Coaching with mixed ability at a competitive level…
The past few weeks have been quiet in terms of coaching for me. Many of the clubs and colleges I coach for are on summer break and the only real coaching I have been involved with is helping at children’s sports camps for younger children. I guess a secret blessing of coaching mainly a winter season sport (even if it does involve some night in the cold and wet!) is having a month off in the summer to plan ahead.
I have spent the past few weeks planning and developing my sessions ready for September, looking at what has or hasn’t worked previously and altering to try and make it work or work better. I always find it interesting as coach planning for my University side. With this group (especially in a female team) you often get a wide range of abilities and experience. Within the University team I coach we will often have a 50/50 split of those who have played rugby in some form and those who have never played before. In a previous team I coached and played for the percentage was even lower with a 20/80 split in favour of those who hadn’t played before. It’s hard having to cater for all those needs in one session and I have to think about what is best for the overall team.
With the team I coach I like to sit down with the Captain/Vice Captain prior to the season and ask them ‘what is it you want from the team this year’. Responses can range from just wanting people to learn and love rugby to wanting to progress well in the league. It can be hard to find a common goal when having such a varied experience, many experience players want the competition whereas newbies just want to learn. It’s at this point I have to sit down with the experienced players/current team members prior to the first session of a new season and say ‘I know at first it may be frustrating and feel like you are taking two steps backwards, but I need your help in developing the basic skills, understating and of course the passion for the game in your new players’. I then show them a clear 4-6 session plan of how we will work together to get the newbies up to a basic standard where they will be able to play a basic game with the more experienced players. Many coaches may argue that I could with my assistant coach split the session in two to cater for both needs, something I agree is totally an option, but in women’s rugby we simply sometimes do not have the numbers to do this, even more so when you introduced specific backs and forwards training! I also believe training as a whole team added effects, especially at the start of a season at university level.
I believe it’s very important (especially in the university game) to involve your experienced players in the coaching decision. I believe it allows me to form a trust with them that eventually I will deliver the high quality training they crave while allowing them to keep interest in the first few sessions while the newbies are learning and developing. I also believe it allows the newbies to develop in a safe environment where they can feel free to ask questions and make mistakes without feeling they are slowing the team down or feeling out of place. Also having a more experience team member help coach them can help build friendships and mentors, increasing team cohesion and build team spirit.
It can be very frustrating at times but it also one of the most rewarding. I enjoy being tested and challenged as a coach which is why University Rugby is one of my favourites to coach. Nothing is better than at the end of the season being able look back and see players who started with no experience and having seen them take part in full games with the more experienced players, while those experienced players now respect and trust those newbies as full and necessary members of the team.