Rugby coaching tips to help you teach instinctive skills

The science of coaching – make it a reality

Players make thousands of decisions on the pitch, some extremely simple, such as putting one foot in front of the other. Some of these seem instinctive, yet they have been practised many times.

We teach ourselves to run and catch and then we are advised and coached on how to run faster and catch better. The same thinking can be applied to “special” players who seem to do more innovative and creative plays and moves on the pitch.

When Eric Cantona, the maverick French soccer forward, arrived at Manchester United, he surprised fans and other teams alike with his breathtaking skills. He also brought in a new era of training to the famous English side.

He would practise all aspects of the game religiously, so all his “unique” touches and moments of brilliance were the product of many hours on the training pitch.

The same can be said of Jonny Wilkinson, who was able to drop the winning goal in the World Cup final with his “wrong” foot.

Quick, correct decisions

The skill of the coach is to create rugby drills where players can absorb the right techniques. The next step is to help players make the right decision in the time available.

The best players see all the options, narrow them down and then implement the right technique, all in a very narrow time space.

At the top level, video analysis and player monitoring has enabled coaches to look very carefully at the way their players make decisions so they can coach them to improve.

In your rugby coaching sessions, you can improve your players on a more basic level.

  • Set up rugby drills where there is more than one right option.
  • Increase the pressure slowly (and that can mean sometimes no more than walking pace) so players can acclimatise to the decisions.
  • Scientists experiment, so let your players. Failure now is the mother of greater success in the future.

Basic decision making

Are creativity, innovation, intuition and uniqueness impossible to coach? Not according to John Lyle.

The classic decision-making practice must be the 2v1, a situation unique to rugby because the ball must be passed backwards. How many options are there? Pass, dummy, switch or cut, offload, side step, chip. Which is the right one?

Intuition would say “fix and pass”, creative might say “dummy”, innovation might say “chip and chase” and uniqueness might even say “side step”.

A scientific coach would say: practise every single option until you know which you can perform and in what circumstances, because the answers depend on so many factors.

It is the players’ ability to read these factors quickly and efficiently that will prove to be the most effective.

Example 2v1 situation

Possible techniques: draw defender and give pass; pass and loop; dummy pass; side step; go into contact and offload; switch (or cut) pass; dummy switch.

The skill is knowing which one to use and then being able to perform it.

Are you a match day coach? Professor Lyle coached volleyball to the highest level. He says that he was a better national coach than he was a club coach, but more tantalisingly, he noted that few coaches were schooled in the art of match day coaches.

Can you make decisions on the day of the match that will lead to success, or are you just good at turning out a well-drilled team?

Click the link to order a copy of Motivating Your Team manual and get more rugby coaching inspiration and ideas.

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