Kids love rugby

Training kids: mix or select?

Do we mix-up the children with different abilities or select and split?

I already mentioned that I love and their Learner Lab podcast series. Trev and Alex make me think about a lot of things I do as trainer. An example: the Learner Lab episode on the Pygmalion Effect and a discussion I was part of whether or not to group the better players (within their U10 and U12  teams) together.

Pygmalion Effect

The link to the Leaner Lab Podcast here.

This is about the selffulfilling prophecy: Trevor and Alex interviewed the researcher Rosenthal who did some interesting experiments. For example, they tested a large groups of students and based on this test these student were placed in classes. The class with better students improved significantly better than the other class. But guess what, the test was a fake so the placement was random. It was because the students were treated as better, they developed more.

Selecting players in their U10 and U12 teams

We had a discussion in a coaching forum about grouping the better players in one team and not so good players in the other. One coach shared his experience, the goal was to cater for the development of the better players. This coach said they did improve and he considered doing the same this season.

The Pygmalion Effect in action?

Some observations

I had a 10 year old training with 12 – and 13 year olds at my club (let’s call him Bob). We had a very tactical development training cycle set up with lots of rugby related games. Out of the blue Bob made a super play where he lobbed the ball over a would-be interceptor he saw coming and a try was scored. More interesting, Bob did not even dared to participate five weeks earlier! But he worked with the rest and he, although sometimes a bit frustrated, improved just as the rest of the team.

Are we underestimating our ability as coaches to improve players? Do we underestimate our players ability to learn? My friend Loek has a similar observation: after the corona break he suddenly saw players doing things that he didn’t think they could do. A player missed-out one of the best players of the team with his pass just to get the ball to another player who made the break.

Background on training philosophy

What about Bob? How did he learn? I have learned a lot from Pierre Villepreux and the Plaisir de Mouvement and FFR Academy Coach Jean Bidal and have gotten confident to practise their philosophy.

We can recognise players who are comfortable Making Actions with the Ball. But there are also players who are good in supporting this Ball Carrier and a third group who are constantly moving about taking up position but when they get the ball they pass it on straight away.

Our goal is to make everybody comfortable with the ball: go forward, recognise and run into space, keep the ball alive when stuck/tackle/grabbed. Our Bob was in that third category five weeks earlier.

So Pierre and Jean showed me how to manipulate the space these players run into, how to entice the players coming onto the ball, how to start play (rather than have the dominant players make the tap each time). I had been doing all this with our Invictus team and of course with our Bob.

Questions to ask

  1. Is selecting an easy way out for us coaches? The subsequent improvement of the team a demonstration of the Pygmalion Effect? Should we not strive to make all players comfortable with Actions with the Ball?
  2. Loek pointed out that the better players are very selfish in games and just do not pass to lesser players. How to deal with this? In training we can have more control, but what about game time?
  3. Is this about educating the players there will always be a difference between players in a team (and learn to deal with it?)
  4. What does learning look like? Do we as coaches not want too much structure and immediate results. Perhaps we should give players more time to make mistakes and learn?
  5. Select or not? I simply could not because we did not have the numbers in my team. Perhaps I should get involved with one of these teams with the lesser players and proof they can develop like Bob did?

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Photo by Sarah Muirhead, professional sports photographer. Look at her website for more!