Posted on Tuesday, May 10th, 2011 at 11:11 am
I arrived in the US to prepare the unfancied US Falcons for the IRB North American 4 Tournament (NA4). In just six days I helped shape players who were vying for international honours beat a Canadian team boasting nine internationals. And here is how.
1: Be prepared, be professional
With only six days before the first game for a team that had never previously played together it was important to be prepared, professional, effective and efficient.
Every one of the six days and beyond was planned so I knew what was happening, and, more importantly, the players knew exactly what was happening to them.
And we want to treat the players as professionals – this meant that the players only needed to think about training and playing.
All their kit and equipment needs were provided for so there was no waiting around or setting up. Objectives and targets were clearly defined before every session.
This level of readiness can be translated into every level of club and team training. Time with a team is always limited. With players, coaches and equipment organised, we could maximise this time together.
2: One thought, one practice
One of my golden rules in coaching is not to overload the players, whatever the level. Each practice concentrated on one aspect of the game, whether it be restarts, defence or back row moves.
3: Set piece – the whole team
We had one very physical scrummaging session, and lineout moves were practiced in the players own time, under my guidance. Otherwise, set piece was practiced as a whole team during training time. When the whole team is together, I like them to run together and get to know more about each other. The US Falcons was a scratch team – many had only played against each other, and rarely together.
At club and school level, I would suggest a similar pattern. The backs and forwards should rarely “split” in the guts of a training session, but practice their moves on either end of the practice or meet separately.
4:My first meeting – get the environment right
When I met the players for the first time, I set out my philosophy. Those who have been regular readers will know how much I emphasise getting the environment right. A positive environment allows players to express themselves. I asked them to enjoy their rugby, have fun and trust in each other ( and me! )
5: Train hard, recover twice as hard
A team should be professional not just before and during training, but after as well. We had to play a game at the end of the week and we needed everyone to be fit. Therefore we made sure there were good facilities to aid the recovery process. Warm downs were followed by contrast baths ( hot and cold), stretching and work with the medical team.
Showers, stretching and proper hydration and diet can be carried out by all teams. If players are feeling stiff the next day, then the coach has to reappraise their systems.
- Treat the players as professional – and be professional yourself.
- Don’t jam too much into one practice.
- When the whole team is together, practice together – leave set piece to the beginning and end of the practice.
- Get the environment right first – enjoyment, trust and positive.
- Recovery is vital – spend as much time as possible on this area.
Posted on Thursday, February 10th, 2011 at 3:07 pm
Jim Love was assistant coach to Matt Te Pou, and together they masterminded an historic victory for the New Zealand Maori against the British Lions in June 2005.
This was the first victory for New Zealand Maori over the Lions in seven attempts stretching back to 1930.
The final score was 19-13. Jim lets us into some of the tactical know-how.
Keep things simple
No matter the standard of players, and in this case some of the most talented in the world,
we always keep things simple.
The very basics are done at half pace until things are right – we insist on accuracy. Mistakes are minimised, from the individual skills of passing, to unit skills, like building a maul from a ruck.
When we move to team runs, most of the time we trained unopposed at half pace. Again, the emphasis was on getting the small things right. There is no point if a player arrives at a ruck and is not in the right position.
Identifying opposition weaknesses
Watching the tapes, we noticed that Brian O’Driscoll, the British Lions outside centre, though a fine attacking player, was a weak defender. The majority of our plays attacked this channel.
This meant getting the ball wide to the full back and wingers as soon as possible.
We also noticed that the English, in particular, like to use the cross kick for the winger to run onto.
Our wingers were aware of this threat and so came into the defensive line slower, with an eye on the position of the open side wing.
Ironically, we used this tactic ourselves. This forced the opposition wingers to hang back in defence or stand much wider. Thus we weakened the defence when we attacked wide because the defence was spread to deal with the kick or a player had to hang back. This allowed our good attacking runners to find gaps.
Identifying opposition strengths
The Lions pack was very big – we were facing a huge front row. However, the Maori front row was extremely experienced and the team worked hard on the set piece scrums to reduce this advantage.
With their size, it was expected that the Lions would utilise a mauling game, especially from the lineout. The shape of the maul would be a spearhead, with the outside man turning in towards the ball carrier to create the drive. We countered this by driving these men backwards and out, thus exposing the maul and the ball carrier.
We also knew that the defence around the base of the scrum and rucks would be very strong. We did not attack this area, instead moving the ball away from their strength.
Off the cuff, the Maori way
I have talked about zones before, whereby the pitch is divided up horizontally and vertically to create a grid effect. In these zones, we decide on the plays we might use. The plays are aimed to create holes. The players have been trained to exploit the holes. Decision makers, like the scrum half and fly half, work the plays in the zones until a gap appears. The gap can be taken by any player – the Maori players have the confidence to do this, from prop to full back.
Is there a plan B?
The way the Maori play, there is no such thing as a plan B. We have set out a clear strategy, but it is flexible. We do not need to fundamentally change this strategy on the pitch, just keep patient and work the plays. The key to a plan is to allow free will to work – don’t inhibit the players with the plan, but release them to express themselves.
Posted on Tuesday, November 30th, 2010 at 11:15 am
A new team and new coach require a meeting of minds. To survive and prosper, both groups need to work together towards similar goals. When I met the US Falcons for the first time, I set out my philosophy. Then I asked them for their goals and guided them to ways to achieve them. In this sense I was “pushing” them in the direction I wanted them to go. With this momentum, they felt they had “ownership” of the plan and were, consequently, more motivated to want to achieve the goals.
2: Attack doors not walls
I have long been a believer in the French philosophy of running through doors not walls. A defence is a series of walls, the physical presence of defenders, and doors, the gaps between them. The closer the ball is to a defender when the ball carrier tries to breach the defence, the more difficult the door is to open. This subtly different approach to getting through the gap can make a difference.
3: Avoid “T-boning”
The English game, and to a certain extent, in some quarters of the New Zealand game, has been characterised by the desire to impose physicality on the opposite number. To do this, the player with the ball runs straight at the centre of the defender’s chest, the T-bone, to gain maximum impact. A “win” at this collision point leads to “go forward”, a sense of achievement in terms of defeating the opponent and a psychological advantage. However, it is also a risky strategy because it does not promote continuity and it is easier to defend against. I want to avoid “T-boning”.
4: Attack the weak shoulder
Just before a tackler wants to make a tackle, he directs one of his shoulders towards the point of contact. The other shoulder becomes the weak shoulder. If the ball carrier, using footwork, forces himself through the weak shoulder, then he should meet with a lesser path of resistance. Even if he makes it half way through, he should be able to offload or present the ball in a way to allow greater continuity.
5: Side step slow, side step better
Footwork before contact to get through the “doors” is so important that many sides do indeed train hard to improve this part of the game. But they are often trying to run before they can step. Set up drills where the players learn to side step under pressure, but at half pace. Ingrain the right feeling before going to a greater pace.
6: Basics-start right
In our first meeting, the US players emphasised handling as one of the areas they wanted to concentrate on. Just like the side stepping, I stress quality first. No pass should be made unless a player can run on to it. We worked a lot on pop passes, aiming to increase the level of sympathy in the weight and height of the pass. Pop passes are made to players who will be in very pressured situations, so the receiver needs every help possible.
7: Skill of the day
I always like to start my sessions with a “skill of the day”. This is something the players can practice over the course of the session when they have some down time. It might be a new way of holding the ball or taking contact.
“If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate”
Thomas Watson, Founder of IBM
Posted on Friday, October 1st, 2010 at 12:20 pm
Building personal protocols
Protocols are the accepted mode of behaviour in certain situations. We have “ways” we do things, in our approach to preparing to play and playing rugby.
Before the start of the season, these should be agreed upon by the team and the management. Though they are not “laws”, the consequences of breaking each protocol should be made clear.
For instance the effect on team morale.
Here is a set of protocols you might want your team to follow:
Pre match protocols
1. Hydration protocols – when we are going stop drink water, how much and from where, e.g. at least 3 gulps every 5 minutes.
2. Mental preparation routines – the set ways in which we get our minds ready for the game (see box below)
3. Physical preparation – working through a timeline to the start of the match. We paste up the timeline in the changing room, so everyone knows where they need to be.
| Pre match mental preparation routines *Set targets for each player. For instance, a loose forward (back row player) would be looking to make 8 tackles, 2 turnovers. |
*be specific about positional play. A prop (front rowA0 would be aiming not o be buckled in the scrum, gain parity with the opposite number, if not dominate and be effective in the lineout.
*Prepare for problem solving – routines and solutions will be worked out in advance and rehearsed mentally before the start of the game. If the prop was struggling to keep steady at the first scrums, they would then work on a new body position and engagement technique as the game progressed.
*Look beyond the specific positional outcomes. Our prop could be looking to make more than 3 tackles, carry the ball twice and make one pass.
We have a set physical routine which includes something that at least has at least one element of all the game. Speed training, handling, contact, half pace moves/lineouts/scrums and defence grids will all play a part. This will have been practiced in advance and be part if the “way we prepare”. Each player will know what they will be doing 5, 10, 15 and so on minutes before the start of the game.
During the game
In terms of the protocols for the game, then it is focused on discipline: personal and team discipline to stick to the tactics and not to transgress outside the laws of the game. If we have decided that we are going to be using short lineouts in between the 22m and halfway and drifting out in defence, then that’s what we play. We will do this until such time that we decide to change tactics.
We train for half time. This is a crucial time, and not just for recovering your energy, but for making sure that our tactics and methods are adjusted to the circumstances.
After the game
Protocols are very important after the game since it aids good recovery for players. There is a routine that includes jogging, stretching, contrast showers (hot and cold showers if you access to them) and food. The first thing we give our players after the game is “jelly lollies”, but anything with a high sugar content. Of course the players need to drink lots of water.
| Dressing to look the partHow we turn out is as much about the pride in the way we play as the way we look. If you are willing to play in a ripped team shirt, what does that say about what you feel about the team? |
We take care over our turnout because we care – it is a team protocol and a personal protocol that should not be ignored. We want to see uniform pre-match and post -match attire and clean kit and boots.
“Winning isn’t everything, trying to win is.”
Posted on Saturday, August 21st, 2010 at 5:34 pm