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Coaching reflection: One coach, two training games – who’s the ref?

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Here’s the challenge.

 

I’m filling in for an absent rugby coach, so I don’t have to do the admin – bliss! I arrive at training about 25 minutes before it’s due to start.

 

My session set ups take seconds, so I’m not worried about marking out multiple grids with cones. But because it’s a representative team (under 14s), the players are all there early. They’ve been encouraged to use the time before training to explore ideas.

 

The two other coaches take off the forwards to do “forwards stuff” – scrum profiles, lineout throwing and all that jazz.

 

Because the regular backs coach is away, and there’s slight miscommunication, I find we have only two balls and 20 backs.

 

The regular session will start in around 20 minutes, and some players are still arriving. (It’s a session after school so players get there when they can).

 

And we’re off

 

I grab the 20 players, six or so cones and the two balls. I split them roughly according to the colours they are wearing – blues/greens/blacks v everyone else. I give cone each to four players and tell them to mark out a 30m pitch. (You can guess it’s nothing like 30m box, but it will do).

 

We then play a game with only a couple of rules.

 

I do this because it helps the player quickly recognise we are playing a game. They start to switch on and the few players who were dawdling, getting ready, race over.

 

After a minute, I add in another rule, which is a game constraint (for rugby coaches amongst you, it’s that the ball carrier must be moving forward when they receive the ball). We play this for about a minute or two. But the numbers are too big for players to get lots of touches.

 

More action leads to a problem

 

I split each team in two, put two cones down the middle and now we have 5 v 5 in each box. The trouble is, I can’t referee both games at the same time. Even my wife can’t do that.

 

I nominate a player from each team to be the player-referee. Their role is to check that the main game modification is being played out. I step back and watch.

 

This seems like a great idea, but runs into a few difficulties. The players are still getting to know each other, so not so likely to call up another player’s infringement.

And, since the players are only 13 or 14 years old, they are quite shy.

 

Problem solving (me not them)

 

As I notice they aren’t calling the rule, I call into one of the games and put pressure on them to referee harder. I do this with the other game after a short period of time.

 

I then bring them all in. I emphasise the need for them to take more control of their own advancement and that they need to be tougher on each other in these circumstances. They set the standards and if one of them isn’t up to those standards, they need to know. I do this with a mix of questions and straight up statements.

 

The second edition of the games goes a little better, and the players also respond to the game modification. I still shout in sometimes to remind them, but step back to watch.

 

A new version of the game

 

With about 10 minutes gone, I bring them into play 12 v 12 (others have now arrived). I change a rule – another game constraint.  They play it for about a minute so they get the gist of it, and then we split up again to play.

 

They play and referee their own games. It’s far from perfect, but it’s a little better. And at least they know they are refereeing the game and not looking for me to intervene.

 

They play on until the head coach (who was with the forwards) blows his whistle to bring in the whole team. I have a chance to reiterate that they need to take responsibility for their own improvements by saying: “Who’s playing this game, me or you? Who needs to improve their skills…?” They of course answer that it’s them, but I don’t have time for in-depth feedback at this stage.

 

My reflections from this session were

> I was pleased they “played” for around 18 minutes of the 20 minutes.

> I thought that a number of them came up with some skillful solutions.

> They struggled with refereeing their own games. Interesting, because I expect they would be fine if it was a rule they had come up with in a “playground” scenario. I perhaps need to sell the constraint better.

> The pitches were side-by-side – did I need to split them up further or was close proximity okay?

> There was little time for verbal feedback. I did pose challenges with the games though.

> Some players obviously found this environment scary and moved away from being involved in the decisions in the game. How could I get them more involved?

> I will have them as a group once more. How can I determine whether they have made progress?

 

 I would love to know what you thought to my approach, what I could have done differently and even some solutions or ideas to my reflections.

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Comments (5)

   
Clenchiecoach

Hi Dan,
Sounds like a really good use of the 20 minutes to me and excellent example of using the equipment/players/space on offer
They are playing the game (or a slightly modified version) of the game they came to enjoy.
Playing that game encouraged late arrivers/slow movers to get into the session quickly and the Player Ownership helps them take responsibility for their own improvement, solving their own problems, with Player Referees showing the way towards building on all-important social and team connections. Does every player need to be involved in the decision making? As long as it's shared around between a few so nobody becomes dominant, the more introverted characters are probably OK with not controlling the decisions.
Players learn by playing and this type of arrival/warm-up always seems far more beneficial to me than stretching or lectures, especially with the 'ball-rolling' for 90% of the time.
My guess is that plenty of learning took place in this 20 minutes, with the bonus of all players motivated and ready to start the 'regular' session to follow. How did that go?

To be honest, having seen (and probably delivered myself) many long-winded sessions with meticulously prepared 'drills' there's more in your 20 minutes than is often on offer.

How will you check progress? I don't know how well you and the group know each other but I'm pretty sure they'll be pleased to be back for another game!

24/07/17
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dancottrell1

Thanks Rich. I like the idea about whether everyone NEEDS to be involved. Sometimes, players are going to zone out. As long as they zone back in, then all good. And not every player needs to be a tactical decision maker, yet they need to be good decision makers in the sense of the correct skill for that moment.

26/07/17
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A.McGinnigle

This sounds like a fantastic session, completed in just 20 mins!

From my experience, players need time to adjust to been given independence i.e. Decision making and refereeing as most of the time it is a new concept for them. So perhaps a little inducting (if you had more time!) into the roles where you can scaffold with ideas or questions for the decision making and what is expected as a referee. Use lots of What... and then How... questions.

Some players will actually be resistant as they are so used to being told what to do but eventually they all come round if the practices in place are engaging, challenging and safe.

25/07/17
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dancottrell1

Thanks FJ. I thought afterwards about "inducting" and you are right, there was no time. I think next time, they will know the expectations.

26/07/17
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kraichura

Hi Dan,

I completely agree with the comments above! It sounds like a very good use of the time - kids were having fun, playing something that looked like the game, being stretched mentally as well as physically, getting lots of touches when you went to 5 vs 5 and 6 vs 6, and by definition of that, having to make lots of decisions.

Regarding your question about buy-in to the constraints (and this is something I need to do more often myself), I think it works best if it comes from the players themselves. So, using questions, draw out the need to be taking the ball on the move/hitting it at pace etc (perhaps ask if they're breaking through lines or being pushed back and what they can do to change that - I used to play rugby at school! :) ) and then go on to ask them to create a rule to encourage that behaviour and ask them to create a penalty or points system for it to be followed. It might not be the same rule you chose to use, but they will come up with something useful usually and will be more likely to self-police it (some will just stop when they've broken the rule and give the ball to the other team or whatever). If it doesn't seem to be working, ask them to think of something else that will work. Eventually they'll come up with your idea or quite possibly, something better! Harness their creativity!

Good luck with the second session!

25/07/17
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dancottrell1

Thanks Kiran. I have reflected often on the best questions to use to move the session on. There is a danger we ask a question to get an answer we want. So I am mindful to ask questions which really lead to more questions rather than an open question which is really a closed question. For example, "What do we need to improve?" - that normally comes with standard answers like communication or skill execution. If I changed that to "How can we..." it might lead to some deeper thinking.

I'm now using questions like, "Let's see if we can score more points in less time - with this constraint..." Now that's a challenge - they are going to ask themselves "what can I do differently to achieve this?"
Now we play - and they can talk to each other - and within the excitement of the challenge, really make an effort to discover better ways.

26/07/17
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Fen1970

Hi Dan,

I like the session you've just described, I use games for warm ups all the time.

A couple of questions:
* Did you have a goal(s) or a learning objective(s) from the games? I find this approach quite useful as it gives me something to focus on as a coach and I don't get too hung up on what else is happening.
* Did you ask for feedback from the players as to how they found (liked, didn't like) the session? With my U12s they are all encouraged to give honest feedback and I've been able to narrow that time down to about 1 - 2 minutes by getting the players to be specific i.e. rather than "it was good" I get a "I liked how you changed the rules to make us run on to the ball because that's what we need to do on a Saturday"

Sometimes just having them think about situations and getting them to come up with rules is an achievement in itself plus, it's promoting the players to think for themselves.

25/07/17
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dancottrell1

Thanks Shaun.

On learning objectives and goals - I've definitely stopped using them. Now that's a whole different thread I know. But in essence, they stop us discovering a completely new path to a new destination.

Instead, I want to create challenges. And, have an environment where they can learn in a way which allows them to keep striving to do better.

On feedback, again I've changed my approach. And I like your approach too. I also find that players have difficulty in verbalising their thoughts effectively. "Awesome" covers everything from a ticket to watch their favourite team, to a cat falling off a table, to a trip to McDs after the game!

After this session, I used a google form to check their reflections. Just another method in many. Will share their reflections...it makes for extremely revealing reading.

26/07/17
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Genothecoach

Hi all. While my code is Gaelic Football, and I coach all ages. I believe the twenty minutes used in the manner you used it in was brilliant. I don't see the fact you got them to referee as a problem. You gave them control of the game. We always tell players that we can't play for them. The alternative use of that 20 minutes
Was sitting about in the changing room.
It was a pity you didn't have 5 more minutes to get their their feedback.
Another big positive is the players will remember that session over a lot of the drill based ones.
Well done and thank you.

07/04/18
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