kids enjoying their rugby

Do you coach your kids to enjoy their rugby?

Our Ambassador, Adam Preocanin, has played top level rugby across the world. His latest blog gives us some valuable insight into his coaching experience. You don’t often get to hear tips from a professional rugby players coaching point of view so we hope you enjoy this. Many thanks for your thoughts Adam!

As well as playing professional rugby, I have also held various coaching roles over the past few years —  from schoolboy rugby in Australia and England, to men’s rugby at London 1 level.

Without simply re-packaging a RFU coaching resource, I will try to discuss an area I feel is important to bear in mind when coaching kids. Hopefully it will bridge the gap between professional rugby and the Sunday morning bedrock of the game.

Enjoyment.

If your kids aren’t enjoying sessions or matches then they’re unlikely to continue playing into the long term. Simple. However, if we coach purely for enjoyment our sessions are likely to consist of kicking a whole bag of balls (over the widest possible area); throwing mud at each other; and if you’re lucky, some random games of touch.

The biggest challenge for any coach outside of professional rugby is to strike a balance between coaching for skill improvement, and coaching for fun — of course, finding the sweet spot is easier said than done.

So why is this the case? What do we have to consider to be able to pitch our sessions at the right level?

First, let’s take it back a step and look at why we’re even here. Is it just to facilitate enjoyment and hope somehow, some kids get better? I don’t think so.

The objective of our job, ultimately, is to improve kids — but where and how we concentrate our efforts will depend heavily on our outlook, and our role. For instance, we might have a small team of under 9s — or we might be the forwards coach of a highly competitive under 18s  team.

Coaching transferable skills (such as general hand-eye co-ordination), as well as coaching specific skills, will both help to improve performance — although comparatively they are more or less relevant depending on the situation. I won’t go into the specific vs general debate now, but hopefully I’ll be able to write about that some other time.

Kids loving their rugby!

Kids loving their rugby!

So far, we’ve determined the ‘what’ of our job but haven’t talked about the ‘how’ — how do we improve the capabilities of our players?

This is where enjoyment becomes important. Take a second to think about all the things you don’t do simply because you don’t like them — there’s probably quite a few. The same principle applies when coaching.  A major focus of our sessions therefore, should be to work in an environment that is fun (again — easier said than done).

This doesn’t mean that every game or drill has to centre around enjoyment — remember we are still here for improvement — but the overall balance of the session should be positively fun.

The important point to make is that enjoyment and skill development are on different dimensions, rather than different end of the same spectrum. Things can be highly relevant for improvement and highly enjoyable — they’re not mutually exclusive.

So how do we do achieve both? I think a fairly simple framework can be drawn from Self-Determination Theory (bear with me).

In layman’s terms, it is suggested that individuals are motivated to satisfy three main needs: autonomy, relatedness, and competence (albeit in varying amounts).

In practice, this means we should work towards an environment that facilitates these elements, so our players can get satisfy whichever needs they value most.

For instance, a player motivated by relatedness (social) needs will benefit from a team with strong off-pitch togetherness; a player motivated by competence, will benefit from a sense of advancement and achievement, and; a player motivated by autonomy will look for freedom to express their skills within the rugby domain.

The ‘kicker’ in all these cases is that even though the rugby element might not be the priority, by facilitating the satisfaction of fundamental needs we can do our jobs, and improve our kids — and they can enjoy it! Win win win.