Rugby coaching tips to help you make substitutions

How to use substitutes

  • Plan your substitutions in advance; who is to be substituted for whom and when. Advise your team of these plans, plus parents where appropriate, before the game.
  • Ensure bench players get at least a quarter of the game time. Token appearances are patronising.
  • If regulations permit rolling substitutions, then your players do not have to be one-time substitutions. Substituted players can be reintroduced to the game later, and substitutes themselves can be substituted and later return.
  • Unfortunate though they are, injuries offer chances to benefit both players in an otherwise planned substitution. With the side down by an injured player, instead of making a planned substitution then one of the players involved could be used in another position than planned, providing an opportunity to develop understanding of another position.

 What to say to players

  • Emphasise the benefits of impact players. For instance, being a substitute can be good because there’s the potential for adding fresh legs, a different view of the match, or the chance to exploit a tiring opposition.
  • Being substituted gives the player a chance to really give everything they have for a shorter time with more chance to dominate their opponent. They can run faster, tackle harder, ruck and scrummage more powerfully.

 Who should be substituted?

  • If you rotate squads, keeping a register of playing time is imperative to ensure everyone gets their opportunity to start and bench. Perhaps use one of the parents to help with this task.
  • You might want to play your stronger players on the bench against what you believe is a less strong opposition and start with your developing players.

Should the sub go after a specific amount of time?

Peter Tann, an experienced coach says: “Personally I do not adopt a rigid ‘you will go on after 60 minutes’ approach for three reasons. Firstly, if this is told to the player early on, then their preparation is very narrowly focused and if the plan changes and they come on earlier/later than expected then they may be under-prepared and perform poorly.

“Secondly, there are so many variables in a game that are beyond your control as coach, that I believe rigid plans are too easily disrupted. Instead, I give subs an indication of the circumstances in which they are most likely to come on but always with the caveat that these circumstances may change.

“Thirdly, a rigid approach may have a negative impact upon the player replaced.”

Key rugby coaching tip

Communicate after the game and demonstrate the value you place on your substitutes by asking for, including (and acknowledging) their feedback in your post-game analysis. If they didn’t get on to the pitch, make a point of explaining why as soon as possible to the substitute(s) concerned. Acknowledge your substitutions’ contributions publicly in the post-match team meeting, as well as individually.

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