Rugby Coaching Blog | Professional Rugby Advice & Coaching

Play every game as if it was your last by David Clarke
January 30, 2009, 11:55 am
Filed under: Dan Cottrell, Rugby Coaching | Tags: ,

Here is a story from a website called Best Coaches Best Practices.

The site and the book “Best Coaches Best Practices” by Andy Higgins look excellent and I have already ordered a copy.

Here is the story:

“… as if it was your last …”

I had hardly started reading (the book by Andy Higgins) when I was reminded of a life-altering event with my son. Don was six at the time, just finishing his first year in organized hockey. It hadn’t been a stellar year, especially for one such as myself who always harboured dreams of mediocrity for my own hockey skills. Each player had to play goal that year. Don stopped one of eighteen shots, and that was because he was looking into the stands at the time. Fortunately he was on a good team and they won 20-17 (although they always stopped counting at eight goals).

Don always avoided the puck, skating the other direction whenever it came anywhere near him. We suggested that he was there solely to have the best seat in the house – out on the ice. We were driving to his last game, just the two of us. I pointed out that this was his last game of the season. I offered that if he didn’t want to play again starting in September, that would be fine, it would be his decision, not mine. Then I observed that if he didn’t play again in September, this might be his last ever hockey game. I told him that I remembered vividly each “last ever” game I played – organized hockey, track races, basketball and soccer in high school. I suggested that he make sure that this was a game worth remembering. They lost the game, in overtime. When I walked into the dressing room after the game to help remove and pack the equipment, Don had the hugest grin on his face. “I want to play in September dad!” He had played like it was the last game ever. One worth remembering. He chased the puck up and down the ice, knocked one kid down with a not allowed hip check, and had a couple of shots in the general direction of the net.

Don played for another eleven years. He probably scored three goals during the time. He had many assists because of an unerring knack of getting rid of the puck quickly and usually onto the stick of a team mate. If one was handed out, he would have won the attendance award too. He always showed up, even for the 5:30 A.M. games.

One enduring memory of my lifetime was a Saturday morning during March Break when the ice is available for any players who want to show up, the league being shut down for the holiday. There weren’t enough players to fill the teams, so I jumped on the ice. Don and I were on a two-on-two rush, and he was carrying the puck. He lofted a perfect pass over the two opponent’s sticks. The puck landed softly and flat on the ice right on my stick with me now in the clear to score. Never to be forgotten! If it weren’t for early morning classes on Wednesday, he would be joining me for the old guys shinny on Tuesday nights on an outdoor ice rink.

You’re right – parents are coaches too. Guess I got lucky with a little philosophy early one morning.

Bruce Peckover is President, Peckover Financial Services.

A different space in rugby coaching by David Clarke

We understand the word “space” to mean something where there is nothing. In rugby, it is where there is no defence.

In rugby coaching, it has a deeper meaning and you might be utilising this space already.

I am thinking about space in rugby coaching delivery. Giving the players space to consider their actions and evaluate the solutions. Creating that space in the first instance means shutting up, standing back, allowing a player or players to discuss.

We can create better “space” by building an environment where different players can express themselves in different ways. Instead of getting the players to just answer questions verbally, you can get them to show you.

This week I asked some players to tell me where to attack the defender. The more lucid talked about “inside shoulders” or “weak shoulders”, perhaps “branches, twigs and trunks”. Others stood back, worried they would not know the jargon.

I changed my approach, stood back and said to a quieter player: “Show us”.

I know that many of you do this without thinking. However it did make me “think” how I can create more space for the players to express themselves and how I can remove the walls that enclose them. “Show me” is different to “Tell me”.  And instead of “Show me”, why not “Experiment”? A little less intimidating to a more nervous because their demostration might not work, and that doesn’t matter so much since it is an experiment.

How does it work for you?

New IRB coaching website by David Clarke
January 28, 2009, 11:27 am
Filed under: Dan Cottrell, Rugby Coaching, Rugby News

I have just got off the phone to Simon Jones, the editor of the IRB coaching website and a good friend of mine. We have done a number of coaching things together, but I have known him from my days at Bath Rugby back in the early 90s.

He has been heavily involved in the launch of, the improved support resource for new coaches. Along with Mark Harrington, the IRB training manager, he has been part of the revolution at the game’s governing body to bring more coaches into line with safer and better rugby learning. Mark in particular has created a huge number of educators in different parts of the world who can support and nuture coaches.

Those of us who operate in the UK, Sanzar or North American countries are lucky to be under the umbrella of well resourced coaching departments. Mark has rolled out an education programme that means many of the less developed rugby nations have access to this sort of support, something badly lacking less than a decade ago.

The new website complements the RugbyReady site, part of the successful initiative to reduce injuries and retain players. The results are in line with the Australian and New Zealand Smart Rugby and Rugby Smart schemes.

The coaching site underpins how to coach and what to coach, and is primarily aimed at new coaches coaching children. However the principles remain the same for all coaches.

Learning from other sports (5) by David Clarke

American Football and Aussie Rules

Amercian Football

I have put two “national” sports together because they are not widely played elsewhere in the world. I know there is an American Football League in Europe and there are pick up games of Aussie Rules played in places like London, but the reality is that these sports are very closely associated from their countries of origin.

Each game has a strong cultural bias and most of the key thinking comes only from those countries. In that sense they lack a global perspective. It does not mean that rugby cannot learn much from their coaching processes and techniques.

Enough of why I put them together, what can we learn from them.

Aussie Rules

Aussie Rules

Kicking. The game’s main means of transferring the ball and the only way to score points is through the use of the “drop punt”. This kick is dropped onto the striking foot so the end is kicked and there is no spiral. The result is a straighter kick than a spiral kick and an easy ball to catch. Remember these players are aiming for their team mates to catch the ball.

Catching. I think that Rugby Union is beginning to employ the hands above style of catch used in Aussie Rules more and more. For kick off receipts, it is the method most commonly used by second rows. For cross kicks, it helps the jumper reach the ball before his opponent. The height of the jump and style of jumping is a key element in this.

American Football

Tackling. Despite the “padding”, tackling in American Football still needs to be as technically efficient as a rugby tackle. Though the ball carrier rarely offloads the ball, the tackle has to bring the player to the ground. It is well worth looking at the footwork required and head position. For some further thoughts see Philip Copeman’s Iron rugby site.

Footwork. Avoiding contact and making effective contact needs footwork which was way ahead of the game of rugby for many years. We are catching up, but could still learn more. Better body shapes for contact come from a strong base.

Kicking. The punting style in American Football was adopted by Dave Alred who then coached Jonny Wilkinson, plus other top kickers.

Is this the best groundsman story ever? by David Clarke
January 26, 2009, 11:56 am
Filed under: Dan Cottrell, Rugby Training

On Saturday morning I turned up to a national squad training session to find that we were not allowed on the pitch until the frost had cleared. I can understand this, but the ground was not hard. The Head Coach enquired further. The reply? If we trained now, then “the grass might break”.

It has been said that groundsmen (or parkies) would prefer that rugby would not ever be played on their surfaces. They take great pride in producing an excellent surface and this is constantly frustrated by the vagaries of the weather and the desire of teams to train on the pitches.

The groundsman is actually in a difficult position because he (and she) knows that there is balance between provision and training and playing. The field is there to be played on, but it needs to be ready to be played on not just this week but next week, next month and next year. Some coaches are poor at realising this. They will flout the obvious rules of when to “keep off the grass”, invoking the “I must train somewhere” law.

There is an uneasy alliance between the grounds and coaching staff at times. Both sides can get tetchy. And sometimes it is an unequal one versus fifteen plus in terms of opinion.

Do we give the grounds staff the credit they deserve, what do you think?

Rugby coaching top tips:#5 by David Clarke

In practice, use proper first receivers most of the time and don’t get fooled into thinking that every player can play there.

Rugby utopia has it that all players should practise all positions and become multi-faceted. Unfortunately this is not possible and many training sessions suffer from this assumption. Putting a weaker decision maker in the pivot position, normally occupied by the fly half, leads to poor outcomes that reduce the effectiveness of your practices.

Identify your likely first receivers and use them in rotation in the demanding decision making exercises. In the meantime, players who aspire to this position will have plenty of opportunity to practise in less demanding exercises, like 3 v 2s.

Discriminate by judging how close to the game situation you are working towards. Exercises that work through phases should have the correct players in position in the first instance and then build from there. Sometimes a prop will be at scrum half, but this should be an accepted expection and not a common occurence.

Who is the best celebrity rugby tackler? by David Clarke

There’s no secret about success. Did you ever know a successful man who didn’t tell you about it?
So said Kin Hubbard, the American cartoonist, humorist, and journalist of the early 1900’s.

There are many “secrets” of successful tackling that you are told about. But Hubbard would not have realised that the real secrets that the successful coach won’t tell you about occur in the next stage.

The second session of tackling is more vital than the first. The secret to a successful tackle is the follow through. That is actually a literal and physical statement. You need to follow through the coaching and the player needs to follow through the tackle.

The technique of tackling is about making AND completing the tackle. Players who complete the tackle will not miss the tackle. To complete the tackle, the tackler should land on top of the tackled player, or at worst be in a position to get to their feet before the tackled player can do so. Half tackles allow continuity. Half tackles can lead to quarter tackles where the ball carrier breaks free.

So the secret I am revealing is thus: Practise the follow through and completion of the tackle in the second session. This neatly builds on the first session and enhances the skills to “make” the tackle. And those skills are good footwork to get close to the ball carrier, a strong impact with the shoulder, a ring of steel with the arms, leg drive through the tackle and using the body to twist and roll with the tackle.

Who is the best celebrity tackler?

I found this piece on Cliff Richard in Contact

SIR CLIFF RICHARD dominated his classmates on the sports field as a young boy – he was his school’s most aggressive rugby player.
The British crooner, 67, is now well-known for his mild-mannered stage persona, but as a youngster he was a feisty athlete – scaring his schoolmates with his dominating style of play.


Cliff Richard
In a new book, Cliff Richard: The Bachelor Boy, former pupil Pete Bush recalls, “He was an absolute madman on the rugby pitch. He would go for you and his whole intention was to get you.
“He was terribly aggressive. He would go in hard. No one wanted to get tackled by Harry Webb, as we knew him in those days. He didn’t mind getting dirty.”
Brian Cooke, another student at Cheshunt School in England, adds, “He was pretty good at football and rugby. Also, a lot of people don’t realise that he was undoubtedly the best scrapper in the school. You didn’t play around with him. You wouldn’t have gone around picking on him.”

From small pitch to large pitch by David Clarke
January 20, 2009, 11:12 am
Filed under: Dan Cottrell, Rugby Skills, Rugby Training | Tags: , ,

 Kids rugby

I have just read some interesting concerns on the Better Rugby Coaching forum about the way to help players make the transition from a small pitch to a large rugby pitch. Coaches are rightly worried about their players’ rugby fitness, the change in rugby tactics and what happens when the players can kick from anywhere.

In short, the players will find a larger pitch a fitness challenge and the kicking changes the shape of the game, but mastery of the basics remains the core element.

The five best sports to learn from (4) by David Clarke
January 19, 2009, 10:11 am
Filed under: Dan Cottrell, Rugby Coaching, Rugby Team Management


How can golf help you learn more about rugby coaching?

Here are four great reasons:

1.       Goal kicking

Setting up and kicking a goal has many similarities to striking a golf ball. The mechanics require a swing through a stationery ball. Like a golf swing, rhythm, tempo and follow through play as much a part as where you strike the ball and the force at impact.

2.       Mindset

The mind is a powerful force which can easily upset a simple situation by casting doubts on the ability of the player. The “top two inches” influence rugby players in many aspects of the game. Using some of the mental imagery techniques from golf, breathing methods and positive thinking, players can allow their ability to shine through.

3.       Approach and culture

Golf is steeped in culture. Sometimes we can see this culture as stifling or somewhat archaic. However the etiquette of golf provides a set of rules by which the game is played, but they are not laws.  It is a cultural appreciation of “how we do things around here”.

Rugby players actively respond to a strong culture. Think of playing a Maori team. They have a great self belief, and that comes from many years of building the right environment. An etiquette provides consistency to the approach to the game .

4.       Course management

A great golfer will plan out his round. As each shot is made, he adjusts his plan, and he remains focused on making the best of each situation. If he finds himself in the rough, then there is no point in going for the green if the risks are too large. He won’t be swayed by his mistakes or good play by his opponent.

A rugby team can also follow a plan, managing their course of progress up the pitch. They might not run the ball from the 22m area from slow second phase ball, or run tap penalties when they have the wind at their backs. This patient approach allows the team to win over the length of the game. It builds on small targets, perhaps in terms of field position or types of possession.


Tomorrow I will look at the “national” sports of Aussie Rules and American Football in the last in the series.

The five best sports to learn from (3) by David Clarke

Greco-Roman wrestling

In the January 2008 edition of Rugby Coach I explained how Greco-Roman wrestling could be used in rugby training. Here are the reasons for using it in your training.

3. Greco-Roman wrestling

Fitness. A minute bout of wrestling is tiring and closely related to rucking, mauling and scrummaging in terms of the type of physical activity used. Try six rounds with your team over a period of ten minutes.

Conditioning. The methods used in Greco-Roman wrestling use similar muscle groups to those in the contact area.

Techniques. Body positions and grips can be replicated in rugby.

Mind. The domination of an opponent requires mental as well as physical prowess.

Discipline. It is not the angry wrestler that wins the contest, but the one who controls their aggression through strength and technique. Poor technique in a moment of madness can lead to penalties and misdirected moves, very much like rugby.

On Monday, I will look at golf.