by Tom Billups, C.S.C.S.
It’s the first match of the 2010 season and your players are filled with a mix of competitive anxiety and excitement. As the coach, you work to assure that the starting XV and key reserves are ready to play. In this column offering, I will share a few simple suggestions to use as a checklist on match day.
Prior to match day morning, communicate your expectations as to when you want your players to arrive at the pre-match assembly location. Clearly state what the team dress code is, including footwear. This will help assure players having the required pieces of kit they need to properly prepare for the match while looking like a team. Asking that players to wear running shoes, not sandals, on match day means the team warm up could take place on a hard surface, if required, while also improving the team’s overall appearance. Encourage players to bring some additional fuel such as energy or breakfast bars, as it is typically a long day when multiple matches are played.
On match day, resist the urge to do too much in the warm up. The warm up should be just that, a physical preparation period prior to competition, but too often in domestic rugby the warm up turns into a practice. Train the warm up drills and activities you plan to use during the week so the players are not learning something new just prior to the match. The focus during the warm up should be on mentally rehearsing assignments and physically getting ready for the contest. There will be enough pre-competition stress without them having to learn a new drill or activities prior to kick-off. If your team’s warm up lasts longer than 30 minutes, I would encourage you to review what drills or activities you are doing and the duration of each.
The referee will ask for a few moments to cover their points of laws they want to stress and brief the front row and halfbacks on their expectations at primary phase. In preparation for this meeting with the referee, I encourage coaches to have already looked over the playing surface and checked the weather conditions, such as wind direction, sun etc.
If you have any concerns about the playing surface or enclosure, now is the time to address them. Having a sense of the conditions will allow you to let your captain know what your preferences are for the impending coin toss.
As kick-off nears, and the balance of your team populates the touchline or bleachers, encourage all those players standing in reserve to have all padding and protective equipment on their person. Few things are more frustrating than to call on a reserve player only to watch him scurry for his headgear or put shoulder pads on. Similarly, have all your reserves place their mouthpiece in their sock, not the pocket of the tracksuit they are about to take off as they hurry to join the fray. “Have you got your mouthpiece in?” This is a good habitual question to ask reserves before they enter a match. There have been more than a few occasions when a player has, after a quick self pat down said “no” as they raced toward their tracksuit. Good grief.
Ask your reserves to encourage their teammates, but stop short of coaching them from the touchline. The reserve players should be encouraged to strike a balance between being mentally engaged in the match, so they are better positioned to contribute if called upon, but not so overly excited that they burn through a large amount of energy while watching. Being in reserve is a difficult role for athletes to play, but reserves can be better positioned to sway the course of a match if they strike the right balance of being ready mentally and physically.
A decade ago as I was walking onto Witter Rugby Field here at Cal my first year as an assistant, I asked a long time athletic trainer if he had any advice for me, since this was my first match day with the Golden Bears. “Don’t try to coach them too much on match day” is what he said. “Technical reminders, encouragement, okay, but trust what you coached them during the week”.
I plan to follow this match day advice again this season.
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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