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Posts Tagged ‘technique’

A few weeks ago, this video was doing the rounds on my social media feeds with rugby friends all wanting to give it a go. It features one player, harnessed up like a plow horse going after medicine balls in a tractor tire while three friends hold him back with flexible straps.

[link from USA Rugby facebook page]

Sometimes I’m a bit too quick to be negative about such things as my focus is on using activities that look and feel like the real game. That said, when I used to play (American) football in high school, I did have fun with similar activities like ‘The Bear Pit’ – one player surrounded by a dozen team mates, making attempts to smash out of the circle while they’d squeeze together and make it difficult to do so. (I would say, however, that this did mirror the needs of those of use who smashed each other on the line of scrimmage. I’m not so sure that can be said of the above drill… )

In thinking about this video clip over the last couple of weeks, I thought I’d use it instead to offer some advice for coaches when selecting activities to help with the development of amateur players (… remembering that pros have a lot of free time for flashy drills that the rest of us don’t have). Firstly, I do occasionally use things like this, but leave them as an end-of-training ‘treat’ or something to ‘warm up’ with and engage the team through a bit of fun (though not with something this physical, and with more efficient use of personnel, but more on that later). My initial criticism was that this drill seems opposite to the demands of going for a ball or otherwise competing in a ruck – the forces coming from behind in this activity, whereas one has to drive through forward pressure in a game. On the other hand, if I’m fair, it would be great for physical conditioning and emphasise low body position. (An alternative I’ve used is ‘rucking relays’ – teams nominate their toughest to hold a bag against another team and individuals take turns driving him/her back in a race against other team’s ‘champions’.)

To look at the bigger picture of selecting relevant activities, ask yourself some big questions:

  1. Is this relevant to our needs?Too often, people select novel activities that aren’t relevant to immediate needs – running before they can walk. Is it worth working on jackalling technique if your team isn’t getting to the breakdown in time / overcommitting and in poor body position? Are you spending a lot of time on 20m spin passes when 2-5m push passes are going everywhere from head, to shoulder, to knees come game time?
  2. Does the percentage of time spent on this reflect the frequency it occurs in the game? This is a tricky balance that should be reflected in a well-prepared, but also flexible, season plan. When I took a Level 2 course in Australia, I found myself re-thinking the way I plan activities when an instructor said a simple way to make these decisions is look at what you do most on the pitch and divide time spent on those things proportionately. Simply, if 80% of the game is spent on ‘open play’ then maybe most of a training session should be spent on that aspect. Spending 40 minutes of a 90 minute session on something that only happens maybe 5% of a game might not be worth it if you’re not doing so hot in that 80% category. It’s not to say that small things aren’t important, but can they be built into a bigger, all-encompassing activity? Sport science seems to suggest that drills are best for introducing a technique, but I think too many people continue with those drills for an entire season without putting them into game context. There’s also a new trend toward working on ‘micro-skills’ – little techniques that supposedly improve the whole think (like wrist flicks for passing). I suspect, however, that making more realistic passes, over various distances, with defenders forcing those adaptations, would much better serve everyone’s passing abilities. In the case of jackalling drills – as is continually proven by the likes of George Smith and David Pocock – it’s not just their technique in the tackle contest, but their success lies in how they read the emerging information in front of them and assess which way and how is the best to have a go.
  3. What is the ratio of participating players to supporting players?This is one of my major pet peeves in sport coaching. The biggest culprit in rugby, off the top of my head, is the gauntlet passing drill. Eight players standing on cones in pairs down a narrow corridor passing and receiving balls while one player runs in between, catching and transferring. Not only does it lack the context of an opponent, which is a major determining factor on one’s ability to catch and pass, but those eight players are standing still themselves not really working within the context of a game. There are plenty of drills in rugby like this where more people are stood around watching, holding bags, or otherwise not really getting involved in the action. Most look ‘sexy’ and flatter to deceive that they are teaching something, but I often say the ‘sexiest’ drills are the least realistic and least effective ways of acquiring skill in rugby. These weren’t needed by greats of the game prior to the explosion of coaches and fancy drills from about the 1970s onward – which, I seem to recall hearing, everyone adopted because Communist sports teams using such methods dominated for a while (ignoring the fact that they trained and ate better – and, possibly, had other ‘enhancements’ – than your average amateur athlete who also had a job, family, and possibly ate, drank, and smoked too much). If the likes of Barry John and Colin Meads dazzled the world without stepping ladders and up-and-back bag smashing cycles, then why should players of today?

So much in rugby depends on assessment, prediction and timing. I think we might have the most difficult task in training skill compared to any invasion game because the space in front of our athletes is so congested, with variables in front multiplied depending on where one’s team mates are. Training within contexts that look and feel like the game allow athletes to adapt more efficiently and select appropriate solutions to the problems they regularly face (i.e. true skill development) than when performed in isolation without any visual / spatial / physical context. Ask yourself, then, when planning a training session if the activities are best preparing the athletes for the demands of the next game.

 

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June is a great month for rugby, with the Northern Hemisphere big-wigs on tour and most other nations taking part in international matches. With our season over, I’ve had a lot of free time to watch plenty of these encounters. The football World Cup is also in full swing and watching both has reminded me of a phrase that gets tossed about a lot by players and coaches in both codes: “We’ve just got to do the basics well.” Often, this refers to passing and in both sports I’ve been both impressed and disappointed by the quality of passing on show.

I won’t talk too much about football, but will say that even the masters of the simple short passing game – the Spanish – looked ‘casual’ at times, as have many other nations, giving up the ball in crucial situations due to lack of focus. I don’t know football as well as I do rugby, but I wonder if an expert would say that the passing there could be more accurate? I know this is certainly the case for rugby, with many passes going straight to the receiver – or worse, toward the head, shoulder, hip or any other spot that isn’t quite ideal. “Straight to the receiver?” you ask. “Isn’t that what I want?” No, not necessarily. If the receiver is static – waiting to kick the ball or maybe standing flat to make an immediate transfer, a pass directly to the receiver’s hands is probably ideal. The rest of the time, however, the passer needs to aim for a spot that’s in front of the receiver’s hands.

I shouldn’t even have to mention that receivers should always have hands out where they want the ball, yet often see ‘receivers’ not giving a target, practically ‘asking’ the passer to put the ball anywhere from above the head to knees. I’d love to commission a study on it, but am willing to bet that pass accuracy increases when hands are up and stretched out to meet the ball. I also think passers have to focus not so much on the receiver, but keep him/her in the peripheral and really focus on a spot just in front of the outstretched hands.  In the photo below, I’d be willing to bet that one or the other hasn’t happened – either the receivers hands were down before the ball was passed or the passer didn’t focus on putting the ball in front so the receiver’s had to adjust. Either way, he’s taking this ball low and has probably had to slow down to catch it. Neither are ideal where the aim should be either to keep moving forward at pace or transfer the ball quickly.

In “getting the basics right”, one can focus on passing quality in training by reminding players to have their hands up and for passers to put the ball in front of the hands, leading the receiver. I think that a pass that’s a tad ‘too far’ in front encourages the receiver to run faster onto a ball. I’ve seen players take such passes and rip through defences either because they sped through a gap or were able to catch and act so quickly that defenders didn’t have time to adjust. Conversely, the body language of someone who’s been given a bad pass tends to do the opposite, empowering defenders to pounce upon the vulnerable receiver who’s lost the initiative. Here is a pass where the receiver’s hands are up and the ball appears to be sufficiently in front such that he won’t have to slow down. I like a pass to be just about shoulder height, making sure I can receive the pass at a level where I can still keep the opposition in my field of view.

 

Here’s another photo showing how a well-timed pass makes the play possible. If the ball is being aimed at the outer receiver, it’s going for his shoulder and he’s going to get caught in contact. Instead, it’s a hanging pop pass for the inside receiver who is able to run onto the ball and slide behind the defender on the left side of the picture (for a try, if memory serves!).

Too often, I feel, coaches focus on players’ “accuracy” but not specifically enough on “quality” (i.e. happy if they catch, but not focused on where, exactly, the ball is aimed) in unopposed drills where the consequences of poor quality aren’t so apparent. If they’ve had to hop, reach down, reach back, or stutter step to receive a pass cleanly, this isn’t as accurate as the pass should be. This “accuracy” is immediately reduced when pressure is on and a receiver’s ability to act is reduced as a result of a less-than-ideal pass, so why not spend more time practicing passing under game-like pressure situations?

These can be small-sided, challenging games where as many reps can be achieved but require athletes to focus and be accurate or fail. One that I often use requires four groups of players to cross a reasonably-sized square at the same time, completing a full set of passes before reaching the other side of the square. Each group takes up a side and leaves at about the same time, crisscrossing continuously for set amount of time. The pressure of avoiding a collision or holding/making a pass amongst traffic not only increases focus, but I’ve found also increases accuracy. It sounds silly to say – and maybe it speaks more to how my guys prefer a challenge – but I’ve seen greater accuracy in this sort of game than when players do unopposed passing lines jogging down the length of the pitch. One of the club’s junior coaches has started using it and marvels at how well his boys perform, wanting to keep going beyond the set time, determined not to drop a ball.

As with all of my exercises, I outline the criteria for success at the onset and don’t harp on mistakes. Players should know what to focus on and my voice celebrates their specific successes, allowing players to fine-tune their movement memory: “Perfect follow-through, Matt! Hands pointed to the space in front of Joe’s hands. Well done!”  I avoid negative and unspecific comments, and only add technical advice when it’s obvious they’re missing something: “Turn your shoulders, Matt. Square to the target.” Instead of fussing over how ‘perfect’ a pass looks, I’m instead mostly focused on the quality of the pass – in front of the hands, quickly transferred with no hang time or arc (i.e. quickest possible path), and well-timed such that defenders haven’t time to adjust.

I think I’m justified in not worrying about how tight a spiral is or a push pass floating without a wobble when I watch the All Blacks.  They’re the heralded masters of passing in rugby, showing time and time again over this undefeated year-and-a-half they’ve enjoyed that a well placed pass is all that’s needed to be successful.  In their most recent game against England, you wouldn’t call many of these ‘perfect’ technique, but all (apart from the ‘bounce pass’ to Savea) were well timed and well-placed, putting the receiver either in an ideal spot to move it on or to ensure he could maintain his pace toward the try line.

When scoring is the ultimate goal, and especially for junior players who are still developing, let’s focus more on the outcome and not get too nit-picky about supposed “ideal” details that might only frustrate or confuse players as they’re coming to terms with skill acquisition.

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There’s a North American sports cliché that sometimes gets bandied about in rugby circles as well that defence wins championships. While it’s true that league and World Cup finals tend to be low-scoring affairs, I believe that this is as much – if not more so – about teams playing low-risk rugby and opting to play the territory game with the boot as it is about the two best defensive teams being locked in an unforgiving stalemate. Mine is a simple philosophy that maintaining possession and executing a determined, coordinated attack wins games. If we keep the ball and score more points, we win. Simple as that. I spend a lot of time teaching players how to attack using the principles of going forward with determination and intelligence, maintaining continuity and support through effort and communication off the ball, and keeping the pressure on the defensive team such that they aren’t able to get organised and focused on stopping us. If defence truly does win championships in rugby, it’s not just about defending one’s goal line, successful teams use those same four principles against the attacking side to win possession back from them.

 Going Forward

 Key Concepts:

  • Deny time and space
  • Make contact on our terms
  • Keep attackers in front

 In attack, going forward gives us the initiative and ability to determine play on our terms. The same is true in defence: we deny the opposition time and space to attack by taking it away. I challenge players to ‘attack’ on defence; never sit back and wait, as the team in possession will step around and/or pick their gaps. It’s also poor tackling technique to sit on one’s heels and simply take the hit, and that’s if the ball carrier doesn’t simple step around the frozen defender. I hear a lot of coaches at various levels these days yell “Line speed!” to their teams – urging them to come up quickly. I’m of the mind that this speed can be varied depending on the situation, but generally speaking quicker is better so long as the group in front of the ball is coordinated. I’m avoiding the word ‘flat’ here as I don’t believe it has to be rigidly so as long as the unit in front of the ball is relatively level and aren’t offering gaps that can be exploited. If an individual or unit comes up too fast, a clever distributor can fire a long pass behind or over the line to a well-timed strike runner, or kick behind them. Too slow, however, and the attacking unit will have plenty of space and time to dictate play on their terms. I urge teams to ‘attack’ on defence, coming forward quickly, but ensuring there are no individuals lagging behind or shooting up early (unless we have a numerical advantage and can pull off a spot tackle or interception). Lastly, coming forward in defence offers a better chance of keeping the attackers in front. Having to turn or chase to make a tackle isn’t as ideal as squaring up and completing a dominant tackle that gives us a better chance to steal the ball.

Drills:

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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!

Wayne Smith, image from The Rugby Site

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.)

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I examined the specifics of what I think is good, and not so good, about offloading from contact in a previous post, so won’t go into to much detail here on the finer points.  While watching Toulouse v Ospreys yesterday I saw a fantastic offload by French no. 8 Louis Picamoles to Census Johnston resulting in probably the easiest try the massive Samoan has ever scored.

Here’s the clip:

1. Play starts from a lineout in a game where Toulouse pretty much had forward dominance.  As is a common move with teams these days who have a strong pack, Toulouse make a few attempts to exert their dominance.  They start with a catch and drive and use their one re-start opportunity to get the ball to the hooker at the back, then restarting their shove.  As things break down, the hooker breaks off and has a go.  Some might elect to start another maul for an classic pushover, but Tolofua is a massive lad and decides to have a go.  Ospreys defence are up to the task and stop him short of the line.

2. The scrum half, Burgess, moves the ball wide to another powerful runner (they have a few!) Jean Bouilhou.  The width here is key as teams are always more likely to stack their defenders tightly around the fringes of the ruck, and in three-point stances to be able to stop the low pick and drives (see Sona Taumalolo).  Playing to a forward in the wide channels makes it more likely that he’ll be facing a significantly smaller back.  Bouilhou misses an opportunity to do what Picamoles does in a few seconds later if you stop at about 0:15-0:16 in the video.  He has just two defenders in front of him and a team mate.  He cuts back inside, not backing his power and though his team does set up a ruck and retains possession, I’d argue that he could have set up a score in one of two ways.

Simply, he could have attacked the gap between the two defenders, effectively drawing the outer one and passed before contact to the waiting player (possibly the fly half).  That close to the line, it’s incredibly hard to stop anyone who gets low enough, and if it’s Dossain, he’s a powerful player who’d be hard to stop.  In addition, at 0:16 you can see that the man who’d be responsible for defending the potential receiver isn’t squarely aligned with him.  By being a metre or so on his inside, it’d be very hard to effect anything but a side-on tackle, giving the receiver the chance to reach for the line with forward momentum or twist around to score.  Defending players within 5m of the goal line is best done when square-on with the ball carrier, and often higher than I’d usually advocate for a ‘perfect’ tackle, so the defender can: A. Stop his forward momentum, and B. Wrap arms to prevent the offload.

The second way Bouilhou might have set up a try for Dossain is performed by Louis Picamoles on the next phase.

3. With the ball bought into contact, we can see the eventual try scorer Johnston parked a significant distance away from the ruck in the lower right part of the screen at about 0:20.  He’s a big man and a quick, flat pass for him to run onto might see him charge over the line.  But as we see Louis Picamoles creep into a closer position at 0:22 we can see that Ospreys defence are already in low positions and that there are four of them on that short side.  Passing only to Johnston, who looks to be standing too high and who probably wouldn’t be charging onto the ball (I’ve seen him play a lot and this is often true with him), might see him smothered by any number of those four waiting defenders.

4. Burgess passes to Picamoles who immediately makes a dart for the space – not any one of the waiting defenders and certainly not square on.  By doing this he forces those present into the side-on / legs tackle which, as noted above, is not idea to stop any player – let alone someone of Picamoles’ bulk – this close to the goal line.  If you stop at 0:25, you will note that he’s managed to drag the defending forward, as well as drag in both the defending scrum half and winger.

5. For many players, this would be the end of the move.  Take the charge with the proverbial ‘blinkers’ on, unaware of where support is, lay the ball back and set up another ruck.  Johnston would have to come in to secure the ball and Ospreys would probably try to slow it down and buy time to re-align their defence as they had so ably on the last phases.  Instead, whether by presence of mind or by Johnston’s call – or both – Picamoles reaches his big hand around the back of the winger and delivers a soft offload to a waiting Johnston who only has to flop over to score.

6. Players with big hands, like Sonny Bill Williams, are often seen making such spectacular offloads because they can palm the ball and force it in virtually any direction.  I suspect Picamoles might be just such a player, but on the reverse angle we can see that he’s cradling the ball between his hand and forearm – which even high school girls I’ve coached can manage.  He delicately slides a pop pass to Johnson, who also demonstrates great technique in having both hands up and offering a target.

Picamoles takes out three defenders to offload to Johnston

When I teach this sort of thing to my players, I focus on a few key things that address both going into contact properly as well as thinking about what happens next.  First off, I stress that I ALWAYS want players to dominate the contact area such that they can play the ball as they wish.  NEVER do I want them to simply ‘run into the trunk of the tree’, which gives the defender(s) the advantage.  So, we address the following:

  • Move toward defender’s centre line to ‘fix’ him / her in place
  • Suddenly move away and attack the space (or ‘branches of the tree’ – i.e. arms – if space isn’t big enough to run into)
  • Maintain a powerful running line that preserves space for support players (i.e. running a sharp angle draws in the outer defender and allows the carrier forward momentum; running flat, sideways angle has little to no forward momentum and allows defenders a chance at an easy tackle)
  • Keep the body height low so one is hard to stop, but not so low that one will topple forward if dragged down
  • Keep in mind where supporting players were – is there a chance for an offload should you draw in another defender?  Where would that offload best be made – flat to the side or slightly behind?  [Support players MUST be communicating this, as most ball carriers won’t be able to see where they are / are coming from once in contact… and as with the previous article on offloading, popping the ball to a defender who’s even a metre or more back is counter-productive.  The receiver MUST be at or challenging the gain line!]
  • Keep a solid grip on the ball, and keep arm(s) free on the way down – an added bonus of teaching players to be confident in contact and to fall on their sides.
  • LISTEN and LOOK for the opportunity to make the offload.  Nothing makes me more angry watching games where players offload to unready receivers or to no one in particular.  Offloads are great, but I always stress IF IT’S NOT TRULY ‘ON’ THEN A RUCK IS BETTER, and that includes the offload to a player who’s deep as you’re more likely to set them up to be tackled well behind the ground you just gained.

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Some colleagues and I were fortunate enough to have our school pick up the tab to venture to Toronto last night to see former All Blacks coach and recent World Cup winner Graham Henry.

His session was primarily focused on defence, and I can’t say that I learned anything new, but it did feel good to have some of the things I have been teaching (which I learned from the Aussies when coaching down there, to give credit where due) for years affirmed by the lessons he taught.

In particular, he talked about developing a defensive philosophy based upon principles (pressure the opposition, force errors) and achievable, measurable objectives (controlling the gain line, win the contact area; All Blacks aiming for a 90% success rate for tackles).  The defence drills demonstrated didn’t even focus so much on the tackle as they did the little elements that lead up to it: sighting the target shoulder bumping, 1 v 1 tracking and footwork into contact, communication and organisation at the break down… only then getting into actual tackle situations.

Two of the key elements which he kept coming back to were foot placement and body shape.  The closer the lead foot gets to the ball carrier, the easier it is for the tackler to put in a shoulder hit and drive through contact.  (Too far away and the defender is limited to a weaker, less assured ‘arms-only’ tackle.)  He also continued to stress that defenders should have their arms in close and down at their sides – much like Olympic wrestlers – so they can maintain balance into contact, stay dynamic in their approach and be able to adjust to ball carrier sudden movements, and to be able to focus all of their power into dominating the tackle itself (arms out, he said, being less powerful and less stable, making a defender more likely to stand flat footed and get beat).

He also stressed – if possible – to have your games videoed and to spend time analysing your own team.  He kind of threw it out there as a luxury it’d be nice to have, but I’d add that for most of us – if not all – it’s difficult to take a genuine critical look at our teams while the game’s in progress.  I’ve been doing this for years so that I and my fellow coaches can go into future training sessions with a keen sense of what needs to be reinforced and improved upon, rather than relying on memory, highlights / lowlights spurned by emotion, and being able to examine / re-examine things we didn’t even notice!

Over-all, I’d say the message I took away from his defence session and the Q & A round that followed was that even at the top end, there is still a focus on doing the basic things very well.  He even stated that certain players he’s coached recently (and name-dropped one) weren’t actually that good at certain things – such as making proper tackles.  The Q & A session annoyed me a bit – and possibly Henry as well – as quite a few questions were best answered by the persons who asked them.  Henry even hinted as much, kindly trying to answer them, but also throwing the question back to the coach saying that they had to trust their instincts and do what’s right for their particular team. I’ll admit that I might have asked such questions in my early days as a coach, too, but I think even a beginning coach has to trust his or her own instincts and rationale.  I hope those people return to their teams with a greater belief in their abilities and adopt / develop what’s best for their team, not simply copying what they see others do.  He’d actually started the evening by saying as much – that what he was about to discuss were things that worked for him at his level, but that it might not necessarily apply to us.  The key thing for a thoughtful coach attending such clinics is to think realistically and pick and choose what will work for his/her particular level of athletes.

For me, it was that element which made the trip a rewarding one.  Despite not seeing anything new, I was able to take another step in my development as a coach in thinking about the importance I give to certain skills at training.  Seeing the importance Henry placed on tracking prior to contact, before even doing tackling drills, made me think that I need to focus on this more.  I noted that I should expand upon and stress to my boys my feeling that the lion’s share of defensive work is everything that builds up to the tackle, with the actual contact aspect being easier if all the prep work has been done well.

The other rewarding element was that I was able to spend about 15 hours on the drive up and back, at the session itself, and at the pub afterwards talking with my colleagues – from my own school and with others – about our philosophies and ideas.  It’s this sort of sharing of ideas that is almost non-existent here in Canada, and if I were completely honest, I didn’t see many people chatting outside of their groups of friends (ourselves included).  While an opportunity existed, I would also say there was a missed opportunity to foster a greater degree of collegiality by the organisers.  They might have forced us to have little breakout discussion sessions to be able to share our thoughts on Henry’s lessons, how we’d do things, and to learn from each other instead of hoarding our ‘tool box’ to protect our chances of winning whatever (frankly, irrelevant in the grand scheme of things) local titles we’re shooting for.

Maybe it’s something I should set up in my area, though I think this blog is a good start!

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England have one of the most dominant scrums going – when refs recognise when the opposition are binding on their arms!  Their destruction of Ireland in the spring was a master-class of dominant straight-ahead scrummaging.

Three of the current set-up offer some great tips here.  Couldn’t put it better myself.  I love how they don’t focus too much on things like binds, as for me effective scrummaging is really about body shape and coordination.

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