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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

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

International Rugby Coaching contributors move up the international coaching pathway by David Clarke

Congratulations to seven International Rugby Coaching contributors on their appointments within 2010/11 Welsh International Pathway teams.

In this line up there are six current writers in the list, plus Rob Appleyard coming up in the next few months!

Stars against contributors

Wales U18:
Manager – Gethin Watts *
Head Coach – Gruff Rees *
Assistant Coach Forwards – Dale McIntosh *

Wales U20:
Manager – Mark Taylor
Head coach – Darren Edwards * Dragons
Assistant Coach – Richard Webster

Manager – David Jenkins
Head Coach – Paul John *

Skills coaching support group:
Gruff Rees *, Paul John * – backs skills; Andrew Millward * – front five; Rob Appleyard *– defence.

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Day 21 of August pre season training tips: selection by David Clarke

August 21
Selection in pre season

There is a dilemma in pre season over running moves and plays as teams. Do you give everyone a fair chance by rotating the players, or do concentrate on your strongest players.
My experience is this:
1. Players respond to challenges. Therefore it is better to mix up the teams and units and become familiar with different levels of competency.
2. Better players can develop weaker players. Plus, given some responsibility to do this, help develop their own understanding of the game.
3. Players get injured. You have more chance of building confidence in potential replacements in pre season than in the hurly burly of the main season.
4. Mixing players up does cause execution issues of exercises. If a weaker player cannot perform certain functions, it can lead frustration and the exercise falling apart. If this is happening, modify the exercise to suit this player, but ask better players to perform more complicated actions.
5. Be honest and open when you are going to try out potential “A team” combinations. Players will have to get used to each other at some stage. It also provides motivation to try harder for those players who believe they should be in the combination.

Better Rugby Coaching

Day seventeen of August pre season training tips: trials by David Clarke

August 17


Who will be in your starting 15 for the first game?

Pre season is a time to trial players in different positions and combinations. You can do this internally, that is play trial games against yourself or against other clubs.

The advantages of playing internally:
1. Easier to organise.
2. You have greater control over the game.
3. You can balance the teams.
You may not have enough players and it might be harder to challenge the best players.

So, it is worth trying to find a similar standard of opposition to play against.

Here are five things to do in these games:
1. Do not split the games in more than three sections. Mentally players switch off for a fourth quarter.
2. Play your strongest side to start with. Then start to water down the teams. The trials need pattern and shape to allow all the players to express themselves. The better players can generate that shape.
3. Re iterate the simple patterns for the game plan. Play as you are on the pitch. If you are in the 22m, then use the plays that you would use to exit the 22m.
4. Allow a natural rhythm to the game. That means, kick for touch when you would kick for touch. Kick penalties when you would kick penalties (you are likely to be in possession again very soon if you do, whatever the outcome).
5. Limit the numbers at a trial. That might sound self defeating, but if you have 12 flankers turn up, you are going to struggle to give them meaningful game time. Remind those not playing that there is plenty of the season ahead.

Better Rugby Coaching

Honest rugby coaches by David Clarke
March 9, 2010, 8:53 am
Filed under: Dan Cottrell, Rugby Team Management | Tags: , , , ,

Dropping a player is never a good feeling.

I was going to say it would be great if we could just say “The team is…” and not have to justify any selections afterwards. Actually, the process of telling a player they are not in the team is a good learning experience for both player and coach.

A dropped player needs to know his worth and the reasons for not playing. You want him to continue to improve, even if you think he will never make the team again. Other players will be so close to selection, they might be playing next week. So not a good time to burn bridges.

From your point of view, you can learn much from the dialogue, about the player and about the team as a whole.

In recent weeks I have been speaking to many top coaches about “selection” and communication. Honesty is one word which keeps being mentioned.

Wasps director of rugby, Tony Hanks, said that it was difficult sometimes to be totally frank with a player, but vital not to be dishonest.

I have had a few very tough selection decisions in recent weeks, with, in some cases, very little to choose between two players who are both on the up and improving all the time.

I enjoy the job, but it can be heartbreaking at times!

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Look after the rugby talent by David Clarke
September 4, 2009, 7:16 am
Filed under: Dan Cottrell, Rugby Team Management | Tags: , , ,

dan carter

When Dan Carter returned to All Black colours a couple of weeks ago, he made a difference. A big difference.

If you are wholly concerned with results, you know you want your best players on the field to win your games. Imagine South Africa without Montgomery, Smit and Matfield in 2007, or England without Wilkinson, Johnson and Hill in 2003.

Carter was injured in the French domestic season and was not fit until after the All Blacks returned empty handed from South Africa. Whatever the talent in New Zealand, he adds something extra. For the sake of the All Blacks, he needs to be fit.

But he can’t play all the time and he certainly cannot be played when he is half fit. Hence, a dilemma.

Last night I watched my local team limber up for their first match of the league season. I know they have a couple of key players back and training. If they stay fit, then who knows. Last season, close games slipped away in their absence. What can the coach do? Give them some weeks off to keep them fresh and injury free – madness perhaps.

I would contend that the bravest coach rotates for a long term campaign. He keeps more players interested and makes it easier to fill in the gaps when there are genuine injuries. Only at the end of the season does he go for broke. However it might be too late by then…it makes for an interesting strategy.

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Trials and miserations by David Clarke
July 13, 2009, 8:10 am
Filed under: Dan Cottrell, Rugby Team Management | Tags: , , ,

I helped select the final 30 boys for this year’s Osprey U16 squad for the winter 2009 campaign yesterday.

The process is not quite over because we had a trial match which was videod, so that footage needs to be reviewed.

We all know the most difficult part of the process: telling the boys who didn’t make the selection. No amount of the good words and advice can quite remove the disappointment felt.

Deciding on the marginal players is the most taxing part of the selection meeting. The good ones take little time to decide on. It is the “third” hooker or scrum half who vexes minds the most.

We are lucky this year. We have been coaching these boys since January. They have already been through one trial match, plus an intensive six week training programme. Another trial match yesterday confirmed a number of things, plus just tipped the balance for some others.

However, we must not forget that it is game. The pleasure of human movement, of the contest, and the camaraderie is delicately intertwinned in all this. If these players stop smiling then I am not sure it is all worth it.

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Why the Lions selection is a reflection on the referee by David Clarke

There are two issues in world rugby that most vex coaches at the top level: the breakdown and the scrum.

Each referee interprets the breakdown differently. Many commentators say that referees “guess” the infringements at the scrum engagement.

Therefore you need to pick a team that will win the game given what the referee will do, and not necessarily what the opposition will do.

The Lions have picked a front row that will scrummage, but not destroy the South Africans. What is the point of destroying a scrum if the referee ignores this and resets the scrum every time.

They have picked a pack that will get to the breakdown quickly, so there is less chance of the ball being stolen.

So though the likes of Gethin Jenkins (loosehead) and Wallace (openside) have been on great form, their selection meets those criteria perfectly.

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If you wanted to win the league, who would you coach? by David Clarke

Imagine you had any team or any player to choose from. Money was no object. Your only aim, to win the league you are in, or even, the World Cup.

Who would you coach? Who would you want in your team?

It would be interesting to pick a World XV now. Ok, there may be problems in gelling a team, but let’s say you had the Argentinean front row, the South African locks, the All Black back row, the Welsh half backs, the Australian midfield and the French back three. You would probably think you might beat any other team.

Looking at it another way, having the best players makes it easier to coach and to win a cup.

If that is true, then perhaps we should focus our coaching more towards coaching our players to be the best they can be, rather than spending lots of time on tactics and plays.

A balance has to be struck. Some coaches would say they don’t have the time or resources to develop players. Others with say that better players will emerge from the normal training processes anyway.

However endless team run throughs, and hours going through preplanned moves will not, in my opinion, develop what you really want: players reaching their personal potential. Your players playing at their utmost will achieve more.

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