Rugby Coaching Blog | Professional Rugby Advice & Coaching

Rugby youth festivals are not for adults by David Clarke

Shouting at the referee
In the UK, at this time of year, it is FESTIVAL TIME!

Across the width and breadth of the country, hardy souls tramp across valley and dale to sit in the sun or rain or wind and watch a flurry of foreshortened games against a range of teams.

On the one hand there is plenty of rugby on show. On the other hand, that tends to be if you are one of the better players.

Let’s consider Under 11s and below.

The coaching departments who roll out the Level 1 courses say that this age group is all about training to play. They don’t endorse leagues.

Yet these festivals have “cups”, leagues and all the incumbent competitiveness that goes with it. It unfortunately brings out the worst in the adults.

Here are a couple of things I heard “shouted” at a tournament on Sunday:

“Legs, legs, you have got to bloody tackle, am I speaking a foreign language or something, don’t you understand?”

“If you play like that you won’t play another minute in this tournament.”

This was to nine year olds.

The tournament was beautifully organised, there was some thrilling rugby. But festivals cannot be run on this basis unless there is no cup. One of my fellow coaches noted a number of teams who kept on their best boys throughout the tournament. Where is the “train to play”?

Not good.

Better Rugby Coaching


11 Comments so far
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Getting the balance between inclusivity and player development against winning is one of the hardest parts of being a coach. As club coaches we aren’t just there to develop the best, to find that top 1%. We want to instill a lifelong love of the game in the boys we coach. We want to find our clubs’ future 2nd and 3rd team players as much as future 1st team captains or players who will get representative honour.

Every player in your club from the youngest under 7 to the oldest vet is there because they want to play in games. Get them on the field.

Comment by Steve Tooke

There’s no real question of a balance to be found in youth and minirugby, there’s just one priority: the kids must enjoy themselves. I prefer to see it as a “virtuous” spiral of enjoyment and playing well: once it ignites everything else follows, including winning and also good losing.

Comment by Phil Ratcliffe

Hello there,
I’m coaching our club’s under sevens this year. I hear those sort of comments my parents/coaches even in this age group. :~ (Sad isn’t it.) I agree with the other comments ; all the kids need to get enjoyment our of these tournaments, not just the 1st team players.
By the way, I do enjoy you blog, Dan, Cheers!

Comment by Conor Gerard Murphy

Really enjoying your material and this blog. This particular post has touched a nerve – having previously lived and coached in London, every tournament down there that we took the U8s to had medals, prizes and winners.
But I’ve just moved up to Scotland and now coach at a very different club up here, and here, all the local clubs play ‘festivals’ but have jointly agreed that there are no prizes, medals, or ‘winners’.

This feels really weird, and ultimately wrong, to me, and I would value others thoughts as to whether they agree with me.

I fully support your agrument, and that of others, that the primary aims are for a) everyone to get to play, and b) everyone to enjoy it and gain a lifelong love of our great sport, but surely everyone taking part, good or bad, has to want to play to win – even if they don’t win in the end.

If nothing else, surely they then feel the disappointment of losing, which makes victories all the more rewarding when they come?

Is the desire and ambiton to win really totally incompatible with fair play, losing graciously and good sportsmanship these days – I do hope not!

Comment by Michael Power

We have just played our first festival of the closing season and it has to be said that we were very much punching above our weight if you’ll excuse the pun.
The three teams we were drawn against were good sides, all with large squads. We managed to have one sub to rotate each half and our under 10’s were run off their feet all day. Our best result of the festival was a 2-2 draw with the remainder all losses.
Inevitably we were faced with playing off for the 7th or 8th position. I, as an assistant coach, approached the team as we prepared for our last game. I went through the usual positive encouragement, told the boys to stand tall and look like winners and to keep their chins up at all times, when the days’ frustration took over and I blurted out my own feelings to the boys. I said to them “lads after all your hard work do you want to go home finishing last ?, wouldn’t you rather be 7th than 8th? have you any pride in yourselves ?, go and show me what you can do ”
Exhausted from the long day,and disappointed by the earlier performances I can only assume that my little speech, however politically incorrect it may have seemed must have hit a nerve as the boys played with a passion, ferocity and flare that I hadn’t seen all day. We did lose by one try but the team, the coaches and the parents witnessed whilst pursuing success and the illusive win, attributes that our club strive to coach into the young men, rare qualities these days like discipline, controlled aggression and respect for others and more importantly themselves.
If by asking them to win we bring out their finer qualities then that’s a charge I will have to live with.

Comment by Ian

Hello Michael,
I agree with you on that. For me, the underlying problem is not the competitiveness. This can be a good thing to teach the children. The problem is more the attitude of certain coaches, and more especially certain parents ; for whom winning is everything. I know underage coaches who swear alot at the children, this surely cannot be an image Rugby wants to give. (Mind you we do beat his teams each year, so I can relate to his frustration.) One of Dans earlier threads spelt it out much better than I ever could, where Dan suggests that parents ask the young player “if he/she enjoyed themselves”, before/instead of asking “if they won”.

Comment by Conor Gerard Murphy

I must retiterate my point about competition and winning.

Winning is a fantastic feeling. But so is participation.

This weekend I played all my 21 players in a competition where we came second on try count. The moments of the day went to four players who either scored their first tries of the season or made an enormous impression on the game. You would have not said they were the A team players, but because we kept a rigid policy of equal game time over the season, we kept them involved and motivated.

The previous week we played in a tournament with the same policy and lost two and drew two.

Yes, encourage your players to win, but be careful what you wish for when you do it.


Comment by admin

I agree with mixed ability and playing for the fun of the game. Unfortunately as kids get older they become more competitive which is a fact of life.The best teams dont always win competitions as in my experience the standard of refereeing is not always beneficial to those teams who are technically good as a lot of infringements go unpunished or overlooked in order to keep the game flowing at mini level.
We run a sytem whereby we grade the kids by their aptitude and allow them to play in their own comfort zone and as they find their own level we move them around to reward those who do well and nurture and encourage those who need a little more back to basics.
Coming up to tournaments we would only take a pool of 14 players out of our 30, but we dont just take the best players we try to be inclusive and reward hard work and enthusiasm with a place on the tournament side.But within that ethos there is still a desire to be competitive and if we lose then as long as we have tried our best, and come off wiser than when we arrived then something valuable has been learned. If we win then we cherish that and use as inspiration when the chips are down to do better.But at no time do we berate the kids or put them down. Dignity in defeat or victory is something we actively encourage and good sportsmanship is what we hope to instill for later on as this creates respect for others and the game of rugby is the winner.It isnt about how you win or lose but how you conduct yourselves on the day.The Blitz scenario is actively encouraged by the IRFU of which my club is a member, however some clubs still run tournaments as they go unchallenged by the powers that be.

Comment by scott

what a lot of intresting comments.I have been coaching a great group of u/10s.I have been with them since they were u/8s.we had gone a full year without losing a game we won our regional blitz and cup,didnt drop a game. Last weekend we played in an end of season invite blitz,we ended up in the u/11 section and got to the final. We lost by a point with 30sec to go.There was tears but there was also a huge standing ovation,we lost a match but the team learnt a great lesson and it made my year as a coach as it was unreal rugby beyond their years and I watched them grow in front of my was a loss that will not be in the record books but a game that they and I will remember.the smiles on the bus were better than any trophy.
winning at this level is nothing,watching the future generation smile and grow is everything.

Comment by john o halloran

whilst i understand all sides of the debate i have a dilema. we have 34 boys in our age group (u11) and can only usually take 17 to a tournament how do u pick them. if not on ability. then do u pick them on attendance or attitude and desire. we struggle with this week on week how to get all the boys game time without completely destroying the balance of the team. also the boys aren’t fools they all know who the better players are and quite often the not so good use the better players as there role models. this also causes a dilemma when coaching, as the more advanced players need more advanced coaching whilst the less skilled players (some of whom have only started playing this year) need a lot more work on core skills HOW?

Comment by martin peters

Really disappointed by some of the posts above. As Mini coaches the primary task is to develop basic skills covering Passing, Tackling, Running and Support play. Whilst I think that the game environment is an appropriate progression in applying presure to each of these skills whether there is a trophy involved at the end is irrelevant. Listen to what some of you are saying – these are children not adults who is the victory really for the kids……. or the coach?). There is plenty time for these developing young players to learn about winning through Midi rugby. By ensuring that skills are promoted rather than winning perhaps our retention rate of players at 17-20 will improve. Players are reaching this burnt out and fed up due to the pressure that too namny clubs/coaches place on on children. Get the kids out there to learn, have fun in the process and in the long term we will see the game flourish.

Comment by Harry Reilly

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