Stop falling over

Our players spend more time on the ground than any other ball-related sport. We need to think differently about how players interact with the ground when they are off their feet to improve their effectiveness in attack.

Wrestling and martial arts set up bouts where the contestant who is pinned to the ground loses. Rugby is different. While a tackler will want to fell a ball carrier, they aren’t allowed to hold them down after the tackle.

The consequence of this difference is that both tackler and tackled player have far more movement options once they’ve landed. The first thing we should remember is that a tackle is defined as a ball carrier having one knee on the ground. While the tackler can continue to hold onto the ball carrier for a few more moments, they can’t prevent the ball carrier then placing the ball or twisting into a better position.

Though we might spend some time on how the tackler “completes” the tackle in the sense of how they impact the ball carrier while they are still holding them, I’m more interested in what happens to the players once the release is called.

When we train “falling” with young players, we often get them to do a parachute-type fall from a static position. While this certainly helps with confidence, it’s a very unlikely circumstance for the ball carrier. They will be falling with some momentum moving forwards, backwards or sideways. It’s probable that only one foot will be on the ground as well, not two.

The natural reaction is to put out a hand to break the fall, and we all know this is a bad idea. Though rare, it can lead to broken bones or dislocations.

There are two ways to combat this.

1. Players should be carrying the ball in two hands. In training, you should encourage this all the time. In training games, I will often blow up for a penalty if a player who falls to the ground doesn’t have both hands on the ball.

2. Help the players fight the fall and then use the ground as a force to help them. It’s like pushing off from a side in a swimming race or leaning against the ropes in a wrestling contest. The ball carrier uses their hips, back and shoulders to do this.

In Ground bounce, I show you ways to encourage players to embrace the ground without pushing out their arms. The idea is that the arms and legs are like levers to manipulate the core and upper body.

Once on the ground, the ball carrier is bouncing around to either pass the ball off the ground, present it and certainly prevent the opposition from stealing it.

This is a high mistake environment. Make sure the players know it’s going to be messy. 

Use the initial part of the session as a warm-up for matches because it helps players get a little bit physical and work on their ball-handling as well.

Also, if it’s a wet and cold day, leave this exercise for later in the session or even consider not using it for the day for much younger players. Otherwise, they will be soaked from the start and unlikely to want to train much more.

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