Best and most effective pre-season focus and training

Think straight and think clearly about what you can achieve from pre-season to make more use of the valuable time before the real action begins.

What you need to know first

  1. Numbers and themes

 It’s unlikely that you will have everyone there for every training session, therefore your focus should be on a couple of themes which will get revised every week.

For example, you might be working on patterns from a quick ruck. Just repeat this every week, with a small adjustment every time.

  1. Different motivations

Each player will have different motivations during the pre-season build-up, with some pushing themselves, while others are just trying to survive.

Challenge each player to be a better player by the end of this period. Work out what they would like to focus on. If they are struggling to come up with their own ideas, give them a menu to choose from.

What you need to focus on

  1. Game fitness

You might have a specific strength and conditioning programme throughout your season, and players should have time outside training to work on their own fitness.

In training, the more you can be focused on game-fitness the better.

Why? First, it’s more fun. Second, you have limited time with your players and you can develop skills under pressure by mixing the two.

  1. Skills focus

Every session, even from week one, should have something on handling, support, evasion, tackling and contact skills.

All handling should be under pressure in some way. So, don’t waste time in training working on a technique. Let the players concentrate on this before training starts.

Tackle and ruck techniques, however, can be done a slower pace. Rather than focus on all the techniques, just focus on two each for both. Every week, make sure they get revised, honed and made into habits. You will find that the other aspects of that of the game will follow.

For example, with the tackle, focus on a very tight grip and keeping the feet active after the tackle. For the ruck, get the chin over the ball and be square.

Evasion and support are natural rather than coached skills. Create games to give the players plenty of chances to use these skills.

  1. Tactical focus

 Pick out your three main lineout and backs plays and just nail those in pre-season. If the players are close to perfect on these, then add variations.

In attacking phase play, do the same. Every session, run through the plays, adding more and more defensive pressure.

As for defence, here plenty of coaches make the mistake of imposing ruck defence systems or trying to create a blitz-type defence. Better to focus on good line speed and marking up the threats. There’s no better way to do this than by playing touch games with conditions.

Finally, make sure you have a counter-attack/kick-return policy in place.

Pre-season never ends

One mistake lots of coaches make is to think that they need to have covered everything by the first game. That often leaves the team thinly prepared.

Accept you cannot cover every aspect of the game and instead make sure you have a few areas very strongly covered. The team can mend and make do in the meantime. Each week, in-season, you can add in new elements.


Top tip

Make every session “chaotic”. That’s just like the game itself. Plan to surprise the players. Give them some guidance on what’s going to happen, but also let them know that things may change.

For example, you might start with a game of touch rugby and then, after five minutes, do a high-intensity contact session with pads. Yet, within 30 seconds of them starting that session they are back into the touch game. You can then switch between the two, with them having no idea when you are going to change.

Eddie Jones said when he arrived in Australia, and after he had his bag checked at immigration: “We’ve got to be good enough to control what we can control.” Work on the areas of the game you can control and then prepare the players to deal with problems.

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