Archives For Session Design

I’ve called this a junior game, but make no mistake, it’s very effective (and fun) for senior grade players as well.

Let’s face it, most kickers nowadays just don’t get enough opportunity to get foot on ball. Many coaches also claim they don’t have enough time to schedule any kicking into their practice.

A shame really, as kicking is aligned to both attack and defensive strategy, plus an integral tool for any player wishing for multi dimensional play (options).

Anyhow, you’re here because either you already schedule kicking or you’d like some ideas to begin. Great, here we go.

The game (video description) below is a very basic, yet very effective activity that promotes, kicking volume, decision making, spatial awareness, posture, alignment and general self awareness.

Whilst not directly related to rugby gameplay, I have had tremendous success using this with players of all levels of skill.

I encourage you to take this template and manipulate the rules, field size and player numbers to challenge your players to find solutions. I quite often rotate various ball types into play for some extra flavour.

So for this game, remove your ‘rugby’ hat, and put on your ‘kicking’ one. Relax and give your players a licence to have some fun. The only thing I suggest you instruct is to play at speed.

This will help develop skill. Perhaps remove possession for slow decision making etc etc..

Oh yeah, and try not to use the word ‘technique’…it is not welcome or any help in this game…

You could run this with only 10 spare minutes, and most players would get between 15-30 kicks. They are like ‘bank deposits’ for self awareness and improvement in your more specific sessions.

Over to you:

By Stuart Lierich

I was blessed recently to have the company of respected coaching scientist Mark Upton in my first ever Live “Coaches Corner” Online Web Broadcast, that went to air on my KickCoaching You Tube Channel

Mark has worked in the high performance environment of sport for well over a dozen years, with much success in coach development through teaching best practice methods and processes in a variety of sports.

You see there are so many key principles that underpin and determine the success of any sport coaching program. I have had the pleasure collaborating with Mark and apply many of the elements you will read here, in my own coaching. These principles are “evidence based” and cross all boundaries. Let’s assume that by reading this, that you are a rugby coach. Regardless of what level of competition you position yourself, the following key points will make a massive difference to your coaching.

But be warned, “What seems easy to do, also may be considered easy not to do”…

*At the bottom of the page is the full (29min) recorded version of the discussion, but here are some summary points:

Let’s set the scene…

“Most practice sessions are set up for immediate success, not learning”

Bang, yep that’s right. Think about your sessions or those you observe..Many rugby coaches are looking for perfect execution outcomes at training and think this would play out in a match.

Week in, week out the focus is narrow. Often these “drills” are repetitive, like an actor rehearsing lines for a stage show. It’s also incredible, even at senior age rugby, how many coaches still instruct players where to position themselves and when to make decisions. I think you get my point, because you see this often.

But is this “immediate success” helping any player (or coach) long term? As well as potentially creating ‘ feedback dependence’ this has no positive effect on long term development. Fact.

What I’m talking about is called “Retention”. As a coach you must create, foster and facilitate an environment of ongoing learning.
Players will improve game awareness, decision making and overall skill execution if practice activities promote retention…..

This means we need to be more geared towards creating activities, including modified games, that more closely match the demands of the game itself. After all “Technique + Pressure = Skill”.

Ultimately we are looking for the acquisition and transfer of any skills to the match environment, and modified games, via guided discovery is the most productive way forward.

Remember….Learning is messy! So results may not, actually they WON’T appear immediately, but you are building foundations of adaptability that will serve them when required in the future..

Here are some other interesting points from the interview with Mark:

**Practice Variability….

Utilising the “constraints” of *player, *environment and *task (in practice) to guide learning and improved performance for players at all levels of competition.

**Instruction and Feedback….

“Let the player figure it out”. A player centred approach (utilising questioning and identification of true coachable moments), towards guided discovery.

Coaching cues that promote an ‘external’ focus, as opposed to an ‘internal’ focus, are more effective in skill development and transfer. Simplified, you may consider the difference between instruction that looks inside or outside the body. Often, as I use in my coaching, Analogies are a great way to direct focus of attention without a player becoming too interested in individual body movements.

There is much more contained in the video below. I highly recommend you save this to your youtube favourites as reference material. Be sure to look out for my next “Coaches Corner” Live Interview in the next few weeks…




By Stuart Lierich

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!”


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!


By Stuart Lierich

Kicking 11

When it comes to the rather technical skill of kicking, it is critical that you as a coach view the process as a Whole of Body Movement, not merely a swing of the kicking leg.

This “whole of body” movement requires various segments of the body to move (and rotate) in a particular order (optimal progression). It’s critical that these body segments work as a team & in the right order, to establish control and quality contact with the kicking foot. It is also a known fact, through some research, that kicking is responsive to a wide range of constraints related to the *Player, *Task and the *Environment. For more on Practice Design to enhance learning and performance please click here for a recent article with contribution from Mark Upton of Sports Relations.

Players that kick with this WOBM are those you will recognise as “Fluent”, “Controlled”, “Smooth” & “Compact”
often appearing to kick effortlessly even late in a match when surely fatigued. This is a path of which I aim to travel with all players I work with, but varying circumstances can produce varying results. You must be patient as this is a process you need to competently facilitate.

One constant in a skilful kicker’s action is great timing at contact. It is a trademark of the “Whole of Body” kicking system. Made up of a number of important elements, namely “Arrival at Tee” and “Foot Speed”, optimal timing allows for greater control over outcomes and for the body to ‘efficiently’ create the movements. These efficient movements are ideal in that they use no more energy than is required to effectively complete the task.

Other areas of consideration that affect kicking performance include:

* Balance Control in the Support Leg

* Constraint of Range of Motion (particularly in novice kickers)

* Overall Control Over Balance and Posture

It should be our aim as coaches, to monitor and improve our players in this ‘mechanical’ (physical) area. Close relationships with your players and an understanding of movement principles will greatly assist the development of quality system and process. After all that is what kicking is!

Please watch the video presentation below for a more detailed explanation of “Whole of Body Movement” and its importance in effective kicking outcomes for rugby players.

By Stuart Lierich

Specialist Kicking Coach