There is a great debate going on now about when mini coaches should be able to teach U9 players to tackle as opposed to when they are allowed to under the new RFU regulations. Reports of some rugby clubs already having tackle training for their U9s have been floating around the rugby community and previous experience and observations would suggest that there is more to these than just rumour.
One of the biggest frustrations I have as a coach is seeing all of the hard work and effort of the Under 7s and Under 8s age groups completely ignored for the first four weeks of the new season as coaches who are new to the game or to coaching encourage players to “smash” tackle shields. All the running into space and evasion skills are forgotten as players and coaches focus on contact and contact alone.
Why? Well the RFU regulations have now compressed the training of this element of the game into a period of four weeks to safely teach young players the core skills of tackling, rucking and mauling. The new regulations and the last few versions of the continuum (the rules for the U7s to U12s age groups) expressly forbid the coaching of tackling to this age group until the start of September of their Under 9 season (there is much discussion as to reasons for this, but it would seem that it is an insurance cover requirement more than a skills coaching issue). For the sake of this piece I’ll ignore the shaping the game changes as the transition from TAG to contact remains the same in general. Maybe the next piece will be my thoughts on that pilot.
Players are often walked through a tackle from a stationary position on their knees to a situation were the attacker is running towards them. This is the area where I believe things start to go wrong. By helping to teach players to tackle “passive” attackers, coaches program those attackers to run straight into the defenders. The same programming happens as soon as a tackle shield is brought into play.
The players with the tackle shield (who should be representing attacking players) either stand still or move up in a straight line. Tacklers need to move and players who are attackers need to see and attack space!
However, as a parent, coach and observer of this transition over a good number of seasons my opinion remains that the vast majority of these players look forward to the contact aspect of the game and see it as the start of playing ‘real’ rugby. Well, real rugby isn’t just smashing things and neither is it just running into space. The joy of the game is that it is a mixture of the two. There is a skill in communicating this to young players and new coaches who were formerly front row forwards and think that a good contact session is what the players need.
The coaching, therefore, also needs to be a mixture of the two elements; evasion and contact. Players who are behaving as attackers for an exercise need to behave as attackers and look for and attack space, whilst defenders must not assume that attackers will run in a way that will almost assist in making the tackle.
I agree that there is a need for the ‘health & safety’ approach to the contact aspect of the game, but I honestly thing that this, together with the use of the tackle shields in that first morning of September, starts to dismantle all the successes of the Under 7s and Under 8s.
Maybe I’ll hide the shields this year…..let me know your opinion below.