All coaches undertake some level of planning when it comes to delivering an effective practice. This planning could be in the form of email exchanges or phone calls to coordinate with assistant coaches, or spending the first ten minutes practice sorting out the session while the athletes play touch.
Some of the factors that go into planning are the number of athletes, their level of rugby skill and athletic ability, the length of the session, the amount of space available and the number of days to the next game. These are all important factors when determining the goals of your practice. It is counterproductive to plan a practice that develops advanced strategic play when the basic technical skills required are lacking – for example working on advanced scrummaging techniques (nudges/wheels) when basic body positioning is poor.
In my experience, effective coaches take a step back from session planning and start with a season plan. They establish goals for the year – what technical development they would see in their athletes, what “style” of rugby they would like to encourage and what growth they would like to see in terms of team dynamics.
The factors considered for season planning are remarkably similar to planning a single session – physical and technical ability, and expected squad size. There are a few other factors that also come in play - number of sessions available, number of games, and the structure of the season.
Like session planning, it is important to make season plans in ways that are developmentally appropriate. For example, setting a goal like “winning the league” with U14 beginner rugby players puts unnecessary pressure on these athletes and takes the fun out of the game.
For season planning with the Ontario U19 team, we referred to the player capacities defined in the new Rugby Ontario Way – Technical, Tactical, Physical, Mental, and Lifestyle. We are hopeful that the individual athletes will develop in all five capacities on the way to reaching their full potential.
The season was divided in to three periods – the Transition period was from January through April, the Preparation period is from May through July and the Competition period will be the first 2 weeks in August.
The Transition period coincided with the Rugby Canada National Academy and focused on physical development (facilitated through Kanama High Performance) and technical improvement. The technical goals of this period were to increase the decision-making ability of the players as well as provide them with alternative alignments (pocket runners) and running lines (in and out lines) to win in 3v2 and 2v1 situations.
The Preparation phase, which we are currently in, is still focused on improving the athletes technically, but also on improving them tactically. Now that we are outside we can put the athletes’ skills under greater pressure by adding contact, and we are able to expand this to larger sided games (8v8 or 10v10) to work on collective decision making on both offence and defence.
The Competition phase in August will be focused on maximizing performance for each athlete. Our team goal for this season is to put as many players on the 2012 Canada U20 team as possible. Our secondary goal is to win the CRC U19. My goal as coach is to help these athletes improve to their potential.
Our season plan has been extremely valuable, but has been more of a guide than a rule. We have had to adjust our plan several times already this year (twice due to waterlogged fields in May) and will no doubt have to modify again.
If you would like to learn more about season planning I would encourage you to take the fantastic Design a Basic Sport Program module that is contained in the multi-sport comp-intro ‘B’ course through Coaches Association of Ontario. Click here for a list of courses available through CAO.