From Rugby Mom to Newbie Coach; my experience coaching U6’s

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Dani SweetmanI’ve been a rugby mom a couple of years now but am a newbie coach. It’s been less than two months since I started in the role but it feels like so much has happened in those months. I enjoy it so much that every day I look forward to Sundays when I get to coach again.

I’ve loved rugby since I was 11 and read my first rugby coach biography at age 12. I love reading coaching bios. What I have learnt from them is, while there is a big difference between coaching grown men and coaching small children, the ultimate ethos is the same – the physical, mental and personal improvement of the players under your care.

So 6 weeks into my coaching journey, we faced our first major challenge – the international juniors tournament that our club in Malaysia organizes. It’s a major event in South East Asia, with 173 teams from different countries and 2500+ players attending and over 500 games played over a weekend. This year a U6 category was created and we entered a side.

Trying to organize and focus a bunch of U6s in training is a mad exercise in itself – let alone trying to get them to concentrate in an 8-minute game! As a coach of a mini team, I am allowed on the field behind the players, to talk to them and try and help direct play. That is easier said than done.

The first game at the tournament was like a circus – we had kids running the wrong way, a couple staring into space, and when the club drone hovered overhead to take video of the play – well, talk about a distraction!

A coach in these circumstances has to just breathe in and breathe out, and quite frankly, have a sense of humor. It’s truly hilarious to see how randomly little ones behave on the pitch.

The next few games were much the same. We did score a few tries but let more in. The chaos continued with players playing with their gum shields, tagging their own teammates instead of the opponents, doing cartwheels during a match and attempting to score tries on any white line except the try line!

By some sort of miracle we weren’t last in our pool and ended up playing for the Shield trophy. A couple of kids had left and we had an injury, so we had only 7 players on the field instead of the maximum 8. The other team not only had a full complement, they also had substitutes, and so I cheerfully resigned myself to the inevitable.

However! Expect the unexpected with kids. Somehow they clicked better in this game than in the earlier games. There were some lovely attacking runs and they organized themselves much better in defense.

We scored a try and in the chaos of the game I somehow thought the other team had scored too. With 30 seconds remaining, a girl from the other side ran down left touch to the try line… but we have a tiny little whizz-kid, a mini speedster, who ran an incredible angle to reach her and execute a perfect tag two meters out.

When the whistle blew I asked the pitch marshal what was going to happen. He looked at me strangely and said, “What do you mean? Dani, we won.”

That was such a shock. I didn’t expect that!

Feeling bemused, I told the kids to go to where the medals and trophies were being handed out. Really, I should have led the way as they kept walking and walking past the awards table and were almost at the food trucks when I caught up with them, turned them around and finally got them to receive their dues!

Kids. So funny.

To be satisfied as a coach of little kids, you’ve got to watch the expressions on their faces when they’ve got the ball in hand or when they’re going for a tag, and see the effort there. I love seeing the photos that professional sports photographers take of our games as that energy is shown so clearly.

And you’ve got to look not at winning games or tournaments. It’s seeing those “click moments” when all of a sudden a child understands and executes a task well. The pleasure that they get when they do it, makes a coach’s heart swell too.

I am very lucky to have a super co-coach who helps prepare the kids well and a terrific team manager who helped to make it all happen.

Together, the players, the parents, the coaches and the club, we’re going to grow.

 


Dani SweetmanBio: Danielle is a sports fan from young who had a hidden aspiration to coach and a big desire to make a difference in the sporting landscape around her. While she is a former dedicated field hockey player, rugby was her first love. Now that her baby-raising years have finished, she’s taking the opportunity to delve into what she loves most: growing the game of rugby. An Aussie based in Malaysia, she enjoys the exotic passion of the local club scene there and the fantastic cultural mix of the players and parents she engages with.

 

 

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