Rugby Coaching Blog | Professional Rugby Advice & Coaching

Back to blog – and so much coaching to talk about by dancottrell

Been away from the blog for a little while, though not stopped interviewing, writing and producing materials. This month alone I have been putting together articles with Brian Smith, Didier Retiere, Denis Betts, Russell Earnshaw, Tony Hanks, Justin Bishop and Richard Graham. Plus welcomed on board the Rugby Weekly Team two great new grassroots coaches who are coaching tutors and mentors.

Coaching wise I have been working with three teams, all with different cultures, ambitions and outcomes. Plus I have been speaking to lots of you about the ups and downs of coaching.

Look forward to catching with you over the Xmas period and writing about what is happening in the rugby coaching world.


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

Switch plays with Shane Williams by David Clarke

Here is a video I shot with Shane Williams a couple of summers ago with Powerade.

It makes players work hard to cut angles before changing the direction of play with a switch or cut pass.

It can be done well in front of the defence, or right in front of the defence.

Better Rugby Coaching

A tale of two coaches (part three) by David Clarke
December 23, 2010, 5:27 pm
Filed under: A tale of two coaches, Dan Cottrell | Tags: , , ,

The story so far:

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 both be 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 of each of their teams 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.”

Last time, we left Phil about to go on a Rugby Ready course, apprehensive about the new season (and coaching girls), and a few players short of a good-sized squad.

Doug, on the other hand, was recruiting on the last day of the previous season, the day he decided to take on his son’s team…

Doug spends the next day organising two more sponsors to add to the donation from his own tiling business. By the end of the week he has sourced new shirts, new tracksuits with money to spare for a tour at the end of the season.

He is just about to press the button to order the kit when he receives a call from the mini’s club chair (Sandra who has a son in the Under 15s and a daughter who is in the girls under 18 team).

“Hi Doug, its Sandra from the club. I am the mini’s chair”
“(ChairMAN)” whispers Doug to himself, “Hi Sandra”, he says.
“I just wanted to introduce myself because I hear you are the new U9s coach. That’s great news and I look forward to catching up with you soon to go through a few formalities.”
Sandra suggests they meet up at the club in the next few weeks and asks if she can do anything in the meantime.
“All good” says Doug, “I have got kit organised and sponsored for next season and we are hoping to go on tour at the end of the season.”
There is a short silence. In fact, Sandra is steeling herself to prick Doug’s enthusiastic bubble. “I don’t want to be a moaning administrator straight away” she says, “but any sponsorship needs to go through the club committee and all the kit is bought centrally.”
“But I have already raised enough money to buy the latest designs – it’s what the kids want”, says Doug.
“I am sorry, but we have a couple of club sponsors who have supported the club for the last few years and we have a stock of shirts to sell. It helps put money back into the mini-section”
“But those old style shirts are rubbish. They are itchy, too big and, frankly, out of fashion. My sponsors will be saving the club money.”
After some further discussion, Sandra and Doug finish the call in a slightly fractured stand off, with Doug tentatively agreeing not to go ahead until they meet with Sandra and the club chairman.

Doug spends the next hour fuming. He talks to his wife, who, though understanding, switches off from the conversation quite early on: “What’s the point of trying to do anything positive – that stupid Sandra woman doesn’t know that boys love kit. She is just jealous I have managed to get all these sponsors. I am going to fight for this, for Harry (his son’s) and his team’s sake”.

The meeting with Sandra and Ross Jones, the club chairman (at least he is a chairMAN thinks Doug), is more frustrating than the telephone call. Whilst Sandra wants to encourage Doug in his coaching, she knows that the club survives on all the sides interacting on financial matters. Ross is more straightforward and leaves Doug in no doubt about the sponsorship deal. “Sorry Doug, we cannot do it. If you want to buy balls and other equipment, then great, go for it. You can buy tracksuits as well, but they cannot have anything but the club logo on it.”

Doug decides to channel his energies into recruitment and preparing the side for the new season. He has already signed up a couple of new players and has asked Harry if any of his mates from school are any good. He remembers one of Harry’s schoolmates plays for a rival club and was the standout player in their last match together.

His wife is a friend of Harry’s schoolmate’s mum, so he manages to get the boy’s father’s number. He is just about to call when he remembers his conversation about the shirts from Sandra. “I bet there is some rule against poaching” he says to his wife. “And I bet that Sandra will have something to say about this.”

Next time we will find out whether Doug speaks to Sandra or does his own thing, or indeed both. And we also catch up with Phil who has completed his Rugby Ready course.

Better Rugby Coaching

A team of superstars or a team of friends by David Clarke

When you are building your team, what are you striving for?

There are two things I want. First, I love winning. And first, I want the players to enjoy their rugby in the long run.

Er…that doesn’t make sense or always work together. Development versus winning is constant battle for many coaches.

The clever rugby coach can have both. If you are at the top of the tree, you have to. You may have to compromise development to win, but you still need development. You can do this by the rugby drills and rugby skills you coach.

You have to enjoy what you are doing. You have to be amongst friends. That is where it is worth drawing the line on winning and development. Be with players who share your vision and lose the players who are in it for themselves, even if they are the best player.

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…

Day 28 of August pre season training tips: backline attack by David Clarke

August 28

Backline attack

Pre season is a good chance to clear the playbook of moves and start again.

Despite the desire to create or copy new moves, pre season training should be used to embed five or six core moves. Once they are in place, run them with lots of players in different positions. This helps players become more familiar with their own role and the roles of others in the moves.

I have a set of criteria to meet with all the moves:

B – break the tackle line
A – there must be a change of angle
X – eXecution must be 100%. Therefore it is no use using moves that cannot be executed at this level.
S – speed onto the ball for the penetrating player. Even if they are not going to get through the gap at least they challenge the defence.
Better Rugby Coaching

Day 26 of August pre season training tips: day of rest!? by David Clarke

August 26

Day of rest

You know you have a long season ahead. But your players will forget that as they throw themselves around in an attempt to be ready for the season.

Can you afford to have a day of rest? Well, unless you are a professional team, you are likely not to see the players every day of the week. But, you can still help them manage their levels of workload so they can be fit and ready for the season.

1. Honesty diary: have them write out their previous week’s activity. They should include any training outside club training, plus any other sporting activity. They should say if they have been out or had late nights. Frankly, some will lie (if not most!). But the focus helps them see the week in the context of playing a game.
2. From the honesty diary you can give them a fair idea of whether should up their training levels, and where they should be resting. The diary also gives you a better idea of their lifestyles.
3. A day of rest is a day when no training takes place and the players keep off their feet as much as their working/school lives allow them.
4. Publish a diary or schedule of events up to the first game of the season. This gives them a better idea of how to plan their week to make sure they have not done too much at the wrong end of the week.


Make sure you have a day of rest. If you are like me, then you will be so excited before the start of the season that you do not rest your mind from rugby. It is a long season ahead, and you need to keep your own rugby energy levels up.

Better Rugby Coaching

Day 25 of August pre season training tips: weights by David Clarke

August 25


I am not going to be giving specific weights programmes in this post. There are three good reasons. First, players have different access to gym facilities. Second, every player has different needs that require specific programmes to match their position. And last, weights should be used under supervision.

What I can tell you is this:
1. You need to encourage excellent habits when using weights and being in the gym. If you are not a qualified conditioner yourself, the players should be taking advice from someone else who has the team’s interests at heart.
2. You need to help plan when players use the gym. But don’t be rigid. I know top players who have done weights on the morning of the match! Obviously it did not fatigue them and it was a personal preference.
3. Pre season is a time when the players can lift heavier weights than during the season. They are in a “growing” stage of the year, whereas during the season they are in a maintenance stage.

And when can young players start lifting weights? As early as you want according to the research BUT under strict guidelines, which in the main help youngsters develop good techniques, and not lift heavy weights.

Better Rugby Coaching