Category Archives: Coaching

SILENT SUNDAYS–A view from inside the tent

Silent Sunday photoThe furore (too strong a word? Kerfuffle might be better) over the #SilentSundays experiment run by my local governing body Yorkshire Rugby Football Union (YRFU) over the last two weekends of Age Grade rugby was something of a surprise – and yet, knowing rugby folk as I do, completely expected as well.

I’ll lay my cards on the table from the start and say I was wholly in favour of the initiative for a number of reasons. I’ve been an age grade coach for over 10 years now; this is my second time round at Under 10s and I’m noticing a lot issues that have not improved over that time – and in many cases that have got worse. The atmosphere on the touchline is a case in point. I referee regularly and often find myself in conversation with a spectator about a particular decision they don’t agree with. It’s a short conversation usually, often ended when I proffer my whistle to the other party and suggest they have a go, at which point they realise I’m right after all and back down. True to say though, that it’s getting more frequent and less good-humoured.

That said, the majority of the noise is aimed not at me but at the players, and this is the main target of Silent Sundays.

The particular problem YRFU was looking to address was coaches and spectators shouting, especially the kind of shouting that intimidates and confuses children.

The bear-pit atmosphere that we often play in – noticeably more so at some clubs than others – is getting worse and is definitely intimidating for some kids.

Parents shouting at children to “smash ‘im” is not good to hear, for example. If it’s not that, it’s a constant volley of instructions from coaches: “SPREAD OUT! PASS!!! TACKLE HIM!!!” (as if the players don’t know that’s the idea when an opponent makes a break!). Not forgetting the additional and often contradictory instructions from parents, well intentioned no doubt but in many cases totally misguided, because the player doesn’t know whose instructions to follow – though I would add here that ‘Listen to your coach’ is the only advice a player needs on this point.

I’ve seen this conflict end with a young player leaving the field in tears, unable to choose whether to listen to his mum shouting at him to run, or me telling him to look inside and pass. Anecdotal evidence suggests that a proportion of early teens who quit the game do so because of the constant noise coming from the touchline, that ruins the game as a fun experience for them.

So it was right for someone to do something to challenge this developing culture, and taking a lead from Lancashire Junior FA’s Silent Saturday initiative last year, YRFU decided to give a similar idea a whirl. The dates of 25 January and 1 February were chosen, and an announcement made early in the New Year. This is where it got interesting for me.

Immediately the sniping started. “Ridiculous idea,” “are we not allowed to support our kids now?” “the game’s going soft,” “the players won’t know what to do” and much more in a similar vein. In short, many people decided from the outset that it was a bad idea and wouldn’t work, and grumpily went along with the scheme because they’d ‘been told to’. Even the reporting in the media (as far afield as New Zealand, where similar concerns exist over touchline noise in rugby – see Jack Cottrell’s report from April 2014 http://www.radiosport.co.nz/opinion/jack-cottrell-30apr2014) took the angle that this was a crackpot idea, to the extent of erroneously reporting that spectators were banned even from applauding.

Most of the reaction seemed to be informed by a willingness to believe the worst about YRFU’s intentions, that they were somehow trying to suck the entire atmosphere out of the junior game for ‘politically correct’ reasons. Some even assumed the initiative was a permanent one rather than an experiment requiring just two days’ co-operation across a 34-week season.

So, we’ve now done the two Silent Sundays and feedback has been a mixture of positive and negative. Some of my coaching colleagues missed being able to yell instructions to their players; one coach from another club, however, reported that he caught himself about to shout something and – realising it was Silent Sunday – stopped himself.

He then thought about what he’d been about to shout and concluded that it would have been inappropriate in any case! A parent of one of my players said to me that it was a sledgehammer/nut approach and it was a shame that because of a few numpties, everyone was being targeted. My response was, ‘So next time you have one of these numpties next to you gobbing off, have a word with them. Then Yorkshire won’t need to enforce it from the top down.’

Another parent withdrew his son from the fixture on Silent Sunday 2, as he was so angry about the initiative and saw it as an attack on parents’ rights to support their children. After a reasoned discussion he changed his mind (and was rewarded by seeing his son grab his first two tries of the season!) as I managed to convince him about the positives of the experiment.

Those positives, as I observed them, were as follows:

• The atmosphere was a lot calmer without the noise from the touchline, the whole feel of the fixture was far less adversarial than is the norm.

• From a referee-coach perspective, it was good for me that the players only had me to listen to; they could hear my explanation of decisions, which helps them learn, and I was better able to help them avoid infringing, meaning less whistle and more running around.

• The game was played in a good spirit between the players, none of the macho hostility we sometimes get, and in fact the only point of issue was dissent from one player which required him to leave the field. In the absence of noise, his interaction with me was clearly audible and his dad told me after the game he would have sent him off too.

• The players also played great rugby (though they often do), in that kids from both teams were prepared to have a go and take risks in a spirit of adventure that is often absent. Did the reduced noise from the touchline make them more confident? It’s hard to say for sure but it’s not improbable.

• In the absence of the usual volley of shouted instructions from coaches, the players soon began to coach and encourage each other during the game. Decision making responsibility fell on their heads, meaning they needed to be more game-aware and to help their team-mates who were less so. This is a win for any coach with his players’ long-term development at heart.

In summary, this was a well-intentioned experiment that has achieved its major goals. It has created open debate about how touchline behaviour affects young players, and discussion of what is and isn’t appropriate. It has caused parents and especially coaches to think about what they say and how they say it during games – and I have certainly thought hard about my input during games and how it needs to be adjusted.

Finally, it has perhaps made people realise that the raucous touchline atmosphere was starting to get out of hand. While no one including me wants a silent, funereal experience on a Sunday morning, equally we want to avoid the opposite extreme. As in many things, moderation is key.

Applaud both teams and all good play (and good refereeing, please); encourage and praise effort over and above ability and skill; if you must coach, do it quietly during breaks in play. In short, just stick to what the existing Codes of Conduct say, and you’ll be pretty much in the right area.

Silent Sundays: Not the Solution for Bad Behaviour in Youth Rugby

shushI’m a bit at a loss this morning. I’ve just read an article about Silent Sundays. If you have not heard about it, Silent Sundays is a new initiative to be put in place in Yorkshire starting 1 February in which fans and coaches have been told to stay completely quiet at youth rugby games because of the increasing abuse of rugby officials.

Why Silent Sundays?

Silent Sundays is designed to rid the game of abuse aimed at rugby officials. According to the article cited above, Yorkshire RFU’s Dawn Rathmell said in a letter to clubs:

“We are losing referees, and finding it harder to recruit new referees, because of this.”

He adds: “Some coaches, parents, and spectators are constantly shouting at their players. Screaming “pass” or “tackle” at players simply turns you in to a PlayStation coach. We want the players to be the decision makers…Junior players who leave the game have highlighted this pitch-side pressure as a reason for giving up.”

However the article states that similar initiatives have been used in youth football leagues in England with varying degrees of success.

Not the solution

This initiative expects parents, friends and families of young people playing sport to stand in silence as these children play a game. No cheering, no applause, nothing.

Now the idea is to deal with the increasing amount of abuse of referees and criticism of opposition teams. To me this sounds like that issue must be at a level which is shocking to result in this approach/solution. Or is it that dealing with the actual problem is a bit tricky?

Referees and clubs already have things in place to deal with this problem. Clubs should have a spectator’s code of conduct and if they don’t the RFU does. Clubs should also have a code of conduct for players and coaches. Again, if they do not, the RFU does.”

In addition, referees have the power and the responsibility to make sure that the game runs properly.

Referees also have a set of cards in their pocket and a reporting line to their society regardless of whether they are a “society referee” or not.

This isn’t just me sprouting. I referee and have been through the experience of a parent standing on the touchline shouting rubbish at me for the entirety of a game. There came a point when he became abusive. How did I respond? I stopped the game, walked to the touchline and red carded him. I waited for the club officials to remove him and then continued.

The only comments I got after the game were “About time that guy was told…..”, “Wish that someone had done that a year or so ago we would still have ‘little johnny’ playing then……”.

There are rules in place to deal with this. Clubs, referees and constituent bodies need to grow some teeth and use them and remove the abusive minority out of our sport.

That would help with the “education” this Silent Sunday is claiming to be about.

Conclusion

So, on Sunday morning when a group of young players execute something special on the pitch and get met by cold silence I really hope the PC brigade who thought this idea up can deal with that.

If we are serious about ridding our game of this behaviour then deal with the cause not the symptom. Tell the individual they are out-of-order, discipline them and if you have to remove them, don’t make kids play sport in silence.

Leicester Tigers Announce FREE Rugby Camps for Girls

ballsThe Leicester Tigers have announced that they will be offering FREE rugby camps for year 9 and 10 girls (U15 girls).

The FREE camps will be 2 days long and will be held at Market Harborough RUFC and Melton Mowbray RFC during the February half term.

Details

The camps are for players in school years 9 and 10 and are run in conjunction with Premiership Rugby and the Quality and Human Rights Commission.

Market Harborough RFC will host the first 2-day camp on February 16 and 17 and the Melton Mowbray RFC camp will follow on February 19 and 20.

The camps will be run by our top community coaches who are all RFU level 2 qualified, first aid trained and CRB/DBS cleared. Each day will run from 9.30am to 3pm and will cover the four core skills: catch and pass, tackle, breakdown and game-sense.

Participants will receive a FREE ticket to Tigers’ Aviva Premiership clash with Sale Sharks on Friday, February 27.

There appears to be a good reception to these camps on social media already.

If you are interested in taking part in either of these camps or both camps, simply call the Community team on 0116 217 1328.

Other Camps

The Tigers are also offering:

– a girls Masterclass in May which will be for U13s-U18;
– tag Rugby Camps for U7s and U8s boys and girls;
– contact Rugby Camps for girls aged U9s-U12s; and
– three-day Tigers Rugby Camp at Ashby RFC from February 16-18 for girls and boys under-nines to under-14s.

Tigers Rugby Camps are open to players of all abilities, who will receive rugby tips from coaches with a wealth of experience at the highest levels of the sport, including former Tigers and England hooker George Chuter and ex-All Black Craig Newby taking on roles alongside the likes of Glen Gelderbloom, Ian ‘Dosser’ Smith and Troy Thacker.

More Information

More information can be found here: http://www.leicestertigers.com/news/21664.php and here: http://www.leicestertigers.com/community/ehrc_womens_girls_camps.php or you can call 0116 319 8888 to speak to someone directly.

Rugby Community Must Take Advantage of Rugby World Cup

974581_10152367316122495_1060707784_nSo this is the year England host the Rugby World Cup.

That thought takes me back to a Sunday morning on the 23rd November 2003, not the day before, not the performance from an England team who had planned that game in so much detail, not the beautiful passage of play after 100 minutes of physical rugby, not THAT drop goal but the Sunday morning.

That morning saw what success in sport can do for the grassroots game. At the club I was coaching at that Sunday morning saw 30+ brand new mini players turn up wanting to play the game, wanting to emulate what they had seen the day before, wanting to practise their drop goals……

And the club, well we had hoped for a positive impact from the World Cup.

We had put a number of volunteers onto coaching courses, set up teams of volunteers for each age group and advertised that the club catered to players from age 6 upwards.

10688391_10152839258732495_3672295785007830590_oNew players came to try the game, they got the support of a club who wanted to attract and retain new members, and after 12 years some of those young players are now playing senior rugby, some at our club, some at others or at university. But they are still playing. Families who came to the club together remain within a wider rugby family now.

I’m sure this is preaching to the converted as to the experience that a rugby club can provide but the opportunity this year rests with us in the game.

It rests with the national squad, the 23 players, who will wear the shirt and the way they conduct themselves on and off the pitch and their performance in the games. It rests with clubs to provide places to watch the games, opportunities to play the game and an inclusive environment to play it in with coaches who are interested and committed to developing players before results.

If those things are in place then our game will truly benefit from the World Cup because somewhere out there on the Sunday after the World Cup final there will be the young players joining rugby clubs who will in a few short years time be the ones wearing their national shirts and inspiring another generation to play.

It is our opportunity to set this group on the pathway to that responsibility.

Joys of Age-Grade Coaching: Start of a New Season

rugby totsFive more sleeps! A new season starts on Sunday and for the first time in a few years I’m especially excited and enthusiastic at the prospect, so much so that I’m counting the days just as I hope my players will be. Five more sleeps… can hardly wait!

The reason for the extra excitement and anticipation is that this season, I have the under 9 squad. The players I’ve been nurturing for the past two years will be ditching their TAG belts in a formal handover ceremony, and starting contact rugby mostly for the first time.

It’s a significant stage in a player’s career and one that’s vitally important to manage correctly as a coach. Indeed, I consider it a privilege to be able to guide young players through an experience that some view with a certain amount of trepidation.

The right input from me and my colleagues at this stage can make all the difference, meaning players learn to love the rough and tumble side of the game and carry on that love through long-playing careers as adults.

One thing that’s going to help massively is the adoption of the New Rules of Play. Previously, the transition from U8 to U9 meant learning about rucks, mauls, scrums and line-outs in addition to tackling. This represented a massive learning curve and meant that only the very talented players, the ‘naturals’, were able to pick up all these skills adequately. Maybe 80% of your squad would be struggling with one or more aspects of the game, and those for whom most of it was a struggle would eventually give it up. With player retention being a vital objective for coaches, this made it far harder to achieve the right kind of success.

The New Rules have simplified the game, reducing to 7-a-side from 9 and stripping out everything bar the tackle for U9s (the rest is brought in progressively over the following three seasons so that by U13, the whole game is in place). All I need to worry about now is how to tackle and be tackled, and what to do afterwards. With the ruck and maul removed, the contest for possession also goes and the defending side has to allow the attackers to move the ball on from the tackle area. In fact, it’s not far removed from another form of rugby, very popular here in West Yorkshire, which places the focus on ball-handling skills and solid defence.

The counties along the M62 corridor were the last to adopt New Rules, I think out of a fear that we were switching to ‘rugby league-lite’ as one coach described it, and that as a result we would lose players to the 13-a-side game. I see it as more of an opportunity though; firstly, to focus on developing our players’ skills in manageable chunks, and also to attract players from rugby league who want to play rugby in winter as well as summer, and who won’t find the game so alien.

So that’s why I’m feeling so enthusiastic about the coming year. I’ve sent out my briefing e-mail for Sunday and already had three replies indicating that my players are also raring to go. The best of them read as follows:

“…see you on Sunday for the new season (Anna already has her kit laid out in preparation!).”

When your players are as excited about it as you are, that’s half the battle won already, and just one of the many joys of being an age grade rugby coach.

Respect in Rugby

Rugby is responsible for two of the proudest moments of my life, although neither moment has to do with actually playing the game.

The first was the Remembrance weekend of November 2004 when I took my U9s to Welford Road to watch the Tigers play. Before the game we went to Oval park and had a training session with the Tigers community staff before moving on to the stadium to enjoy the game. When we got to the stadium, the community staff asked if I would take the young players onto the pitch before the start of the match for the 2 minutes of silence.

In a stadium of then around 18,000 people, my little group of 8 year olds stood shoulder to shoulder (or knee) with some of their heroes in silence and respect. Although it was something they should have done, I was still so proud of that group of 8 year olds for the way they behaved. What was equally nice was a number of the crowd took the time to find our contact details and wrote to us to praise the young players. This was something that puzzled them as they could not understand what all of the fuss was for because they behaved as they should have.

Yesterday, one of those young players was refereeing our Under 16s. He is now only 17 and whilst playing in our 1st team, he is also coaching and refereeing for one of our youth sides. He spoke with both coaches before the game and organised a group of U16s who at 11AM fell silent to mark their respect for those who have paid the ultimate price. The lads did this with no prompting from the elders. Again, last night I received a handful of messages for the referee and the lads to say how much their actions were appreciated.

Of course, the referee and the players behaved as they should have, but for those 4 brief minutes the core value of RESPECT was embodied in the actions of our young players.

In my opinion these episodes demonstrate that rugby is so much more than what happens on a pitch for 80 minutes.