Start to reward good defence for better defence

It’s easy to measure attack outcomes and therefore focus our praise on these positives. I think we forget the other side the ball, yet we can do this equally with defence, but we need to devise a meaningful scoresheet.

Attack has always had many measurable outcomes like

  • scoring,
  • retaining the ball,
  • getting over the gain line,
  • advancing field position,
  • speed of ball.

These make it a very easy thing to assess/review and discuss with players and a team.

Defence has traditionally centred around the objective of winning the ball back. Which is absolutely the point but, by only focusing on or rewarding a player or team for doing that we can overlook or miss so many positive bits of play that count as good defence.

Here are some examples:

  • slowing the ball down,
  • the type of tackle you make to prevent an offload,
  • the decision you make to jump out the line and take man and ball or to drift and buy yourself and your team time to make the tackle.

All are component parts of defence but, if the opposition scored at the end of the play the chance is they may not get the recognition they deserve because the outcome was deemed as a poor one.


Designing ways to measure and celebrate these smaller elements gives more reward to the defence more often and can encourage the behaviours and habits that great defences possess.

So, what can we measure? As mentioned above there are a number of areas in which we can start rewarding the defensive team in games.


One of my ‘go-to’ rewards is the defence gain a turn over if they make three gain line positive tackles/touches in a row. This encourages the defence to organise quickly, go forward and create pressure.

I have no empirical data to back it up but my theory is if you can make three consecutive gain line positive tackles/touches the attack are likely to make a mistake, drop the ball or kick it away. It is always worth working with the defence to encourage them to be more aware of the situation and a ‘bigger picture’ view of defence


Additional factors to score or reward may be the type of tackle made.

  • Players who traditionally tackle high going below the waist to chop the runner.
  • Points for players tackling the ball to prevent an offload.

The key coaching point of this type of offload-prevention tackle would be aim to get the shoulder to hit the bottom of the ball. This keeps you lower, reduces the risk of players heads being in the same space, keep it away from being a chest on chest type collision, allows for more power and also still prevents the offload. If you are going for the top of the ball then that is when injuries, concussions, high tackles and dangerous play can happen.

Sometimes, no matter what we do, a team may score or we may not win the ball back BUT, that doesn’t mean there aren’t things we should be looking for, measuring and celebrating along the way.

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