EXPERT SESSIONS AND ADVICE FROM QUALIFIED AND EXPERIENCED GRASSROOTS RUGBY COACHES

Putting rugby reaction training into practice

Create a picture

A quick reaction is often due to a player having already visualised and worked out how to deal with a situation. In which case, it is always worth “painting pictures” during your practices. Such picture cues might be:

  • Where are we on the pitch?
  • What is the opposition doing or likely to do?
  • What is the game position? Are we winning or losing, how much time is left on the clock?
  • Where is the ball coming from? Set piece, open play, ruck, maul?

Ask the players to then comment on how they might deal with each situation.

Randomise the experience

Performing the same technique time and again will “groove” a player. You will be providing them with a toolbox of techniques. Now you need to place them in situations where they have to choose between more than one technique and make that decision quickly.

A way of changing an exercise is to muddle up certain variables, so players have some random experiences to react to. For example:

  1. You control the entry of a ball into an exercise – say delay the timing, change the height of the pass.
  2. Activate defenders (or attackers) from unusual positions at different times. For instance, you might call “X” in a game situation at which point a defender who you placed in the attacking line will hunt down the ball carrier.
  3. Move players around in their roles. Don’t always start with the scrum half on the ball, or the hooker throwing in.
  4. Allow one or two players to “cheat”. They could stand offside, block runners or hold back defenders.

Simple pressure values

Time and space are the two main pressures we use in training. Reduce either or both and players are compelled to think and react quicker.

Now consider a more difficult valve to turn – anxiety levels. Stress is a key reason why players react more slowly. This is because they fear the possibility of failure or feel they have too much to do, rather than prioritising their needs and getting on with it.

Careful management of players is needed though, because an anxious player is not going to succeed if he becomes more anxious!

You can increase stress and anxiety as follows:

  1. Peer vocal pressure. Either opposition players in a practice or players who are not involved in the exercise at that moment shout at the player to put them off. You might find the player under fire might laugh. In which case, the pressure is working and they are not able to concentrate on the task in hand.
  2. Rank the outcome. In an exercise you can rank players by order of success. The bottom players might be given a simple task of having to clear up the equipment at the end of the session or something similar. Allocate players “lives” which they can lose as the practice goes on. It is amazing how a player can react to being on their last life!
  3. Note that these are “negative” exercises in some ways, so be careful to emphasise the positive outcomes. Challenges can be set by the players themselves. Peer challenges, whereby two players set another player their targets, may be more acceptable than your suggestions.

Stressing the mind

Place a player under stress in an exercise by overloading the mind with options and reducing the amount of time the player has to achieve their objectives.

Move quickly between exercises, so the player has to think about a range of techniques. For instance, you could move from an intense handling exercise to tackling to footwork in the space of three minutes.

This article is from International Rugby Coaching.

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