This weekend that was I went on a coaching course with a group of players. The course was generally speaking very informative. We rotated through different stations doing basic handling, rucking, tackling and kicking drills with lots of feedback to players and coaches.
At the end we played a game (10 players on each side) called touch and ruck. It is a really nice way to enforce some basic skills at the young age groups. Players learn about maintaining the offside line, to go up in a line on defence and on attack, to touch with both hands (essential to learn that you need to punch through with the arms when you tackle), to rip and place and to clean-out at the rucks.
One of the things that did annoy me during this touch and ruck game, however, was the session leader’s obsession with players holding the ball in both hands when they run with it. He constantly blow the boys up (resulting in turn-over ball) if they ran with the ball in one hand.
Now I can understand the need to learn to protect the ball when you go into contact and that having both hands on the ball allows you to pass to either the left or right side.
However, any natural runner with a rugby ball will tell you that they rarely have both hands on the ball. In fact they don’t even think (or know) what they do with the ball in their hands. Go and look at any footage of Danie Gerber and you’ll see that he rarely have both hands on the ball. It is unnatural to run with both hands on the ball. This is the reason why some forwards can’t handle a ball properly and why we see one dimensional if not poor handling skill with some senior rugby players. You can’t focus on holding the ball in both hands and play heads-up rugby at the same time.
If players need to be able to handle the ball with one hand (or at least the ability to move the ball from one hand to the other) once they start playing rugby why this initial hair-splitting about carrying the ball in both hands?
Over coaching is sometimes as bad as no or poor coaching. My believe is that you should work on something if a player have a problem with it but to change Sony Bill Williams into somebody that carry the ball with both hands will kill his authenticity and reduce him to just another average player (which some might think he is but that is not the point here).
Finding balance between allowing the player to express himself and running a tight structure is probably the hardest thing to do when you coach or manage any group. Identifying the things that you need to be strict on and those things that you can ease up with is maybe the first step in being a good parent, coach or manager.
Danie Craven was too strict in 1956 and that touring group was extremely unhappy. The 1965 touring group management was not strict enough and that tour was a disaster. Peter de Villiers inherited the most experienced Springboks in the history of SA rugby and being a ‘nice’ guy did not produce the results we all wanted.
Some of the AB coaches like Vic Cavanagh and Fred Allan are interesting individuals/coaches to look at in terms of getting too grips on how to be strict and relaxed at the same time and I’ll delve a little into that in the weeks to come.
Cavanagh and Allen had this tendency to break things down into steps and to start by doing skills standing still concentrating on feet, hands, shoulder and head positions. Next step would be to go through the sequence in slow motion, then at walking speed before taking it into jogging and match speed pace. Attention to detail was key to their coaching. The All Blacks under Graeme Henry did the same at the start of the 2010 season and turned their fortunes around after losing against South Africa in Hamilton in 2009.
Jake White influence was the structures he brought into the team (at set piece) and the fact that he stuck with the same players. The impact of that was clearly evident every time we fielded a B-team even during his tenure in 2007 but especially during last year’s tri-nations. Rugby is a team sport and it’s about cohesiveness and team work and it normally takes a coach about two years to get his players to develop understanding and cohesiveness at rucks, mauls, line-outs, scrums as well as on defence and on attack. (so by the way Jake is showing once again that he knows what he is doing considering how much better the Brumbies are performing this year).
It took Mitchell about two years at the Lions to win the CC but they are still not really there if one look at S15 results. Ludeke was a bit of a disaster in his first season at the bulls and the Stormers have been there and there about with Alistair Coetzee for the last four years but have yet to win the CC or a S15 trophy.
Slow is fast if it comes to coaching. Get the little things right before you move into the fancy stuff. I hope the public allow Heynecke Meyer the time to get his structures in place. The Springboks will probably yet again be stereotyped as playing boring 10-man rugby this year. That will be fine with me as long as we see structural progress from game to game.