During this Covid-19 crisis many coaches were/are lying idle. However, I received an email from a parent asking me if I would do some one on one coaching, with his 11-year-old son, Jack. I knew the parent and had worked with his son’s team previously.
During this lockdown period it is hard and wrong to expect young players to sit for hours looking into a computer screen. So, I devised the first two sessions based around basic techniques and skill practices where applicable.
Jack is talented, so it became possible to introduce some game scenario and game understanding moments which we set up and discussed. I asked some questions and he/we answered them. After short discussions he came up with the various playing options/answers required.
This led me to consider that there is little difference between a talented 11- 14-year-old and a full international player.
When coaching talented players of any age, guidance is a more effective coaching tool than just telling.
Rugby playing talent desires a platform to express itself. It does not thrive in a stop start environment. It requires freedom to be creative, to see opportunity, to influence, and produce winning outcomes. Talent is controlling, a self-belief embedded in DNA, failure cuts deep but only temporarily. The re-emergence can be brutal and emphatic.
When question marks are raised, as they are now, about the way the game is played; too much ball taken to ground, overuse of pick and drive, the dangerous chop tackle and tackle above the chest, we must produce players who can re-write our coaching and playing culture, through their talent.
Players, using their playing style and mental approach, refuse to accept the current playing format, where teams almost globally play the same way. They will not be tied down to too much structure. They see the need for starter plays but leave the rest to them.
Through their skillset, talented players force other players to react differently, and in doing so challenge their skillset. Comfort zones both positional and general do not exist. The demand and urgency to play a different way is the desire of the talented player; their body language does the talking. They see and create what other players cannot see.
A few seasons ago, I listened to a former World cup winning coach speak to a senior rep team. At half-time he said, “you could do a lot worse than follow our No 7 around the field.” A smart comment that has so many implications.
Through their talent and skillset talented players can influence and improve team members. As Bob Dwyer suggested, just follow our (talented young player) around, and feed off his DNA.
The coaching issue is that the talented or super talented young player is usually part of a group of 30+ on a Sunday morning, somewhere in the world. You can challenge him but not at the expense of the others in the group? Better to look at practices older age groups might be using and move him between the two? For instance, if the older group are using overload games, 9 v 5/6 etc, he could be better challenged in that environment.
I used this example in Sydney when I brought across from Thailand two exceptionally talented 11-years old (one of whom was and remains the most talented player of any age group I have ever seen or worked with).
In all the conditioned games/game scenarios we introduced to mixed ages, he was the outstanding player. His he has all the ingredients of a talented player.
• His body language sends out the message.
• Awareness, he senses any immediate presence.
• If you move too close, he will beat you.
• None of the game’s basics were a problem for him.
• He is a chess grand master in rugby kit.
To kick start the next phase of rugby involvement and development for young players, now is a good time to look closely at session construction. Do your practices contain lots of action and involvement?
Is the mixture of playing talent, right? Will you allow your players the time to express themselves and explore the practice without over coaching? There is a difference between enthusiastic, constructive, support comments, while the action is taking place, rather than sitting the boys down to listen to your monologue!
Some teaching/coaching topics covered with Jack (not in any order):
• Ball pick up and acceleration from the ruck (some timed);
• Ruck pass. Left to Right, Right to Left;
• Dummy ruck pass, accelerate away, stay low;
• Loose ball reaction pick-ups and return pass (agility);
• Drop punt accuracy;
• Balanced running and ball across the body transfer;
• Catching high balls (off the ground);
• Picking up/receiving grubber kicks on the run;
• Chip and chase (over coach);
• Technique tackling. (use stand up tackle bags), coach rolls ball, recover;
• Evasive skills, kick catch, beat the chaser (coach);
• Jackal techniques using long tackle bag. Two-foot snatch and pass. One foot over pick and drive, into tackle shield;
• Long tackle bag, counter ruck into tackle shield (enter square-stay square);
• Angled drop punts over crossbar to a target area; and
• Defensive line running inside to out against 10, 12 and 13 (use stand up tackle bags).
There are lots of options within each of these topics to both expand and intensify. Be creative there are lots more technique and skill variations. Take time out for discussion. You might be surprised how much talented young players know. How quickly they learn AND how much you (the coach) learn from them!
Remember, teach technique and coach performance.