EXPERT SESSIONS AND ADVICE FROM QUALIFIED AND EXPERIENCED GRASSROOTS RUGBY COACHES

10 lessons from Italy

Italy may have a poor international record, but there’s plenty of great ideas and methods that we can learn from their approach to the coaching and training.

I’ve been Director of Rugby at a club in Parma, Italy, for three seasons. However, it has not necessarily been a typical Italian experience given that we’ve been in apandemic for most of that time. 

Despite this, I’ve learned, and grown to respect, how clubs and coaches approach the game there and compare it with my 30 years coaching in the UK.

Rugby in Italy doesn’t always get taken too seriously in the UK. This is mostly because of the failings of the national side which are all too obvious every Six Nations. 

However, here are 10 areas where I think any nation can learn from Italy. 

01 THERE ARE PAID COACHES

There are more paid coaches in Italy. These are coaches who consider coaching a part-time job rather than as a “keen dad” helping out as a volunteer. A keen parent is the backbone of the UK club game but may not have all of the appropriate skills or training to inspire. With payment comes responsibility. Self-improvement is expected and required. It is not optional. Compliance and registration are a professional requirement as in any other job.

02 TECHNICAL DIRECTORS

A consequence of the above is that almost every club has a technical director (horrible title) who is responsible for the coaching direction of their club and the CPD of their coaches. I reckon that, in too many of our clubs, each age group is an island.

03 SPECIALIST AGE GRADE COACHES

Again, as a result of the above, there are more age group “specialist coaches”. Instead of a keen dad following his son’s age group up to U18, coaches tend to stay with an age group. They build up real expertise as an U12 coach for example, over a number of years.

04 PROFESSIONAL FEMALE COACHES

There are more professional female coaches. Typically this is with the younger age groups, but this is changing, and young players have good female professional role models. 

05 TIME WITH THE PLAYERS

They have more time with their players. The school system is different. There are no school sports, but they start school at 0800 and finish school at around 1300. The children are encouraged to find something enriching to do in the afternoon, like sport, music or art. This means the kids are often at a club three or four afternoons a week.

06 MOVEMENT SKILLS COACHING

Most clubs have, at each age group and from U6s up, a movement skills coach. This is a positive and a negative. Too often what is delivered by these specialist coaches is not rugby related and does not involve using a ball. It does mean, however, that players do pick up basic motor skills.

07 SUMMER CAMPS

They have fantastic summer camps. The summer school holidays go from mid-June to mid-September. Clubs open their doors five days a week during the summer for multi-skill activities from cycling and volleyball to touch rugby.

08 PLAYER SAFETY

Player safety is taken seriously. Before each season, every player must undergo a full medical before they can play. This picks up underlying medical conditions, saving the health service money in the long term. Doctors and physios are present at most games of junior and senior rugby, reassuring parents and players.

09 COFFEE CULTURE AND CHAT

A huge amount of coffee is consumed. This means coaches spend more time together off the pitch. Small conversations are had away from the pitch with players and co-coaches.  Important learning time for players to learn in an informal setting is created.

10 SUNSHINE AND SKILLS

The sun shines…a lot. Skills are easier to work on at 32 degrees Celsius rather than 32 degrees Fahrenheit.  And the food is great. This is a serious point. A healthy pasta dish served by a young player to their opposite number after a match as part of the Terzo Tempo (Third Half) teaches a player more about healthy living and rugby’s values than a chip cob hastily eaten on the go.

The environment and culture in Italy shape many of these differences. These differences create an environment which is uniquely Italian. 

Every national governing body could do well to adopt one or many of these ideas. Of course, there are other elements of the Italian set up that could do with some serious change. But, these positives are driving forward some exciting times for the Azzurri brand.

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