12 simple ways to work players harder

Treat every training session like a match and your players will always be able to perform. Here are 12 ways to pile on the pressure at your next session.


Your session is a balance of learning new skills, revising old ones and the putting them into game situations.

While your whole session can’t be run at game intensity, the more sections that can, the more your players will be experiencing the sort of pressure they will be facing in a match.

Below are 12 ways to pile on that sort of pressure. To maintain momentum in the session, so you can move seamlessly from activities into game-pressure activities you should:

  • Make sure all the players are dressed to play. That means wearing their body armour, head guards and gum shields.
  • Ensure the players have seen or know the more complicated parts of the session, so you are not explaining what happens for too long.
  • Give the captain roles out to different players, not just the leadership group. 
  • Mix up combinations, so players are used to replacing others should there be injuries on a match day. 

Eddie Jones is always ready to throw something else into training to put pressure on the players to think harder, and so play harder


Your own role is to create pressure through your tone of voice and urgency. You should be challenging them with questions all the time: 

  • Do they know their roles? 
  • Do their know what outcome they want from the next play? 
  • Do you their know what skills they need to use? 
  • Can they maintain their form and shape even under the constraints?

And if you want to make it really game realistic, don’t let the players have a second chance to complete a move or play if that’s what they were trying to execute. Move on and let them reflect for next time.


Setting time constraints creates performance pressure


Place a ball on the touchline junctions with the 5m line, 10m line and 22m line. Time how long it takes a pack to complete a lineout from each position after running from the halfway line. Use this time as a benchmark or challenge another pack to improve on it.


Alternatively, complete six lineouts in three minutes.


Between consecutive scrums on a machine, use a short run or a back row move. Count the scrums the pack completes in three minutes and use this as a benchmark.


Place a ball on the 15m line junctions with the 5m line, 10m line and 22m line. Time how long it takes a backline to complete a first phase attack from each position after running from the try line. Use this time as a benchmark, or challenge one backline to improve it. Alternatively, complete six attacks in three minutes.


Reducing the space available to players increases contact and makes a session more intense


Use a short, narrow channel for forwards to advance the ball through before releasing to a backline to promote a go-forward ethos as well as intense attack and defence.


Reduce the pitch width for backlines as they progress, to promote more precisely executed running lines as well as greater changes of pace.


Conditioning the distance of the defensive line from the attackers will create greater pressure on the attack or defence to succeed.


Moving the offside line 2m farther back in a rush defence practice focuses defenders to get up even more quickly.


Alternatively, you can permit your defenders to move up an extra metre in front of the normal offside line to reduce the space for the attackers to play in.


Varying the ratio of defenders to attackers increases pressure, making them work harder, react better and concentrate on technical aspects


Run a drift defence exercise with fewer defenders than attackers to demonstrate the effectiveness of the system. This also prevents laziness from the inside defenders by demanding they remain alert and working.


You call how many are to form a lineout as forwards approach a touchline, requiring them to remain alert and react to the situation.


In games of touch, changing numbers can produce on-the-fly intensity. You call a bib colour and every defender wearing that colour bib must return to their own goal line before re-entering the game. The game ebbs and flows with more or less players, intensifying the requirements of defence and attack, and also promotes those re-joining the game to react while out of position. You can also have two players with a third coloured bib who can change from team to team accroding to your call.

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