How do we get training to really work?

Norm the Center

I know how often a coach makes careful preparations for his practice only to find when he gets there that circumstances have changed - that his best two players have 'flu or have to work late and so all the painstaking preparation he has done goes overboard. Those who coach at levels where this cannot happen are lucky and in a way have it easy, for the others have be able to work impromptu and so must have quite a repertoire of coaching games and different warm-up drills.

When I was 33 years of age I was unfortunate enough to have as a coach (he was wonderful man but a painful coach) who made us run 33 times around a field before the practice really started in earnest. The lights were bad so many of us would try to take a lap or two off by hiding in the shadows. He usually found us, though. That became my last year of rugby.

Any player will tell you that there is nothing quite so boring as a practice-session that is repeated ad nauseam week after week until the close of the season. There is no doubt that players work better when they enjoy what they are doing in practices and in matches. I also believe it is better to work on short, sharp sessions, lasting as long as the match does. Having worked briefly with a representative side I can vouch for how grumpy and uninspired players become after a heavy week of thrice-daily training so that by the time they get onto the field on Saturday they have little left to give and are flat. Too many coaches are so obsessed with fitness that they forget about recovery- which is just as important and perhaps even more so.

There is nothing better than a session in the pool to achieve that end, especial if you have someone trained in bio to take that session. If you and your side take the game seriously and have the opportunity to do this you should, especially on Sunday after the game (I think, but am no boffin), that they, the experts, call it de-toxifying). I do know it works wonders.

Practices in some ways get easier as the season progresses, skills are learned, techniques mastered, patterns developed but the problem for the coach is: "How do I keep it fun?" Obviously the coaches first object is to work on the errors evident in the previous match played and that, too, is fairly easy. If you were the Springbok coach what would you work on after the Irish Test? If you were the England coach, what would you work on after the Argentinian test? Can you work out a practice session that would suit, that would benefit positively and immediately? Well, if you are a coach, you have to and it will work better if it is enjoyable.

First of all, vary your warm-ups. If your players are senior players they can do their own stretching but it is anyway very easy to pick up a good stretching routine through which you can put them. Most trainers nowadays like to start with some sort of running- touch, or one-down or some such, then a stretch (just the opposite of what we used to do- except for my bloody coach).

Build up a repertoire of different warm-ups- double-touch for example, "basketball" if you have use of a full field, "baseball" is another fun game. Change it for each practice. One I like is where you pair players off. They must face each other, hands on each other's shoulders, and then the one must attempt to tramp on the other's toes with either foot. The fellow who is being tramped on tries to dance out of the way without breaking the hands-on-shoulder contact. When you blow the whistle, the roles are changed. It is great fun, tires you quickly and generates howls of laughter.

Another good one in these days when strong upper body and shoulders are so important is hitting the "punchbag”, in other words the contact shields. It is quite hard on the hands though but many sports dealers do sell light sparring gloves for this very purpose. Pair off again, one partner carrying the contact shield. With a blast on the whistle, the other fellow lays into the bag raining as many punches on the as he can, left and right hand. Give them a minute, then blow whistle. They will be exhausted! Now the other fellow. Do it three or four times- then you see what they look like!

Players are competitive so the more training games you can use the happier the players will be. If you feel your mauling was poor on Saturday, go through the basics, then design a game which involves mauling only and make it competitive- even if the competition is against a contact-shield or in performing better than your partner. If you set your mind to it you can always come up with something.

No coach should ever be happy to be humdrum. Humdrum coaches make humdrum teams.

Courtesy Planet Rugby

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