The challenge of training without a full squad

practicing without a full squad can be a blessing in disguise

The life of a coach is often not sunshine and roses. There are various challenges that you need to deal with both on and off the field. Training without a full squad is one of the challenges we often need to overcome.

When you made sure that you planned your practice session for that day, but only 10 or 13 players pitch up. What should you do? I often see coaches totally giving up. They tell the players to play some touch rugby and then they stand off to the side chatting.

The only limit you have when the players aren’t all there is that you will not be able to practice your set plays. So, in fact, there isn’t a huge limit at all!

The advantage of training without a full squad

When you get to practice and see that there are only 10 players, you need to still be ready to coach. These are the players that went to the trouble of pitching up. The other players might have valid reasons for not being there, but these are ones you know are serious.

Just letting them play touch rugby is easy. In my opinion, it is the lazy way out.

The biggest advantage you gain from there only being a few players is that you can work more closely with each one of them individually. You get to learn what they are capable of and where you can hone their skills even more.

For the players, the personal attention you give them will take them to a whole new level. I have seen it countless times over the years and you should never let the lower player numbers disrupt your preparations.

So what can you do without a full squad

There are a few things that you should figure out as part of your pre-season preparations. One of them is how to deal with the lack of numbers at practice sessions. When it happens it happens. Not being prepared for it is squarely on your shoulders.

There are two things you need to do when that happens:

  1. Have a small numbers practice plan – this you should always have in your back pocket
  2. Follow up after the practice – make sure that you get clarity on player numbers for after practice

A small numbers practice plan

The small numbers practice plan is something that will always come in handy. You should have it worked out for 10 players and adjust it based on the number of players that pitch up.

The focus of these practices will obviously be difficult to focus on set phases. There would often not be enough people either in the backline or in the forwards for scrums, lineouts or set moves. The great news is that the majority of play in a game does not focus on set play.

To make these sessions as effective as they possibly can be you need to approach them slightly differently. When you have these sessions the intensity should be high and large parts of it should happen at a fast pace. This will not only teach the players to react quickly and decisively but increase their fitness.

You can focus on defensive drills, catching and passing as well as multiple mini-games that mimic game-specific situations.

It may sound exceptionally simple, but you will be amazed by how much of an impact these sessions will have on your overall success.

Follow up after practice

You can quickly pat yourself on the back after completing a session like this, but if you want to see the results come game time, you have some calls to make.

Immediately get in touch with players after the game by calling them. If you send them a text message it might work, but it is easier for them to ignore a text message. When you call it is a whole different story.

Make sure about whether or not they will make the next practice or be at the next game so that you can be prepared for it.

Then you should let everyone know on a grout chat what is happening. The players that were at practice and those that weren’t should know what to expect from the next practice and the game coming up.