By Richard Anderson
So, having settled in, made acquaintances, guzzled a couple of beers with the boys, identified opinions on areas of weakness and strength, identified the leaders on the team and set your stall out to the team as to what you want to achieve, it's time to start achieving it. It's time to take the field and get the boys rolling.
You ought to have a reasonable idea by this point, at the very least, of what the fixture schedule is to look like for the season ahead, and particularly when it starts. The situations out there will always be different, but for the sake of this column, we're going to assume two things: you have four weeks to the season opener, and you have two training sessions a week - so that's eight sessions to the first match.
Your first two sessions need to be a whole lot of things. Organised is by far the most important one. Simple follows on from this - you do not want a session that mentally overtaxes even the most basic of players. Good players always need the basics, but new or less talented players will not enjoy a session running through a four-phase attack structure. But close behind simple is - in nature - diagnostic. By the end of sessions one and two, you have to know who can pass and who cannot, who is fit and who is not, who is fast and who is not, who communicates and who doesn't and who is listening to you and who is not, i.e. who is taking the instructions on board. So while the exercises have to be simple, they have to tell you everything you need to know. We'll look at this more specifically next time.
Eight sessions to play with is not a lot of time at all, especially not when you consider the unit work you'll need to do before the season starts on things like scrums and line-outs. But it's a truism that fitness wins games. So hit the players HARD with fitness for the first four sessions. A training session shouldn't be longer than 90 minutes (excluding warm-up and warm-down), so for those first four sessions you'll be looking at 60 minutes of fitness and 30 of rugby work - again, more specifics next time.
As the season opener draws closer, you can start changing that proportion, bringing it down to about 40-50 and getting the game-plan into effect - by this point hopefully you won't need to spend idle time explaining as much as at the start either.
This status quo of 40-50 can remain at the start of the fixture list, although you can also divide the time differently over the two weekly sessions as the season moves on, say 60-30 Tuesday and 20-70 Thursday. Bye weeks are often a good time to stock up on a fitness session though, but only if you perceive fitness to be a problem. By the end of the season, fitness ought to be mostly a way of getting the guys warmed up - in the last few sessions, you'll need no more than 30-60 and you'll hopefully also find that the drills you have the team run are being run at enough of a pace that they are a form of fitness anyway.
As an overview, you can see the season as being split into three sections: overall fitness, where the guys just run and get their lung capacities and bloodflows up, then conditioning/tactics, where you'll focus more on the specific fitness demands of the different positions and getting the gameplan together, and finally maintenance, where you'll be well into season and dealing with injuries and other niggles and just making sure the guys don't slack off or forget their lines.
Meanwhile, you need to back the fitness up. The first four sessions are also the ones to hit the very tiniest techniques in the basics just as hard as the fitness. You need to make sure that guys - even when absolutely shattered - are using their hands and hips properly when passing, that they are pushing off the correct foot into contact and into a tackle, things like that. Only once those are in place can you set about creating effective strategies for the team to work into - it's no use sending a big guy into contact with a mission to offload if he can do neither.
From week three onwards it will be time to split the units up at least once a week. Your forwards will need to work on scrums and line-outs, your backs on looking for space, handling and line speed. Thursdays are preferable for this, as it tends to work better to get the general stuff out of the way earlier and the specific work done closer to the weekend. Once you are in the week heading into the fixtures, this is a non-negotiable: fitness and more general work Tuesdays, then unit and team work Thursdays.
So: you have your overview. You have an idea of what you'll be working on at different times of the season - and letting the players know this will help in terms of their being patient with you. No amateur player truly likes fitness, but if he can see light at the end of the tunnel, he'll be willing to help you get it out of the way those first four sessions.
Next time we will look at the first four sessions in detail. But in the meantime if you have any questions on the structure of a season, do feel free to drop a line and ask!
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