Oh No ... I'm The Coach!
You may be a coach with lots of coaching experience, you may be a brand spanking new coach or one thinking of starting next season. Whoever you are, you are guaranteed one thing in coaching a rugby team; you will meet some interesting characters.
The physical and emotional differences in the development of five-year-old kids, to eight-year-old or 12-year-old kids can be enormous therefore coaching them in the same way can create huge problems. This is one of the main reasons why we now have three compulsory courses for our Small Blacks grades.
- Beginning Rugby - Under 6 to Under 7
- Learning Rugby - Under 8 to Under 10
- Playing rugby - Under 11 to Under 13
But "coaching" isn't always the issue when you turn up to a game or practice as a coach. Sometimes the behaviour of the players will turn you off and all the good skill development and will in the world won't help if the team is misbehaving or you aren't organised. This is all part of coaching!
Often, if you approach someone to coach a team at the Small Blacks level, they come up with these sorts of replies:
"I can't control my own kids, let alone a group of 20."
"Kids are too cheeky nowadays."
"They would eat me alive."
Although these feelings may be out there, the truth of the matter is that most kids are really good and with a few simple coaching strategies, your fears can easily be tamed.
Beginning Rugby U6-U7
Some would say you are very brave if you coach in this area, but maybe we should turn this around and say that you will find this area very rewarding. Here are some points for this area that you will find helpful:
- The game as played by five-year-olds requires a basic approach, one that stresses participation and meaningful play.
- The coaches involved with this age group need to have minimum performance expectations and should focus not on outcome and results but on participation and enjoyment.
- Improvement and development will come but don't expect it after a few practices or games or even by the end of the season.
- They have short attention spans, therefore they don't deal well with the more intense instruction, ie the drills and training routines that adults want to use to teach rugby skills.
- The experience should be mostly an introduction or first exposure to the game. You should try not to make it more than that.
- Most kids this age will not execute very well and should be encouraged just to play and have fun.
- One key factor per training session is a good rule of thumb for skills coaching.
Special guidelines are also needed for these players including special rules (coaches on the field, no tackling, scrum and lineout modifications etc), special playing fields (shorter fields, smaller posts, etc) and special equipment (size 2 balls).
Super Coach Tips?
Give players' creative, positive nicknames - this will make them feel extra special. Use their nicknames often, especially when they accomplish something. Make
plenty of references to All Blacks players' names such as referring to a back as "the next Daniel Carter".
Kids love to run with the ball so, during practice, put a ball in every kid's hands and let them run. A ball-familiarisation drill is good for this. Give them all lots of opportunities to score tries (scoring tries is definitely FUN).
Get each player to name his or her favourite rugby team, favourite player and favourite position. After learning the player's favourite position, allow them to play those positions both in practice and in games. Don't make the same player play on the wing all the time.
At practice, keep kids busy doing something, not waiting in lines or standing around. Simple warm-up passing, catching and running in small groups is better than relay lines or running around the field.
If you observe what the kids enjoy most at a practice, then incorporate those things with variations into future practices - the kids will enjoy it and have fun.
Praise is something that cannot be overdone but you should certainly try to with little kids.
Learning Rugby U8-U10
Coordination and body control at this age is improving rapidly so it is an appropriate time for lots of skill development. It is also a time where peer groups become increasingly important; acceptance or rejection can be major behavioural factors for you to consider.
The good news is they are able to stay on-task longer due to an increasing attention span. Try these 10 ideas and your experience at this level will be a rewarding one.
Top 10 For Under 10
- Communicate with your players effectively.
- Don't be a screamer because the kids don't respond well to being put down by their coaches. They have other things to do.
- Every child must play at least half a game.
- This can be a tough challenge for some coaches. Why? Because it's hard to talk about how we are a TEAM if only a few kids play full games.
- Learn how to talk to your players.
- Sarcasm is really the worst enemy you can have. If you're a coach, don't try to be a comedian. Don't try and poke fun at your kids by using sarcastic remarks. The kids, for the most part, won't respond to that.
- Don't try to be the players' best friend.
- They already have lots of friends. Your job is still to be an educator. You can talk to them, listen to them, and motivate them, but don't think for a second that you're on the same level with the kids.
- Every coach on every team has to have some sort of team discipline.
- Boys love structures.
- The hard part is to trying to determine what kind of punishment should be handed out if a kid disobeys one of the rules. Example: the coach says that if you're late to practice, then you sit out the first half of the game. No excuses accepted. Are you going to deliver? What about the kids who start in the second half who weren't late?
- Have the courage to enforce your team rules.
- All coaches have certain rules and expectations that the kids on the team will follow those rules. Have the guts to enforce your rules if they're broken by a player. That's your job.
- Always remember that fun is definitely part of each game and practice!
- If you run your team into the ground during grueling practice sessions and never let them have a chance to smile, relax, or blow off some steam, you'll soon discover that you have transformed "play" into "work" for your players.
- Motivate your kids by walking around.
- You can work wonders for every kid on your team if, during each practice session, you walk around to each player, address them by their first name, and say something positive to them with a smile.
- Teach and enforce sportsmanship.
- Assume that the kids on your team do not know or understand what this concept means.
- As the head coach, always be in command!
- That is, always present yourself as the authority figure of the team. Be the teacher of the team, but not the lieutenant commander.
Playing Rugby U11-U13
This age group usually has long-term behaviours already set in concrete, but these kids adapt quickly. Many of them are used to new teachers and they mix more with adults at this age, so when a new coach comes along, these behaviours you don't like can be changed quite quickly.
- Techniques - use some of the prior techniques with these players. Although some of these structures may seem a little tired by the time you get to this age group, most of them still work.
- Don't be naff - become familiar with what's in and what's not. Kid's language changes, so it is important that you pick up on the slang a quickly as possible. Believe me, you don't want to be a naff coach. What do they like to watch on TV? You need to become familiar, although not an expert, with what happens in their lives.
- Age before beauty - treat them like 12-year-olds, not little All Blacks.
- Help - give them an understanding of the game. Let them know their roles and responsibilities.
- Structure - give them all structure to work in. Before their mouths open, give them your 10 commandments. Boys in particular need good guidelines around them. You only have them for an hour so keep them busy and they will be happy.
- Fun - this is the product of good skill development. It is not a separate drill. Giving your team fun games is not the answer because your job is to develop their rugby skills and not just be the fun coach.
- Be honest - give short reasons for your decisions.
- Begin to box your players - body type, experience and skill levels starts to determine the team's look and feel. This doesn't necessarily mean once a wing, always a wing. It comes back to being clear in setting the players' roles and responsibilities on the field.
- Repetition - Repeat key messages and skill drills to make them clear and understood. Practise, practise, practise!
- Praise carefully - avoid artificial praise and awards. These are very see-through. Praise should simply come from them trying their best, not for when it's good and definitely not all the time. There is nothing worse for kids, or their parents, to see the "whose turn is it for the player of the day award?"
Additional rules of thumb
- A warm fuzzy is good.
- If you have a player of the day… make sure it is!
- If you like prizes, make them worthwhile and at the end of the season.
Controlling your team is and will always be a challenge to any coach of any team. But with a few simple structures in place, your hair may stay in and your true skills may come out.