clear head – watching your game with purpose
Watching your team play a game of rugby as a coach can elicit a
range of emotions. This can span from elation to despair, from excitement
to dread, from fist pumping to holding your head in your hands.
But I believe that coaches need to learn to keep their emotions
in check during a game for a number of reasons. Firstly because
if you don’t role model emotional control, how can you realistically
expect your players to demonstrate it. If you are shouting and waving
your hands about, you can’t really complain if your players
chip the referee, sledge the opposition or lose their cool. Secondly,
because allowing yourself to become overly emotional will, for most
coaches, negatively affect the ability to make effective decisions.
Unless you retain some sort of composure, it’s quite difficult
to think clearly and analytically during games and that is just
what your team needs you to be doing.
I’m not suggesting you all need to sit or stand there like
statues, but I am saying that you do need to stay in control to
make good decisions. Over the years I have seen many coaches at
various levels fail to control their emotions, and I believe it
has nearly always been to the detriment of their team. Even those
who do have control over their emotions need to ask themselves what
they are achieving by constantly shouting advice to their players.
Sure, I know why you are doing it – to give your players information
that they aren’t smart enough, or experienced enough, to know
about. But what are you really achieving? Your player is trying
to focus on the game and the cues he (or she) should be looking
out for (like space, defenders, the ball etc), so his attention
is unlikely to be focused on the coach, nor should it be. By shouting
advice to the player then, you are distracting him from his correct
focus, and you are also drawing his (and his opposition’s)
attention to the fact that he’s not doing the right thing
or doesn’t know what he should know. I’m not saying
that your advice may not timely, or pertinent, but I do ask you
to think about how and when you give it. Players of all ages need
to learn by experiencing, without a stream of advice from the sideline.
I know it’s human nature to want to offer it, but think about
who you’re doing it for – you, or the benefit of the
players. Often, I believe coaches do it because it makes them feel
better, not necessarily because it helps the players. I know, because
I’ve been guilty of it in the past!
One of the strategies I have encouraged some coaches (normally at
senior level) to use is to beg, buy, steal or borrow a pair of “walkie
talkies”, sit up in the stand and then talk to his (or her)
manager or assistant coach on the sideline. I’m not suggesting
that the coach of the Waikikamukau under 9s should do this, but
hopefully you’ll get my drift. Sitting up in the stand with
a modern communication device has a key advantage for the “emotional”
coach. It distances you physically from the action and will help
you to distance yourself emotionally. If you “blow a foofoo
valve” at least you will be far enough away from your players
that it will have little negative effect on them. The second advantage
for all coaches sitting up in the top of the stand is that you are
able to see the game from a different perspective. With a bit of
height, you will see patterns and factors emerging that you cannot
see from the sideline and neither can your players see it from on
the field. You can really help your team by providing them with
these strategic insights. Some coaches (especially back coaches)
like to watch the game from behind the dead-ball line for similar
reasons. If you are able to, give it a try.
Anyway, having got that off my chest, I will now come to the main
point of this article and that is to offer some suggestions as to
how you might be able to think about the game while it is being
played and to provide your players with feedback on the game and
their performances in it. Firstly, I would like to provide you with
a simple, yet effective, conceptual method of analysing your team’s
performance. It’s not rocket science, it’s based on
the principles of the game and it will give you a sound template
for assessing what’s good, bad and ugly about the performance
of your team. Hopefully this simple system may ring a bell with
those of you who haven’t been coaching for too long (and maybe
even some you who have!).
According to the gospel of the NZRU, there are five fundamentals
to successful rugby, no matter what the level at which you are coaching.
These are: (1) obtain and maintain possession of the ball; (2) go
forward (3) support the ball carrier, (4) maintain continuity by
keeping the ball available, and (5) maintain constant pressure on
the opposition (both on attack and defence). What I am suggesting
here, is that these principles provide a wonderful template for
you to assess how well your team is going, both at half time and
after the game.
These are the five key principles of the game. Firstly your team
has to have the ball (gain & maintain possession) to be able
to do something with it – this involves winning the ball from
set phases - making sure that your lineout and scrum are working
effectively, that you are winning the ball from kick-offs and that
you are competing for the ball in contestable phases. These contestable
phases include scrums (to a lesser extent) and lineout, but more
particularly, rucks and mauls and at the tackle. It also involves
keeping the ball when you have it through effective ball retention
Going forward is simply moving towards the opposition’s goal-line
bearing in mind that the objective of the game is winning by scoring
points. So the thing to bear in mind here is how well is your team
doing in terms of moving towards the target zone. It’s not
that effective if your players are doing all sorts of fancy stuff
behind the advantage line, the question is how well are they doing
in terms of talking the ball forward. It’s OK to go backwards
or sideways, if the end result is going forward. Do you have players
running straight? Are they moving inexorably towards the opponent’s
goal line, whether quickly, or more slowly?
Supporting the ball carrier is crucial if you wish to go forward.
When a player’s progress is halted, supporting players are
needed to be able to take the pass and continue the attack. Some
questions to ask here are: are your players supporting the ball
carrier quickly enough; are they supporting with depth; are they
communicating: are they making themselves available through effective
Continuity is about maintaining the attack. Clearly effective support
play is important to continuity, but so are running effective lines;
recognising and using space; and efficient ball recycling when a
tackle, ruck or maul takes place (which necessitates sound body
position into contact and good ball presentation). So ask yourself
if your players are performing these functions effectively.
Maintaining pressure is important both on attack and defence. On
offence, this is about attacking clear weaknesses, or attacking
in such a way that you create weaknesses whether through mismatches
(e.g. backs running at tight forwards) or through creating space
through your attack by committing defenders elsewhere. On defence,
pressure is created by having an effective and efficient defensive
system which your players understand and adhere to. It’s about
making first up tackles and continuing to make them. It’s
about cutting down your opponent’s time and space by sound,
pressurising defence. So again, ask yourself how well your team
is adhering to these principles of pressure, both on attack and
Now while this is probably old hat to most of you and I include
it here not primarily to remind you of the key principles of play,
but to alert you to the fact that understanding these principles
provides you with a great starting point to assess your team’s
performance. Based on how well your team has performed the principles
of play, you can give clear, useful advice at half-time as to what
your players need to do in the second half and also use the template
as a means of assessing the performance when you come together for
next week’s first training. You may have a sheet of paper
which looks something like this and allows you to make notes during
the game. Note: with the 1-5 scale, 1 = really bad, 2 = poor, 3
= average, 4 = good and 5 = very good.
|Obtain & maintain
3 4 5
3 4 5
3 4 5
3 4 5
|Support of ball
3 4 5
3 4 5
3 4 5
3 4 5
|Pressure on defence
3 4 5
3 4 5
|Pressure on attack
3 4 5
3 4 5
Just going through this process will force
you to think about your team’s performance with some purpose
and some structure and will hopefully allow you to give the team
some sound advice at half-time and at the next training. Post-game,
I would also encourage you to allow the players to assess their
own performance before telling them what you think. For very young
players this may be challenging, but the sooner you can encourage
them to start thinking for themselves about their performance, the
sooner you will start to produce self-aware, self-reliant players.
You can do this by splitting players into mini-units (e.g. tight
forwards, loose forwards, inside backs and outside backs) and getting
them to score themselves on each principle of play. If they score
three or below you can ask them what they think they need to do
to put things right for next week. I know there is a temptation
when you only have your players for short time twice a week to want
to get straight out on the field and start running around, but a
small amount of time spent with players reflecting on their performance
can pay large dividends.
So if you can (as Rudyard Kipling said) “keep your head when
all about you are losing theirs”; if you can watch your team’s
game with a clear purpose, a purpose that is primarily to provide
your team with the best possible information at half-time and post-game;
and if you can clearly and effectively share this information with
your players in a way that they can take on-board and use to allow
optimal performance, then you will be doing your players a huge
And finally, since I am still in the mood for some philosophising,
I will include a little piece I found somewhere for you to chew
over. I’m not sure who wrote it, but it sure makes you think
– or it did me anyway. It’s called the “Paradox
of Our Time”:
The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings
but shorter tempers, wider highways, but narrower viewpoints. We
spend more, but have less. We buy more, but enjoy less.
We have bigger houses and smaller families, more conveniences, but
less time. We have more degrees but less sense, more knowledge,
but less judgment, more experts, yet more problems, more medicine,
but less wellness.
We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too
little, drive too fast, get too angry, stay up too late, get up
too tired, read too little, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom.
We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk
too much, love too seldom, and hate too often. We've learned how
to make a living, but not a life. We've added years to life not
life to years.
We've been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing
the street to meet a new neighbour. We conquered outer space but
not inner space. We've done larger things, but not better things.
We've cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul. We've conquered
the atom, but not our prejudice.
We write more, but learn less. We plan more, but accomplish less.
We've learned to rush, but not to wait. We build more computers
to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but
we communicate less and less.
These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion, big men and
small character, steep profits and shallow relationships. These
are the days of two incomes but more divorce, fancier houses, but
These are days of quick trips, disposable nappies, throwaway morality,
one night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything
from cheer, to quiet, to kill.
It is a time when there is much in the showroom window and nothing
in the stockroom.
- Remember, spend some time with your loved ones, because they
are not going to be around forever.
- Remember, say a kind word to someone who looks up to you in
awe, because that little person soon will grow up and leave your
- Remember, to give a warm hug to the one next to you, because
that is the only treasure you can give with your heart and it
doesn't cost a cent.
- Remember, to say, "I love you" to your partner and
your loved ones, but most of all mean it. A kiss and an embrace
will mend hurt when it comes from deep inside of you.
- Remember to hold hands and cherish the moment for someday that
person will not be there again.
- Give time to love, give time to speak and give time to share
the precious thoughts in your mind.
|I hope your season is going well. Stay safe
and stay happy.