding experience as the kids were all very eager – as they tend to be at that age – and early-on I learned about some of the differences coaching at this level than at the older teens / adult level where I’ve done most of my coaching.

Today, I discovered this great article by Australia-based coach Scott Allen, who does the wonderful video analysis posts for the Green and Gold Rugby Blog.  Like me, he’s not had a lot of experience at youth level, but I think he outlines some very important things to remember here:  http://www.greenandgoldrugby.com/coaching-teenagers/

For my Canadian followers, I think there are a lot of transferable lessons in the article that can be used for your beginning Grade 9/10 teams.  That said, my season with the U13s reminded me that at the heart of the game at any level is doing the basics very well.  With that in mind, I think we should consider most of what Scott outlines in the article, in addition to some lessons that we DEFINITELY need to adhere to at all levels:

  • Progressing drills to show purpose and allow for them to be practised in game like situations
  • Keeping drills short and sharp so as not to bore athletes, but also to move the focus from in the box, to more challenging activities
  • Being focused on addressing what needs fixing, not over-doing areas that are going well (Fess up: are you one of those coaches who has scrum / lineout sessions every practice despite their success in games?)
  • Being prepared to alter or adapt a drill to address a need or when it’s really not working for your players

One thing I’d add that didn’t feature is that I think pre-teens (and even the early teenage years for boys) is too soon to pigeon hole athletes into a position.  Boys still have a lot of growing to do and it might so happen that the biggest boy in Grade 7 who you play as a lock might have got the tallest he’s going to be, and there aren’t many 5’11” locks even at amateur levels these days.  As with most levels I’ve coached at, the focus shouldn’t be about winning, but fostering a passion for the game and developing your athletes’ abilities as complete rugby players who can pass, catch, run, tackle, contest, communicate, and begin to develop their game sense.  If you’ve got 15 players on the pitch who can do all that as well as the next, then you’re surely going to be successful!

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