Using playing platforms

Humans have a limited capacity of working memory. We can only remember a very limited number of things at a time. Try to remember too many things at once and you inevitably forget some of them.

When teaching new concepts (like a new tactical response to a performance problem, or even refining a tactical response), coaches often come up with a new drill or activity to teach the principles.

The trouble with this is that players expend working memory on the process for completing the drill, or the rules of the new game which reduces concentration (or makes them completely forget) the aspects you are trying to teach.

Here’s a quick video on the cognitive science involved.

This is where having a familiar game platform is useful.

Once players become familiar with a particular type of game, they no longer have to expend working memory thinking about how to play it.

For example, with touch rugby, most players have been warming up with touch rugby for years, and if you introduce a variation (maybe offload on the first touch) players grasp this quickly because they already know the basics of the game.

We’d encourage all coaches to develop a playing platform to use in practice. The basic platform should be similar enough to the actual game (rugby) that cues, skills and tactics will transfer.

As a basic example, think about 8 v 8 two-handed touch, where touch player must go to ground and one attacker must ruck, two defenders take a knee at each ruck. After playing this for a couple fo weeks players will become familiar with the “rules”.

At that point you can introduce variations designed to develop aspects you’d like to focus your practice on. In the current example, you may introduce tackling to cause lifelike breakdowns and facilitate decision making around this.


After a few minutes, if that players have grasped the concept, they transition to their platform training activity with some variations to emphasise this aspect of the game (8 vs 8 opposed, contact by only 1 vs 1 allowed in the tackle).

This is a MATCHED level activity where rucks will occur frequently and players can practice making their decisions using the correct cues. There are other things going on now – attacking, defending passing, so players must quickly recall their decision-making rules.


If this goes well, you can decide to implement a SURPLUS activity. Designate one player a “jolly joker” who now plays on attack for both teams. This effectively makes the game 7 v 9 in favour of the attack, heaping pressure on the defence.

The only way to win possession is for the defender to affect a turnover, so they must look closely for opportunities, but if they make the wrong decision it is likely they will be scored against.

Mason asks Vince to remind the players of a performance problem:

  1. Defence organisation and contest for possession.
  2. Our tactic is to contest hard to slow the opposition ball IF is the ruck is live.

What playing platform would work best for them? Do they know their tactic already?

If yes, then during a surplus activity, while there’s plenty of attack and defence outcomes, the only focus for feedback is whether the defence has identified a live ruck or not.

But if they are struggling with the tactic, or not aware of “why”, then they might have to train in deficit to start with.

Let’s see how this plays out for Motley Crew.

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