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Tale of two coaches (part six) by David Clarke

See previous parts…

Phil sits with his head in his hands. It has been one of the most stressful Sunday mornings of his life. A mug of tea stands cold next to a bottle of beer with only a few sips taken from it.

All around the rest of the family go about their normal Sunday afternoon routines. His youngest son is reorganising his cars, talking to them as if they understand every word he says. Of course, they do not move, so he has to push and manipulate them into the correct position before standing back to admire his work.

His son Rory, is glued to the computer game: “Club Penguin”. Rory skilfully manoeuvres his character around a series of scenarios, interacting with other online members. Rory is the real reason why he has decided not to pack in the coaching job.

Finally, his wife Louise is speaking to him. She does this as she clears up the remnants of breakfast and starts to cook the “late” Sunday lunch.
“We can’t expect the kids to eat so late every Sunday,” she says. “Couldn’t Rory have had something to eat at the rugby club after training.”
Phil does not answer – he knows Rory ate two bags of crisps and a chocolate bar, eschewing the hot dog provided. That’s about all he remembers of Rory after the training session.

“I’m okay Mum, “calls over Rory, “Dad got me some stuff and Piers let me share some of his food too!”
As a debate ensues over eating arrangements, Phil reflects that it was calmer than at 8.30am that morning…


Phil wakes at 5.30am on Sunday morning. Well, he is not sure, because he does not think he has slept at all. The coming first session goes through his mind again and again. What was it Nigel, the Club Coaching Coordinator had told him? “Be bold, be positive and enjoy.” Nigel had said that approximately 15 minutes after Phil had phoned Nigel to confirm that he was not going to stand down from being coach.

“That’s great news Phil”, a relieved Nigel had replied. “What changed your mind?”
“To be fair, it was in part down to the great recruitment day you put on by the professional club. Rory enjoyed it so much, he begged me to carry on coaching. I think he knew I was thinking of giving it up. Truth is, I am still pretty nervous.”
Nigel was quick to come up with ways to overcome these fears. He put Phil in touch with one of the current Under 11s coaches who had been through the same problems. He sent him a DVD on contact rugby for new players. Finally, just before he uttered the words, ”bold, positive, enjoy”, he said he would be down at the first session to help out.

Phil rehearses the opening minutes of the session again: Quick welcome, make sure every player has a ball between two, and do some simple handling in the grids. “I must have the grids marked out beforehand, I have put the cones in the back of the car already, do I have the balls in there already…” The mental list is similar to the real one he has by the front door, next to his boots, whistle and folder.


The alarm shocks him. Is it 7.30am already? He slides out of bed and immediately goes down to his list and paperwork. Rory meets him in the hall, already changed. His other son Matthew is also there to greet him, wearing a rugby top. He is desperate to come along to despite the fact he has never shown any previous interest in rugby at all.

By 8.30am, at least 45 minutes before Phil intends to leave the house, he is ready. He texts Nigel and then also his friend Si, who has said he will help, to check they are on course. Nigel replies immediately. He is at the club sorting out pitches. Si texts back that he might be late because he has to drop his eldest off at another club for a match.

At 9.21am, Phil and Rory drive into an almost empty car park. He recognises Nigel’s car and pulls in beside. Rory leaps out and rushes around to collect the kit. Phil’s heart is racing and he becomes all fingers and thumbs as he tries to pick up all the balls, cones and bags at the same time. Eventually, he decides to put it all down and find Nigel. He has not got a clue which pitch he is on.

10.07am: The car park is full and there are cars parking awkwardly along the road outside the club. Phil has his pitch set out, shown Nigel his plan (“Good stuff, but you might find you don’t get through all of it”), and he is welcoming the first few players. There is a queue of parents around him as he passes out pieces of paper to fill in. Meanwhile the boys who have arrived are chasing around with the ball.

10.25am and five minutes before the official starting time, he has 15 boys and two girls. He is still answering questions and passing forms to and fro. Nigel appears. He tells one of the mothers to take over from Phil and then almost drags Phil onto the pitch. No sign of Si!

10.29am Loud blast of the whistle and Phil asks the boys to come in to him.

10.29am and 17 seconds. Phil shouts “Stop kicking the ball and everyone into me”. He has surprised himself.

10.30am Phil spots Si rushing across to him with his son about four paces behind. He turns to the group (there are two more players now) and tells them to get in pairs with a ball.

11.37am Phil wraps up the session after a game of grab tackle and turns to speak to the parents. They are worse than the players at coming over in a group. He starts to say thanks and well done and still some of the mothers are talking whilst one or two of the fathers seem to be wandering off.

11.48am Phil is picking up the cones with Si (who has not stopped apologising for arriving late). Nigel comes over to ask him how the session went. Phil can hardly string together two words at first, but then rushes through everything:

“They are impossible to control. They don’t listen, but the first thing seemed to work okay for a couple of minutes, but it took ages to bring them back in. Then, they kept running off for water and then we tried out a drill, but we had too many players for the drill, so they were mucking around. Eventually we had a game of grab tackle and that seemed to work well, so we played that for the last twenty minutes, may be longer. I don’t know, I don’t think they learnt anything. But they seemed to enjoy themselves, though Rory did say during the drill that is was boring and when were they going to play a game.”

Next time, we see how Doug finds his first session.

Better Rugby Coaching

Tale of two coaches (part five) by David Clarke

Doug finds himself worried about recruitment.

Click on A tale of two coaches in the TAGS for previous episodes…

Doug was left in a dilemma. He wanted to recruit one of his son’s mates who was the best player at the local rival club. He was about to call the boy’s father when he thought about the telling off he got from Sandra about shirt sponsorship.

He ponders whether to call Sandra and ask her now, rather than go ahead and then face an embarrassing climb down if he has got it wrong. He sits at the kitchen table and outlines his problem aloud.

“That’s very reflective of you”, says Doug’s wife, Julie.
“What?” replies Doug.
“I said that you are thinking about the consequences of your actions and considering the possible outcomes based on…”
“Wait, wait, wait” interrupts Doug. “Is this some of your management course talk again? I don’t know why the tax payer has to shell out for this mumbo jumbo. It doesn’t make any difference.”

Julie, who works as a staff nurse at the local hospital, has started to carve out her own career. Having been on a number of management courses, she has begun to embrace a more inclusive leadership style, plus reflective practice. She has had a number of discussions (or arguments as Doug would call it) about how to treat the workforce.

Doug has built up a very successful tiling business and now employs around 15 people. He knows his style, he knows he has made some good money, even in recessions.

He says to Julie “Look sweetheart,” (Julie hates it when she calls him that) “I know my workforce. If I pussyfoot around, they will take the mickey and get away with not working hard enough. Last week, Rollo was late for work for the third time this month, so he ain’t going to do that again. I sacked him. If the boys know that they can get away with slacking, I will be losing customers, losing money.”
“Tell me you are not scared of Sandra”, says Julie.
Doug laughs, “You are joking?”
“Why are you worried about calling up Tom’s dad then?”
“Because I know the problems we had with the sponsorship.”
“That’s never stopped you making your own decision before.”
“Right, I am going to call now,” says Doug fumbling for his phone.
“Why not ignore Sandra?”
“Who’s making the decision here?”
“You are scared that if you make a mistake on this one, you will lose face”
“No I won’t, I’m not scared of Sandra.”
“So you don’t need to speak to her”
“Look sweetheart…”
“Don’t you ‘sweetheart’ me. You are so easy to wind up and now you are winding me up. You can’t ring Sandra and give her two barrels about this. Whether you like it or not, you are scared of her. But I think she wants to help you. Forget Tom’s dad for a while and ring Sandra in the morning.”

Put it this way, Doug is not going to agree with Julie. The “discussion” continues for a good half an hour before Doug walks away knowing he has lost, but not admitting to that to Julie. Julie picks up his dirty washing out of the laundry basket and takes it out to the utility room. She smiles as she put his sports and work kit into the machine and watches them intertwine. She wonders whether she is the washing powder or the washing machine.


“Sandra, its Doug from the Under 9s.”
“Hey Doug, I was going to call you today. How’s Harry? Did he enjoy the holiday camp?”
For next five minutes, Doug tells Sandra about how much Harry had enjoyed the camp, it was great to get him away from the video games and that he had wished he had been able to do things like that for himself.
Sandra replies: “I think we all want the best for our kids and that’s why the Under 9s are lucky you have taken on the job this year. Now, I need you tell me who might be helping you with the team this year. You need a manager and an assistant coach. Have you got anyone in mind?”


When Doug gets home from work, he looks around for Julie. His son, Harry, is in the living room watching cartoons and his 17 year old daughter from his first marriage is glued to Facebook. They give out their usual one word greeting and one word summary of their busy and eventful days.

He finds Julie out in the utility room sorting out the washing. “Good day?” she says, still in her work uniform, folding away Doug’s work sweatshirt. She can sense he is excited about something.

“Yes, I spoke to Sandra”
“And…did she bite?”
“No, don’t be soft. We had a good discussion.”
“You never discuss anything…what did you tell her”
“I didn’t tell her anything, in fact, we never got onto the subject of recruitment”
“Go on”
“She has decided that I need a match manager. Someone who is organised, keen and will be at every fixture. I know the perfect person…you!”
“No way.”
“It’s decided. I said you would be ideal. And with all your management courses and your ability to wash kit…”
Doug swerves too late to avoid the sweatshirt hitting him square in the face, but is nimble enough to make it out of the utility room as the washing basket follows.

A takeaway curry and a bottle of red wine later and Julie has agreed to be manager. She has reservations because she sometimes does shifts on a Sunday morning. However, she wants Doug to succeed in this role because she knows it will be good for him and more importantly good for Harry. She still thinks he is a sexist, stubborn pig at times. Nevertheless, she knew that when she married him.

Better Rugby Coaching

Tale of two coaches (part four) by David Clarke
February 14, 2011, 10:21 am
Filed under: A tale of two coaches, Dan Cottrell, Rugby Team Management | Tags:

Phil, a new under nines coach for this season finds himself under pressure…
Phil comes home from his Rugby Ready course and slumps into the nearest chair.

It is only for a moment. His youngest son is calling for him to read him a bedtime story.

“You’ve been out enjoying yourself”, shouts his wife from the living room, “and Matthew has been a right handful tonight.”

Phil is not unsympathetic, but just wishes he had a moment to reflect on the evening. As he sits down on the bed and pulls out his son’s favourite book, he remembers how physical the course was. Well, it was not that physical, but they had to do more activities and demonstrations than he expected. And there was a lot to take in. It is his mind that is shattered.

“Dad, you are not reading it right!” complains Matthew. “Sorry”, says Phil and turns his mind to the Gruffalo once again.

He does not sleep well. He is excited and worried. He is thinking about how to coach the team. There is so much to cover and in such a short space of time. He needs to look up the rules for this age group. “Not rules” rings in his ears from one of the course leaders, “It’s laws, the laws of the game”.
With the season looming in six weeks time, there is no chance to go on a Level 1 course. Phil does not think he would have been able to find the time anyway. He is away with the family on holiday, plus weekends are pretty full on already.

Three weeks before the season starts, and just after he has returned from holiday, he receives a call in the evening from the CCC. “What’s the CCC?” he asks Nigel, whom he met at the Junior meeting a couple of months ago. “I’m the guy who supports you through the processes of coaching and running your team. I will help you identify your coaching needs, and give you guidance on how to plan your season.” “Great”, says Phil, “Have you got a plan for the U9s for this season?”

Now, this is a tough question for Nigel. He has been doing the job for the last two years and has thoroughly enjoyed working with the coaches at all levels. He is an insurance administrator by trade. He manages to fit in lots of club admin work around his job (and under the radar of his boss!) He answers Phil’s question full on: “No, I don’t have a plan for the U9s, that’s for you to do.”

Phil answers first in his head, before toning down his next question: “Where do I bleeding start?”

Nigel notes his exasperation. He has to think for himself. “I did coach Under 9s about four years ago, but I can’t say we did a plan. We knew we had to cover tackling and passing and then it was a case of reacting to how the sessions went and then covering what went badly next week. After a match we would have a chat and then allocate tasks to each coach.”
Phil asks: “So we were told on the Rugby Ready course to have a plan for the season, but I still don’t know what to cover. Is there a curriculum?”
Nigel replies: “Well, start with the safety aspects of contact and then demonstrate a safe tackle”
Phil says: “Should I cover all the tackles, or just one?”
Nigel says: “All of them.”
“In the first week? What about passing”
“Right, I see what you mean”
Nigel is slightly put out by these questions. He knows his rugby and has coached children’s teams for a number of years. “Let me get back to you on this…perhaps we can sit down over a beer very soon and go through this.”

Phil appreciates Nigel’s care. However, he is becoming increasingly nervous about what to cover in the first few weeks. In fact, what should a session look like. A warm up, some skills and a game and a warm down. That much he knows. But what exactly does a warm up look like.
He is also beginning to panic about numbers. He looks back at his lists of players from last season. A quick count means he has one fewer registered than the number needed for a full team.

“Your first match is not until five weeks into the season,” Nigel reassures him when they next speak. “You should have plenty of time to recruit some players.”

After the call, Nigel confides in the club Chair that he fears that the Phil’s team might fold. “It looks as if the new guy is struggling for numbers and doesn’t have a clue on what to coach.” Nigel is surprised by the response: “Looks like a good challenge for you Nige. Better get busy!”
Stung into a response, Nigel is on the phone to his local rugby union development officer. “Right, let’s have a recruitment day on the first Sunday of the season. Sort out some flyers for the local schools. Ring up the local paper and radio stations. I will see if I can speak to the professional club for a personal appearance from one of their stars.”

Nigel spends the next two days working on sorting out the recruitment day, booking catering and sourcing a printer for some flyers. He rings Phil, excited by his progress.

“Hi Phil, its Nigel, just catching up on few things.”

“Hi Nigel. I am glad you rang. I was going to call you last night, but didn’t get the chance. Look, after our chat the other day, I felt quite despondent and after much thought, I think it is best I step down. I am not suited for this and I don’t think I have the time.”

Next time we find out how Nigel responds, and we return to Doug, who was in the middle of a recruitment and registration controversy.

Better Rugby Coaching

A tale of two coaches (part two) by David Clarke
November 15, 2010, 8:07 pm
Filed under: A tale of two coaches, Dan Cottrell | Tags: , ,

Last time we found Phil and Doug had taken on their respective son’s Tag teams. Both had played some rugby, though Phil had concentrated on playing squash whilst Doug had continued on for a few more years. Both their sons were better players in their teams and each had, reluctantly initially, decided to take on the role of head coach.

Let’s look at Phil’s first few months. He is handed the “file” at the end of the season. What with work and other commitments, he has not had much chance to assess what is happening until June (with the season starting in September). He gets a call from the club coordinator, asking him if he will be at the junior meeting next Tuesday.

After about half an hour of searching on the Sunday before the meeting, he finally finds the file and discovers four pieces of paper in poly pockets. He has nine registered players from last season, though he was sure there were more at the end of season tournament. He asks his son (Rory) and they work out there are at least another seven players – though Rory is pretty frank about who is good and who is bad!

He rings up last year’s coach, who is suitably vague about numbers and says his son is playing soccer next season anyway. One registered player down.

Phil decides to look up the age grade guidelines on the internet, but finds it difficult to navigate to where he needs to find out the information. To be fair to the governing body, Phil is pretty lost about what he is looking for anyway. But he is starting to realise that it will not just be a case of turning and running through a few drills.

Arriving at the club on Tuesday, he seeks out Nigel, the club coordinator. Nigel reassures him immediately about the “admin”, and says they can have a look at “things” over a pint after the junior meeting.

The junior meeting is everything one expects from a junior meeting. The chair keeps to the agenda whilst three more vocal coaches seem intent on raising issues which are three points ahead of the agenda. But Phil feels that the coaches are very much like him, dads and mums with sons who want to play rugby. He looks around the club room and sees pictures and shirts from players who have made it to representative teams. He wonders whether Rory might be one of those.

Suddenly he realises he is being asked a direct question: “Phil, can we book you onto a Rugby Ready course in July or August?”

“I will need to check with my diary and of course the controller of the diary!” says Phil as he takes out his personal organiser.

“It’s okay, the club pays for all the courses, but in this case it’s free and only for three hours.”

Phil puts a date into his diary.

The meeting ends and Phil meets up with Nigel, and two other coaches who are starting this year. After going through “admin” on health and safety, club child protection, Phil asks about playing numbers.

“You will need to go on a recruitment drive” says Nigel. “We have a club day at the start of the season, but you will have to encourage boys and girls to come down here”

“Girls?” says Phil.

“Yes, most of the teams up to 11 have at least a couple of girls involved.”

Phil is surprised by his own fear of coaching girls. Rory has a younger brother and he has only had brothers himself. This will be another challenge.

Nigel offers him some further advice: “Get yourself on a Level 1 course as soon as possible, it will help you organise your coaching far better. And, even more importantly, get some help!”

Frankly, Phil is shattered by his undertaking. He has a pile of paper to go through and fill in, he has to recruit or register enough players to make a team, he has to organise himself to get on these courses, plus he needs to find some “help”. He is starting to regret saying yes at the end of last season.

How about Doug, the other dad and coach? He was asked to coach his son’s team at lunchtime on the Sunday of the last day of the season. By the evening, he has already recruited two of his son’s best mates from school who were playing soccer and spoken to his business partner about sponsoring the team for next year.

Part three soon.

Better Rugby Coaching

A tale of two rugby coaches (part one) by David Clarke

Two coaches started out in junior rugby at the same time. Both had similar rugby backgrounds and teams, but one is still coaching, whilst the other gave up. One not only won more than he lost, he has increased the number of players in his squad. The other found he was constant coaching fewer players.

What made the difference?

Let us call one Phil and other Doug. They both has sons who were playing rugby and found that when the game moved to full contact that they were “persuaded” to help out with the coaching.

Phil had played a good standard of rugby up until college days, but had left rugby behind to concentrate on playing squash and his studies. Doug played through college and eventually played a couple of years in senior rugby before, like Phil he decided to put his energies elsewhere.

Both enjoyed going to watch rugby, though neither found they had the time to go more than a couple of times a year, and an international match was a luxury. But come a major international or the Lions games, then they would be both at the bar with their friends, cheering on their country.

Phil and Doug settled down to family life and when their sons were old enough, they took them down to their local clubs. Tag rugby had its frustrations, but the boys were good at rugby and became key players in their club side.

At the end of their last Tag season, Phil and Doug found that the Tag head coach was standing down. Both knew how much their sons loved the game and were chomping at the bit to play contact rugby. They were a little flattered that their respective clubs asked them to take on the role of head coach: “You have played the game and your son is one of the best players…you would be ideal.”

This is where their journeys begin to part…