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

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

The end of a level 1 rugby coaching course by David Clarke
March 2, 2009, 9:03 am
Filed under: Dan Cottrell, Rugby Coaching | Tags: , , ,

The end of a coaching course is a new coaching dawn for many coaches. They come out of the course invigorated and ready for action.

And so they should.

The level 1 course is a must for any aspiring coach whether they have played international rugby or just put on their tracksuit for the first time to coach their child’s team.

I have just finished tutoring a course in South West Wales. I had six coaches in my group, all with a huge variety of backgrounds and ages. There was no variety in effort and enthusiasm though. It was, as it always is, refreshing to have such a positive attitude to learning, self-improvement and problem solving.

I was being assessed as well. All the “coach educators” are internally verified to help us deliver more effectively.

If anyone is venturing onto a level one course in the next few weeks, here are a few top tips beforehand:
1. Get plenty of sleep – they are long days, though they fly by.
2. Don’t worry about your rugby background.
3. Get stuck in to all the activities – push yourself, challenge yourself.
4. Be prepared to change your way of thinking.

Better Rugby Coaching

From small pitch to large pitch by David Clarke
January 20, 2009, 11:12 am
Filed under: Dan Cottrell, Rugby Skills, Rugby Training | Tags: , ,

 Kids rugby

I have just read some interesting concerns on the Better Rugby Coaching forum about the way to help players make the transition from a small pitch to a large rugby pitch. Coaches are rightly worried about their players’ rugby fitness, the change in rugby tactics and what happens when the players can kick from anywhere.

In short, the players will find a larger pitch a fitness challenge and the kicking changes the shape of the game, but mastery of the basics remains the core element.

Play, joue, go for it by David Clarke

Just play the game. “Joue” as the French would say.

Too many times players come to rugby training to “play rugby” and yet go away from a session with a five minute game at the end as a “reward”.

I gauge a good “junior” session by the amount of times the youngsters say to me: “When can we play a game?” The less the better!

With my Under 9s team, we start our sessions with a game, then another, do some skills and then play another game. The games at the start have some conditions, such as the types of pass used, or the size of the pitch. The skills might be extremely modified games and the game at the end is as close to the real game as we can with the numbers we have.

The challenges are:

1. Covering the full range of techniques correctly. Actually the games tend to use most of the skills, so modifying the game allows us to isolate some of the skills and yet keep them in some context.

2. Keeping all the players involved. Certainly at younger age groups one or two players can dominate. We have moved players around the teams, played smaller sided games or just removed the players if they become too greedy.

3. Personal feedback. In a game situation, with so much going on, specific feedback can be lost as the ball moves on. We are lucky to have three coaches, one who referees, one on the pitch as the game is played and the other stands back to look at the wider picture. From these positions, we observe different angles, say things from different persepctives and the coach who is standing back can offer something to the player the two coaches too close to the action cannot see.

I wonder whether this model can be used for more senior teams…

If you don’t ask, you will rarely get by David Clarke

About this time last year, Bill Pratt begged me to come down to Thornbury RFC to do a session with his Under 14s.

His second email was worse!

 “Dan, I will not keep writing to you. Bust a gut and train my boy’s on Thursday. We are away to Dursley and we need some work on defence. One session is all i ask. Go on you know you can!! Bill.”

Well, what could I say. Though it took some time to find a suitable slot, I “bust a gut” and trained them last night.

I arrived on crisp autumn evening at the grounds on the outskirts of Bristol (where I brought up). Bill was there to greet me and my first impressions where that it was a well organised junior club.

I split my session into two themes, body shapes in the tackle and body shapes into contact. It was a “kitchen sink” session, so I covered four times as much as I would in normal session, with the idea that Bill could build on any or all of the points over the next month or so.

There were 22 boys (now under 15s) in all. They were polite, chatty but attentive and obviously enjoyed their rugby. They were responsive to questioning and gave some good feedback. They worked hard and with purpose in the exercises.

It is sometimes easy to come in to do a one off session and hold the players attention because you are a fresh face and new voice. However it is easier if there is good environment for the players to work in. Bill and his co-coaches are rightly proud of their boys. This pride manifests itself in pride and desire in the boys.

My initial reflections are:

1. Got to keep asking, what is the worst they can say?

2. Be proud of your team, they will return your trust.

There was some video of the session, so with any luck I might be able to post some next week. Then you can see whether I taught them anything!