Recently, I have been reflecting on the responsibility we have as coaches and teachers, to ensure the safety and welfare of the children we work with, especially when delivering rugby tackle specific training.
As part of this, I questioned what makes a good rugby tackle session?
As coaches, we want our players to improve their skill of tackling but what can we do to achieve this?
I have been speaking with club coaches and teachers to see what they think and two common words came up in conversation, fun and engaging.
Interestingly these aims were mentioned by new and veteran coaches alike and importantly they are both highlighted by the RFU as key components when designing a session plan.
So what does it mean to have a fun and engaging session plan?
It is easy to fall into the trap that more games mean more fun and engagement when planning training sessions for children. If the answer was as easy as games equal fun and buy-in, we would all be planning sessions that are just playing rugby but we know as coaches and teachers that it’s not that simple.
Also, the coaches I spoke to mentioned that maintaining a fast-paced environment, was a great tool, to keep the attention of their players and limit distraction. Many drills/games were discussed as effective training tools to keep the fun and engagement of the children. Now I feel that most drills or games have their place in a well-developed training plan to create fun or engagement but sometimes it can overlook the learning outcome.
At Lions, we look closer at what we can do as coaches and teachers, above and beyond games selection, to create a fun and engaging environment. Some of the tools we employ in our practice are; strategic questioning from the coaches, encouraging questioning from the players we work with and promoting peer-led learning.
So how do these work for us?
We, like most coaches and teachers, will provide the key points when first coaching the skill of rugby tackling but then we like to challenge the children by making them take ownership of their learning experience.
If for instance a technical error is made in a tackle we may ask the player a series of questions such as:
Was that a good tackle?... Could you have done anything better?... What was dangerous about that tackle?... Can you remember why that is dangerous?
Now, this may seem like a lot of questions but it doesn’t take a lot of time to answer them. If the child struggles with the answers we ask the group to help and if anything then is missed as a coach/ teacher it is our responsibility to fill the gaps of their understanding.
We must remember that our young players are learning all the time from us and by us asking questions this may start a spark inside them to do the same. Allowing children to ask questions is allowing them to learn and think at their own pace. How you answer the question could be the telling factor in how much they retain.
The first response from me is normally to identify what the child knows, so I flip the question back to them to see if they can verbalise an answer themselves. Sometimes children can be unsure and they need a safe environment to explore their own understanding. From there I may ask the group what their thoughts are and then as mentioned above as a coach I try to reinforce what the children say and give them the credit to what they can recall and then fill any gaps of understanding.
As mentioned in both the above sections, our approach at Lions puts the heart of the learning experience with the children. We encourage the children to help each other solve the problems that arise within questioning situations.
Now how does this work in the rest of a session?
As coaches, we are able to identify children that are more or less competent at performing drills or skills. When we are coaching we can then use these children as part of our demonstrations either show good technical delivery or we can use that moment to see the children's understanding in practice and develop less competent players.
It may feel daunting to ask children who are less competent to demonstrate but, it is our responsibility to provide all children with the opportunity to demonstrate their understanding. Also, this provides an opportunity for teammates to help coach their peers and in turn, allows us to assess the knowledge of the rest of the group and nurture a supportive team environment.
We must remember as coaches or teachers it doesn’t matter how much we know but all that matters is if we can develop the skill and understanding of the children we work with, safely and effectively.
I encourage you reading this to take the time to reflect on your coaching practice, do you have any other strategies you use to create a fun and engaging contact session?
PhD student, Rob Owen
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