Rugby Kicking Games & Development

August 16, 2013 — Leave a comment

So you have been a rugby coach for some time now. You dedicate much time and resources to gathering the latest drills to teach your troops, in an effort to find an edge over your opposition.

Well, I have news for those that are focused only on structure in an attempt to impart knowledge and develop skill. “Chaos Rules!”

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Let me explain:

It is well understood in skill acquisition circles, that generally…

Technique + Pressure = Skill

The real test of whether your players have learnt or mastered a skill is to see how they perform the movements on game day. Why? Because this is where the real pressure exists, from an unpredictable opposition trying to shut you down.

Whilst drilling improves technique & players memorise movements, the nature of a match requires players to be adaptable to various situations.

Richard Shuttleworth, a renowned Skill Acquisition practitioner (RFU) has spent much time in Rugby educating the benefits of developing game awareness. He calls it a “Hands Off Approach to Coaching.”

He argues that skilled players “learn by doing and have a sound game understanding“. He goes further to suggest that game awareness should be considered before individual skill development. To some traditionalists this may seem the wrong way around, but Richard is not alone. Many more rugby coaches are beginning to understand and harness this evidence based approach to player development. By presenting “problems” in a training environment, and asking players to find solutions, goes a long way to assisting skill development and game awareness (decision making).

Another globally respected skill development consultant, Mark Upton, (@uppy01) preaches the importance of a concept called “Perception- Action Coupling” in practice design. This essentially is creating a learning environment by facilitating training activities that closely match the requirements of the game. Make Sense? How often do you run around a field marker before kicking to a target?

So it comes to my world of Kicking…

The skill generally breaks down, or only slowly develops when game awareness is poor.

I am very much committed to individual skill development, spending ample time with players on corrective measures for technique. In a group session I generally run “drop out” stations that run alongside a kicking game. These technical stations may be used for players to spend time in before being reintroduced to the game. If the game has a particular theme (punt for territory) , then the dropout stations may contain elements such as contact point, alignment to target or weight transfer…..

Start designing modified games that will have players make decisions similar to a match situation. I enjoy the chaotic nature of games for learning. It may appear of little value in the short term as often execution is compromised. But developmentally, over time learning is deeper from creating these environments with your players. This is regardless of what level of Rugby you compete.

Generally in any given session I will consider what aspect of kicking I want to teach or improve. Let’s say its tactical kicking for the sideline in an attempt to gain territory and place pressure on the opposition lineout. Then I will set up a competitive game with a kick chase, defensive pressure and points for accurate kicking. All the while I am monitoring individual execution, and sometimes “freezing” coachable moments for the benefit of teaching.

What principles are you trying to teach? Can you develop a game for that principle? Don’t worry if it doesn’t look tidy, if you are promoting the search for solutions then the players will adapt to that. You must provide variability with session design as well.

Relax, learning is messy!

In my sessions I like to mix up the types of kicks within an activity. Box, Chip, Up & Under…..always conscious of not setting predictable patterns. Then we might play a game where the player will need to make their own decision on which kick is best, then execute it.

So now it’s over to you….and while there is definitely a place for some “drilling” in a technical setting, it is the nature of well designed modified games that will develop game awareness and skill that is required in a match.

So that’s why Chaos Rules!

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By Stuart Lierich

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