Teaching The Game

Rugby coaches, in many ways, must act like teachers. Their principal job is to help players and teams learn something new and overcome challenges as they are presented. In order to teach principles and skills related to rugby, there are a number of teaching skills coaches should work to develop. This unit is designed to help you instruct others on what you have learned about the game of rugby.

This section is the most important and often overlooked aspect to coaching that is a very important first step to the coaching process. We have outlined below what to expect out of this section. When you have completed this unit, you should be able to do the following:

  • Understand USA Rugby’s commitment to coaching excellence and expectations for coaches to seek continuing education
  • Understand how asking questions is used as a successful coaching technique
  • Commit to coaching with a game-like approach as a core method of developing players
  • Understand and teach the basic principles of play and how they relate to the game
  • Understand how to lead training activities and develop players using these principles and key factors as the basic building blocks of learning the game of rugby
  • Understand the steps within the coaching process and different coaching styles to determine what works best for their team

Coaching Process

As you develop and grow in your coaching technique/philosophy, you will be given more advanced tools to assist in this journey. These educational resources will help you effectively connect with your players. This section will add more tools to your coaching resource tool belt.

As rugby continues to grow, more and more parents, teachers, and former players are stepping up to help by learning to become coaches. If you are new to coaching, sometimes it is difficult to articulate your knowledge of the game and transfer it onto your players. For new coaches to gain a full understanding of the different coaching styles, phases of the instructional process, and the importance of asking questions, it helps to listen to real life experiences. Understanding and modeling best practices of the coaching process are the basic fundamentals to help coaches start the art of teaching this unique game.

In order to make sure they make a smooth transition from the sidelines to the center of the action, USA Rugby in conjunction with the IRB (International Rugby Board) has developed a template for delivering information during training sessions. A desired process for instructing players includes the following four phases:

  • I. Instruction and Explanation Phase

    • Coaches should provide details to the players about what the goal of the activity is, the sport-specific context, and what the desired outcome is for the training session.
  • II. Demonstration Phase

    • Especially when new skills or techniques are being introduced, showing how to perform a skill helps players to understand the desired actions. It is important to prepare the demonstration beforehand so that it is as clear and effective as possible.
  • III. Observation and Analysis Phase

    • As players attempt to imitate the demonstrated actions, coaches should watch the players' performance and compare what they see to the shared goals and key points determined in the instructional phase.
  • IV. Feedback Phase

    • At the close of the session, coaches should use open-ended questions to determine if the goals were achieved and players’ perceptions of the session match the coach’s observations. This phase is critical to the development of both the players and the coach.

Each of these phases is an important component of the coaching process. A proper balance of all phases helps players to develop at a rapid pace. Within the structure of this coaching process, there are a few additional best practices and areas of awareness that also help coaches to succeed.


Principles


Rugby is a unique sport and some portions of the game can seem confusing when first presented. A prime example is that when players move the ball forward they must pass the ball backwards. This is certainly a different concept than many popular American sports. In order to provide coaches and players with a basic framework to explain the game, the principles of play were established. These principles are split in to two specific categories of attack (team with the possession of the ball) and defense (team without the ball). Note that position on the field does not dictate whether a team is attacking or defending, instead it is determined by who has possession of the ball. The basic principles of rugby rely on this contest for possession, continuity of play, efforts to regain possession, and the fact that it is a multi-faceted game. To preserve the unique nature of the sport of rugby, the International Rugby Board has established the following principles of attack and defense:

Principles of Attack

  1. Gain Possession
  2. Go Forward
  3. Support
  4. Maintain Continuity
  5. Apply Pressure
  6. Score!

Principles of Defense

  • Contest Possession
  • Go Forward
  • Apply Pressure
  • Prevent Territorial Gains
  • Support
  • Regain Possession
  • Counter Attack

These principles form the backbone of the sport of rugby. They are an essential tool in developing athletes and teams. Coaches can and should link all that they do back to these key components of the sport.


Games

Using a game-like training activity has many benefits including enhanced conditioning, intensity, and improvements in decision-making. The more game-like changes are added to traditional drills, the closer training sessions come to mirroring what actually happens in a rugby match. Practice how you play!

Three types of games we can use while training:

  1. Small-sided games - Small sides, fast action, defense and attack
  2. Conditioned games - Isolate skills with constrained rules
  3. Game situations - Game-like situations to test skills under pressure

Advantages of coaching using games

  • Match-like
  • Decision-making
  • Complementary
  • Skills based
  • Diversity
  • Problem solving
  • Fitness
  • Motivation
  • Repetition
  • Competition
  • Team building
  • Full-on activity

Questioning

But how can we ensure our players are learning? How can we identify what information they are obtaining or why they decide to make certain decisions on the field? What about the simple but effective art of questioning?

What can we use questioning to check for?

  • Knowledge: Do our players recall, reproduce, and list a given piece of knowledge?
  • Comprehension: Do they understand what this knowledge represents?
  • Application: Can they apply this knowledge to a game situation?

Can our players manipulate this knowledge? Specifically...

  • Analysis: Can they compare, contrast, examine, and test the knowledge with other inputs?
  • Synthesis: Can they collect, assemble, integrate, and organize similar pieces of knowledge?
  • Evaluation: Can they appraise, choose, compare, predict, and evaluate use of knowledge?

Use questioning to understand the players comprehension of the strategies, tactics, and skills of the game:

Convergent: Leads to a specific answer(s)
Ex. Which teammate is your best passing option?
Divergent: Leads to multiple answers
Ex. What are at least 3 things you and your teammates can do to create more passing options?

This is also known as effective questioning.


Best-Practices

Next you will watch a video of one of our IRB licensed Course Leaders bring players through a game during practice. Please watch carefully as it will visually bring you through the Coaching Process. Notice she models and uses each step of the coaching process during one drill. As you move forward through the course and into the next steps of certification, you as a USA Rugby Coach will be expected to use and model this process.


Whole-Part-Whole


Whole vs. Part Practice-Coaches often reflect on what method of instruction is best to use when teaching skills. The main objective of this unit is to describe various tools and techniques coaches should use when developing and implementing training activities.

As discussed in the Games section, the goal for all USA Rugby certified coaches is to develop training activities and coaching practices that mirror environments similar to match competition. After a principle of the game has been selected, designing the training activity is the next logical step.

If there is a limited amount of risk involved in a specific skill or activity it is perfectly acceptable, if not encouraged, for a coach to let the players play right away! The closer training activities mimic game situations, the faster athletes will develop their skills. The practice of the Whole-Part-Whole coaching technique focuses on limited direct instruction and more athlete discovery.


Progressions


Progressions can be used in multiple but effective ways:

  • Building up to a specific technique, ex. Using progressions to tackle correctly
  • Building on a specific skill
  • Building a practice
  • Building a season
  • Building a team
  • Building a program

As a coach, using progressions ensures that players understand what you are trying to teach them by demonstrating each component. It also ensures that we as coaches do not over teach or over complicate the game. We have to understand that players can walk before they run, or in game of rugby, pass and catch before running a passing line, or running a passing line before executing a switch. It is important that we coach techniques this way and set up our practice sessions to compliment this. We as coaches need to be patient with our players and use our practices to progress them through the game.


The Coaching Continuum


As you look back at your own athletic careers, what qualities did the best coaches you came in contact with possess? Some common answers to this question relate to teaching abilities, sense of humor, caring and concern for others, and many more positive attributes. The purpose of this section is to help coaches understand that coaching exists on a continuum that ranges from directed to guided coaching styles. There are specific situations where different coaching styles must be applied to ensure the safety and enjoyment of all athletes. It is the goal of USA Rugby to develop athlete-centered coaches who work to enable athletes to perform at their best while enjoying all the benefits rugby has to offer. The beauty of rugby is that the more players are forced to make decisions, the more our coaches can adapt to a style that encourages this type of critical thinking, the greater our athletes will perform. It starts with coaches at the grass roots all the way to the national stage!

These descriptions offer two very different ends of the coaching continuum. As you move along the scale of coaching styles within context and task based activities, it is important to notice the differences. An athlete-centered coach tends to adopt more guided coaching practices. If you were to attend their trainings, you would be likely to witness less structured activities taking place. There would also be less explicit instruction and a greater amount of player freedom and decision-making going on. Take note of who is doing most of the talking during the instructional segments; athlete-centered coaches often ask questions to pull information for the player pre-existing knowledge. A training led by an athlete-centered coach may even look a bit chaotic as they encourage players to work out how best to master a skill-based game. Except when specific elements of safety are being addressed, there are likely few direct commands being given to athletes as they develop their skills.


Key Factor Analysis (KFA)

The building blocks of any skill or sport-related activity are called key factors. Coaches use key factors as a means of communicating the parts of the skills and the behaviors they want athletes to perform on a regular basis. An important coaching tool that all coaches must use is Key Factor Analysis (KFA). This process breaks skills down into their component parts, which when performed correctly and in sequence, will enable players to execute the skills. KFA provides coaches with a fixed skill template to compare players’ performance against and helps coaches identify which steps the athletes are performing incorrectly. Coaches can then focus on the areas that provide the most benefit to player performance.

An example of a key factor template for strong body position in a pre-contact situation is as follows:

Key Factor Template: Pre-contact Body Position:

  1. Head in neutral position with eyes looking forward
  2. Feet shoulder width apart
  3. Core tensed
  4. Shoulders above hips
  5. Knees bent and pelvis tilted forward
  6. Chest out with a flat back

Part-Part-Whole

As coaches are developing practice plans, they must consider a number of factors, but most importantly, they should be concerned with safety. As there is potential for injury in specific contact elements of the game of rugby due to the complexity of certain skills, it is appropriate to break down instructions into smaller pieces. This coaching technique is known as Part instruction.

For example: When introducing activities such as scrummaging and tackling, coaches must gradually progress athletes through the learning process.

In situations where safety is a major concern, coaches should instruct the parts of the skill first. The Part-Part-Whole approach to coaching is the safest and most effective method of providing instruction, especially for contact-oriented elements of the sport. In Part-Part-Whole instruction, the coach first introduces and demonstrates the movements with regard to the key factor template. They then assist athletes in developing skills through controlled movements and directions until they have observed an appropriate level of skill mastery. After multiple repetitions and adequate understanding has been observed, it is then safe to progress. The coach then moves into explaining and directing athletes as they practice the whole activity. In the case of a scrum, a coach may explain, demonstrate, and observe the body position prior to scrum engagement, then allow players to bind together in a 1-on-1 sequence, and finish by allowing players to compete by pushing past a set marker. Part-Part-Whole practice gradually introduces key factors so players learn difficult skills in a comfortable and safe environment.


Drill vs. Skill


A drill vs. a skill development is a very important concept in the game of rugby. As a coach it is essential for you to have a basic understanding of this concept and apply it to your coaching. At practice when you run a drill, what is your goal or outcome? Is your focus on execution? What determines success for your drill? When running a drill, make sure that you are focusing on improving particular skills that give players the tools to execute a successful skill. Your drill should offer repetition of a particular skill in order to successfully complete the drill. As a coach you should be able to observe improvement in the player’s skill development as he/she moves through the drill. The ultimate way to observe players' skill development is to create a game like environment when they are required to use their skill under pressure while making decisions. Running a drill against opposition is the only way to ensure this improvement.