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Hi everyone, this is my first post. I am currently head coach of a group of senior rugby players who play at a reasonable standard (by this i mean they are amateur players but have good experience and are competent in terms of their skill sets).
When i took on the team last year they were craving structure to their play which would allow them to make the most of their strengths as a team. I've never really felt comfortable with having too much structure in attack but we added some simple things to help them and we saw an improvement in performance.
My issue now is that i would really like to break down some of the structures to encourage more decision making throughout the team and for the players to be more creative within their play.
My question is how do i go from our currently structured game (certain players in certain positions at certain times) to a more unstructured game where players can determine their own roles at that specific time based on what they perceive the other teams weaknesses to be?
I know that it needs to be done gradually as we need a certain level of performance to keep me in a job and allow me to reach the end goal of unstructured decision makers. I also need to find a way to get the players to let go of their structures which act as a safety net for them and provides them with confidence.
What success have people had in these situations?
Based on interviews, conversations and my own coaching experiences, here are my thoughts.
1. Set piece structure
All set pieces start with a structure. Therefore, we expect to plan a play to win each set piece.
The best teams have a structure that bends to the moment. So if they match you in a lineout, the plan can be bent to outwit them. The players know the cues and clues and make the adjustments on the spot.
> What are the cues and clues to bend a plan?
> What can you change quickly and easily to outwit the defence?
> Can the players come up with those?
2. Open play “structure”
Open play structure, or playing what’s in front of you? Are they the same or even just a little bit different?
I think coaches and players are scared of choice. It’s easier to go with a pre-planned phase play structure that can work some of the time. It’s certainly easier to practise because it tends to “work” more of the time in training.
That’s when structure needs to be redefined. Instead of patterns, we should be working towards principles first and then shapes to make those principles work.
We all know the principles of play. The shapes are the clever part. And you will probably be using them in some form already.
For example, if we want go-forward from slow ruck ball in the middle of the field, with only three forwards on their feet, what’s the best shape? Well, we could all sketch out some form of pod or pick and go scenario…but can the players? Perhaps they can, but how many different scenarios are there before, around and after this type of ruck?
Therefore, the players have to work to the principles and then create shapes on the pitch to match the circumstances.
The best way to do this is through game scenarios. Lots of them, randomised and chaotic. In training, don’t stop the play to check for understanding or question decisions: let it develop. Ask questions on the hoof, as the players are running around. For example: Did that work? What can you do differently? And…did you go forward, did you retain possession, did you build pressure?
You are asking individuals, not the team. You are putting the onus on every player to be part of the decision making process, whether they have possession of the ball or are in support.
Keep going back to the principles. Remember that first scenario – slow ball, middle of the field. As it happens in the training game, ask a forward who was on their feet at the time whether they were following the principles. And, for next time, what would they do the same and what would they do differently.
Forget technical errors. Focus on tactical decisions. Was there a better option? If not, fine. If so, what.
> Coach principles first.
> Let the players discover which shapes help them enact those principles. You can, of course, help with suggestions.
> Play lots of scenarios that don’t keep stopping for feedback.
> Quiz the players. Have they achieved the principles and if not, what can they do next time?
3. Structured to unstructured
Your structures are your principles. The structures that don’t allow the principles to work will fade under the pressure of the game situations in training. If they don’t work in the scenarios under that weight of scrutiny, they will eventually be dropped from the players’ match repertoire.
Your challenge is to create enough training scenarios and spend enough time on this to create the environment to do that.
And if you have access to video analysis of your games, then keep applying the principles. When you are reviewing the plays, remember one swallow does not make a summer. Some very structured plays will work. Fine. However, this is for the long haul. Constant review and revision will sift out those things that don’t fit.
> Training needs more game scenarios than ever.
> Pressure to perform the principles with reduce the number of “structured” plays.
> Review game footage as part of the process.
> One good example of a structured play that works doesn’t mean that’s it a keeper.
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