EXPERT SESSIONS AND ADVICE FROM QUALIFIED AND EXPERIENCED GRASSROOTS RUGBY COACHES

Adapting training to best prepare community players

I wanted to share my experience of developing my coaching, based on making changes as things went well or went wrong. It’s a very personal journey of how I developed as a coach myself.

I begin this article wanting you to know that this is the first time I have ever written anything like this. I have never put into words my coaching journey or written examples that have and haven’t worked for me. 

There is no science or research behind any of the examples below. They are purely experiences from my own playing and ideas that have come to mind or I have taken elsewhere. 

MY JOURNEY

My rugby journey seems to be very short in comparison to many other coaches’ journeys. I started playing at aged 14 at school, joined the local rugby club, carried on enjoying rugby and managed to work towards a place in the RGC academy, North Wales in 2010 when it was launched. 

That is where I began to realise I enjoyed coaching having done some small coaching roles whilst at sixth form. Following my two years in the academy I signed a senior contract with RGC team who had started playing competitive rugby in 2012 and am currently still involved. 

Alongside training and playing after finishing in school I took up a sports assistant role at the school assisting in a variety of coaching roles across several sports. This is where I started to believe coaching would be a very enjoyable career. 

Whilst in my second year as a sports assistant I was told about a job at Ysgol Glan Clwyd to develop rugby within the school. This was obviously a great opportunity as YGC was a Welsh medium school. 

I was hesitant to apply. However, after many words of support from those close to me I applied and was successful. The role really made me realise how important the Welsh language was to me and how exciting and inclusive rugby can be. 

Following a fantastic four years at YGC, a new role came up at my old club Bangor in partnership with Bangor University. 

This role would combine coaching in schools with coaching the mens and womens teams at the University. In addition to coaching, part of the role was to upskill university students and provide opportunities for them to volunteer and coach in the community. This could be at the schools, Bangor RFC or both. 

THE COMMUNITY GAME

So, to why I write this column.

I contacted Dan to discuss research in injuries. I was interested in getting in touch as I’ve read some fantastic articles and watched brilliant videos all showing ways to develop as coaches, develop teams and so on. However, there were very few examples for the community game. 

Maybe that’s down to me not looking further for examples or to who I follow on Twitter however. This led me, with Dan’s encouragement, to write this article about my approach to reducing injuries through proper session planning.

A NEED TO CHANGE

When I started coaching the University teams it was January 2019. 

Halfway through the BUCS season (the inter-university championshsip), weather not so great I was pleased to see a high number of female and male students training. This was ideal for me as it helped plan some engaging sessions. 

Yet, I hit a brick wall. This brick wall was a high number of injuries. Players would tell me they pulled a hamstring and wouldn’t be able to train or play for a month or so. 

Some would pull up in contact situations in pain and be sent off to A&E for further examination only to find a sprain or small break. And finally, we had a few dislocations of shoulders and knee. 

Something had to change. We couldn’t afford medical cover and what would that do? We couldn’t get into a gym. We couldn’t hire anyone for S&C. So, I had to look at me and my coaching. 

MY TRAINING PLAN

Here’s what I did that reduced the number of injuries in training and, improved our performances significantly. 

It was mainly due to an increase in athletic levels. Now when I say athletic levels, I mean fitness levels and basic movement that is replicated on games. 

BLOCK MOVEMENT

I began each session with a block I called movement preparation. This would be a block where players would learn to move more efficiently. 

It would only include some very basic movement; however, I would look at helping players either who pick up injuries regularly or players with poor technique to improve the way they either running technique, lunge, squat, bear crawl, jump and even perform some basic dynamic stretches. 

Previously the players would play a game of touch and not prepare well for training and how many of you can relate to this? 

BASIC GAMES

The first activity I would introduce each session would be some basic games to develop skill levels. 

Within these games I would adapt rules to encourage certain movements such as jumping, bear crawls, lunges, side stepping.

The idea of this is to continue building from the movement preparation into something more fun and incorporating some competitiveness and skill development. 

DRILLS TO GAMES

The third part of the session would be a mix of short blocks of drills into conditioned games. 

The idea is using the drills to learn technique or to work on an idea we shared, and the games were to in first part replicate a game and secondly increase fitness levels. 

In these games players would be performing skills and movement patterns we learn each week. 

GAME PREPARATION

The final block would be our game preparation, so team run work and I am sure these run throughs are very similar for all teams. 

On a non-game week, we would extend the third block or, we would throw in a block of fitness. 

TIME TO TRY

Now is probably the best time to try this out with all the guidelines in place ahead of our return to training and playing so, the key messages I would like coaches at a community level to consider are. 

BEST QUESTIONS

Firstly, preparing players physically doesn’t mean we need to think scientific, need extra staff, facilities or even equipment. Here are some questions to help back this message up. 

Are you preparing the players as best as possible?(many coaches I have had conversations with believe players should do their own fitness away from training and it’s not their role to develop). 

Are you the coach, replicating how a player plays the game in training? 

I enjoy a game of touch and it is great fun; do you think that time could be used more purposefully before training? 

Do we as coaches forget that we need players to develop physically in some way through the whole season without going into the gym and running up and down the pitch?  From my experience this has led to a lot less players becoming injured because of poor preparation and managed to increase basic fitness levels resulting in better performances. 

DIFFERENT MOVEMENTS

Secondly, I have learnt a lot as coach looking at preparing players physically for a game. 

Previously it was all about skill development and tactics and I did a basic warm up to prepare for training and games. 

Now I have a bigger appreciate and understanding of how everyone moves very differently. Knowing how people move helps me deliver messages more accurately to individuals and adapt my views to suit the players individual needs. 

How many coaches have the ideal set of forwards but struggle to retain/steal ball at the lineout because players struggle to jump, move or lift? 

Or a quick backline that fumble the ball because someone has pulled a hamstring. 

Or how we have some players trying to jackal and always give penalties away, followed by a few harsh words towards the ref, never considering maybe, that the player physically can’t support his own body weight. 

Are you as coach using training time to help the player achieve this?

Or even tackle technique, can a player maneuver into a position where they drop their body height whilst planting in a lunge position whilst connecting the opponent safely? 

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