by Tom Billups, C.S.C.S.
I am fortunate to receive good questions from the faithful rugbyrugby.com readers including one from a Mid Atlantic club coach regarding the challenges of only training two nights per week. His questions to me were surrounding how to get the most out of training sessions given their limited time together. I posed this same question to my colleague and friend Brett Taylor, former national team assistant coach and current Director of Rugby at London Scottish. As the Director of Rugby, Taylor is responsible for the entire rugby operation of the London based club. This encompasses all age groups, from under 7’s to the Gold Squad, their top 50 players. Brett is a full time coach of a squad comprised of adults who work full time at something other than rugby. Due to Brett having only limited time with his players, I thought his input would be valuable to the conversation about getting the most out of the time that club coaches have to get their team ready.
Training time is a valuable commodity for every rugby club, especially clubs who train twice per week, so every minute should be accounted for. Taylor comments, ”We always begin training with a drill that gets the players engaged straight away, otherwise the first segment of training is not as productive as I would like because the players are talking about work, gossip, whatever.” As a coach, having an organized training plan takes time, but demonstrates to your players that you have prioritized training objectives, created activities and drills to accomplish those objectives, and assigned time limits for each drill/activity in a given session. Coach Taylor follows up with, “Gone are the days of everyone rocking up and hoping things go well at training.” With a well-constructed training plan including assigned time segments in place, discipline by the coaches is required to maximize everyone’s efforts. Coaching with time discipline creates a training environment where every repetition counts and players are therefore focused on achieving success during each repetition.
Brett and I are both big believers in having these training plans written out and in hand while coaching a training session. As I share with some coaches I mentor, if Cal Head Coach Jack Clark is still writing out daily training plans after 27 years of coaching, I believe we all should.
It is not uncommon for the best made training plans to be thrown off by spending too much time on a drill at the expense of something else you wanted to accomplish. Utilizing a training plan doesn’t necessarily mean that an activity is to be automatically ended when timed out if it is deemed critical for the team’s improvement, but ideally sufficient time is assigned during the creation of the training plan so to avoid training sessions running long. Another helpful time-saver is to lay out the various activities and drills prior to the start of the training to save time when moving between segments of the session.
Maximizing twice per week training is built around planning, planning, and more planning. At London Scottish, Brett Taylor divides their competitive season into six-week blocks. The London Scottish players are asked to communicate, in advance, their known work and family commitments, via email, that intersect with the team’s training and competition schedule. Taylor comments, “ It is critical for me when planning an intensive lineout session to know if key members of the forwards are travelling for business that week.” Brett uses all available technology to communicate with, and continuous tie together, his squad.
Like many U.S. clubs, London Scottish have also built a website that is available for the playing squad to review their recent past performances, both entire matches, and specific video clips containing points of emphasis the coaching staff want to highlight. Taylor believes this allows the coaching staff to present, in advance, what they want their players to be focused on before they step foot on the training field.
One of the biggest challenges Brett, the former Northampton Saint halfback, faced early on when coaching club rugby was to fight the tendency to try to “cover everything” during a given training session. He relates, “I have to battle against our coaching being only an inch deep, but a mile wide”.
One interesting aspect of Taylor’s approach to getting the most out of twice per week training is auditing what they spend time coaching over a four-match time span. This analysis includes an audit of specifically what the coaches are devoting time and energy during a given training session.
Here is the recent time breakout of how London Scottish spent four weeks, or eight Tuesdays and eight Thursdays, worth of training time so far this season;
Gold Squad In Season Training Time Analysis (Total Time 940 minutes)
Warm up and Agility training (150 minutes) - 16%
Unit work Backline attack/Scrums/Lineouts (130 minutes) - 14%
Team Defence (120 minutes) - 13%
Team Attack (95 minutes) - 10%
Video Analysis (90 minutes) - 9%
Conditioning (65 minutes) - 7%
Competitive Conditioning Games (65 minutes) - 7%
Team Patterns of Play (60 minutes) - 6%
Scanning (60 minutes) - 6%
Core Strengthening (45 minutes) - 4%
Ball Handling (30 minutes) - 3%
Contact Skills (30 minutes) - 3%
Brett adds that “ there is an expectation for players to perform their strength and conditioning on their own time. This allows more time to be focused on rugby and not just trying to get fit. In the above monthly breakdown, the conditioning we do is game sense games…skills and decisions under fatigue”.
The specific areas teams spend training time on, and how much time is allotted, will vary due to previous performances, line-up changes, training venue space, available equipment, and the upcoming opposition analysis.
Maximizing limited training time requires solid planning, clear communication, and creativity. Is your club maxing out training time?
Tom Billups began his rugby career in 1984 and has spent time as a player in New Zealand (Bay of Plenty), the U.S. (The Old Blues), England (London Harlequins), and Wales (Pontypridd) for domestic teams as well as representing the U.S.A. at international tournaments with the Eagles. After hanging up his boots, Billups got into coaching leading the Eagles and now with University of California – Berkeley. Read the entire bio of Tom Billups as well as Billups first column My Rugby Path and then check out what Billups is saying about the game of rugby in The Billups Column on Rugby Rugby.
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