Wednesday, July 18, 2007

On the definition of high level rugby ....

Along with the idea of "high level coaching", we often speak of and hear of "high level rugby". This summer I've an an opportunity to attend a variety of high level rugby events, and observe both the players and coaches in action.

So what's the difference between "high level rugby" and the rest of the rugby? How do we as coaches get "high level rugby" to happen? Is it in fact happening here in the US, or are we kidding ourselves when we use the term?

Certainly "high level rugby", as I see it, requires more than just highly skilled athletes. It's about the team's ability to make collective decisions, on the fly, to overcome the defense, or, defensively, overcome the offense. That much I feel sure of.

What about the individual players and their skills? Do we teach players progressively, ie level 1, 2, 3 skills? Or, do we teach the skill at the highest level, and progressively coach to success?

If the skill set does not have a safety component, I say go for it. I'm tired of seeing players who have been told "just run forward" by their coach, simply because they are new. I'm tired of the athleticism being coached out of players in order to facilitate better ball retention. Here's an example if that doesn't make sense.

A player with a couple of years of college experience, very athletic, good power and size, comes to a camp or a practice. Nearly 100% of the time, he or she chooses to "take the contact" offensively. Why? Because they've been told FIRST learn to hit someone, hold onto the ball in contact, and place the ball. By the time they were "ready" to learn how to pass through contact or run evasively, they had already developed habits and muscle memory to do exactly the opposite. So, to coach them through to this next skill level, we need to deconstruct what they've worked so hard to get good at.

So what's the answer? Do we coach how to run evasively and pass FIRST, and then teach all the ball retention pieces? This method will undoubtedly result in lots of 50-50 passes and lost balls in contact.

We can take a whole-part-whole approach to things, but this is really hard, and takes a willingness by coaches to let failure occur, let players struggle, and sometimes, lose games in the interest of developing skilled decision makers. Using this approach, the decision making about WHEN to pass happens a whole lot sooner, but we need to continually go back to the pieces and tweak the pass, the body control in contact, etc.

What would you describe as "high level skills" as opposed to "beginner or intermediate" skills? How do you know "high level rugby" when you see it? Or, is high level rugby simply what happens when EVERYONE on the pitch is fit enough to accomplish their jobs at a moderate level?

And more so, how to you "teach" high level rugby? How do they do it outside the states? And really, how many of us who "say" we coach high level rugby are actually doing that? Seriously ... ?


Em said...

You know, I love your example, b/c it describes me. It is been a real, ongoing struggle to convince myself to do something with the ball other than take it into contact.

chiefcua said...

I think that you make a great point with regards to developing the individual over grasping the win, which I think is a whole topic unto itself, but I look at some of the players on the MARFU-u23 team, Sherri for example, who in a very, very short amount of time went from learning the bare bones game to making the National pool. I think that one of the advantages that she has had, is the fact that the majority of her coaching has been at a higher level of rugby. When you begin to coach a player in the vien of "these are your options" (take into contact, pass, tactically kick, or evasion) it dosent allow too much of the muscle memory to take place. But on that same note, Sherri is also an amazing athlete who CAN do all of those options with great success, I am not sure if I could coach ALL of those options to majority of my current players.

So I guess my point is, given athletic players, one can coach more decision critical play.

Deanna said...

I agree that optimally, you want to teach players decisioning making early and often. However, I have concerns about safety issues. Although I constantly try to emphasize to my players that going into contact is the last option we end up working on the point of contact in practice a lot because they need to know how to do this safely and with confidence. I agree 100% that teaching other options is critical, and as the team as advanced more we are able to do more of that but given that. Dealing with the point of contact means address safety as well as ball retention issues. My first season coaching we had more concussions than I can count and that number has decreased tremendously. I'm pretty happy about that.

I think your point about letting players make mistakes is great. It is the only way to learn. I think one of the hardest thing to overcome (especially coaching women) is the player's fear of making mistakes. There is a general culture that mistakes are bad- and I think that is the wrong attitude. Trying to instill the notion that mistakes are OK (as long as you learn from them and work hard to make up for them) has been the hardest thing of all to teach. I'm still not convinced I've been successful.