Rugby drills with tennis balls

Core skills training, and ball handling drills in particular, can be repetitive and dull. Using tennis balls instead of the usual rugby ball can present an interesting and worthwhile alternative.

Because they are lighter, smaller and round, tennis balls emphasise where technical problems could be arising. Better Rugby Coaching experimented with a few ideas and found three applications could easily be practised solo as well.

Tennis Balls

Scrum half passing

Passing tennis balls from the floor replicates the foot and hand position for a normal scrum half pass. If there is a target (we used a garden chair with a cushion on the top) then the ball should be hitting about the height of a player's midriff.

The pass needs to be flat over a longer distance, meaning the ball will have to be swept away.

With timing the exercise and measuring the success rate, it is an unusual drill, not only for scrum halves, but any player.When experimenting with this technique we found it useful to have a tennis ball pass mixed with a rugby ball pass. The success rate improved immensely. It is also a good solo practice since few players have access to a specialised passing net, but plenty to tennis balls and garden chairs.

Kicking with either foot

If you can kick a tennis ball exactly where you want it to go, then a rugby ball should not pose too many problems.

Inspired by the story of Craig Johnston (the former Liverpool FC soccer player) who practised kicking with a tennis ball against his wall when he was younger, we found that it helped improve high kicks and long kicks and most interestingly, from both feet.

Any slight variation in technique from perfection sent the ball flying off at awkward angles. And since tennis balls don't bounce in lots of different directions after the kick, it was another good solo drill.

Reaction for handling

Any "ball to hand coordination" is beneficial to all players, so apart from juggling tennis balls, they can also be used to perfect catch and pass techniques.

Try throwing a ball against a wall, catching it on the half volley and throwing it using a rugby pass to a target. Again this is a good reaction drill without having to use other players. Of course it would be easy to use feeders and catchers as well.

Mix up using a tennis ball and a rugby ball in passing drills. Sometimes moving through a grid taking a tennis ball, passing it before receiving a rugby ball.

All this could be part of a variety of reaction drills before moving to more formal handling.

This article is taken from the Better Rugby Coaching e-newsletter. Click here to sign up and get free rugby drills and skills twice a week.

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