Catching drills – catching a rugby ball

Beauden Barret catching a pass with his hands up.

If you have superior skills in every aspect of the game, but can’t catch a rugby ball you will definitely not play to your full potential. Although there is often a lot of emphasis on passing drills, there should also be a focus on catching drills.

There are two basic principles that should be emphasized on a regular basis, while there are a number of drills you can do to improve overall catching ability.

The two basic principles are:

  • Keep your hands up
  • Catch with soft hands

How these two basic principles work

The idea of keeping your hands up is to both create a target for the passer and to prepare you for catching the ball. As you can see in the above picture even players who have won world player of the year still do it in this way. Whether you are a small kid or a superstar flyhalf, the principle stays the same.

A player running in support will do one of two things. They will either receive the ball from a pass or they will support the ball carrier if he is tackled.

Running in support with your hands up as a player gets closer to contact should be the default option. It is easier to adjust to support the tackled player than it is to quickly bring up your hands to receive the pass.

If you have your hands up it also gives the ball carrier a target to pass to. The ball carrier only has a split second to decide where to pass and if there is no target the ball can go anywhere.

A crucial second fundamental to take into account is catching the ball with soft hands. If your fingers and hands are rigid when catching the ball, you will spill it more often. With soft hands, you would be able to manage the impact of the pass better and be able to quickly adjust the ball to pass again.

These two fundamentals of catching should be a staple in passing and catching drills. You should however evolve the catching ability of all players to field passes in less than ideal situations

Evolving your catching drills

The evolution of a player’s catching ability is something that should always be worked on. Through repetition in various scenarios, players will be able to improve their hand-eye coordination, which would in turn help them to field more passes successfully in a game.

The drills we will be looking at can easily be expanded on, but they help to improve two main areas related to hand-eye coordination:

  • eye-tracking ability – being able to follow and judge the flight of the ball
  • hand dexterity – training the respective muscles in the hands and forearms to respond correctly to catching a ball

The basic principles mentioned earlier can easily be taught and drilled in using a rugby ball. When passing drills are run, players need to be reminded repeatedly of these basics until it is part of their makeup as a player.

A tennis ball

We will however not be focusing on the use of a rugby ball for these catching drills, but rather tennis balls.

The reason for using tennis balls is that they are a great option to both use individually and in small groups. With their smaller size, you need to concentrate more on how you follow them with your eyes and how your hands adjust.

When players switch back to a rugby ball, they will be able to catch the ball far easier.

Solo catching drills – you and the wall

This is actually as simple as it sounds. You can do a couple of variations of this. Stand about a 1.5 to 2 meters away from the wall.

  • 1st up: start off with your right hand throwing it underarm against the wall and catching it again with your right arm. Repeat this 25 times with your right hand and then repeat it 25 times with your left hand
  • 2nd up: throw the ball against the wall with your right hand and catch it with your left hand. So basically from one hand to the other. Throw and catch it 25 times with each hand
  • 3rd up: throw the ball into the ground just in front of the wall so that it bounces off the wall and back to you. Throw with your right hand and catch with your right hand and vary the speed at which you throw. This will result in the ball coming back to you at different heights. Repeat 25 times with your right hand and then switch to your left hand
  • 4th up: repeat the instructions from the previous exercise, but throw with your right hand and catch with your left hand. Repeat it 25 times on each side

If you do all of this it would take you around 10 minutes. Overall you would have caught the ball 200 times. If you run through this 3 times a week, you would have caught a total of 600 times. That is double the total amount of passes in a test match!

You can challenge yourself to work towards dropping zero balls and then work on completing all the catching in a shorter time every time you do it.

Catching drills with a friend

The solo drills should become a staple of every player and they need to do them as often as possible. The more they do it, the better they will get at it and it will show on the field.

If you have an opportunity to work with a friend, you can bring in some more variations.

  • Option 1: stand facing each other about 2 meters apart. Both players throw a ball at the same time with their right hands and catch it with their left hand. Complete 50 catches each in the shortest possible time. Switch hands and throw with your left hand and catch with your right hand in the shortest possible time
  • Option 2: stand facing each other about 2 meters apart. Each player only stands on their right leg. The ball is thrown to either of the other player’s hands or in front of them. The player needs to catch it one-handed without falling over. Repeat it 10 times while standing on your right leg and 10 times standing on your left leg.
  • Option 3: stand about 2 meter apart. The player who will be catching will have their back turned to the player throwing. When the player throws the ball, they clap their hands immediately. The catch quickly turns around and tries to catch the ball. Repeat this until each player has caught the ball 10 times.

Creating your own drills to improve catching

The examples we mentioned are pretty simple and straight forward, but they do a great deal in improving the ability of players to catch a rugby ball.

You will see that players react a lot faster and their eyes and hands will track the ball far more effectively.

The key to these types of exercises is high volume. If you can work it into your weekly drills as a coach or player, the ability to catch any ball will become second nature.

The variations that you can do on this are hover almost endless.