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Mudturtle Youth Tackle Program Philosophy

Posted on 1/2/2020 1:18:16 PM by Bob Scheurer |   Return To Blog

Union’s historical success is a tribute to our volunteers who give their time and effort to help spread a sport we all love. What follows is an attempt to formalize what we consider to be the core philosophy of our youth tackle program in, hopefully, an easy-to-understand format. This approach is based on years of coaching, teaching, and educational experience and is supported by current research regarding successful youth sports programs.

According to The Aspen Institute Project Play Report, over 70% of children drop out of organized sports before the age of 13 and the number one reason children say they no longer participate in sports is because it’s not fun. Creating a fun learning atmosphere around our Mudturtle Youth Tackle program is the number one priority for all our coaches. Here are our core principles.

Family: We need to instill a sense of community in the players. From flag to the adult programs to retirement, Union is a lifelong family and the parents and players need to realize that. It starts at the team level with the players growing together and supporting each other. To facilitate this dynamic, we need to commit portions of practice to team building exercises. We also need to do things outside of rugby together, as a team. Rugby does not stop when they graduate from your team level to the next.

Fun: We have to keep our players engaged, in tune to what we are teaching and, above all, keep the sport fun for them. This does not mean sacrificing coaching principles, fundamentals, and discipline. It does, however, mean being creative and prepared at each and every practice to keep our young athletes engaged and having fun. All kids, at every age, like to play games. Drills have their place, but can get boring quickly. The challenge for all our coaches is to have the kids engaged and enjoying the practice session through an uptempo combination of drills and games. There are multiple coaches at each teams practice session; no one should ever be standing around watching. Get involved by grabbing a player and helping them with a skill 1 on 1, set up the next drill so that there is no down time in the transition. Nothing loses a kids focus more than standing around waiting or being confused in an activity.

Fundamentals: Each and every practice will focus on activities and skills to make our athletes the best rugby players that they can be. We will achieve this by focusing on simple fundamentals that can be emphasized via every learning opportunity we implement. We want our players to take the skills they learn during practices and turn them into skills they can use on game days, from passing to rucking to tackling. Every practice should have a set amount of time spent on fundamentals. Another key element of fundamentals relates to discipline – instilling discipline in our young players (e.g., how to act in a game, how to act toward teammates, no back talking, etc.). By being clear about expectations about discipline from day one, we will ensure better practices, better rugby, and stronger young women and men, both on and off the field.

There is a huge difference between a player who has technique and a player who has rugby skills. Drills teach technique, while games teach rugby skill—as in “rugby IQ”. Again, the vast majority of drills used by well-intentioned coaches teach technique and not the rugby skills necessary for successful performance.

This represents a shift in thinking from the drills-based practice that many, if not all, of us grew up with. We all need to stop creating drills and start creating learning opportunities at every level of our program. Learning in isolated drills simply does not work and there is lots of research to substantiate that statement. It may look good in practice, but our kids simply have to start learning once the actual game play starts.

Practice for the players needs to be chaotic. They need to be put into situations where they make mistakes and have to figure out what’s happening, why, and then make adjustments. Practice sessions needs to be planned out in advance by coaches. Place our players in scenarios where they are going to fail. Make the situations competitive and fun. Change the constraints to keep them thinking about how best to win. Allow them to try new things and see what does and does not work. In other words, you need to make sure that the first time players see the real-time chaos of a game is not 15 minutes into a game; rather, it is something that has already happened in practice so is familiar to them.

The expectation for each level of our program is that this mindset be employed during practices, indoor workout sessions, etc. To build the most coherent, consistent and connected youth program, it is critical that every head coach (U12/U14/JV/Varsity) incorporates these standards into their team practice plans. If any coach needs guidance on how to include additional learning opportunities, the Head Coach of Youth Tackle can provide ample suggestions and resources.