Static passing drills – the cornerstone of all passing

Willie le Roux passing to Frans Steyn

It is often amazing to see the passes that players come up with. You often don’t understand how they got a pass away to put another player into space. The success of these plays and many others in a game comes down to the often players run through static passing drills.

People often underestimate the value of a good static pass but it is definitely one of the most crucial skills to learn and perfect. Some of the reasons why it is important to be good at it:

  • It is a relatively easy pass to make accurately both left and right over short and medium distances
  • A static pass allows for a greater margin of error when passing as the supporting player can run onto it and gather far more easily
  • Gathering the ball, getting your hands in the right position and distributing the ball happens the fastest with a static pass

Doing a high volume of static passing drills during training is of benefit to players at all levels.

The mechanics of a static pass

It looks like the most simple pass there is and it is the one that most players have no problem mastering. There are however a number of key things that come into play and they are:

  • hand position – how you hold the ball to make the pass
  • turning your upperbody – to help you aim more accurately
  • using different leavers – this depends on the distance you want to pass

Hand position

Holding the rugby ball

The hand position is very simple and easy to get right. If you don’t get it right is does however make it more difficult to get the most out of the pass.

When you hold the ball you put a hand on each side of the ball. This would be a little to the back and slightly under the ball.

Turning your upperbody

This is often overlooked and often results in passes not being accurate. If you turn your upper body toward the support runner as you are making the pass the ball will be passed far more accurately.

It is a very simple way to make sure that your support runner is actually where you thought he was.

This also enables you to quickly assess where you should pass and how hard.

Using the different levers

There are three different levers you can use when making a static pass: your wrists, your elbows and your shoulders.

  • The wrists – for quick and short passes you can release the ball over shorter distances quickly
  • The elbows – using the elbows allow for passing over medium distances with more power
  • The shoulders – when you use your shoulders in the static pass you will be able to pass over the greatest distance. Not as far as a spin pass thought, but still fairly long

The threat of a static pass

As it looks less spectacular people often neglect it in favor of the spin pass and offload. There are however a number of reasons to practice it often as you will be able to use it in many different ways.

The biggest reason to practice the static pass is to form a strong skill base for all other passes. It allows you to learn how to weight passes to supporters both in velocity and accuracy to allow them to easily catch the ball.

Probably the biggest threat it poses is before you pass and you are running with the ball in both hands. While you are running with the ball in both hands it is nearly impossible for defenders to know whether you will continue running, pass left, pass right or drop it on your boot for a kick through.

While running with the ball in two hands you have the unique opportunity of making the defense wonder just for a short while what will happen. This opens up gaps for you and your support runners.

Spending time on the static pass in practice is always time well spent. In my opinion, it should make up at least half of the time of your passing drills.

The easiest two static passing drills

The two passing drills which add the most value when it comes to static passing drills are:

  • the continuous pass
  • the grid

Both of these are simple and straight forward and you can use them as base drills. It is easy to build in variations on these drills to challenge the players and broaden their skills.

The continuous pass

This is one of my favorites and I prefer to do it regularly with my players. The set up is very simple and allows you to practice passing and catching with any number of players.

The setup:

  • set up 4 cones about 2 meters apart in a straight line on the goal line
  • divide the players into 4 equal groups lined up behind each of the 4 cones
  • the players should be facing the 22m line
  • start with a single ball on one side
  • the player with the ball runs a meter or two at most and passes to the player next to him
  • after the player has passed the ball he runs back to fall in line at the back of one of the 4 groups
  • as the ball reaches the cone at the other end, the direction is just reversed and it continues. If you started passing from left to right and it reaches the cone on the right, you switch direction and then pass from right to left.

This is a great warm up exercise at the start of practice or before a game.

I do however like to bring in an element of competition into it to stimulate the idea of moving the ball accurately at speed.

This is done by letting the players pass the ball (and catch it) 100 times and timing it.

The players love beating their time throughout the season and getting faster at it. There is usually very little motivation you need to give them to beat their one time. An under 15 team I am coaching started at 2 minutes 20 and now they are doing it at under 1 minute 30 seconds!

Variations you can bring in include skip passes or blowing the whistle and letting the ball carrier go to ground. The support players than form a ruck and spread the ball quickly again.

The grid

The grid and variations on it should be part of your practice sessions throughout the week. It helps improve spatial awareness along with the passing and catching technique of players.

The setup:

  • put 4 cones about 5 meters apart to form a square
  • divide the players into 4 groups behind the cones facing the center of the square
  • start with one ball
  • let the player pass to the left, follow the ball and fall in at the back of the group he has passed to
  • continue this to the left for a while and then switch to passing to the right

There are countless variations you can do with the grid.

Variations to the basic passing grid

The variations allow you to practice very high volumes of passing in a very short time and without requiring a lot of space to do it in. Some variations to play with:

  • add a second ball – this forces players to always be alert and expect the ball. They also need to release the ball quickly as there is a threat, the 2nd ball, on its way
  • add a third ball – adding a third ball usually starts out a bit chaotic, but it forces players to quickly catch and release the ball. It also forces them to quickly get into position to receive again
  • change the size of the grid – make it either smaller or bigger to force players to pass over greater distances
  • let them run to the middle before passing – when players are forced to run to the centre of the square they are forced to start judging their passing based on other players that might get in the way. Players can either pass to one side and just fall in behind the group that was in front of them or pass to a side and fall in at the group they passed two

Using these basic variations and even combining them will increase the difficulty and skill levels.