It is a joy and challenge to coach under 21

When you start to coach under 21 rugby there are a number of new challenges that you will. The great news is that you probably have a number of players who are still very keen to play the game after finishing school.

There is always a significant drop in player numbers after high school as players join their local clubs. The good news is that you know these players are there because they love the game.

The main challenges to overcome when you coach under 21 is:

  • The physical step up
  • Starting to deal with other commitments
  • Keeping egos in check
  • Working through an under 21 season as a coach

The physical step up

You wouldn’t think it at first, but there is a huge difference physically between someone just out of school and someone who has been out of school for 2 years.

The child who is 1 year older is often the one who has a season of hard under 21 rugby under the belt. They are also the ones who have really started to step it up in the gym. They are stronger in most instances and the bodies of the younger players feel it.

Injuries start playing a big role at this level. The change from rugby at school is that players need to do strength and conditioning on their own. Some do it and others don’t. The result is a huge jump in the risk of injuries for those players who don’t train.

In our last section on this page, we will address this problem.

Starting to deal with other commitments

Almost every single player will either be studying at a tertiary institution or be busy with their first job.

When leaving school these young players are still totally incompetent when it comes to planning and time management. As you know a lot of it you can only learn through your own trial and error.

You need to understand that they are growing into this new phase in their lives and adapt accordingly.

What it would mean for you as a coach is that you will often have practices with different groups of players. It will also often not be the whole squad as some need to work late and others need to study for a crucial exam.

Keeping egos in check

A couple of your players will be challenging to work with at the start. They are finally free to do what they want because they feel they are now adults.

Things will however soon come crashing down if the players aren’t giving guidance and some structure.

The players can definitely not be treated like kids anymore. Although they won’t say it they will definitely appreciate some structure and order in their lives.

It is a great chance for you to form an amazing bond with your players and they will run into war for you with a smile on their faces.

Working through an under 21 season as a coach

The three most important things you should do is:

  1. Plan – this means for the whole season as well as for each individual training session
  2. Accurate administration – make sure that all your player information and logistical arrangements are 100% in order
  3. Engage your players – you need to clearly communicate your plans to your players. They need to have a clear understanding of your vision, add their input and work with you towards your goals

Planning when you coach under 21 rugby players

Your planning needs to focus on a top-level long-term plan, then broken down into weekly plans and then into individual days.

  • top-level long-term plan – this covers your goals for the whole season. It needs to take into account your approach to both the pre-season and in-season
  • weekly plans – the evening after a game or the next day you need to take stock. Look at what worked and what didn’t and plan your goals for the following week’s practice
  • individual days – plan and write down each rugby drill you will focus on for that day. Break it down into blocks of a couple of minutes each. Don’t go over the allotted time for a specific drill.

Accurate administration for players and logistics

This is not the fun stuff, but if it is not taken care of it will come to bite you in the ass on game day. You will be running around trying to make arrangements when your team needs you as a coach.

The main areas you need to focus on are relatively simple and straightforward:

  • Make sure each of your players are registered, you have contact details for them and they have all their medical information filled out. This should all go in a file. You keep one copy with you wherever you and the team goes and the other copy stays with the club
  • Arrange the details around game days as far ahead of time as possible. Nail down the dates for fixtures and make sure that there is access to change rooms, the field is safe and there are trained medical personnel next to the field.

Engage your players

Your players are no longer kids. They are young adults and need to be treated like adults. You are however still the coach and they need to respect that. In turn, you should always treat them with respect and never talk down to them.

When you have figured out your long-term plan for the season you should get all of the players together. Have a lengthy discussion with them about:

  • what you want to achieve during the season
  • how you want to achieve it – go into detail to show them you are well prepared for the season ahead. It instills trust with the players
  • ask for their feedback on your proposal – take their input seriously. If they like it, they will tell you. If they don’t agree, discuss ways to get to a compromise.
  • come to a conclusion on a couple of points – make sure they are clear of what you expect from them when practice sessions will happen and how you all will stay in communication

If there is not an agreement between you and the players from the start it spells trouble. Coaches often want to put their stamp on a team, but with under 21 players it will be near impossible if it is one-way traffic.

It has to be a partnership for the team to work. This will save you a lot of heartache halfway through the season when you try and figure out what went wrong.