Greg C. (@iGreggsy) wanted my thoughts on what to teach young players (11–13 years old).
I have fond memories of coaching at this level but I was pretty inexperienced when I first coached. Then after coaching at senior level I helped out a friend by coaching an Under 11 team for one season and I really enjoyed the experience again. I found the kids to be like sponges and because they still had so much to learn you could make significant differences in the quality of their play. Last year I coached some teenagers at the end of our club season and again found it very enjoyable.
Looking back on my own performance as a novice coach there were so many mistakes I made. I think I’ve learnt from most of those mistakes so before I give you my thoughts on what I think you should try to teach kids, let me give you some of the lessons I learned along the way:
- Training should not revolve around perfect drills – a drill may look good on paper and be designed with the best of intentions but training is not about being good at drills;
- Drills must be game relevant and used to improve areas that your team needs to improve in most – there’s not a lot of value in running a brilliant breakdown drill you’ve read about if your breakdown performance in the last match was reasonable but your team kept dropping the ball;
- Training should incorporate as many games as possible where the kids are using the ball, communicating with each other and competing against an opposition – we don’t play a game where you get rewards for running around cones really well;
- If you think a particular area needs work, start by playing a game where the problem will show up, then point out to the kids the problem that was exposed in the game, then run a drill working on that area, then play the game again to see if there has been improvement;
- You must have progression in drills – it’s boring for kids to run the same drill over and over for long periods of time – try to change it up every five minutes – I know that doesn’t sound like a lot of time to achieve improvement but kids don’t have great attention spans so rather than start a new drill every five minutes, add a progression to change the drill slightly;
- There is so much more to skills acquisition than running drills – if you’re on Twitter I suggest you follow @damonemtage – Damon is an ex Super Rugby and Premier Grade coach – he’s also a teacher coaching the First XV at Brisbane Grammar – he knows what he’s talking about and he sends out links to some fabulous articles on coach development and skills acquisition;
- You need to be able to adapt on the run – if some part of your training is not working as planned, make adjustments on the run – don’t just keep flogging away because you had a plan for your training session – kids won’t enjoy the training session and they won’t learn if they’re not enjoying themselves.
Obviously I’m still learning myself but here are my thoughts on what to teach kids:
- Catch/pass – tackle – breakdown – individual skills that must be worked on at all age levels – the better the kids get at the basics, the better they can implement the other things you want to teach them;
- Most kids teams are based on a small number of the biggest, most skilful players who run rings around (or run over) the smaller, less developed kids. As kids get older the differences tend to start to even out but I think as a coach you have to develop the whole team, not just the stars – for example use moves that involve a combination of the better players and the weaker players – quite often those ‘weaker’ players end up being better than the ‘stars’ as they get older;
- In attack most kids teams try to go around defences. It’s understandable because defence at that level is not that good but it won’t be long before defences improve so start teaching kids to retain the ball and play through teams first, not around them. If you can develop this sort of attacking pattern, you’ll see the defence breaking down within five phases anyway as kids can’t defend multiple phases but you’ll also be developing a better platform for the kids to work with as they get older when the fast kid running around the defence no longer works as well;
- That sort of attack requires lots of close support for the ball carrier to take offloads and get into the breakdown quickly to recycle the ball – that gets more of the team involved which also goes to my earlier point about involving the whole team;
- In defence some kids struggle with tackling, particularly against bigger kids. It takes a lot of guts and technique for a little kid to take on the big kid and bring them down. You have to keep working on tackle technique but you can help the kids by developing a ‘safety in numbers’ approach – focus on getting the kids to maintain one line in defence and working in groups of three (the tackler, the player inside and the player outside) – with three kids working together they will be more likely to be able to tackle the big kid and your defence will improve overall;
- In both attack and defence kids need to work hard off the ball – get up off the ground, get back into the defensive line or follow the ball carrier.
The reality is that some of the themes I’ve talked about here continue to apply, no matter what level of rugby. As coaches there is a great opportunity to give the kids a great basis for their future rugby and that’s one of the joys in coaching – seeing players improve and knowing you had a part to play in their development.