When does contact get serious?

Rugby should always be fun, no matter the age of the participants. But the progression from elementary contact to the physical game enjoyed by older players needs to be carefully managed.

Rugby coaching should be player-orientated and “fun”. Of course, fun to a seven-year-old may well be different to that of a 17-year-old. In addition, contact skills and practices should always be safe, which suggests it’s a serious business. That degree of “seriousness” may well be transparent to the players.

Serious fun

The youngest age groups are at the FUNdamental stages of their player development and some may find the prospect of contact scary.

Coaches need to introduce technical skills in a non-threatening environment, with suitable vocabulary to minimise or even exclude any negative or frightening aspects.

The emphasis might be on fun but this needs to be treated seriously by coaches – safety is paramount.

Direct approach

It’s also a time when a “tell” or “sell” coaching approach is preferable to “ask” or “delegate”. It’s probably too risky to expect new contact skills to be learned through trial and error on a have-a-go basis. Instead, it makes sense to introduce such basic skills in a highly controlled environment with lots of direct coaching involvement.

As players get older, these basic skills will become second nature. Coaching will become more player-centred and game-orientated as contact situations are practised, with technical aspects already honed.

Safety is paramount

Fun at these age groups may become more “testosterone-based” and it could be that nominally aggressive vocabulary becomes part of that fun – “boshes” and “smashes” may feature with a smile and a wink amongst team-mates as they enjoy their rugby.

Beneath it all, however, coaches must still be serious in contact practices – safety is still paramount. They should be ensuring players are focused on the job in hand, concentrating on what is occurring. Horseplay can lead to injury.

The process of change

The movement from non-threatening, drill-based practices to full game-orientated play is a continuing process, where fun for the players is a changing and abstract concept that they themselves may not appreciate is changing. It’s the coaches who always consider the serious side of this, maintaining safety and the relevant coaching outcomes.

Use Dan Cottrell’s “Stuntman” exercise to give your players some contact fun to work with.

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