Rugby Coaching Blog | Professional Rugby Advice & Coaching

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

Realignment and committing drill by David Clarke

Here is a realignment drill which I found on YouTube. Simple to set up and easy to run. Note that the players are realigning and then committing defenders.

Better Rugby Coaching

Cheer up and remember why you are doing it by David Clarke
September 15, 2010, 10:02 am
Filed under: Dan Cottrell, Rugby Team Management, Rugby Training | Tags: , , ,

Actually, there is nothing worse than someone saying: “Smile, it could be worse”, or “Cheer up!”

If you are in a mood, you are in a mood.

Unfortunately, when you are coaching a team, your persona affects the players. They certainly won’t be cheerier if you are grumpy.

Does that mean you have to be the life and soul of the training? YES IT DOES. Your energy is infectious.

Here are three ways to scrumple up that mood and kick it into touch before training begins.

1. You are about to change peoples lives. Relish that achievement.
2. You have spent all this time putting yourself into a position to coach better, why waste it? Seize the moment.
3. Smile and shake the hands of at least the first three people you meet. They will make you smile inside!

Mark Twain said:
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

Better Rugby Coaching

Day 24 of the August pre season training tips: attack by David Clarke

August 24


Good attack requires good core skills. Your core skills also defines your ambition. Attack with your strengths.

Coaching attack means how you intend to take the ball forward. In pre season, split your attack training into three areas:

1. Attack through the opposition: using plays, moves and techniques to smash through the defensive lines. Training should be against an organised defensive line of players.
2. Attack around the opposition: training against a defence that has spaces on the edges. Reduce the number of defenders the players face in exercises to encourage more passing to spaces.
3. Attack to disorganise a defence: either by using kicks or quick rucks to break up the defensive line.

All attack exercises must be against a live defence as soon as possible to add realism and create the right circumstances.

Better Rugby Coaching

Day 2 of August training tips by David Clarke

August 2

Games for fitness

Players like to play.

If pre season is sprinkled with games, then players will be motivated to turn up.

Here are five points to make games worthwhile

1. Make it competitive. Select teams, keep scores and remember them.
2. Make it “rugby relevant”. Identify the rugby skills in the game.
3. Ensure consistent refereeing. Be a tough referee, so adding legitimacy.
4. Use small teams. Let the players have plenty of action and no place to hide. Play two games at once if possible.
5. Don’t have too many non rugby rules. Players will spend too long mastering the rules and not playing the game.

Better Rugby Coaching

Don’t read this if you are already a great coach by David Clarke

What sort of coach are you?

I can easily patronise with what I am about to say, so be warned!

Are you the sort of coach who listens to others with every intention of changing what you do IF you think they have said something worthwhile.

Read that sentence again: “with every intention”. That is a very open minded coach. There are dangers with being that sort of coach. You can become unpredictable and confusing to your players.

But it is a healthy attitude to take if you want to develop yourself. As long as you carefully integrate new thoughts in your planning and action, then the positives keep you and your coaching fresh.

Anecdotally I reckon that only one in ten coaches is capable of this. Am I right?

Some areas of the game are “off-limits” for new ideas for some coaches. Imagine telling a former tight head about how to scrummage…

These “off-limits” areas are perhaps justified in the case of a tighthead – well only just. But take an area like tackling. In an area where safety is paramount, coaches will often think back to their own experiences of “learning” to tackle and not listen to new ideas. “I was taught this way, and it was safe…”

And finally: there are coaches who like to have thought of the technique/tactic before. It is a challenge to be told something that they don’t do already. I regard myself as quite open. It goes with the job. I hear new ideas everyday. But I sometimes have to check myself when I hear something I think I should know. I need to listen and not reject.

You never stop learning. Every great coach knows that. That’s why you have kept reading!

Better Rugby Coaching

What were you doing last night? by David Clarke


Last night at 6.55pm I was standing in the local park, in the lashing rain, waiting to take a session with the senior team I help out with.


The misery was not complete though. The local council had shut off the electricity, so no lights, or hot water (who needs to wash if you are a real man). And of course, the steady stream of excuses for not training was pounding down the cell phones nearly as fast as the rain.


Then the sun appeared, the 20 players who had showed started up some touch rugby and we were away. There was no chance to do anything as a possible unit for the first league game at the weekend, because there were too many players missing. But those who had braved the weather were keen.

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A million press ups for that by David Clarke
August 28, 2008, 8:11 am
Filed under: Dan Cottrell, Rugby Coaching, Rugby Training | Tags: , , ,

1,2,3,4…no, proper ones

A familar call on the rugby training ground. A misdeamour of minor proportions, perhaps a dropped ball or a missed tackle. The result, press ups (or round the posts and back).

Don’t think for one moment I am going to say that mistakes should not be highlighted, pointed out or even commented on harshly. It is how they are then dealt with which causes an interesting debate.

“Punishment” is not a good word to use – I found this out very early on in the Rugby Coach Newsletter issues when the RFU quickly slapped my wrists for using the word (and the “punishment” mentioned).

In which case, you need a way to ENCOURAGE the players not to make the same mistake twice.

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Rugby Drills: Fast Hands by David Clarke

This week I was asked to come up with some fast hands rugby drills. As some of you know, I am not a great fan of the term “drill”, but it matters little in the end because it is what the players learn in training that counts.

Why fast hands

“Fast hands” means quick transference of the ball from one player to the next to the next. In other words, at least one quick pass in a series of two or more passes. Relating this to the game, it is unlikely that we need “fast hands” for more than three passes.

Game related reasons

“Fast hands” are meaningless unless there is a good reason to pass the ball in the first place. The reason in this case is that the receiver and giver is under pressure in front of him and there is someone better placed to take the ball forward. Two sets of “fast hands” means that two players are under this pressure and so on.

Ultimately, my drill/exercise needs to get to the high pressure stage.

Constructing a drill

In a quick audit of the stuff I have published I find I have over 300 “sessions” to choose from (not all handling of course), plus another 40 odd in the pipeline till Christmas. But why not use a fresh idea.

Here are the three things I think about when constructing a rugby drill

1. Paint a picture of the game and can I isolate the technique?

2. What is the fewest number of players I need?

3. Where can I add value?

Point 3 is the crucial one. For fast hands, my answer was “its in the catching”.

Look out for my “drills” coming up soon.

Why a Rugby Coach is Like a Film Star by David Clarke


I have just spent the last three days filming a DVD on rugby coaching. It was hard work but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.


I am certainly no film star, I had no personal caravan or seat with my name on the back. But the experience taught me that we, as coaches, have got some similarities to film stars (and one or two complete differences).

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