Wednesday, May 08, 2013

A return to blogging ...

Well, I've not blogged for some time (maybe years ...), but was recently reminded of the value of continuing this effort after two separate coaches complimented me on my article on coaching the line out throw.

So I'm reinvigorated!

And moved to Colorado.  As many of my friends know I moved out here to coach Glendale and begin work on the Colorado Sports Ranch.  Coaching Glendale has come and on, with some great success and experiences, and now it's all about the Ranch.  You can be our friend on Facebook - we have lots of visitors, and hopefully will break ground on the lodge this summer.

Right now, I'm doing lots of coach education.  Got my IRB Trainer license since we all last spoke, and I've had an opportunity now to work with some coach and referee educators, which is a new challenge!

And which leads me to my opening blog post "Developing Decision Makers:  Asking the RIGHT questions".


Friday, October 14, 2011

Title misunderstood ...

The other day Pat Clifton wrote an editorial for Rugby Magazine on the state or college rugby in the US. He made an impassioned case for rugby at the varsity level, largely as an alternative to football, which is outrageously expensive. you can read it here...

I enjoyed Pat's article and agree.

The commenters, however, enraged me. Many of the comments were about Title IX, or, as one commenter called it, 'the elephant in the room'. He asserted that Title IX is what is holding rugby back from becoming a varsity sport, and that even if he came to the table with an outrageous amount of money, he wouldn't be able start a men's varsity program, because of Title XI. He didn't consider starting a women's program with the fictitious outrageous amount of money, which prompted another commenter to state 'thats exactly why we need Title IX.

The thread then turned to a discussion of ticket sales and the marketability of women's rugby, with lots of thumbs up about women's rugby not being as exciting as men's rugby, and how somehow has something to do with Title IX (to which I can't help but wonder, has he ever seen a high level women's match, or is he comparing d3 college women to the men in the rugby world cup?)

But I digress.

What enraged me was how much approval and agreement there was about how Title IX is a problem. While big time college sports like football and basketball do have a revenue component, most do not. Has anyone ever heard of a d2 wrestling or golf program generating revenue for a university? No. Because varsity sports a not about ticket sales, or marketability, or entertainment. Varsity sport programs exist for the players who participate. There are volumes of incontrovertible evidence that participating in well run, structured, competitive athletic program pay a lifetime of benefits. Athletes have greater academic success, use drugs less, have a lower incidence of unplanned pregnancy and STDs, and have a higher degree of success in the workplace. If I'm going to pay to send my hypothetical daughter to college, a college thats accepts public funds (the only schools that title IX applys to) then she damn well better have access to the same opportunities as my hypothetical son. I want them both to get all the benefits and personal growth that sports provide. THAT is why Title IX exists. It's not some BS wanna-be affirmative action program that hurts men's sports, that is, unless you think pushing out daughters to achieve and be successful is a waste of tax dollars.

If you ask me, we'd be better off lobbying the NCAA to reduce the number of football scolarships for third string kicking team, since just one of those would fund a rugby program, and two of them would fund two rugby programs, providing more athletes of both genders with an opportunity for personal growth and development, which is why they are in college in the first place. I DO NOT CARE if you think my hypothetical daughters game 'isn't exciting enough'. She isn't playing entertain you.

To the commenter who thinks that attendance differences for the finals of the women's and men's rugby world cup is a good reason to trash Title IX, here's a thought: for the first time last year, every women's rugby world cup game was sold out. We couldn't have sold more ticket if we wanted. So next time? We are going to need a bigger stadium. And I really hope you don't have any daughters.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Leagues, competition, and why we're our own worst enemy

You'd have to be living in a women's rugby vaccum to have missed all the upsets going on this season in the WPL.  The Surfers, freshly promoted to the WPL are tearing things up with a big road win against NY, and an even bigger home win against the Valks.  The Amazons are looking fabulous, and Berkley is back and again dominant with K-Flo at the helm.

However .... there's still talk about how hard it is to do all the traveling, how much money it costs, and speculation about how some of the top D1 clubs would match up with the struggling WPL clubs.  Teams are not going to away games at full strength, as the results last year showed and the results this year continue to show.   Out on, a poster brought up the promotion/relegation policy as being problematic.  I think it's bigger than that.

The goal of the WPL was to raise the level of competition for our top rugby athletes by pulling the top teams out and creating a nationwide premier league.   The vision was that 60, 70, 80-0 blowouts would be a thing of the past, and that each and every game would be challenging and competitive. Our former WNT staff was very committed to the success of the WPL, and current and prospective WNT players were pushed to play in the WPL.  Several players relocated, changed jobs, left clubs they'd been with for a long time to get into the WPL and play at a level that would get them the best chance at making the WNT.

What happened?  For the most part (with some exceptions), the same 4 clubs continued to dominate, and we finished in the same spot at the World Cup as we did in previous World Cups - 5th.

Our current WNT staff isn't aggressively promoting the WPL,  rather, they are directing players who aspire to play for the WNT to go overseas for experience.  As a result, players are moving back to the clubs they started with, going to clubs other than the perennial big 4, or going to the better D1 clubs for job, relationship, and quality-of-life reasons.

The result?  We're seeing it.  Traditional teams are being upset due to lack of personel, and new leaders are rising.   Will this be good or bad for our top level of competition?  Only time will tell.

Me personally, I don't think the WPL OR overseas play is the answer to improving out quality of competition.  I think we need to redefine our club experience.

Currently there is not alot of internal competition at the club level.  What I mean is, there are very few clubs where, at each and every practice, our best players are competitng for positional and game time.   When CIPP rolls are less than 30, you can bet you'll see the same faces week after week on the pitch.  Clubs are defined by the division they play in, rather than the development they provide.  Beantown is WPL, Atlanta is D1, the Atomic Sisters of NM are D2.  If you've got numbers, you're putting out a B side  squad whenever you can.

IMHO, this is a flaw in thinking, and a flaw in our development model.  In order for us grow the top athletes into top rugby players, they need to compete every week - in practice AND in games.  We can't do that if we continue to spread ourself so thin.   For the US to become a rugby superpower, and for HS and College players to have somewhere to go that provides them a true development environment, we've got to get over ourselves, and loosen up our vice grip on the single-side club model.

Imagine if you would, the potential strength of the following PROGRAMS, and the ability of the following PROGRAMS to provide week in and week out competion for players, as well as clearly defined pathways not only for players, but for coaches to move up the ranks:

Berkely + Fog
Philly + Keystone
Boston + Beantown
NY + Lions
Glendale + Black Ice
Seattle + Mudhens
and perhaps the most potent alliance of all   Valks + Amazons

Obviously we couldn't do this in smaller locations, but when's the last time you heard about the NFL or MLB team in Norman OK, Allentown PA, or Fort Collins CO? What I'm talking about is having a set of TRULY PREMIER organizations, that are defined by the overall strength of the organization, rather than by the strength of a handful of individual players.

These organizations could become massive powerhouses, with WPL, D1, D2, and U19 sides, maybe even and Old Girls side.  Coaching staffs would grow by leaps and bounds, and a "Director of Rugby" could provide a coach development structure to improve the skills of subordinate coaches, and provide mentorship to all, especially entry level coaches.   Each program could have positional and or skill specific coaches shared across multiple sides.  And, in response to our biggest challenge - MONEY - we'd have more dues paying members, more resources to leverage for fundraising and sponsorship, and more appeal to sponsors.  Our top sides would be able to travel strong!

Yes, this is the Commonwealth model.  I don't think we should "do things like England", because we are different in so many ways,  but it's not just England that uses this model, it's the whole world.  Except us.  Team rivalries and individual reluctance for positional competition at the club level are what holds us back.   I myself was in that thought trap for a good amount of time,  but now my thinking has shifted.

I heard about a comment made by one of our new WNT staff to a potential WNT player, when asked where she should play if she couldn't go overseas.   "Play for a team that will force you to compete for your position every week".  I couldn't agree more.  


It's been forever since I posted ....

I posted in about a year and a half, which is about a year and a quarter too long.  Since then I've moved on back to Colorado, where Ginger and I have our own little homestead on 70 acres.  We were recently approved to open the "Colorado Sports Ranch", a secluded facility for elite athletes to train at altitude, and we are throwing every penny we have at that project.

In rugby news, I'm entering my second year as the Head Coach of the Glendale Raptors.  Coaching at Glendale is pretty amazing - it really is Rugbytown USA.  No. REALLY.  As in the boundaries of the City of Glendale are marked by banners that say Rugbytown USA.

I am still doing Coach Development for USA Rugby, and it continues to be very rewarding.  This year I went to Anchorage, St George UT, Las Vegas, and Salt Lake City.  Last minute issues prevented me from joining the crew in Little Rock, but I'm sure there will be fun locations in the future!

So there you have it, a quick update.  I decided to revist this blog because there are still a ton of things to talk about.  We've had so much change in the last couple of years - new WNT staff, the creation of the WPL, restructuring of competitive leagues and collegiate structures, just a ton of stuff.

My next post will surely give anyone still reading something to comment about :)


Monday, February 15, 2010


My club, the Philadelphia Women's Rugby Football Club, has a fabulous opportunity this coming Saturday. We're playing a single 10 minute period, 6:00 PM, at the Wachovia Center, as a warmup to the Philadelphia Wings match against the Rochester Knighthawks. The Philadelphia Wings are a pro indoor lacrosse team, so we'll be playing rugby on their field.

Dimensions? 200 ft x 60 ft.

Obviously, we're not playing 15 on 15. We're playing 7 on 7. It's half PWRFC players, and half standout college players from local Philadelphia colleges. The players are terrific, but the space will be challenging.

It's turf, so it's that part is fine, BUT:

  • 60 ft x 200 ft
  • Boards instead of sidelines
  • A small "try zone" with curved ends (think: HOCKEY RINK)
  • more and more
  • Only 10 minutes to figure it all out and look good doing it
  • And most important, SAFETY SAFETY SAFETY!

Our plan was to meet with the ref and have a practice on a grass space that's marked off to the above perimeters, so all the players could get used to the space, but given that there is THREE AND A HALF FEET OF SNOW in Philly, with MORE COMING, that seems unlikely. Hopefully we'll be able to get on the turf early.

No matter what, it will undoubtedly be a good time and I know the crowd will get a great show. Our college players represent Temple, Drexel, Penn, LaSalle, and others, and we've got a solid base of offensive and defensive skills. And of course, all those Lacrosse fans will get a taste of rugby!

Come join us, support rugby, and help explain what the heck's going on to the person sitting next to you ... details can be found here:

Love to see you out there!


Friday, December 18, 2009

Youth Rugby debuts in South Philly!

On January 2nd, the Philadelphia Women's Rugby Football Club, in cooperation with the Schuylkill River Exiles RFC and the Eastern Pennsylvania Rugby Football Union, will be hosting a Rookie Rugby clinic in South Philly.

The clinic will take place on Saturday, January 2, from 10:00-2:00, at the Donald Finnegan Community Center (commonly known as "Gray's Ferry), located at 1231 S. 30th Street in South Philly.

The free clinic (lunch included for players!) hopes to leverage the excitement generated by the Invictus movie, as well as take advantage of the neighborhood kid's last days of winter break.

PWRFC trains and practices at Gray's Ferry, so the kids we're trying to reach are the same kids we see every day at practice. South Philly/Gray's Ferry is our second home, and it's time for us to share our love of rugby with the kids around us.

The Rookie Rugby model will be used to introduce the game in the morning, and after a lunch break we'll play several scrimmage-type games. The Rookie Rugby model focuses on fun, safe learning through small sided games, and is strongly suited for introducing the game to kids of a variety of ages.

A second session is planned for North Philly, details to follow soon.

For more information, contact me -


Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Coaching the Lineout Throw

I've seen dozens of coaches teach (or try) the lineout throw, and I myself have taught (or tried) to teach it to who knows how many players. I'm convinced that most of us out there are taking the wrong approach.

What's the first thing most coaches look at? Hand position. What's the first thing most coaches SHOULD look at? Outcome.

Let the thrower throw, and see where the ball goes. Then troubleshoot, but resist the urge to simply make them do it the way you did it when you played. The bottom line, the lineout throw is a study in ballistics. How far, how flat, how straight, and how fast does the projectile, in this case a rugby ball, go?

Points for observation:

  • Flight of the ball- is it wobbling, or, does it have a tight spiral (which helps with distance and speed, but really isn't all that important when starting out).
  • Path of the ball - is it straight, or are our jumpers consistently catching it on their side of the tunnel (or worse, are the defense's jumper catching it because it's thrown to them?)
  • Distance of the throw - simply, how far can the thrower throw?
  • Arc of the throw - is it a flat throw, a lob, or what? Does it drop right in on the jumper, or is it overthrow? If throwing to the back, is there enough arc to clear defensive jumpers?
  • Speed of the throw - how long does it take to get from point A to point B? If it's too slow, the defense will have time to contest, if it's too fast, maybe we need to adjust the timing of the jumpers
Once we've determined what's going on, prioritize what need to be troubleshot, and work from there. I like to proceed in this order, although what's most important to you may vary depending on the level of player you work with.

Straight Throw
Necessary Distance
Appropriate Arc
Necessary Distance Again
Appropriate Speed

A straight throw can win you a lineout to the front. As you build distance, you can win a lineout to the front moving backwards, a lineout to the second jumper, and a lineout to the back. That being said, the lineout to the back won't be won't be won consistenly without a suitable arc, so distance and arc need to be continually balanced. It does the team no good if your thrower can deliver a 20 meter bullet if it's snagged by the first defensive jumper.


Can your thrower deliver a straight ball? Don't worry about whether it's a one handed throw or a two handed throw (a big debate here in the US), just see if he or she can throw straight. If not, find out why ...

Where are the throwers hips pointed? If they aren't aligned with the tunnel, then the ball won't be aligned with the tunnel. Don't worry if its one foot up or two feet flat at this point, just look at their orientation to the tunnel. We can work with the feet when we work on power.

Had the hip alignment fixed the straightness of the throw, or is it still off? If it's fixed, great, if not, look at the thrower's follow through. Just like every other sport, if the follow through is off the throw will be off. I like to tell 2 handed throwers to "take a picture" of their target with every throw, to focus on the follow through. For one handed throwers, their delivery hand should be perfectly aligned to the target after every throw. There's lots of talk about weighting the hands, etc, but I find that those problems can be fixed with proper focus on the follow through. Even if the ball tumbles wildly, when the throwers hips are aligned to the tunnel, and when the thrower has perfect follow through at ball delivery, the ball will go straight.

Now that we have a straight throw, whats next? Does it have the power to carry it to the target? If not, take a look at the thrower, and see if you can tell where they are generating power from. Are their arms bend deeply behind the neck (indicating that power is generated through the triceps?) Are the leaning way back pre- throw (indicating that power is generated through the core)? Is the player taking a step forward (indicating power through the hips and legs?) Is there a big wrist snap?

Once you know where player is generating power, you can make work through techniques to generate more power. Focus on using the largest muscles (hips, legs, core) for maximum power generation. Let the player work on their throw while lying flat on the grown, to let them explore power generation from the core, and from a kneeling position to add the hips to the equation. If the player really needs more, add a step. But whatever you do at this phase, don't loose sight of the first phase - straight.

Trajectory (ARC)
In order to be a successful thrower, the ball must not only fly straight and true, but it must have enough arc to clear defensive jumpers, so we can attack quickly off the back. The trajectory of the ball is directly related to the release point. That is, the point in the throw where the thrower actually lets go of the ball. Since we want the ball to clear a jumper, and then drop in on OUR jumper, the highest point in the are is actually going to be in front of our target, so first off, our thrower need to visualize the path of the ball, and then use the peak of the arc as his or her target, and the point where he or she directs the follow through.

Sounds difficult? Maybe, maybe not. If your player has trouble clearing defensive jumpers, or dropping the ball in on a target, let them spend some time throwing over the goalpost. I like to set up a tire underneath and about a meter behind the goal post, and ask the thrower to put the ball in the tire. With repetition, they will learn specifically how they need to adjust their release point, most often without any input from me. As the player gets the concept, you can start throwing over jumping pods. The player will learn that, in order to put and appropriate arc on the ball, he or she needs to release it earlier, so it goes up, in addition to forward.

Distance, AGAIN

As this point, many players, especially younger players, will begin to struggle. Why? Well, when your throwing those big lobs, much of the distance is eaten up in height. That is, an arc is longer than a straight line. So, to be REALLY good throwing to the back, the player must work on trajectory as well as distance. This is a great time to revisit power generation, and remind players how to generate power through their big muscles - specifically their core. I like for players to work on the "Crunch Throw" at this point. Let the player lie on the ground with knees bent and feet firmly planted in the ground. Let then then throw to a standing partner. It's important that the throw happen AS the player crunches to the top, not AFTER, and that the learning re-inforced is that power comes from the core, not from the arms.


Speed is really the finishing touch. Adding the speed component enhances everything - the ball flies truer, further, and, obviously, faster. This is the "spiral". There are many thoughts on how to get the magic spiral that carries with it the gift of speed, here are my thoughts.

It's different for everyone. My personal technique for generating a spiral is to simply use a finger to put a little english on the ball as it leaves my hand. When I work with players, though, I don't assume that they will be throwing exactly the way I do, so we experiment. I like to have each player grab a ball, and genty toss it over head, with the goal of making it spin. They can do it with a thumb, a forefinger, with the throw hand, or with the guide hand. If the player is throwing one handed, he or she can "roll" the fingers off the ball as it leaves the hand, just as if throwing a football spiral (which lets face it, Americans, players can throw football spirals). Whatever method your players use to spin the ball, the key now is to make sure they throw the same way, EVERY SINGLE TIME. The bottom line: If you can shoot one bulls eye, you can shoot 100, as long as you do it the same way every time. Since the spiral is so intimately tied to hand position, a good way to remind players of their key factors, is to simply have them go through a pre-check at every lineout:

Feet .... Hips... Hands ...

Feet and hips are a reminder to align the body with the tunnel ... Hands is a reminder to use whatever hand position works, consistently and meticulously. At this point the thrower is ready to throw.

Target ... Power ... Follow Through
Target ensures the thrower knows WHERE he or she is aiming for ... Power reminds the thrower to use the core, and not the arms, to throw, and finally, Follow Through reminds the player to meticulously follow through directly to the target, wherever it may be.

Lisa Rosen is a USA Rugby and IRB Coach Educator and the Head Coach of the Philadelphia Women's Rugby Football Club. She has worked with and continues to work with USA Rugby's age grade National Team programs, has completed the USA Rugby/IRB Advanced Coaching Course, and is the Head Coach of the Mid-Atlantic U-23 Women's All Stars, 2 time National All Star Champions.


Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The Advanced Coaching Course - Better Late than Never

The final weekend of the 2009 Advanced Coaching Course wound up this fall, and I regret I've been remiss in my blogging, so here we go.

It was tough. Bottom line, the course, if completed, serves to professionalize your approach to coaching. While in the early training sessions we did some practical coaching modules, it became clear that the purpose of those modules was to ensure that participating coaches understand and by into the notion of coaching across a continuum, and that the coaches are on board with using player-centered coaching methods. Once that gate is passed, the emphasis of the course shifts to game analysis, player and team profiling, year long periodization cycles, and technical growth.

It was tough. Can I say that again? First off, I was the only coach in attendance who was not currently a Super League or National Team coach. I got very lucky getting into the program, and was able to do so through my role as a course leader, participating in the Elite coaching course, and via my stalking of Nigel Melville. Essentially, someone dropped out of the course and I was in the right place, LITERALLY, at the right time, and was able to fill the seat last minute.

The very first session was a bit intimidating - we did game analysis and practical coaching. We coached players, and our peers. EVERYTHING, and I mean EVERYTHING we did, we presented to our peers, to the facilitors, and the instructors. Now, by peers, I mean super league and national team coaches. Admittedly it took me a little while to get over the sticker shock of coaching some of the most well known names in the American game, but thanks to the facilitators and mentors (all very senior IRB and USA folks), the shock didn't last too long and I was able to move on (whew!).

There was a significant amount of attrition in the course, which lasted for 1 year and included 3 face-to-face workshops and about a zillion deliverables. Recently the announcement went out for applicants for the 2010 cycle, and here's my recommendation to anyone thinking about it. If you aspire to run your team and your own coaching practice as a professional, DO IT. If you are in it to get a feather in your cap, a stamp on your resume, or to just rub shoulders with the various guest coaches and the attendees, don't do it. The shoulder rubbing part is certainly one of the best parts of the course, but IMHO, that privilege should be reserved for the few coaches who really want to bring their entire coaching practice to the next level - not just their technical knowledge. The technical knowledge we were exposed to, from both guest coaches and from each other, was tremendous, but without the analysis, profiling, and planning pieces, it really doesn't carry the same bang.

If anyone's got any questions about the course, or is thinking about doing it, etc .. please don't be shy about asking, or if you were a participant, don't be shy about commenting. Personally, I thought it was a fabulous experience, and I'm still processing everything I came away with. But it was hard. It was challenging, thought provoking, and time consuming, and really forced you to examine how you do things, whether your serving your team and your players to the best of your abilities, and more than anything, it reminded me of how much ALL of us still have to learn. Hopefully we are creating a community of coaches who all want to move the practice forward, and even more, hopefully the next class of coaches will continue and push the envelope even further.