Don’t monkey with APES

By Ian Diddams, RFU coach tutor with over 20 years’ experience in coaching at grassroots level

A simple drill might look the best way to get your players handling the ball – but does it meet its aim of being Active, Purposeful, Enjoyable and Safe?

Don't monkey with APES

Consider the following two drills. In which way are they APES? Both drills use 20 players. We will assume each line takes 10 seconds to cross the grid.

Drill 1

Five groups of four pass in turn across a 10m grid. As each line finishes, the next line returns, then each line waits in turn for another go.

Blues run down, purples up, reds down, browns up and yellows down…

Drill 2

Two lines of four attack against two defenders across a 10m grid. Reds attack up and down the 10m square, blues across and back. Yellow defenders just use touch tackles or intercepts to halt the attack. Each attacking side alternates when the opposition has scored or failed. The defenders must continually defend against each line. Swap the defenders around every minute with attackers.

Now let’s look at the results…

Active: Drill 1 means each player handles the ball just six times in five minutes. Drill 2 – even allowing for the defenders not being part of a handling attack – potentially doubles that number. Drill 2 is thus twice as active as drill 1 – players simply handle the ball more.

Purposeful: In a match we rarely pass with an undefended run to the tryline, whereas we do have situations such as small overlaps. We also have disarranged defensive situations with few defenders against more attackers. Drill 2 better emulates a match situation. It is more purposeful to developing players.

Especially because as a handling drill we also gain the benefit of defenders having to constantly think and move as well. How do we measure success in drill 1? Drill 2 has instant success criteria – a try is either scored or defended.

Enjoyable: This is probably more subjective of course. But which game looks more fun? A fairly mundane trundle across a square? Or a mini game every 10 seconds?

Safe: Both drills are safe. But they are only safe because the coach has checked the ground is free of stones, glass, holes and is far enough from posts, floodlights, and other hard objects. Players have gumshields and laces tied up and carry no injuries, having warmed up sufficiently. The session has a 1st aider in place with sufficient kit and a phone.

As players get more used to running with the ball and passing it while moving, use Dan Cottrell’s “run here, pass there” activity on page 12 to boost the skills needed in drill 2.

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