Eight steps to becoming a better youth rugby coach

As a youth coach, are you tired of being perceived (wrongly) as a parent who wants their son or daughter to be in the team? The gullible one who volunteered five years ago and is still there every Sunday morning? The person who wants to live their rugby dream again? Maybe it makes you feel like raging when faced on a Sunday morning with 12 players, four on the way and three soft rugby balls in your net?

If so, here are some things you can do to improve your coaching, aimed specifically at the challenges posed by coaching kids rugby.

1. Think small

Children have a huge capacity to learn. They soak up enormous amounts of information and assimilate it quickly… and then promptly forget it within the week. Exasperating as it may seem, the learning capacity does not automatically lead to an ability to carry out what you coach week in, week out. So focus on achieving small changes in player skills, building up over a number of weeks. These young players are unlikely to be reminded of what they need to do every day, rather only once a week.

In a practice situation this might mean that a core area might be revisited every week, with reiteration on the elements that improve the execution of the skill. For instance, if you are working on rucking, the key elements might be introduced in week one and practised in some form every session for the next month. The whole improvement should be observed in a month’s time.

Consequently, don’t “do rucking” one week and then come back to it in a month’s time, hoping that the skill will be adequately replicated.

2. Talk less, say more

Many people blame modern technology for the perceived reduced concentration span of the young of today. Whether either assumption is correct, most young people lose interest very quickly, whatever the message. So, spend less time talking, because after sentence five, you have probably lost quite a lot of your audience.

The ratio of doing to talking should be in the region of 5:1. So when you are going to stop to say something, say it, repeat it and then move on.

3. Finish on time

Ignore the desire to take the practice beyond the official finish time, even if you need to cover more material. Think of yourself as much as your charges. You may not possess some of their boundless energy, but remember that many will be wilting at the end of a practice anyway.

Ninety minutes is more than enough time to achieve all you need for that session. Short and sweet is better. Leave them wanting more.

The other upside of finishing on time is the controlling of the “taxi” service. Shorter practices with a absolute deadline will encourage a prompt arrival of parents.

4. One voice, one message

Many junior teams will be lucky enough to have more than one coach. Sometimes parents will take a proactive semi-assistant role. But there are inherent dangers with this. In particular, lots of well-meaning comments, coming from different voices (most of whom have at least some implied authority as an adult), to confuse your message.

Before each session, it is important to agree who is leading each section of the practice. Then decide who is going to talk and when, and most vitally what is going to be said. The “corporate language” of how a skill or strategy is to be performed must come as a constant.

As the session progresses, the lead coach can turn to other coaches for specific coaching comments. Otherwise the other coaches purely encourage or reiterate.

More difficult is the “one voice, one message” with sideline parents. It is a brave coach who faces the parents over the corporate view, especially when a particular parent is perhaps telling their sibling to perform differently. My strategy is to take the practice as far away from the parents as possible!

5. Little feet, little distances

Junior matches, even up to under 15 level, can take place in a small area of a much larger pitch. The real distance is often covered by the big, fast player who skirts around the defence, or even through it. Most of the other players will progress short distances, with short passes and short kicks.

Practices should reflect this. Cut down the distances covered in drills to match the reality for many players. Ten metres is a good guide distance for most rugby drills. Anything further creates a split between those who can keep up and those who are too slow.

Also, keep the players working in the core skills zone, rather than having too many players “chasing” the drill.

6. Sweet reward

Small rewards make an enormous amount difference to players. And the beauty of sweets is that a small bar of chocolate / candy can be used to encourage even the weakest player who has perhaps tried the hardest. Of course, these “treats” are not just for youngsters. I have found that even the most hardened 18 year old prop has enjoyed this type of reward.

My tip is to only have one or two rewards each week. Share the rewards around over the season (and try to keep a record). Try to make the rewards for different things each week. For instance, the best / most improved tackler, hardest worker in your rugby drills, or best piece of skill. In this way you can pass the rewards around without prejudice.

7. Don’t get emotionally involved

Avoid getting emotionally too close to the ups and downs of the team, more especially individual cases. It is an old saying in teaching, but unfortunately true so many times that “kids will always let you down”. On the brighter side, they can also amaze, amuse and make the whole thing truly worthwhile (at least sometimes).

8. Experiment for experiments

Trying out new rugby coaching drills can be tortuous. The kids and coaches often confuse themselves on how things are supposed to work out. If it goes wrong, confidence is lost and attempting to put things back on track can be tough.

Why not try this trick instead. Let the players in on the secret and make them part of it. For example, say something along the lines of “this is the rugby drill that South Africa / New Zealand / Fiji use to help them improve their handling. Let’s see if we can have a go. Give me your comments on what WE could do better.”

It makes it a joint experiment. And if it goes wrong, then at least everyone tried.


If you’d like more help learning how to coach kids rugby you should check out our age-specific coaching curriculum for players from ages 7 – 16. Get all the resources you need to teach children the skills they need in a way that is safe, easy to follow and makes sense to them.

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