Return to play needs more winning and losing

Photo: Andy Watts Media

Rugby is missing real competition.

Whilst we can see how competition can sometimes hinder development, especially when coaches only prioritise work in sessions to achieve this goal, it must be said that without it lurking in the background, sessions feel a bit detached.

Let’s think about the RFU approach to age-grade rugby: Player-Centred, Development-Driven, Competition-Supported. Right now, we have the perfect conditions for player-centred sessions due to the small number of players we can work with as part of a group.

Our sessions should always be Development-Driven, and we should be planning for our players to leave every session having developed either Physically, Tactically, Technically or Mentally in some shape or form.

What’s missing is any traditional form of competition, that is fixtures against other sides to support our development.

“But,” I hear you cry, “Competition means winning and losing and without this we can focus on improving our players.”

We need to consider why competition is seen as part of developing players.

  1. Any sport attracts inherently competitive people, part of their ‘why’ for taking part will be to compete against others. To fulfil this drive, we need to offer some form of competition.
  2. Competition provides us with a way to encourage development, think of any team that makes a new signing, often the media will comment that the increased competition for a shirt will bring the best out of players. This encourages players to develop their own skills to ‘win’ competitions.
  3. Finally, suppose we believe that the game is a teacher. In that case, competitive games give us a feedback-rich environment from which players can learn. It can encourage creative problem solving, as players compete for new and innovative ways to deal with issues the game presents.


So, how can we add some competition to our sessions without playing other teams? Over a course of articles, I’ll share some ideas to implement into your sessions. Here, we will look at inter-club competitions.

One easy way to add some competition into your sessions is to add some inter-squad or inter-club games. Using Ready4Rugby, it’s possible to get some easy, quick games played in your sessions.

You might even choose to split your team up and have a one session festival as part of a session. For teams with smaller numbers, it might be that playing against other age groups at your club might provide some competition, especially for younger age groups to prove a point!

Remember when planning these that there can only be 20 players in a group per session, so careful planning will be needed to ensure these take place in COVID-secure environments.


Here’s how I recently carried out one of these with a squad of twenty players.

  • Split the twenty into four teams of five and have two games going on at the same time.
  • Use 7 minute games, with 3 minutes between each game to allow feedback to players and allow them to get a drink. This fits into a 30-minute slot.
  • The teams were picked at random, with a couple of players shifted around to ensure that we didn’t end up with one overpowered team.

We gave the teams a quick briefing on the rules of the game, let them know there would be a reward for the winners (a can of Diet Coke each!) and let them play.


This was a really enjoyable session and a lot of the benefits, such as problem-solving.

There were a few players who got upset because they weren’t winning. However, as a coach, this provided an invaluable opportunity to have discussions with players to understand their motivations and frustrations. Why don’t they like losing? What can they do to ensure it is something they avoid in future?

Running these types of sessions are valuable sources of information to you as a coach, but also allows players to play in a competitive environment.

Next time out, we will discuss another strategy we could use to encourage competition in our sessions: a “sports” day.

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