With pre-season in full swing, all the 1st Team coaches at Harlequins took the opportunity to jet off around the globe for personal development. I chose Melbourne as my destination of choice. The purpose: a chance to have a look at how other sports such as Rugby League and Australian Rules Football, as well as other rugby union organizations, go about their business in order to improve our own rugby coaching.
It was a privilege to be invited into the inner circles of the Melbourne Storm (see photo above), Geelong Cats and Melbourne Rebels. I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent with the teams, soaking in as much new information as I possibly could. As a new Geelong Cats and Melbourne Rebels fan, I was tempted to invest in some team merch from the afl store, but that’s not what you’re here to hear. Much was gleaned from my time with the teams, with the over-riding message, REPETITION is the key to learning and its basics, basics, basics.
You could argue that NRL and AFL are far more simplistic sports – let’s not get into that debate – but they absolutely hammer the fundamentals when it comes to skill acquisition. Sure they have the climate to venture outdoors (the middle of the Melbourne winter, reputedly the worst for ten years, was on a par to that I returned home to!), but when they do, its practice, practice, practice.
Whether it’s the youngsters on the ovals punting the ball to one another or the senior players at Cats or Demons, they simply can’t get enough of practice and it’s simple things. The pros are monitored in much the same way as our Union guys are, GPS all the way, yet it appeared to be a struggle for the coaches to get the players off the pitch.
The message to players at all levels of the game is that irrespective of your ability, you have to put the hours in.
How can we translate that into our practice back home? I believe we focus far too much on structure and organization at all levels of the game. Endless patterns and plays, finely tuned during the week, but players inevitably do not possess the ability to execute the simple pass when it’s required on game day. You have to maximize the time you spend on the pitch and focus on as much ‘in game’ work as possible.
I’ll give you an example how that maps out in back play. We have all spent an hour on a Thursday night going through our starter moves, only to see a poor pass from a scrum-half or fly-half, nullify the play before it starts and that’s assuming we have even managed to successfully deliver the ball from scrum or line-out.
The principle of a set-piece move hasn’t changed over the years, but you do not see as many scores from first phase as you used to. Focus on the process rather than the outcome.
Better passing skills, running and support lines and communication, honed through small sided games, 2v1s, 3v2, 4v3s will give you a far better success rate in terms of scoring, making line breaks and winning the gain line.
Change the positions that your defenders come in from, give the attackers different cues to react to. Sometimes have them drifting, sometimes blitzing hard. Encourage those players who don’t talk much to step up. Ban the key decision makers from talking through some game and drills. There are many different ways to do it. Challenge yourself, don’t be afraid to try new ideas.
Be an innovator. Go out and develop your edge.
By: Mark Mapletoft, Harlequins Coach