EXPERT SESSIONS AND ADVICE FROM QUALIFIED AND EXPERIENCED GRASSROOTS RUGBY COACHES

Three reasons why players want real training

Here’s a story from a winter training session which illustrates that if you can give the players want they think they want from training, you will have far more powerful outcomes. 

The first real cold snap has arrived at training. And last week, to my horror, the senior team bumped us out of our indoor training facility onto the outdoor 4G pitch. Luckily, I had an extra top, but our forwards coach foolishly wearing his flip-flops.

Of course, if I was a better man, I would have lent the poor soul my socks. Then, reflecting on the situation, it was better to let him learn his lesson for next time.

Now, you may think that’s pretty cold-hearted. Yet, if you really want to learn a lesson, you must suffer sometimes. That goes for coaches as well as players. We want our players to become more self-reliant, so why not us.

Back to the training session, and we were straight into games. In fact, the players had already set up a game inside. Each one was wearing a coloured headband and it was reds and oranges against blues and greens.

For the five minutes that we were inside, a small group of older regional players were also training (hence why we were soon to be ousted). Our boys were playing a noisy game of touch rugby, with their own rules. The older players were being drilled to tackle hard and then compete for the ball on the ground.

The difference? I would like to say our training was better. I think that because of three distinct reasons.

First, we know that the players would much prefer to be playing a game. Second, the players had organised the game themselves, with their rules. It was an empowered five minutes.

The third reason goes to the heart of the learning and improvement though. I don’t doubt the technical detail of the drill I could see happening. At the end of the drill, they went into a 3 v 2, developing their reactions from the back of a ruck.

To help the drill be more game like, the coach was shouting for the players to touch a cone, before coming back into play and therefore changing the angles. To me, it was all becoming a little too false: Too many tackle tubes and cones.

I will use cones to help create scenarios, and I will use tubes and pads sparingly to soften the blows in a tackle. Yet, I think they’ve become synonymous with skills training. I expect the players will show some improvement. However, if they want to really improve, they should be putting the skill into the game context as much as possible.

At the top level, we’re seeing lots of missed tackles around the ruck area at the moment. Perhaps skills coaches aren’t letting the players develop their own solutions in the right contexts. I’d like to think our players were.

So what are your takeaways from that story? How much of your training is coach-led? How can you give your players more say and still keep the training game relevant?


Three reasons why players want real training

  1. Players want to play rugby. They understand that training is not going to be like the real game. But the closer you can get to it the better. Therefore, play games.
  2. Players want to enjoy themselves. Give them the freedom to do that by giving them more control over their own destiny. In other words, let them set up games where possible. These games will probably look a lot more like the game.
  3. Tubes, pads and cones all have a role to play in “training”. Yet, the more training looks like the real game, the more the players will learn. And, in the long run, players will recognise that, so will prefer training situations which have a real match feel.
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