Set Goals

Last Updated on Wednesday, 01 January 2014 09:25


This is the part where you have to decide what you expect of your season, your team and the individual players. There is so much to learn, but how much time do you have? You have to make decisions, prioritize. Luckily, lots of coaches and unions have invested a lot of time in this, you can simply start of with their work. Their Long Term Athlete Development (or LTAD) models helps us to understand the different phases of development and the best way to present learning. The role of an U10's coach is really different from that of an Elite team.

You can use these LTAD model as a starting point for your goalsetting. I like the Irish version: Long Term Player Development.

Other factors are:

  • Target your opposition, what is needed to beat them?
  • Use the experiences of last season.

This is also the moment to think about training cycles, you can outline a whole season/year, detail shorter cycles. What are the individuals goals for these cycles?

Related pages

but goal  but ltad
but links but free but credits

Last Updated on Wednesday, 01 January 2014 09:17

Some snippets of e-mail correspondence with Jeff Hollier.....

["....Seems to me that if you don't have some structure you have anarchy....]"

[......I'm not against structure, I'm against micro-management. I would rather have them dynamic with guidance than scripted...."]

[...I think I probably agree with you, but the crux of the issue for me is "how much" structure you impose, not "whether or not" to impose structure. I agree that there has to be a game plan. You have to help your players make decisions by structuring some of the decision making. The difference lies completely in what you tell your players. Look at the example you outline. If you try to teach your players these responsibilities specifically, you will paralyze them. If however, you give them a plan that says we want to start our attacks from the side of the field to give our primary strikers, the centers, the most room to work, and that we want to ruck with three players, that should be enough structure to let them figure out how to move the ball to the 15m hash with their rucking and recycling skills if you give them enough practice at executing them, AND at recognizing when it it needs to be moved there, and when to stop and move on to the attack phase....]

I have found that visitors to my site have an interest in Plays. Playing the Adaptive Game the plays only have limited use.

Why? A couple of reasons:

  • To break up opposition defence from slow ball or set situations.
  • Place "Why" before the "How": if you do have some plays (and my teams have them) when do you use what play? Develop the tactical understanding of your players first.
  • Acquiring a skill has a higher priority then learning to perform a play,
  • There is a danger: players are performing a routine rather than focus on the reason to perform it,
  • Just training plays gives players a false sense of security. Use competitive games to develop the tactical sense: where is space? How do I attack it?

I focus on the basic skills needed to play the penetration game of the 'Live of the Ball' family. Skill training has a place between the 'Modified Game' en 'Game'. This will take this one step further than the regular pass and catch exercises. I train my players to focus on scissors, switch moves, 3 against 2 situations. Individual requirements, related to positions only need a game related situation and players really start learning to take the right decisions.

Breaking up a well organised defence from slow ball in maul or ruck or from scrum and line-out can be done with certain plays. Closely observe the defensive patterns and decide on which play to execute. Players like the Full-back or blindside Flanker can play this observer role.

Crucial in this is to create a climate or culture where players can try exciting things and express themselves through their style of play. Free their mind. Our game is based on courage and courage can also mean take responsibility and do something else!

So, if my players come to me with questions on plays I discuss the following:

  • "Why do feel the need to learn plays?".
  • "When should we perform this play?".
  • I satisfy the need by focussing on a couple of plays: full back or blind side wing joining the line: fly half gives a miss pass; "Where should the full back join in?".
  • We practise some penalty plays

It should not be a surprise that I am a big fan of French rugby. We know how their National Team play but do you know that in the French competition 75% of all tries are scored from counter attacks? Makes you think....

Pierre Villepreux on the definition of decision making: the capacity of the player to execute an action following some conscious tactical or strategic choice.

Do you want to see more plays? Some interesting links:


Last Updated on Wednesday, 01 January 2014 09:15

This page is based on parts of a presentation by rugby guru Pierre Villepreux from the FIRA website and a presentation of him I found on the Internet. I am very fortunately to have met Pierre several times now and participate in his lectures of the game. You can download a copy the FIRA presentation in French and English here.

Tactical Problems in Rugby today

How to beat the flat defensive line? Pierre Villepreux observes:

  • There is too much individual confrontation! Based on power and hardhitting defenders;
  • Teams are organised to utilise the individual (powerhouse) player who can penetrate the defence (linebreaker)
  • Playing against the wall; rather then creating and using space;
  • Go forward by keeping possession without disorganising the defence (from one phase to another, trying to reach the goal line or to get a penalty (rugby league game).;

The questions to be answered are?

  • How can we (by collective positioning and actions of attacking lines) make it more difficult for the defence to stop the attack?
  • How can we develop this in training sessions?

Effective play is achieved by the team, which is capable of ensuring a complex series of sequences of play linked together, whatever the origin of the possession or when it occurs in the game. The most effective play (in terms of points scored: tries/penalties) is achieved when the teem is capable of putting together at least 2-3 phases of play.

The majority of points are scored from ball, won back from the opposition at the breakdown or in ruck or maul, or in broken play, e.g. producing counter attack, and much more often than from scrums and line outs. Because the defence is much more organized at set play. In fact, few points are scored directly from set moves off scrum or lineout. Points are more likely to be scored from second or third phase play following these set moves.

Taking this analysis one step further, we find the following:

  • The team that wins the game engages in less ruck/maul situations, but when they do form them, they always produce quick ball;
  • When the initial set play produces penetration down the middle of the field, it is more likely that a complex sequence of play will produce effective continuity;
  • Kicking in attack can be either very effective, or ineffective. If the ball is recovered after the kick, a try is scored approximately 90% of the time;

This analysis suggests that the coach's first preoccupation should be to make the players as effective as possible in broken play. To do this, the players need to understand the game of movement so that they can then understand each other.

If the objective is really to develop continuity in the game, thanks to the capacity of all the players to play in a coherent way, linking the game of the forwards to that of the backs and vice versa, then it is essential to practice in the areas of improving understanding the game and the decision-making processes of all the players. This is the only way of creating some kind of logical link between the actions of each individual player within the game.

So, we need to produce players able to adapt their game to the reality of the opposition, with skills, which enable them to assume any role in either attack or defence.

It is the connection between ATTACK and DEFENCE which conducts the positioning of the attacking players. How to give to the players the understanding of their positioning in relation with the reaction of the defense?: by letting them practise in controlled games!

How to play?

First you have to decide what style of rugby you want to play. Pierre Villepreux distinguishes two styles:

  1. the Adaptive Game
  2. The Planned Game

The Adaptive Game

Played by teams who:

  • attempt to keep possession of the ball using a collective system of play;
  • allowing the movement of the attackers, (designated positioning and relevant repositioning) to whatever the situation requires on the pitch;

This collective organisation aims, by means of running, passing and the exploitation of gaps and open spaces to avoid the incidents of ruck - and maul situations or if this is not possible, to deliver the ball at the right time to stop the defence effectively reorganising.

  • in case of a turnover, attempt to use the ball immediately;
  • when the situation requires it, attempt to use kicking strategies;

The Planned Game

The Planned Game is played by teams who:

  • try to maintain the possession of the ball by making the defense move back without disorganising it;
  • adopt as a priority, individual physical confrontation, increasing the incidents of tackles where a large number of players are involved;
  • use kicking but not as a last option;
  • do not take advantage of turnovers;

[Note: The Adaptive Game is ofcourse the exciting game we want to play, we use to describe the french way of playing "French Flair". The All Blacks seem to have this adaptive style of play in recent years.

The Learning Process, problems arising?

Look on other pages for more information on the Adaptive gamestyle and the associated game based learning style. Yes, you can develop the tactical decision making skills of your team!

Related topics are


Last Updated on Wednesday, 01 January 2014 09:14

Develop a gameplan: the Adaptive Game vs. the Planned Game

This page is based on parts of a presentation by rugby guru Pierre Villepreux from the FIRA website and a presentation of him I found on the Internet. I am very fortunately to have met Pierre several times now and participate in his lectures of the game. You can download a copy the FIRA presentation in French and English here.

Rather then just repeat that presentation I have put the hihglights on this page. Below you have lots of references to related material.

One can question the method of coaching rugby....

how to start

Definition of decision making for rugby

Definition of decision-making: the capacity of the player to execute an action following some conscious [or unconscious!] tactical or strategical choice.

Definition of rugby:

A game, which includes both confrontation (with the opposition) and collaboration (within the team), in which two opposing teams fight to gain possession of the ball, with the aim of scoring against the opposition, as a result of their individual and collective efforts.

It is the relationship between attack and defence, and the way in which these two alternate with eachother in the course of the game, which lends a particular sense to this definition of the game. This requires that every player must learn to interact not only with his team-mates but do this in relation to the actions and reactions of the opposition.

These three most important rules / aspect of our game influence how we play the game:

  • Where to score: the defense has to cover the width of the field;
  • Not passing forward (off-side): the confrontation between attackers and defenders;
  • Releasing the ball after the tackle: the contest for possession;

Our definition of tactical skill is the ability of the player to perform appropriately in open play. Open play is defined as the movement of the players and the ball once set play is over and the players and the ball are moving on the field. Most of the time the players have very little time to make these tactical decisions, you have to train your players on such a way that they become unconscious.

Strategic skill is the ability of a player to make the right choices and to perform from set play (scrum / lineout / penalty / kick-off / drop-out). In these situations there is more time to think about a general gameplan and conscious decisions are made.

The Pierre Villepreux presentation on which this page is based deals with:

Make a choice: Which style of rugby you wish to play?

First you have to decide what style of rugby you want to play. Pierre Villepreux distinguishes two styles: the Adaptive - and the Planned Game.

The Learning Process, problems arising?

How to deal with this Adaptive Game and have a learning process that allows the players to be trained? How to give them the appropriate tools to develop both an individual and a collective game? And how to build the game, based on the potential of the individual player and the group?

The ultimate aim of coaching is to develop the teams capacities for adaptation. To train creative players while allowing them the freedom to play an adaptative game in which they are responsible and willing to take initiative.

The learning process (training method) is based on learning using the game itself:

The different methods

There are different methods used to coach the game of rugby:

  1. Technical approach / analytical way. The acquisition by all the players on the team of an ever-increasing number of individual technical skills, with no relation to the reality of the opposition.
  2. Free play: no restrictions, let the players explore.
  3. The development of each player's tactical understanding of game situations, in direct relation to the actions and reactions of the opposition. Learning using the game: competitions + prescribed exercises

How to develop the ability of rugby players to adapt?

One of the primary roles of the coach is to create for the players game-like practices which will help them to better analyse all the problems posed by the defence. All players need some common "code" to help them read the game in a similar fashion, especially in open play. The objective is to enable players to apply this code at game speed. This provides the players with a set of consistent reference points and enables them to analyse the characteristics of the various situations in the game. Once the players have acquired this code, they are able to do the following:

  • To analyse simultaneously any problem presented by the defence.
  • To anticipate what will, happen next.
  • To choose an appropriate action as quickly as possible.

The player will then be able to move into the best position to be able to participate in whatever individual or collective action is going on.

Types of play

In open play, the number of basic situations is relatively few and includes the following:

  • When the defence is grouped together, the obvious choice for both the ball carrier and the support players is to go wide.
  • When the defence is spread across the field, both ball carrier and support players must try to penetrate.

The coach's task is to help both the ball carrier and the support players to come to a similar conclusion about what to do, at any given moment, in light of their perception of what is happening in front of them. This means that every player:

  • can perceive how the defending players are arranged on the field, at any given moment;
  • can perceive his own position in the attacking alignment and can get into a position to be effective according to the needs of the moment (close support, wide support, immediate intervention, delayed intervention).

So the coach must create practices for the players, which cover all the possible situations of the game:

  1. in open play (15 v 15)
  2. unit play (forwards against forwards, backs against back, etcetera)
  3. individual play (2 v 2, 2 v 1, 1 v 1)

Rugby Team Play

In a general team sense when there is open play, this means that the players must understand how the disposition of the defence changes in response to the movement of the attacking players (15 v 15):

  • penetration causes the defence to come closer together and be concentrated in a small area close to the ball
  • attack out wide causes the defence to spread across the field

If penetration has really caused the opposition defence to be concentrated in a relatively small area, then all the conditions are favourable to attacking out wide.

Conversely, wide attack creates the conditions favourable for penetration through the resulting gaps created in the defence.

Rugby Unit Play

The unit play includes, for example, forwards against forwards, backs against backs forwards against backs and vice versa.

Rugby Individual Play

For the individual player, this means the capacity to recognize all the specific situations in the game which involve a small number of players, for example 4v4, 4v3, 3v3, 3v2, 2v2, 2v1, etcetera.

This ability of the player to situate himself in the diverse movements of the players and of the ball, and to take into account the disposition of the defence is the essential principle of decision-making during the game.

How to develop?

How to develop the tactical capacities of attacking players in a game situation where the ball carrier does the decision making: players have to understand they can belong to different "families" and have te (re)act accordingly:

  1. Players who carry the ball
  2. Players inside the ball, late arrivers
  3. Players outside, early arrivers
  4. Players in the deep axis

The "why" before the "how"

Work on the tactical understanding of the player, then on the technical and positional details will fit in.
[The Rijks Universiteit Groningen called this development cognitive behavior, declarative knowledge before procedural knowlegde, Martin]

The are lots of things to consider in order to make the right decision, the above diagram also shows the process of seeing what is in front of you, recognise the pattern, decide and act upon it. [Note: with our focus on the the technical aspects of the game we only work on the last bit; Martin]

Why start the learning process with general play?


1. It allows players to be confronted with all the situations:

  • from the general (team against team)
  • to the individual (1 vs. 1)

2. It allows players to work from the simple to the more complex. By changing the elements:

  • time
  • space
  • numbers of players
  • distribution of players in attack and defence

In the General Play we look for:

  • adaptability
  • creativity and variety of actions
  • accuracy and efficiency in skill

The process of decision-making in rugby

It is useful to recall our use of the terms tactical and strategical:

  • Tactical: the ability of the player to perform appropriately in situations where there is some uncertainty about the outcome (e.g. in general play);
  • Strategical: the ability of the player to make the right choices in Situations where the positions of the players involved is evident (e.g. in scrum and Lineout).

Principle to attack a defence

Go to play where it’s easy to play! Think about specific roles in relation to the ball and ball carrier:

  • Role of ball carrier
  • Role of the support near the ball
  • Role of the support more distant from the ball

Focus of the attacking team is how to maintain the going forwards with lateral passing to avoid the lateral movement of the cover defence?


  1. Which game do youwant to play?
  2. What type of players are required to play it?
  3. What type of training for your players?

Tommorow's players will, in order to break down organised defences, will have to learn to play at a higher pace and to read the game quicker and have a greater variety of skills.

Very important: to see and understand the immediate action and anticipate the most effective option before the opposition can respond.

  • to choose the appropriate skill
  • to utilise good technique
  • to change the option if necessary raise this tactical - and technical aspects the player will also have to simultaneously:

  • develop fitness levels
  • master emotional pressure
  • develop mental strength

in the moving game the players’ specialist rol becomes less relevant.

Related topics are:


Last Updated on Wednesday, 01 January 2014 19:54

Learning to train (L2T)

This page is based on the LTAD website, the Irish LTPD, the RFU LTAD Booklet and our implementation for the Dutch Rugby Union: Meerjaren Opleidingsplan Rugby (MOR). You can download related pdf documents on the Free Download section of my website.

Players in this category are approximately 12-14, or even younger.

Developing the fundamental rugby skills. Quote LTPD: [The emphasis is now on refinement and maintenance of the athlete’s physical capacities, fundamental movement skills and the acquisition of rugby specific skills. This is allied to the continuation of other sporting activities throughout the school year, and during summer and winter multi-sport camps.]

So the focus is not at all on rugby alone! In the Talentdevelopment program of the NRB we include Judo, Basketball and Volleyball for instance. 

We further develop the Rugby Head here: players understand the idea of finding space and going forward. Now play can be more collective, we can run more game like exercises. Pierre Villepreux has a very simple idea about this:

  1. Let the attack play rugby, most of the time the rules of the game are similar of the rugby rules
  2. Manipulate the defence to create the learning experience.
  3. "Play".

You can manipulate the defence and create space by having the defence at specific starting positions, less players, etc.

Learn to train (L2T) and the Rugby Teacher

Due to maturation, the players are now capable of longer periods of concentration and attention; therefore teaching rather than guiding is more appropriate for accelerating learning. Knowledge of how to facilitate learning through understanding is critical together with tactical - and technical skill development and progressions.

The Rugby Guide is involved in the next activities:

  • KSS 2.1: Prepare for and delivering training sessions for his team
  • KSS 3.2: Coaching the team at games & tournaments
  • KSS 3.3: Organise activities
  • Make rugby safe: injury prevention (why did those course developers not give this a KSS number too?)

I have set up lots of pages to help the Rugby Teacher with these tasks. Also you will find a whole archive of documents to help you on your way in a practical manner. In this game based learning, or teaching games for understanding model, the Rugby Guide has to undrstand how, where and when to feed the ball. Also, focus on tactical not technical development, when one player drops the ball simply introduce a next ball and keep the game flowing. Address technical development in another part of your training.

LTAD Rugby Teacher Coaching Course

Finally, I have set up a special coaching course for The Rugby Teacher alone, it takes you five workshops to become one. A Self Study DVD and a Rugby Teacher Coaching Manual are part of this course. Offering more information and giving you the confidence to succesfully work with youngsters. IRB Level I is a nice one-day intro but forget IRB Level II, yes, you learn about rugby it does nothing to help you to become the Rugby Teacher, a specialist for this agegroup. You are still left with questions how to make a plan for the season, what your tactical and technical goals are. Strange when you come to think of it, now we have a development model for our players, the development model of the coach does not reflect this.....

Relevant topics:


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