Don’t believe the template

A great template to show players how to catch. But they don’t need to replicate it if they have a better way.

While demonstrations of a technique are helpful, they can also over-influence a player’s idea of what might work for them. Think differently about how you create a template for players to replicate.

Each of us is uniquely built, so we can’t always replicate someone else’s body movements. We can’t even do it ourselves perfectly. Try writing out your signature 50 times and see how many match each other.

Williams and Hodges (2005) suggest that: “Demonstrations may actually limit potential as they are over constraining and force the learner to adopt a movement pattern that may not be the most effective for the individual. A demonstration should always be coupled with its outcome effects so that learners are encouraged to problem solve and determine how their actions and effects are related.”

How can we apply this to our rugby training?


Start with the idea that nothing needs demonstrating. Instead, set the players challenges and then see how well they perform.

As players become successful, other players will naturally observe them, aim to copy them, and so improve themselves. That’s a natural order of improvement but does have drawbacks, some of them serious. Hence, there are times when you need to step in to create a demonstration situation.

Also, some specific areas of the game need some form of low-level introduction before they come up to game speed. Tackling, for example, can be introduced with walking rugby or more aggressive touch rugby. If you set the constraints correctly, the players can find safe and repeatable solutions.

In this case, you might stop play to allow a player to demonstrate why they have been successful. You should also ask other players to show how they created their success.

What needs demonstrating

Scrummaging and lifting are the most likely areas where a coach might use demonstrations.

The scrum profile template is recognised by all practitioners as the most effective method to scrummage. Therefore, this is a worthwhile investment in training time. The most effective demonstrations should be done by the players themselves. However, you might need to start the process.

You must have a strong template, or you might need to bring in some expertise.

It is still essential to use several different players to show their methods. You might correct them a little, but the players need to see how differently-shaped athletes perform their techniques.

Lifting needs three players, so you won’t be able to demonstrate on your own. In this case, video clips or pictures might be helpful.

You shouldn’t be doing the lifting or jumping yourself. As soon as you do, you are losing some control of the outcomes, plus the associated risks of injury.

However, in both scrummaging and lifting for lineouts, while the templates are standard, it’s better for the players to see other players performing.


Flow refers to the flow of the training session and the flow of the technique.

In terms of the training session, you don’t want to slow the session down too often. Hence you should try to highlight players who are technically strong in an exercise and ask others to observe them – as the activity is progress, not by stopping to watch them.

Unless there is something dangerous which needs correcting, avoid using more than one or two demonstrations in any one activity.

A technique needs context if a player will use the skill in a game situation. Many demonstrations are static, whilst the game is dynamic. Try to put the technique demonstration in a flowing situation, so the players can see the potential outcomes.

For example, a spin pass is much easier to direct when standing still. Have several different players demonstrate the skill when they are running at different speeds.

And after each demonstration, ask the players to pick out just one idea they will concentrate on. That reduces the number of thoughts the player has as they move into the next activity.


  • Let the players observe good practice during practice if possible.
  • Demonstrate a safe technique if necessary.
  • Offer lots of different demonstrations to help players observe different templates.
  • Put demonstrations into a game context.


Williams, A.M. & Hodges, N.J. (2005).  Practice, instruction and skill acquisition: Challenging tradition.  Journal of Sport Sciences, 23(6), 637-650.

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