Monday, February 11, 2008

Yesterday's Scrum Clinic

So yesterday we had the last in a series of 3 scrummaging clinics for the U23 women here in Marfu. Previous clinics were held in EPRU and PRU, yesterday we traveled to James Madison University in VRU.

What a terrific day! First of, Harrisonburg is beautiful, and our hosts JMU and VRU were terrific. Thanks so much to Roshna (who in addition to coaching JMU, has been on the MARFU U23 staff for several years and works with the VRU U23s as well). There was a tremendous amount of wind, but it turned out not to be nearly as cold as it could have been.

The best part - despite the cold weather and the earliness of the season, nearly 50 players showed up. We've hovered around 40 the previous clinics, but in both EPRU and PRU, we opened it up to men's college programs to increase numbers. No need for that this time - with players from JMU, Virginia Tech, UVA, University of Maryland, and the Stingers among other teams, we had plenty of participation. Every single player had a great attitude and was eager to learn.

My esteemed asst coaches Kristin Aliberto and Stacy Baker, both currently with the Philadelphia Women's Rugby Club, MARFU senior side players, and WNT pool players, did as always a tremendous- job. We were able to keep all the players engaged, get everyone lots of repetition, and trickle down some of the current scrummaging practices.

We've managed to hone the format for these clinics, and since this is after all a blog about coaching, I thought it worthwhile to share the format for the masses, in case there's something that y'all in the blogosphere can add to or take from it.

Warmup & orientation: about 15 minutes
Introducing the repetitive execution of the individual set-up profile: about 15 minutes.

We then sliced up the players into 4 groups, as much as possible keeping them in their team units, and worked through a 3 station circuit:

station 1: core agility. If you've seen the stuff that Bill LeClerc's been doing, you're familiar with this. Various types of planks, "angry cat", and everyone's favorite, the 2 person-fireman-around-the-back-scoochie thing. Usually Angie is available for the 2 person-fireman-around-the-back-scoochie thing, but alas she couldn't make it this time. Apparently there was some sort of gummy-clearance sale at the Gummy and Sugar Warehouse.

station 2: solo work on the predator, focusing on a) picture perfect body position b) sustained pressure c) quickness across the tunnel

station 3: harness work, progressing from solo to groups of 4. I'll post an image or two later about this - basically it's a fantastic tool for teaching players EXACTLY how to apply pressure, how to use the ground as their source of power, how to transfer from the ground through their legs and core to their shoulders to create forward drive. It's hard work, but its fantastic work. This station has a 30 minute duration to the other two's 15.

So, the station work takes about an hour and at the end there's little doubt in anyones mind about how to generate power, what body position is the most effective, and what areas the individual players need to improve in.

After this, we went to one-on-one engagements, focusing on transferring the great body position learned earlier to a competitive situation. We work from the ground up, and focus on using the knees as a spring, to transfer your opponent's kinetic energy into your potential energy, and how to channel all your power into "go forward", rather than "go up or down".

Once all the coaches had time to work with the individual pairs, we introduced some binding concepts, previews what we would cover after the break, had some Q&A, and broke for lunch.

Well, not everyone. We spent about 20 minutes with the hookers and 8s, having them work together on releasing the "brake", timing the strike with extra pressure from the 8, and letting the 8 work on their body position and timing out of the gate for pick attacks. At the same time, we worked with the flankers - showing them how to take the power of the scrum and use it to improve their speed and explosiveness off the scrum. Ie, it is possible to watch the ball, think about what comes after the scrum, AND actually drive.

Once the whole group returned, the real fun started.

With each of the 4 groups, we worked on speed of engagement, and movement as a unit. Too often, the players in the scrum wind up "chasing" the front row into the engagment, creating an accordian-type effect. We used something we've been calling "scrummaging sprint starts" to teach players how to apply and maintain pressure from the back to the front, how to use their binds to preserve as much individual power as possible, how to react to pressure from behind, and how to explode, like a sprinter, across the tunnel. We start this process in groups of 3 (2 + 1, position irrelevant), and build to groups of 8. This is when everything starts coming together, and the players go through the setup sequence the learns as individuals, only now as a group. This takes about 20-30 minutes, and once the full 8 person start looks good, we start doing reps on the predator.

At this point - we're working in full packs. We like to take a few reps on the predator, do some starts, and challenge another pack. We continue like this, tweaking, getting faster, and challenging, for the remainder of the day. As the groups get better and better, we can advance. One of my favorite exercises is to the have the groups work as "cooperative competitors" to move up, back, left, and right. This sort of movement is only possible when the players focus on solid body position, balance, core tension, and collective movement ... EIGHT AS ONE. We did this for about 45 more minutes, until we sensed the players were reaching the saturation point. At about 2:15, we wrapped up for the day. It was a hugely fulfilling day - most college players seldome get to spend even 30 minutes working on their own individual scrummaging skills, let alone 4 hours.

So t was a really good rugby day, and I'm starting to get pumped about the spring club season and the U23 Territorial season.

Thanks again to Roshna and the JMU hosts, but especially to Kristin and Stacy, who have really grown into terrific young coaches. Thanks guys!


Dan said...

Sounds like a brilliant day.

When it comes out, I would recommend watching the session by Geoff Moon at the RFU Coaching Conference Nov 07 on DVD.

Dispelled a few myths plus some great tips for scrummaging.

Try this one.

Bend at the hips before you bend at the knees for a straighter back position.


Meredith said...

Lisa's right there with you, Dan. Our cadence is "Flat! Sink!" to emphasize exactly that.

Angie said...

Ha, sorry I missed this one..I love nothing more than the fireman carry with Baker..cant pass up gummy.....(very funny lisa!)