Yes, it is.
In fact, I would list quality vision (focus of attention) as the single most important skill when attempting to catch a rugby ball from a team mate’s boot.
You see, a dominant catching position, great vertical leap and strong hands don’t count for anything if you can’t correctly track a ball on its flight path.
Think about this for a moment. How often (at all levels) do we see a player totally misjudge a catch attempt OR get so close to catching it, yet is just out of reach.
In particular, we see a lot of contestable kicks land without contest or a player frantically dives at the last second to secure possession but just misses it.
This is so very costly when you consider:
- ‘Bomb’ diffusal is a serious business in our own territory
- Making that midfield catch keeps the ball in our possession to play off the back of in attack
- Catching a cross kick (assuming good decision to kick in first place) in our go zone allows us the opportunity to finish a scoring play
Much of this can easily be prevented if coaches understand that a player’s vision and ability to track the ball flight is critical in determining the final outcome.
It is wise for players to identify the cues a teammate gives before kicking. Not all kicks are called for or pre arranged, so any potential receivers need to be able to react fast when one is released. Any advantage over the opposition here will do.
A good player will already have an idea of ‘traffic’ in their area, any potential distractions or impediments to the path of the ball.
Delivering chaotic kick/catch practice will help players build this awareness for games. Believe me, it is a skill worth your while to develop.
After a quick scan of the opposition all attention must be given to the kicker’s body shape and contact on the ball. There are lots of informational cues here that receiving players can process to make their catch attempt successful.
Cues such as which angle the kicker is facing, the power of the kick (swing) and even the sound the ball makes will help. Remember, even though a receiver knows a kicker is aiming for a certain ‘target’ area, the ball doesn’t always come off or land perfect. It is the receiver that can adapt to a less than ideal kick (using cues) that will get to the ‘real’ position the ball will drop.
And Another Thing…players attempting to catch a kick, mustn’t ever get mislead by the positioning of opposition players. Warning! Don’t use the other team as guide for where the ball will land as some will be more focused on YOU.
Now back to Vision…
The real key here is twofold:
- The receiver must ‘work early’ by getting out of the blocks with speed. Any adjustments to tempo can be made closer to the leap or catch attempt. This is much more likely to produce a catch than a player having to adjust speed or make up ground late in the attempt.
- Watch the ball all the way from the boot until your possession. This (external) target focus will help keep you on auto pilot and allow you better time the catch attempt. A player distracted by threat of potential contact or lacking in catch confidence is less likely to excel here. A sustained,laser like focus will assist in removing distractions.
So, by making good ground early and maintaining a focus on the ball flight will allow players the necessary time to either adjust or go straight into the catch attempt.
Timing is everything, right?
Catching a kick in rugby is all about timing (think cross field kick to a winger that doesn’t break stride, maintaining pace onto the ball) and/or creating a dominant body position from which to catch (think a strong vertical leap in a crowded midfield contest).
These attributes of a successful catch don’t happen by themselves. They are the by product of players that make good assessments of their environment, using their VISION to get them into a good position to do so.
George North Catches A Cross Field Kick To Score (Below). Watch how he adjusts his running line just before catching to ensure a clean take!
Coach, consider more than only the outcome of a catch attempt. I suggest you pay more attention to the lead up process.
With your help and these tips I know your team will catch many more than they will spill.
By Stuart Lierich