Becoming an expert

Here’s a story from my own journey.

It became a fad to play games on a circular pitch. There are a few examples of this in the RFU Game Changers and on the RFU Coaching Award.

Always open to ideas, I ran a game for a mixed age group (12 – 14yrs) on a circular pitch. Teams picked up points by scoring on different coloured cones. The players could pass in any direction and could run with the ball to score. The aim was to create spatial awareness and improve heads-up decision-making.

After a few minutes of playing, it was clear it wasn’t working and I tried to rescue the situation by tinkering with the rules.

  • You can’t run with the ball.
  • There are more points if you score on certain colours.
  • You can only pass backwards.

But, it just wasn’t working. I was getting a little flustered. The players were confused and getting bored. As a consequence, the effort and intensity dropped considerably.

We took a water break. I pulled the players in and apologised. The session was not working as I had expected because I’d not given it enough thought. We moved onto a different, more familiar game with the same objective.

The following week we tried the circle game again. It had more clearly thought-out rules, which were more relevant, simpler and explored risk and reward. It was a far better session, which was reflected in the effort, intensity and focus of the players.


First, be prepared to abandon a game which isn’t working. Not immediately. But, you might need to reconsider how you set it up for next time.

More importantly, don’t become risk-averse. Try new things, perhaps as a small part of your session. By doing this you will get used to taking risks on a small scale to start with, and then gradually on a larger scale.

You’ll get used to not being entirely sure what will happen, gradually being able to deal with making positive adjustments or abandoning the idea for another time or all together.

Eventually, the risks get less risky because you have a bank of experience, knowledge and adaptations. This is a bit scary at times but really exciting.


I used to get so down after a poor session, doubted myself my ability as a coach. Now, once the blue mist has disappeared, I can reflect more objectively and look at the elements of the session which had gone well – delivery and content – and those that had not gone well and the reasons why.

Being filmed helps enormously, or feedback from a trusted critical friend.

Are you ready to delve into game planning? We will start with the Why and the What in the next lesson.

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