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Coaching Decision Making in Junior Rugby
“For all its physical character, rugby is a thinking game” – Sir Brian Lochore
There are many attributes required to be an effective rugby player but none has been as under coached, particularly at youth levels as decision making. Coaches have always appreciated good decision makers and are always in search of them, but until relatively recently coaches have not focused on how to develop it in their players. Decision making is the ability to analyse a situation (attack or defence), formulate a range of possible options, then pick and act upon the most appropriate one. The more experienced a player gets at making correct decisions the more their decisions lend themselves to being intuitive.
Feedback to both the player and team is a critical part of the development process, particularly in relation to confidence. Players need to have faith in the playing system, their decisions and the coaches. Players need to know whether mistakes are technical or tactical or both. Coaches then need to address the appropriate aspect. These guidelines can be incorporated into individual, unit or team practices. The building blocks for the development process must include progress through ball familiarization, drill activities and then skill activities. A drill activity is the execution of an action in a non game-like situation and a skill activity is the incorporation of decision making into game like activities. In essence use drills to perfect an action and skill based activities to teach the game.
As with all coaching, players need a sequential thought process, I call this a mental check list, that allows them to self analyse what is required of them. As the facilitator the coach is then able to question against this sequential process in order to analyse the decisions that were made. By breaking the game into small scenarios where the influencing factors are in favor of making the right decision the player is able to gradually build up a more complete understanding of the game. Gradually these scenarios can be progressed from easy to complex but they must be game like in nature.
The challenge for rugby clubs is to ensure that coaches understand the core skills that players require as they progress through the age grades. Coaches need to develop player’s body movements and get them to rely more on subtle skills rather than physical dominance. This requires coaches to be exposed to the latest developments in the game. Rugby club’s must have a long term development plan which covers all aspects of coach and player development within the club.
In conclusion the ability to make effective decisions is critical to the game of rugby. There is obviously still the need for players to be fit and accomplished performers, but equally players must have an understanding of the game to make effective decisions. Educators have long known that we gain a better understanding of concepts through active learning, it is time for coaches to embrace this also. A team of players with a sound knowledge of the game, who have spent time reading the same cues and making the same related decisions, whether it be from first phase, as a ball carrier or a player in support will demonstrate a unity and continuity on the field that will prove formidable. All players want to win but by discovering for themselves why and how to perform they will also develop into more rounded players, and as coaches this must be our goal.
The above article is contributed by Brent Frew, a member of the Canterbury Rugby Union’s Coach Rugby Development Unit. Thanks Brent.
What stands out for me from the article is that decision making, as with kicking and throwing, is a product of a process. However, unlike kicking and throwing, the process is not visible, only the outcome, and is as Brent suggests, a long term procedure which requires co-operation from grade coach to grade coach as the player moves through their hands i.e. a long term development plan. What’s your thoughts.
Why not email them to Brent at : firstname.lastname@example.org
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