Tuesday, April 24, 2012

When game sense coaching doesn't make as much sense...

With the crazy change in the weather this week we've seen everything from snow, sleet, rain and some just generally miserable weather. Although I believe that coaching with a game sense approach is by far the best way to coach, I think I have found when it doesn't work as well, too.

We had to cancel a high school game yesterday since it snowed in the morning and the weather was at about 4 degrees Celsius for most of the day. The concern was that the athletes would be freezing after doing a full warm-up and then playing the game and that the field would be torn up if we played three rugby games on it in the day. Instead, we decided to do a short, one hour practice that would get the athletes out of the elements in only an hour and would be a high intensity and fast paced practice in order to stay warm.

Brilliantly, not a lot of the athletes dressed for the weather. One would assume, I think, that since the games were not postponed until after student arrived at school that morning that all the athletes would have brought their warm rugby clothing with them. However, that seemed not to be the case! We still have some work to do on that front.

In any case, I don't get a lot of opportunity to coach the guys at the school so we just held a practice for the boys teams. Many of the guys have had only moderate opportunity to actually play and therefore have fairly limited understanding of the game due to rugby being a late entry sport. We often think that telling athletes what to do is a better way for the athletes to learn the game and so far this approach was frustrating for a number of the athletes. However, we need to trust that the players will learn as they play (experiential learning) and that we as coaches must help them recall and highlight what they have learned.

Given the weather, we had to keep the practice moving at all times. I also wanted players to leave with a few key lessons from the time they spent on the field. The two strategies I used were to keep the game moving in the down times (ball out of bounds, knock on) by counting down and to keep the team questioning conversations to VERY brief time intervals (we really talked for 30-90 seconds before going back to the game). To keep the game moving, I had to be quite verbally involved in the practice so by counting down 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and then saying 'go' the athletes weren't over-thinking what they needed to do, they were just doing it. They were also keeping (marginally) warmer!

When we wanted to make a point, we called the athletes together for a very brief questioning period where we highlighted a few skills throughout the practice. We looked at working together in support distance for offloads, working on when and how to kick strategically and how to maul effectively. All this in a 45 minute practice! That being said, I think that the learning would have been even more effective if we had had more time to question and demonstrate the parts of the whole that the players were missing.

In the whole-part-whole sense of games sense coaching, we were really only able to cover the 'whole' and really scratched the surface when it came to the 'part.' I would have preferred to have more time to repeat some of the learning in part before going back to the whole as the learning would have been more clear and solidified for the athletes.

All in all, practice was well done by all athletes even though they were fighting the distraction of the weather through the entire time. I hope that we'll be able to get some more time in better weather soon!

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