Substition Plan

How Coaches Allocate Playing Time? Decision time! I remember very vividly, we were trailing in the final of the European Under 18 Tournament and Erik and I looked at each other and he asked “What do we need?”. Then we looked at our bench: the players we needed were not on it! We realised we only had brought more of the same…. A valuable lesson and we did not make that mistake the next year. For National Teams substitution is more on how you want to play and find and tune the players into that. Squeeze the best performance out of them.

For club coaches the situation is very different: they have to play everybody simply because they are on the team! Clubcoaches have to facilate membership or the player development and this means also allow for playing time.

Choices to make

Do we want to start our strongest team and see if we can find time and place to sub the lesser player at the end? Or do we sent out a balanced team in both halves.

Or do you want to wear the opposition and have the Bench to finish the Job kind of approach?


What do the competition regulations allow us to do? The NZRFU simply put in the regulations for the youth competitions that all players should at least play one half. This way they enforce the “playing time for all” principle.

How to organise?

For the U12 age group I advise this approach: we can categorise the players in three stages of development:

  1. The Leader, this is the player who is comfortable with the ball and the concept of Go Forward;
  2. The Follower, this player is actively supporting the Ball Carrier and keeping the Ball Alive;
  3. The Satellite, the player that is passively involved, for example immediately passes the ball when he receives it;

So here you can sub Leaders with Leaders, and so on.

For the higher age groups, we need to think about our gameplan and how we optimise the skillmix for the different positions. Skills are important when deciding for scrum and Line-Out positions but think about the gameplan perspective too:

  1. Big boys: carry the ball across the gainline
  2. (For my U16 team): the girls follow and recycle
  3. Loosies: attack the side of the The Wall (the space between their Fly-Half and the “C” player in the ABC-guard)
  4. Midfield: Distributes
  5. Outlet: Finishes

So, in this approach you categorise your players in a simple “good” and “not good yet” system or you can make a more elaborate performance profile… Now you can base your substitutions on the principle that we sub “good” with “good” and “not good yet” with “not good yet” players and we keep a balanced side out during the whole match.


Last time I went to New Zealand my mate Desmond Tuiavii set me up for a meeting with  Wellington Rugby Union’s Tim Mannix. He told me about the one half rule when we met, I wanted to implement it. Is it difficult?

I have found the discussion about what is “good” and what is “not good yet” very important because it challenges us coaches to think and describe what we think of our players.

One game we the continuity of our play was totally gone, then we realised that we substituted all our top recyclers and we needed to think about the ability to recycle and substitution as well.

I now have a player overview that shows all the different options.

Playing time

When everybody is playing we can give players who train more, a little more playing time too. Every now and then my teammanager and I plot the training time against playing time and check if we see big deviations we can not explain and correct on that in the next games.

Related Information:

  • Interesting post about “not good yet” instead of “bad” in the PCA Archive;
  • Another post from the PCA: “How Coaches Allocate Playing Time“;
  • The RFU is on the bandwagon too, see link within link to read the research they did;
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