Archive for the ‘Fitness’ Category

Here’s a game I created that’s become popular with all three teams I’ve coached since I came up with it last year. Rapid Fire Touch is 4-handed – i.e. two different people to stop a ball carrier, after the first two-handed, the ball carrier can still run but can’t score.

  • When scored upon, the defending team leaves the field of play immediately and the attacking team can attack the opposite goal line. All players from that team must cross the goal line before joining their team mates.
  • When touched by two different players, the team in possession leaves the field of play immediately and the defending team all must cross the nearest goal line before attacking in the opposite direction.

  • In both cases, the new team enters the field of play at midfield immediately, matching up and communicating their responsibilities.

This game can be played with 3, 4, or 5 (find this to be the maximum to ensure everyone’s involved) per team. Four-handed touch encourages ball carriers to attack space and create full line-break or half-break scenarios.  It’s main focus is evasive footwork, ball movement and support lines, not to mention communication in both attack and defence. The width of the playing area can vary. Wide encourages support lines and communication as ball carriers are more likely to make breaks or pull defenders well out of position (remembering that two defenders are needed to stop one from scoring). Narrower might be better for advanced players to work on timing of the pass and run and more challenging creation of space / opportunities.  This works really well in a gym for winter training.

Encourage to communicate early, pass to space, take on defenders with evasive footwork and supporting runners to be loud and pick clever pursuit lines. Faster the better as taking away space gives the opposition less time to adjust! Great for developing a fast, open style of play training communication, seeing and taking space, support and fitness as well.


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Now there have been times when I’ve been accused of being a ‘softy’ when it comes to training in inclement weather, opting to go indoors rather than brave the elements.  As a coach, I do prefer to train in all conditions as there might / will come a time when players will have to play in them… but there are times when I’d much rather take things indoors to get some real work done (esp. when it’s always rain / cold and many players are out sick, or recovering from).  There are also times when it’s just not possible to use the pitch – closed or as many of us in Eastern Canada know, when there’s three feet of snow on it!

Rugby in the rain and cold. Not always fun!

So what’s there to do indoors?  Well, hit the gym and do fitness, obviously!   … BO-RING!  I’m sure most clubs do this and I’m sure most clubs which do struggle to get the entire team to show up.  In all honesty, the players most keen about doing fitness probably do lots in their spare time and those most in need tend to skip indoor sessions knowing that it’ll just be fitness!  Knowing this (having been one of the latter in my days!), I advertise that we’re actually going to learn and develop technique and skill at indoor trainings.  I actually think the limitations of space can force you to work on things which we don’t usually make time for in outdoor training where we’re spoiled for room to move.

Now if you’re lucky to have an indoor turf facility like the one above, you can pretty much do anything as the surface is very forgiving (although I’d advise players to wear long sleeves and socks as the plastic ‘grass’ does burn a bit).  But such facilities cost quite a bit to rent, forcing the rest of us to rely on the good old indoor court.  So what can you do in there?

Technique: We often don’t take time on Tuesdays and Thursdays to work on individual technique, but it’s often a lack of quality in these basic elements which can spoil skill / team based drills.  So why not take this opportunity to provide many players with feedback and practice on what they’re most deficient in?  Working on passes is the obvious one.  These can be done in isolation, with no extra movements, focusing purely on the technique, or placed within some form of game-based scenario to make it more interesting and realistic.  (For example, scrum half passes after a little shuttle run to have players pass while fatigued and have to get their feet in the right position.)  One could also work on body shape via mini scrums.  Lineout pods and throwers.  We’ve even done ‘after the tackle’ practice on gym mats, having players work on laying the ball back properly, a defensive player attempting to jackal, and an attacker looking at how to clear out the jackaller.  One can add whatever intensity is safe / appropriate, but even done slowly and without intensity, players should be able to work on the finer elements of technique which are often ignored in full speed outdoor training sessions.

Skill Elements: Somewhat like the scrum half passing drill mentioned above, simply take small chunks of the game and practice them in isolation.  Using the length of a basketball court, one could probably work two forward phases in one direction so a team could work on how they deal with slow ball or forward running / support angles in phase play.  Attack v Defence games can be tailored to focus on creating and preserving space (2 v 1, 3 v 2, etc.) or to stress the importance of timing (of runs and passes) in small space for both backs and forwards.  You could also work on defenders re-aligning after one phase, getting fringe defence sorted and recognising their responsibilities.

Touch: I’ve ranted about poor versions of touch already, so will state simply that most versions of Touch shouldn’t be played indoors.  To me, touch is about the creation and use of space and limiting the width, making it a series of pick and goes and crash balls, is actually contrary to what my team (at least!) should be doing on the pitch.  … BUT, a year ago we played some pretty effective touch rugby along the length of a basketball gym by adding one little element – the offload.  We played 6 v 6 and restricted teams to 4 touches (incl. a 3 step retreat by the defenders after the touch) until they had to turnover the ball.  However, if they managed to offload the ball within two seconds / two steps, that touch didn’t count and they could play on.  It became an excellent opportunity to not only practice offload timing and support, but for defenders to shut down the offload potential or to adjust to line breaks.  Communication in both attack and defence improved greatly, not to mention effective use of space, playing this version!

In short, if you’re forced to change venues, still try and make rugby training fun and a worthwhile learning experience!



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I was going through the files I’ve collected recently ensuring that I had all the new things I wanted to try in my mind for the beginning of the Ontario season.  Among them was a different version of Touch which I’m sure I found as part of Dan Cottrell’s Better Rugby Coaching page – a great resource – but I can’t seem to find it there.  (Probably came via his weekly email, expanded from ‘Offload Touch’ on that site.)

Touch of Twos, slightly adapted from the aforementioned article, involves just as the name would suggest.  It’s Touch rugby, and most of the main rules involve ‘two’ of something.  Simply put:

  • Touches are made with two hands, below the ribs.  This reinforces a good tackling position for players.  (Someone should referee to ensure this is adhered to – shouting ‘play on, high tackle’ if not done properly.  I always like the players to take turns at this, so they can become more aware of the principles of the game, their team mates, and have an appreciation for referees.)
  • A touched player has two seconds after being touched to make an offload to a team mate.  This should get them not only thinking about the offload from contact, but also being more aware of how their actions can make offloads more or less likely, and how to utilise supporting players.
  • That offload can only be made in a two metre radius around the touched player.  This requires supporting players to come toward the touched player in close support, giving them a sense of what I call the ‘inevitability of contact.’  While I don’t think contact should be inevitable in proper rugby union, it does happen regularly and supporting players need to be more aware of when their team mate is about to meet it.  Often the most vulnerable space in such a situation is behind the defender fixed on the ball carrier, so support runners should collapse inward to take advantage of this.  If the offload isn’t on then the supporting player is in a great position to make a quick play of the ball.  In the context of the contact game, these ‘primary support’ players to the left and right of the ball carrier need to remember this as well, at least to make a timely clean-out at the ruck.
  • If the offload is made, the two players involved in the touch – ball carrier / touching defender – must drop and give two push-ups before continuing with the play.  I believe the original rule called for the two players to stand on the spot until one or two pass(es) were made, but I felt this was better to mimic the effort made in being part of a tackle contest.  These players would have to make a determined effort to get back into position as someone would in the contact game after a tackle / tackle contest.  Advantage would go to those who do this most quickly – fitness coming into play.
  • If the offload ISN’T made, then the same thing would occur at the mark where the touch was made.  The tackled player would lay the ball back and do two push-ups, with the defender doing the same – facing the opposition goal line.  Each of their feet would signify the offside line for the other players.  This provides a reasonable gap not found in typical Canadian versions of Touch, but exaggerated somewhat (compared to the offside line created at a ruck in rugby union) in FIT and OzTag styles, which require a 5m retreat by defenders after every touch.
  • The next player to arrive from the attacking team has rights to the ball, while defensive players must wait until the ball is played to advance.  If for some reason, an attacking player doesn’t arrive, the defending team can advance after their ‘touching’ player has finished doing two push-ups.
  • Rather than having a finite amount of touches after which the ball is turned over, I recommend letting the proper Laws of rugby union dictate this, from the list of normal infractions.  One would hope that teams would not choose endless pick-and-goes given that this would create a congestion of players having to do push-ups.  Instead, players should be looking to play the ball BEFORE contact, or at least FROM contact – using the 2 sec. / 2m offload rule.  As with rugby union, after that first contact (or two) without an offload to maintain momentum, attacking teams should look to move the ball well away (two passes!) away from the ‘tackle contest’ to play in more space.
  • With regard to space and numbers, I think any version of touch is best played with a good balance between players and the width of the field space available.  As we want to use Touch of Twos to become better Union players, consider the spacing between players on a normal pitch and adjust accordingly (4-6m between each if standing abreast – max 10-12 on a normal sized pitch).  If there are too many, I reduce numbers, create a third team and play ‘winner stays’ after each try or 3 mins without.
  • If you have 7 or more per side, why not try mini, non-pushing scrums and lineouts?  It will allow the players to deal with the spaces each creates as well as work on supporting from those positions.
  • (As kicking is part of the contact game, I would be willing to allow a limited number of attempts.  Maybe a finite number per game, to be used only in times of emergency / opportunity?)

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I don’t think we play enough ‘proper’ Touch Rugby here in Canada – already I’ve lost the attention of tight five forwards, but watching Australian front rowers yesterday with better hands and tactical awareness (how good are the ‘Bens’ – Robinson and Alexander?) than your average Canadian fly half only proved how useful it is for EVERYONE to have these skills.

What better way to acquire sublime passing, running (both with and without the ball), and tactical awareness skills than a good old game of Touch?  Now, note above I said ‘proper’ Touch.  What I mean is one of several versions of the game which requires defenders to retreat 5m after making a touch.  Readers in other countries might be thinking, “Yeah, that’s standard, what do you mean?”  Well here in Canada, it’s more common to see defenders standing an arm’s length from the point the touch was made.  As you’d imagine, this means the defenders are well ahead of the offside line once the ball is passed and your average game of Canadian Touch is a series of ‘crash balls’, getting it in the hands of the fast player, or waiting for someone to make a huge mistake on defence.  There’s very little creativity.

I first played the ‘proper’ version when I took up coaching and teaching in England, and it opened my eyes to a whole new rugby world.  I suddenly had more time and space with the ball, and within a few weeks became a relative attacking maestro compared to my old self!  I saw space, I used space, I created space, and I put others into space – all because I had 5m and a few more seconds to recognise it.  Even better, my team mates had time and had the presence of mind to provide me with options.  As the ‘slower’ but ‘smarter’ one on my team, I actually became the regular first receiver – in effect, a 240lb fly half!  What fun it was!

So if you’re not already doing so, I urge all of you to adopt this one simple element.  You might need someone to take a spell at reffing to make sure they’re always getting back 5m – or have someone rotate in every try – and the game will be a lot more interesting.  Below, I’ve listed some variations of Touch which I love, all encompassing the 5m retreat (unless otherwise stated):

Basic Touch

Between 5-8 per side (min-max), allowing for best use of a half field.  You want to maintain enough space between players to allow for attacks to occur.  Too many players on, and there’ll be no room to move.  If space is limited, try sides that rotate in after a try is scored.  I believe the following is a mix of Touch and OzTag, with some of my own wishes thrown in to make it transferrable to contact rugby:

  • 6 touches until the ball is turned over
  • Two-handed touch (emphasising good body positions to transfer into the contact game)
  • Touched player must do a ‘rollball’ (ball on the ground, rolled back with foot) at the point of the touch – what this does is equates the amount of time it takes for the defence to march back 5m, making it a fairer contest.  If a player over-runs that mark, they must get back, again, so as not to punish the defence.
  • If the Dummy Half (i.e. person who plays the ball after the touch) is touched, the ball is automatically turned over.  The DH can take the ball and run, but cannot score.
  • Retreating defender touch counts – prevents attacking players from just ‘picking and going’ down the middle over and over.
  • Rollball is over if ‘sky above’ it, allowing the defence to rush up.  Touched player can hold with foot, but not for too long.
  • **for fun … allow a kick on ‘touches’ 4, 5, and 6.**

Ruck Touch

When we have too many players and don’t want to have a bunch of players sitting off – OR want to work on support and working hard off the ball, Ruck Touch is a great option.  It’s very same to the game above, but instead of a rollball, the touched player hits the ground and practices a text-book placement of the ball.  The different elements, bringing in the ‘ruck’ are as follows:

  • Ball carrier goes to ground and lays the ball back / Defender who makes the touch does one push-up, and must move away from the contact area.
  • The next player to arrive from BOTH sides must also hit the ground in the contact area and do a push-up.  Once on their feet, they are allowed to play the ball …
  • … or the NEXT (i.e. second) player from either side may play the ball (so long as they go through ‘the gate’ – from behind/over the person who laid it back).
  • The players on the ground cannot interfere.  The ball carrier needs to focus on making a long, secure placement, while the touching defender needs to focus on rolling away quickly (I save the jackalling technique for contact drills).
  • For the next players to arrive, it’s in their best interest to get to the break down quickly, and get down-and-up so they can play the ball.  This favours teams who support each other and punishes teams which not only do not support each other, but also whose ball carriers run away from support, or run into double coverage.

Turnover Touch

With sufficient space available, and wanting to put more pressure on your players to perform certain tasks, make it so being touched creates a turnover situation.  This forces players to be more creative, look for space, and make timely, accurate passes.  It’s best used with experienced players, but can provide a steep learning curve for newer ones if you give them enough width to work in and stress patience until they get the hang of it (there’ll be a lot of subsequent turnovers for newbies).  For each of these, the touched team must drop the ball at the point of the touch and immediately retreat 5m.

One-Handed Turnover – The typical version of Touch the world over, I don’t like this so much for players who are focusing on contact rugby as I think the one handed aspect enforces poor defensive positioning.  Players get too high and don’t square up with the ball carrier.  However, with a disciplined group this version can drastically improve quick handling, deception, timing, and the creation/preservation of space given the urgency required.

Two-Handed Turnover – Re-inforcing proper defensive positioning for contact rugby, this version requires more discipline.

Four-Handed Turnover – This version requires two different defenders to make two-handed touches on a ball carrier, emphasising the double tackle and defending as a unit.  For the attacking team, this allows for offloading and working on support lines around the contact area.  With just one two-handed touch, the ball carrier is still free to run (but not score!) and find support runners.  It also encourages attacking players to isolate defenders (i.e. not running into double coverage) and beat them with one-on-one moves, allowing them to realise that getting around/behind defenders creates space for their support runners elsewhere.

… I also would much rather use this instead of standard fitness, and try to end training sessions with about 20 minutes of Touch, especially to apply anything learned earlier in a game situation, working on our Game Sense.

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No quirky titles here, as this is a topic I’m always very serious about.  I’m pretty ‘famous’ as a rare non-drinking rugby guy among my friends and colleagues.  Drinking seemingly always has had a significant role in rugby’s social culture, and I’m not going to preach about the ‘evils of drink’ like some 1920s Temperance lobbyist, but there are some facts which I think athletes need to know to allow themselves the best opportunity to heal themselves and actually gain the best from their workouts (and, yes, the match should be considered a ‘work out’ – you probably do more work in a game than in any gym session).

Now I’m no scientist, so you probably won’t believe me if I started spouting facts, so I’ll let some authoritative websites do my talking for me.  Enjoy!  😉

“Alcohol and Athletes”

“In order to build bigger and stronger muscles, your body needs sleep to repair itself after a workout. Because of alcohol’s effect on sleep, your body is deprived of a chemical called human growth hormone or HGH. HGH is part of the normal muscle building and repair process and the body’s way of telling itself your muscle needs to grow bigger and stronger. Alcohol however can decrease the secretion of HGH by as much as 70%.

When alcohol is in your body, it triggers the production of a substance in your liver that is directly toxic to testosterone. Testosterone is essential for the development and recovery of your muscles. As alcohol is absorbed through your stomach and small intestine and into your cells, it can disrupt the water balance in muscle cells, altering their ability to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is your muscles’ source of energy. ATP provides the fuel necessary for your muscles to contract.

Speeding the recovery of sore muscles and injuries is integral to optimal performance. On occasion when an athlete is injured and can’t perform they may see this as an opportunity to use alcohol. Alcohol is a toxin that travels through your bloodstream to every organ and tissue in your body, causing dehydration and slowing your body’s ability to heal itself.”

  • Consuming five or more alcoholic beverages in one night can affect brain and body activities for up to three days
  • Two consecutive nights of drinking five or more alcoholic beverages can affect brain and body activities for up to five days.
  • Attention span is shorter for periods up to forty-eight hours after drinking.
  • Even small amounts of alcohol BAC of .03 can persist for a substantial period of time after the acute effects of alcohol impairment disappear.

From:  Office of Drug and Alcohol Education – University of Notre Dame


“Alcohol and Australian Sport”

Short-term Effects

• Alcohol causes dehydration — Alcohol is widely reported as causing dehydration. This statement is true to a point, however it is largely dependent on the concentration of the alcoholic drink being consumed. Concentrated drinks such as spirits consumed in small glasses or shots, full-strength beers and wine will result in a net fluid loss. However low-alcohol choices such as mid-strength beers and spirits served in large glasses with a non-alcoholic mixer may actually assist athletes to rehydrate following exercise.
• Binge drinking exacerbates soft tissue injury — Soft tissue injury management requires reducing blood flow to the area in order to contain the injury. Consuming alcohol has the opposite effect.  It increases blood flow to the area, which is likely to extend recovery time following injury.
• Slower decision-making — It becomes fairly obvious that after a few drinks your ability to react and make correct decisions is impaired. This may increase your risk of serious injury from an accident or being involved in a brawl.

… having a night out with friends is a fact of life, but if nothing else you should be smart about having fun.  If you have picked up an injury, it should be avoided for the reasons cited above.  If you absolutely must, keep it to a minimum in the best interests of your own development and health to ensure you recover as best as possible.   Knowing this reality, the Aussies have some great tips on ‘surviving a night out with mates.’

From: Australian Institute of Sport


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If there were ever times in my life when I wished the world would open up and swallow us all, it was those days in PE when the teacher would inform us that we’d be running the beep test.  I’m sure you all know this as a multi-stage fitness test where you run back and forth between two lines 20m apart, having to reach the line before the next beep.  I hated that man’s voice.  It haunted me in my nightmares, and likely it did for others because our PE teachers used to make several copies as originals would always get stolen!  As a new coach, I always avoided this because I sympathetically didn’t want to subject the players to the torture.

In recent discussion with coaching colleagues about its usefulness and limitations, I’ve come to embrace it, but only with an arm around its shoulder, so to speak, and not a full bear hug.  A friend asked if he was wise to do one once a week to see progression, and this is how one coach responded:

“I’m not sure the bleep test is the best mechanism to test whether you are getting fitter if you intend to do it as often as once a week or fortnight. Maybe do it once every 3 or 4 months or even just once per year.”

I agree with that. It’s probably the easiest test you can do – there’s even downloadable mp3s on the net – but you’d want to measure results over a longer period of time.  I’m not an expert in the field, but would imagine that week-to-week you’d be more likely to see skewed results due to ‘good days / bad days’ or other extraneous conditions.  Over a few months, progression should be more obvious… which goes hand-in-hand with what I was saying to someone else about measuring daily weight loss.  Not seeing desired improvements in the short term could possibly lead to frustration, as significant changes aren’t likely to be seen for quite a while.

As a fat front rower, who actually is quite mobile in games and has a surprising turn of pace over 15m, but who dropped out in early stages (I won’t embarrass myself further by saying when), I never felt it gave my assessors an accurate impression of what I was able to do on the field.  Rugby performance, I feel, is impossible to test for outside of the playing field.  The best indicator is how someone performs the roles asked of them on game day – full stop.  However, how do we make selections or gauge this before such an important, and possibly costly, test?  For that reason, I’ve relaxed my hatred for the beep and as mentioned above, I only administer it periodically to ensure that levels are at least being maintained, though hopefully improved.  I feel this should be a relative test for the participant, and not one to be held to a standard – unless someone does really poorly or is regressing because they are not keeping up with required fitness training.

Lack of motivation to perform or succeed in the test is my major issue though, and one I take into account.  Similar to why I won’t go for a jog around the block, but I could play fast tempo Touch or basketball for two hours – I get bored without an enjoyable experience / desired outcome goal.  I imagine this is the reason that I heard (at a Brumbies coaching course) that world class openside flanker George Smith only gets to Stage 8.  Even if he actually is struggling at that point, and not just deciding to quit at the minimum requirement, we all know how he performs on the park and I’d imagine it’s lack of motivation at that point which would make him feel like dropping out.  For that reason, I don’t use it as an absolute test of performance with my players, only a periodic test for relative fitness over a long period.

For those who want their own, there’s a downloadable mp3 version of the test here:  http://coachingrugby.blogspot.com/2007/02/you-love-to-hate-it-beep-test.html

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