When kids “graduate” from the chaos of under 8 rugby you start seeing their game taking a bit of shape. Too often rugby drills for kids are not focused on taking a gradual step up, but rather hope to create top players. It is not realistic and does a lot more harm than good.
At this young age, players need to still focus purely on the enjoyment of the game and participation mostly. There is however room to start incorporating some rugby drills to improve their overall skills and discipline.
Kids start displaying a better understanding of the game and this always is always exciting. It creates unrealistic expectations from parents, coaches and spectators.
There are a couple of problems that regularly pop up at this age that we will address:
- Coaches try and teach them skills that high school or adult experienced players work on
- Something is seen in a professional game and it is expected that these kids are able to do the same
- The focus is not on improving EVERYONE’s skills, but rather getting the ball to the few stars in the team
The rugby drills for kids you need to focus on
I am going to discuss these first, but encourage you to read on after that. The sections afterward will go into some “soft skills” for you as a coach to be more effective.
At this age between 8 and 11, the players are starting to do the very basics right. They run in the right direction, they know how to score a try and they know a little bit about defending.
The most important skills to pay attention to at this age are:
- Passing and catching – this should only be the classic or static pass for now. They will use it far more frequently than the spin pass even at the very top levels of the game
- Playing towards the ball – this is the case on attack especially, but also important on defense. The general idea should be that forward players mostly work toward the ball and form a ruck after a tackle. They should then try and work over the ball so an open player (mostly a 9) can pick it up and play the ball to the backline
- Tackle/rip the tag – depending on how you play the game in your country, players have to become comfortable with defending. It is not the work of the forwards, the backs or some players in the team. It is everyone’s duty
- Put these together in mini-games – there is too little focus on this by coaches. If you teach a skill without the game-specific context, the players are unlikely to know when and how to apply it. Creating mini-games around game-specific scenarios connects the dots in their young brains and they will then cope with it better in a real game
That is actually it. The reason why you should focus only on this is that it makes up such a huge part of the modern game. Structured play (scrums, lineouts, penalties and kickoffs) make up a small percentage of overall play.
Getting players comfortable with continually contributing both on offense and defense is of cardinal importance. It will help all of the players grow and improve. Your overall success will improve in leaps and bounds.
Expecting too much too early
Players develop at different rates and these players are only starting out with the game. They don’t have the worldly knowledge and experience of older players. Their world is still fairly small and not complex at all.
During this time it is more important to create a sound base than a superstar. A player who really understands the fundamentals and can execute it stands the best chance of growing into a good player.
The kicker in the team for example only needs to know that it is important to kick the ball out from a penalty. It is not important to know how to kick a banana kick or torpedo or box kick.
Just think about it: If you one-day coach senior players, would you want a flyhalf who kicks out every time or someone who kicks out 50% of the time, but looks really cool doing it?
It is not just about winning, so let everyone play
Over the years I have seen that there is often a big kid or a fast kid that gets given all of the attention by the coach. At this young age, they are often dominant and the coach wants to win at all cost.
It is however totally unfair to all of the other players and puts unnecessary pressure on the star player.
Always focus on rugby drills for kids of all skill levels, not just on your stars.
There are two major side-effects from this:
- The little superstar starts buckling under the pressure. As they get older the playing field evens out. They are no longer the biggest or fastest and it is difficult for them to adapt. Mostly because they didn’t learn the necessary skills to play better overall
- You sit with a whole rest of the team running on very low self-belief. They were never allowed to run with the ball. Never allowed to take part. It was always about the little star. Now they need to play catch up and it becomes a difficult and painful process
Don’t be that coach. Involving all of your players will result in them playing to their full potential. The maths is actually very simple if you think about it.
If you have your little superstar or two contributing 100% every game and the rest at 50% that is not ideal. If each of them bumps up their performance to 60% or 70%, because you care about them and coach them as equals, the picture changes dramatically.
This actually makes it possible for you to still get the best from your best players. You will probably get even a little more. Now that they see there is a chasing pack, they are far more likely to work even harder.