Having a blank canvas to work with as a coach is definitely not easy. Inexperienced players in a squad can be a huge challenge, but a very rewarding one. It is one that you should grab with open arms.
The players that join your ranks with little to no experience are taking a bold new step and you are their guide. They want to learn how to play the greatest sport on the planet.
If you give these players your time and attention you will have players loyal to you for the rest of the season.
They might not start as great players, but might often learn fairly quickly. Many players that start playing at a later age are cross-over players. They would have spent time playing a number of other sports, but they clearly made the right choice to take the step up to rugby.
So how will you help them get up to speed as quickly as possible?
First talk to the players
If there is no time before practice, you should do so after practice, but never let these players go unnoticed or unattended to.
The chat that you should have with them should be to find out a couple of things:
- how comfortable are they with the game?
- how much do they know about the game?
- why did they want to start playing?
If you get an idea of what the inexperienced players know and don’t know, you will know where to start.
You then need to assure them of your commitment to helping them grow as players. You also have to make it very clear how you will integrate them into the team.
If you throw them into the deep end, you run the risk of getting them injured, alienating your regular players and messing up your whole season. Let them know that you will gradually give them game time as they develop.
How to train inexperienced players
The first two things you need to do has got nothing to do with the players, but everything to do with you as the coach. You need to have patience first and foremost. You should also not assume what they know and don’t know.
If they are starting to play rugby, they probably have some decent athletic ability in most cases. This athletic ability needs to be harnassed to turn them into useful members of your squad. To do this you have to start with the very basics.
With every drill you do with them, make sure to take 30 seconds to make sure that they understand what you are doing and why. This needs to be done a lot as you work with them during the first few weeks. If you keep doing this you will get them up to speed a lot quicker and be able to depend on them when it comes to game time.
The areas you should focus on with inexperienced players should be in this order:
- Basics of passing and catching – know how to pass backward and how to catch
- Tackling – start with the very basics of safe tackle technique. Effectiveness is key, but player safety comes first
- Basics of attacking – they need to understand where they need to focus their attack, where they need to position themselves and how to return to play quickly
- Basics of defense – if you only teach them one thing, it would have to be to get back into a defensive line as quickly as possible… and repeat it until the whistle blows.
If you can make these 4 principles clear to the players and can get them up to a competitive level with this, it is a win. These 4 principles will help to turn your inexperienced players into competent, which will hold their own on the field for you.
There is a lot of work that needs to be done to improve their rugby IQ and that would take longer. If you focus on these principles you will have a solid basis to work from. You also need to continue to communicate with these players. Ask them questions to make sure they understand and keep giving them your time.