Six top tips for pre season rugby

1. Don’t expect pre-season to get your rugby players fit for the season

Yes players need to be fit, but getting them to be match fit for the first game is an ambition which does not take into account the whole season. Pre-season it’s better to focus on getting the patterns and structures right.

There should be a whole season rugby fitness plan with constant targets for improvement as the season progresses. To a certain extent, players should anyway get themselves fitter outside the normal team rugby drill sessions. If you are not convinced they will do this, then it may need a fresh form of encouragement for them to change their minds.

Lactic acid is a waste residue produced after periods of intense workout. It makes your arms and legs feel like lead. Your players need to build up a tolerance to it, first by having a good aerobic level of fitness, and second by purposely working through it in training.

2. Do expect high standards in session one

Though some latitude must be given for rustiness, the standards and attitudes should be set out clearly from the start. If the standard is not being reached, then the players will know they need to improve.

Bad habits now will be hard to break later on. Make “sorry” an unacceptable word on the training pitch. Instead every effort to put the mistake right quickly is far more important.

3. Don’t cover every move

Identify the core moves for your lineouts, scrums and back line plays, and build on them as the season progresses. Trying to remember a myriad of different calls confuses the key rugby coaching message – the simple things done right first time.

When we say “right”, we mean quickly and accurately. If the hooker can’t reach the fourth player in the lineout at this stage, don’t practise moves from the back of the lineout. Get the basic throws to the front right first.

4. Do have a game at every session

Why do players turn out for pre-season? The top of the list of reasons is often not for the greater good of the team – they want to enjoy themselves.

We tell the youth coaches to do it, so why not with the seniors? A game, even a small-sided non-rugby game at the end of a pre-season session, will keep the players motivated and wanting to come back. Remember, in pre-season they don’t have a game to look forward to at the end of the week.

The other reason is more subtle. You can use these game to start to work out which are the competitive players and, not always mutually exclusive, who are the team players.

5. Do encourage the players to come back next week

Unless you have the luxury of contracted players or a school team in compulsory games time, then it is good to encourage players to come back next week. Use feedback from the players and understand the signs of enjoyment.

The key signs of enjoyment are sweat, smiles, players keen to talk to each other about the coaching session and “thank yous” after the session.

Informal ways of feedback can be in the huddle after the end of the rugby coaching session. Ask a couple of players to tell everyone what they felt they improved upon in the session. Sometimes it helps the players to realise themselves they have benefited from your hard work.

6. Do make and use checklists

  • The focus on fitness is for the whole season not just for the first match. Don’t use too much of your valuable team training time on individual fitness.
  • Ensure quality right from the outset. Set the standard early on in the season.
  • Build up your rugby moves repertoire slowly. Quality not quantity.
  • Find out if the players are feeling they are benefiting from your rugby coaching sessions to keep them coming back.
  • Players like to play. Give them games at every training session to keep them motivated and start to judge the character of the team.
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