As Technical Director of Rugby Ontario I spend a lot of time around the playing and practicing of rugby in Ontario and across Canada. One thing often stands out to me as one fundamental issue (amongst others) that coaches must address for the betterment of the game.
This is providing our athletes with the tools to be able make decisions on the field for themselves and to help them develop a game understanding /sense. These two areas are evident deficiencies when Canadian teams meet up with other nations. Too often our players are looking to sidelines for directions rather than playing with their heads up and making key decisions for themselves under pressure. 
To be able to correct this plague in our game in Ontario so that it flows through up to the higher echelons of our game coaches must look at two things:
1 – A game sense approach to their coaching
2 – Allow players the freedom to play the game with out rigid systems that stave off decision-making opportunities.
In this blog I will look at the first point.
The following video features current All Black Co Coach Wayne Smith describing a Game Sense Approach to coaching. This video clearly and concisely outlines the key components of coaching with this framework. The video is from The Rugby Site – You Tube account. I suggest you take a look at the actual site too (
When viewing the video look for key points Wayne points out regarding a Game Sense Approach. 


Key Points 

1 - Playing games makes sense

2 – A lot of champions have great game sense

3 – Champions get game sense through playing games and game like situations

4 – Players stop and wait for instruction – “Got to let them PLAY – last thing you want as a coach is to step in and fix everything.

5 – Observe –Bring them back in – ask questions that are meaningful and about Game UNDERSTANDING

6 – Games make sense of Rugby

7 – Play them often

8 – Priorities what you want to develop through your game

9 – Change parameters to force players to make decisions and make them solve their own problems



This less than two-minute clip clearly outlines what all coaches in Ontario should be focusing on. It also prescribes the key elements of NCCP / IRB Coaching Philosophy and Education. This can also be found under Rugby Ontario’s Coach Philosophy on this website.

Two Key Point’s I want to pick up on is point #4 and #10

Key Point # 4

Athletes often stop and wait for instructions from what I have witnessed over the past three years I have been in Ontario. Coaches are far too quick to yell things from sidelines and /or follow them under posts after scoring situations to tell player what they should be doing rather than allowing the captain or the senior players (even though they may only be 14 – 18 years old) to take leadership roles and explore game sense through doing.  Yes this may lead to mistakes and heaven forbid a loss. It is often said you learn more from defeats than your wins. This discovery is crucial for the future success of our players and our game.

Coaches have generally two practices a week (more in high school, college or university) to develop game sense and understanding, this is their time to instill what they want to develop in the players.  But when the players cross the chalk on game day it is their game to play. Coaches have to then take a step back and let their players, through on field leadership learn the game by doing.

I would be excited to see coaches sitting in bleachers (if available) or behind ropes observing the game and formulating 3 key meaningful questions for half time that will help the learning and the playing.  This would really and truly developing game sense. The coaches who prowl the sideline yelling at their players tend to be directive coaches pushing information rather than pulling it from players. Ask yourself when you were a player did you hear the white noise from the sideline? – I guess the answer would be no not in the heat of the game. So then why bother? All you are doing is drawing attention to yourself. I have heard spectators say I only come to watch the coach lose it. That is truly sad.

Key Point # 10

As I touched on above I too often see coaches direct players and not provide them any opportunity to self develop or explore because they either tell them what to do with out why they should do it or simply just yell at them from the sideline where they should be and what they should be doing.  This does absolutely NOTHING for their development of decision-making or game sense.

The key is for Creating AWARENESS through QUESTIONING is the use of open ended and well thought out questions.

Who, What, When, Why Where and How’s

The following clip shows Ontario Blues U19 Head Coach Shaun Allen in a real coaching environment after them playing a simple game working on their Attacking abilities.

Listen to how he uses questioning to draw the information out of his players and develops awareness of what they need to work on. 


Shaun is able to direct players through excellent questions and exemplifies the key points that were outlined by Wayne Smith. The learning that players are able to do through this style of coaching is exponential.

Some will say "But the players are inexperienced and don’t know how to play the game so ho can they answer questions? I have to instruct them." Well I would suggest you should trust your players, they are smarter than you think and if you take the time to develop your questioning you will get excellent long lasting results.

One thing to also keep in mind is don’t be scared of silence – use pregnant pauses after you ask a question. Let the players ponder, soon enough a player will say something and often it is a gem. This is hard but I dare you to ask a question and let it hang for them answer.

I hope truly hope you work on the Game Sense Approach in your coaching for the development of your players decision making and game understanding. It is not the easiest way to coach but it is the most developmentally effective

After all it is the players game when they cross the chalk.

 Best of luck with your coaching



RO Technical Director.

IRB Coach Educator

NCCP Learning Faciliator and Evaluator.