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U9s Minis Rugby Frustration

There is a great debate going on now about when minis coaches should be able to teach U9 players to tackle as opposed to when they are allowed to under the new RFU regulations. Reports of some rugby clubs already having tackle training for their U9s have been floating around the rugby community and previous experience and observations would suggest that there is more to these than just rumour.

One of the biggest frustrations I have as a coach is seeing all of the hard work and effort of the Under 7s and Under 8s age groups completely ignored for the first four weeks of the new season as coaches who are new to the game or to coaching encourage players to “smash” tackle shields. All the running into space and evasion skills are forgotten as players and coaches focus on contact and contact alone.

Why? Well the RFU regulations have now compressed the training of this element of the game into a period of four weeks to safely teach young players the core skills of tackling, rucking and mauling. The new regulations and the last few versions of the continuum (the rules for the U7s to U12s age groups) expressly forbid the coaching of tackling to this age group until the start of September of their Under 9 season (there is much discussion as to reasons for this, but it would seem that it is an insurance cover requirement more than a skills coaching issue). For the sake of this piece I’ll ignore the shaping the game changes as the transition from TAG to contact remains the same in general. Maybe the next piece will be my thoughts on that pilot.

Players are often walked through a tackle from a stationary position on their knees to a situation were the attacker is running towards them. This is the area where I believe things start to go wrong. By helping to teach players to tackle “passive” attackers, coaches program those attackers to run straight into the defenders. The same programming happens as soon as a tackle shield is brought into play.

The players with the tackle shield (who should be representing attacking players) either stand still or move up in a straight line. Tacklers need to move and players who are attackers need to see and attack space!

However, as a parent, coach and observer of this transition over a good number of seasons my opinion remains that the vast majority of these players look forward to the contact aspect of the game and see it as the start of playing ‘real’ rugby. Well, real rugby isn’t just smashing things and neither is it just running into space. The joy of the game is that it is a mixture of the two. There is a skill in communicating this to young players and new coaches who were formerly front row forwards and think that a good contact session is what the players need.

The coaching, therefore, also needs to be a mixture of the two elements; evasion and contact. Players who are behaving as attackers for an exercise need to behave as attackers and look for and attack space, whilst defenders must not assume that attackers will run in a way that will almost assist in making the tackle.

I agree that there is a need for the ‘health & safety’ approach to the contact aspect of the game, but I honestly thing that this, together with the use of the tackle shields in that first morning of September, starts to dismantle all the successes of the Under 7s and Under 8s.

Maybe I’ll hide the shields this year…..let me know your opinion below.


By: Spike, a Level 2 coaching the Colts and U15s at a local club in Norfolk who has been coaching for over 14 years.


About spike

Level 2 coach, referee, Tigers supporter and full time rugby nut. Coached for over 15 years across squads from U6s to seniors, club sides as well as representative teams. View all posts by spike

9 Comments to U9s Minis Rugby Frustration

  1. I am presenting rugby to U9’s schoolkids in the Netherlands, I have learned the following progression from Jean Bidal, first It is an individual project: evading, ambition to score, hand-off would be tacklers (!!!!). I do not focus to much on tackling technique. Players are grabbed, fight for the ball, this is the collective project: help the ball carrier and go forward together. The third step is to play the ball to players who position in the open space.

    Tackle, hand-off, pushing and pulling, try to rob the ball, it is part of a natural flowing game. Kids love it. Later in the series of lessons I focus on technique, including tackling.

    I never use shields, agree with not tackle on the knees. Kids like to tackle a tackle bag though.

    Interesting discussion,
    Martin

    • Are handoffs allowed at under 9 there? They are not allowed in club rugby until under 13 in the uk

  2. mkmigs85

    Okay, Here is a different view point. I have coached and refereed wrestling for many years. I have had kids from 4 yrs old to almost 20. Their is contact at all levels, but it is the responsibility of the coaches, refs, and parents to monitor the safety of the children. I think if the children are taught correctly, from the start, then as they grow older there will be less injuries and the overall pace of the sport will increase. If we do not teach the proper technique when the kids are younger, they will learn bad technique on their own. How many times will the kids play, by themselves, and start doing what comes natural? These kids will be on the playground trying to mimic the older players, and yes, they will tackle. It is the nature of the game. I say to teach them early is better than to allow them to learn the improper technique. In the end, it will prevent injuries. Just my two cents.

    • @mkmigs85 – I totally agree with the need to coach the children to tackle (my other sport is kickboxing so agree with the comments about managing and teaching that correctly).
      The point I am trying to put across it that rugby is a game of evasion broken up with some contact (almost wrestling) aspects. However, from observation the evasion part is often ignored at the start of the under 9 season (due to time maybe) as the tackle shields are brought out. The reality is tackles don’t work like that and as you say if you make it a more natural environment then both aspects of the game should develop.

      On a separate note I have a wrestling coach going to do some work with my senior players during their pre-season which they are looking forward a lot.

  3. Mark Lawford

    Very valid points about evasion and contact. We all tend to focus too much on the contact element and forget at times it’s a game of speed and skill. However, there’s nothing wrong with walking players through a tackle technique as long as you tell players they have to play evasion when running at full speed. However, there’s a danger that U9s might take evasion as running sideways or backwards, so sometimes you DO have to run the lines demonstrated in the walk-through. This is a coaches’ nightmare.

  4. Totally agree with that idea, years ago the progression was TAG, Touch to contact U7, U8 to U9 and this work well.
    Agree with the comment about players chasing the TAG too and how this would translate into a weak arm tackle.
    However the benefits of the attacking ideas in U7 & U8 need to be translated and built into U9 where players identify and exploit space.

  5. I actually find tag rugby counter intuitive to the ‘real’ rugby played from u9’s and up, especially from a tackling perspective. taggers step out of the way and chase the tag and therefore hard (not impossible) to teach defensive lines. don’t get me wrong i think tag is a great way to introduce a game using a rugby ball to kids but it does not give them the skill sets required. when it comes to the u9’s i would suggest starting with two handed touch, progressing to scrag so that at least the players are used to taking some contact and off loading. Use tackle pads sparingly only to show technique of safe tackling then let them tackle, slowly at first in a narrow channel then widen the channel. then you can introduce two on one, three on two etc.
    Two main things is intuitive drills and progression. don’t rush it.
    PS i also don’t believe in uncontested line outs or scrums; we are teaching them not to jump or push. We’ve had four new players this season with no previous experience, hungry for the ball and consistently winning it.

  6. Thanks, contact suits are great but never seen them that small. Tackle shields are fine for older players in my opinion if, they understand that you’re not supposed to run into them.

  7. johnriches

    Agree with your points. We tended to use the tackle pads for rucks and mauls (coach holding the pads). I think there is a case for getting the players used to being tackled, tackling safely etc, but for some it seems to be contact is everything. I certainly support you not using the tackle pads for tackling training – I guess they are more use for older age groups, but I have not got there yet.

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