EXPERT SESSIONS AND ADVICE FROM QUALIFIED AND EXPERIENCED GRASSROOTS RUGBY COACHES

Coaching rugby to girls

There are now some 200 clubs in the UK active in girls' rugby. Some teams survive and thrive, but many do not. However, sections that fail rarely do so because of a lack of interest or ability of the players, but due to problems with coaching. John Birch, an experienced county coach of girls' rugby teams and team manager at Letchworth RFC, identifies the main differences between coaching young men and young women.

Language

What you say matters. Remember your girls have already made a huge step by seeking to play a "boys" sport. Maybe they'll be teased about it. Boys have innumerable male rugby role models, but most girls will seldom, if ever, have seen women playing the game. The foundations on which they stand will therefore be shaky.

So avoid saying anything that reinforces the image of rugby being a "man's" game. So instead of saying "pass to the man on your left" or "eight-man scrum", say "pass to your left", "eight in the scrum".

What to expect from girls

Group dynamics: Girls are generally natural team players, and far more so than boys of the same age. Selfish "star" players who never pass, always expect to be picked, and demand to be the centre of everything may exist in female sport, but if they do then they are exceedingly rare.

Sporting experience: In practice girls are remarkably unselfish. On the field they will pass readily, sometimes to the point where you nitially have to stop them passing so much and get them to run with the ball first.

In Commonwealth countries particularly, this is partly a function of their previous sporting experience, especially of netball, a sport which is played only through passing and catching. However, there's a downside – netball players have to stop immediately they catch the ball. This similarly can be a reflex reaction among new girl rugby players.

Communication and learning

The standard "I speak, you listen" method of coaching rarely works for long. Girls will want to discuss things. So while you must still retain control, allow girls more of a chance for a free flowing discussion. You will then often find that despite or because of this, when you start the drill girls will understand it much better than boys.

Girls tend to learn far more quickly than boys. One consequence of this is that you must be prepared to cover more in a session than you might for boys of the same age.

Strength and aggression

Although it's not always the case, girls tend not to be as naturally aggressive as boys. On the one hand I find that I repeat the phrase "don't be so NICE!" often in the first season with a set of new players. On the other cheating and general gamesmanship is quite rare. When they do occur, there's a remarkable, even disproportionate, outrage among the team.

Clearly the most obvious difference is in physical strength. Up to about 13 or 14 there's little real difference between girls and boys, but after that age most girls seem to stop growing. Not surprisingly some tactics and drills that rely on pure muscle can be inappropriate. It does mean, though, that a wider age range of players can play and train together.

A summary of the differences between coaching boys and girls

Boys tend to…

  • Have positive male rugby role models.
  • Have seen many hours of men's rugby.
  • Kick the ball.
  • Have to be encouraged to work as a team.
  • Require a new skill to be introduced in several ways.
  • Be mature enough to take on a significant leadership role from 15 or 16.
  • Grow significantly until 18 or 19.
  • Be suited to tactics based on strength and aggression.

Girls tend to…

  • Not know of any women rugby players.
  • Have never seen any women's rugby.
  • Throw and catch a ball.
  • Naturally work as a team.
  • Learn new skills very quickly.
  • Be mature enough to take on a significant leadership role from 13 or 14.
  • Grow significantly until 14 or 15.
  • Prefer tactics based on skill and speed.
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