Union’s historical success is a tribute to our volunteers who give their time and effort to help spread a sport weall love. What follows is an attempt to formalize what we consider to be thecore philosophy of our youth tackle program in, hopefully, aneasy-to-understand format. This approach is based on years of coaching,teaching, and educational experience and is supported by current researchregarding successful youth sports programs.
According to The Aspen Institute Project Play Report, over 70% of children dropout of organized sports before the age of 13 and the number one reason childrensay they no longer participate in sports is because it’s not fun. Creating afun learning atmosphere around our Mudturtle Youth Tackle program is the numberone priority for all our coaches. Here are our core principles.
Family: We need to instill a sense of community in the players. Fromflag to the adult programs to retirement, Union is a lifelong family and theparents and players need to realize that. It starts at the team level with theplayers growing together and supporting each other. To facilitate this dynamic,we need to commit portions of practice to team building exercises. We also needto do things outside of rugby together, as a team. Rugby does not stop whenthey graduate from your team level to the next.
Fun: We have to keep our players engaged, in tune to what we areteaching and, above all, keep the sport fun for them. This does not meansacrificing coaching principles, fundamentals, and discipline. It does,however, mean being creative and prepared at each and every practice tokeep our young athletes engaged and having fun. All kids, at every age, like toplay games. Drills have their place, but can get boring quickly. The challengefor all our coaches is to have the kids engaged and enjoying the practicesession through an uptempo combination of drills and games. There are multiplecoaches at each teams practice session; no one should ever be standing aroundwatching. Get involved by grabbing a player and helping them with a skill 1 on1, 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 confusedin an activity.
Fundamentals: Each and every practice will focus on activities andskills to make our athletes the best rugby players that they can be. We willachieve this by focusing on simple fundamentals that can be emphasized viaevery learning opportunity we implement. We want our players to take the skillsthey learn during practices and turn them into skills they can use on gamedays, from passing to rucking to tackling. Every practice should have a setamount of time spent on fundamentals. Another key element of fundamentalsrelates 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 willensure better practices, better rugby, and stronger young women and men, bothon and off the field.
There is a huge difference between a player who has technique and a player whohas rugby skills. Drills teach technique, while games teach rugbyskill—as in “rugby IQ”. Again, the vast majority of drills used bywell-intentioned coaches teach technique and not the rugby skills necessary forsuccessful 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 startcreating learning opportunities at every level of our program. Learning inisolated drills simply does not work and there is lots of research tosubstantiate that statement. It may look good in practice, but our kids simplyhave to start learning once the actual game play starts.
Practice for the players needs to be chaotic. They need to be put intosituations where they make mistakes and have to figure out what’s happening,why, and then make adjustments. Practice sessions needs to be planned out inadvance by coaches. Place our players in scenarios where they are going tofail. Make the situations competitive and fun. Change the constraints to keepthem thinking about how best to win. Allow them to try new things and see whatdoes and does not work. In other words, you need to make sure that the firsttime 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 tothem.
The expectation for each level of our program is that this mindset be employedduring 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 practiceplans. If any coach needs guidance on how to include additional learningopportunities, the Head Coach of Youth Tackle can provide ample suggestions andresources.