Four fresh thoughts to fire up your season

Vary the way you train, both in approach and application. Stretch your players so they can learn more and different ways. You might be using some of these ideas already, but have the confidence to take them further.


Key factors

  1. Changing the “rules” of training – more chaos.
  2. Adjusting the pitch shapes over the week to fit in with the coaching plan.
  3. Changing the focus of games to reflect the processes not the outcomes.
  4. Using “towards” not “away” motivation.

Key take aways

  1. Players learn from match-like situations – that is where there are more external forces.
  2. Make training areas smaller as the week goes on to reduce physical stress.
  3. Don’t always be explicit in your aims for a training game where points are given for correct processes – let the players work it out.
  4. Dwell on what you want to happen, not on what you don’t want to happen.


Immediately start challenging your players by creating “messy” training games within the session where players are not spoon-fed and instead have to problem solve and think on their feet. These sessions will sometimes seem chaotic and unstructured with a lot of errors, but they represent a match where external factors come into play. The opposite scenario is a neat, perfect-looking drill or game, with external factors minimalised and a controlled environment and this doesn’t represent a match.

The messy practice will create a learning environment for your players that will force them to think for themselves and make decisions in your absence and make them consider the “Why” and not just the “How”.


The “messy” practice can involve games with multiple goals within it, and for example might use multiple balls in the one game or multiple ways of scoring. An example of a messy game might be a small-sided “ruck touch” game with an attack and a defence. The objective for the attack might be to make two passes away from every tackle area, and they would be scored accordingly. They would also receive points for a good ball presentation and for scoring tries.

Every tackler on the defence has to run to one of the four sides of the box after making a tackle and this would vary according to the coaches’ call. You could name the sides North, South, East and West and vary the call accordingly for each tackler.

At any point during the game you can then immediately change the direction of attack, asking the attack to re-align and attack a different side. The defence need to react immediately. A second ball can be given to the attack at any time, which ensures the defence are scanning amidst the chaos of people running in different directions and not “ball watching”. In these games we are looking at creating multiple stimuli for the players, with many variables.

In these sessions players can’t always revert to their default preferred option and as such have to work out of their comfort zone, therefore pushing them to develop their game.


From a mental and tactical point of view, changing the dimensions and shape of the pitch during training games forces your players to strategise on their feet and derive a solution for themselves.

Variations will also alter the physical demands of the game. For example, using a triangular-shaped pitch might result in more contact during a part of that game but then as the team break from that area questions arise, such as how can they preserve or utilise the space that is available to them?

The triangle pitch could be utilised in a game where the attack is overloaded.

You vary the direction of attack within the triangle, meaning that the orientation of where the narrow part of the triangle is located changes. For example, if you were to start the game by attacking away from the narrow point of the triangle the defence know the attacking teams space is limited and can strategise and organise their defence accordingly perhaps increasing line speed and pressure in an attempt to contain the attack.

As the attacking team bring the ball away from the narrow part of the triangle and gain ground they will enter into the wider part of the triangle and the defence need to react and alter their defensive shape appropriately given the increased space they are defending. For example, perhaps now they have to employ more of an “up and out” traditional drift defence and defend less aggressively.
With the increased space the attacking team will also hopefully react and change their attack shape and strategy and attempt to utilise the space more efficiently.

Physical benefits can also be derived from reducing the size of the training area.

Reducing the size of the pitch towards the end of the week can have the effect of reducing the amount of lower limb muscle tears and strains your team will incur throughout the season.

Also, by using a smaller pitch towards the latter part of the training week players don’t run at their maximal speed levels, which typically when fatigued is when injuries occur.


During training games and drills, attempt to set goals that are focused on changing behaviour rather than those that are based on the result of the game.

So for example during an attack v defence overload game instead of using a scoring system based only on the tries scored, you could award points on the ability of the attacker to manipulate the defence, or award points for running a line that creates an offload, even if the offload wasn’t achieved.

Within this type of training game it is possible to create learning opportunities for your players along these lines, where the purpose of the game hasn’t been explicitly dictated to the players, but where the team that wins is the one that must work out the purpose of the game fastest.

For instance, you could play an even-sided attack v defence game that requires a player from the defensive team to make a breakdown decision. Points can be allocated for stealing the ball if a player other than the tackler arrives at the breakdown within one second of the tackle, and they are able to get their hands on the ball.

Points would also be awarded for other attack and defence based actions, including to the defensive line if they were able to press up quickly with good line speed and meet the opposition on their side of the advantage line.

However, as the coach you have decided the purpose of the game is to be inconsistent with your refereeing at the tackle area, and the aim is to see which team can work out that the real purpose of the game is to play to the referees’ interpretation and adjust to your game accordingly.

So for example, the team that wins is the team that worked out first that they were not going to gain points at the breakdown as the referee wasn’t awarding those, but that if they ignored the breakdown and got the defensive line organised early and applied good line speed then they could score points through adapting to the referee.


This season try and use predominantly “Towards” motivational communication and limit the “Away from” motivation that you use.

When being taught to climb would you prefer to be instructed to focus on the rock and your grip and the steps you are trying to make, or to be told:

“Whatever you do, don’t look down to the bottom of the cliff 30m below?”

Throughout both training and match days try and give players positive targets of an action or behaviour that they can implement.

For a player who appears to be going to ground too quickly the “Away from” motivation would be: “Don’t go to ground easily.” Leaving them dwelling on what they are doing poorly.

Instead try using a positive ‘Towards” motivation: “When we do have to take contact let’s fight to stay on our feet and continue to drive until you feel that support player behind you.”

This positive emphasis has given the players a positive action to focus on that they can implement and doesn’t involve dwelling on what they haven’t done well in the match and their deficiencies.

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