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Cobra Sport Academy




It is most definitely ok to not be ok...

Mental health is often seen as being someone else's problem. Ask yourself, when was the last time you checked in with someone just for the sake of checking in with them to see they're ok? With no agenda? Just as a friend..? Probably quite a while... I know that was the case for me up until recently!

We need to think of good mental health as well as bad mental health; the fixation is often on the latter when it's as, if not more, important to focus on the former. We can all help someone feel better...

I've seen first hand the struggles family members can have with opening up and starting the healing process; I've seen the same with friends and work colleagues; I've also seen the same while looking in the mirror!!

LooseHeadz have a simple mission; build a community who can work together to help those in need. All we need to do is encourage those struggling to start the process, to speak up, to tackle the stigma associated with mental health and start to swign the balance in their favour. It really can be as simple as a "You ok?" text message...

With a rugby background, LooseHeadz have a group of celebrities acting as Ambassadors, spreading the word in a highly visual way, backed up by a range of cool clothing that helps raise funds to promote their work. I'm very proud to be part of the LooseHeadz Academy, promoting the cause and mindset at grassroots level; having done two online mental health awareness courses during lockdown, it's become even more apparent we need to look after each other!

LooseHeadz - Tackle The Stigma
Take a look >> LooseHeadz.co.uk




Bigger Boys!!!

College rugby debut.

I've always really enjoyed working with a wide range of age groups, and with various schools, so it was with no hesitation that I jumped at the opportunity to coach the Barton Peveril College boys side.

The lads have a wide range of abilities, from those who 'played a bit at school' to regular County players so I'm really looking forward to working with them all through the season.

Our only 'problem' so far has been the weather; after a long and hot summer, a series of sudden downpours have played havoc with the training pitch surface, so our training time has been severely affected - in fact, we've only managed one 'proper' session so far, with lots of gym work and some skills sessions on the tennis courts!

Despite these frustrations, team performances have been strong. A solid win in our first game was followed by a good win and two narrow defeats in a round robin Cup first round series. All an improvement on last season!

The biggest 'win' for me though has been the team spirit. I've always been a huge believer in team culture, and the players owning the game - it's their game after all, I'm just their facilitator. While I might devise the general theme and direction of a session, it's very much owned by the players. For example, if we go to 'Double Touch' during the initial session phase, the consequence of the 2nd Touch is decided by the lads, not me. That way, it gives them more meaning and better purpose. They also came up with the lineout and backs moves calls, I just help polish the execution.

Next up is a league game followed by the National 7's Competition! Am I nervous? You bet! Am I loving it? Absolutely!!!





Hot feedback, not joystick coaching!

Now, this is a coaching trend I'm really liking, and wholeheartedly supporting!

All too often, we see coaches shouting and bawling at their players from the sidelines, be it constant instructions, reminders of correct technique or who to give the ball to (or not). One perfect example of the negative effect this can have came last weekend...

Coach X was constantly controlling his players, telling them where to run, when to pass etc etc. After a tackle, one player spooted a gap in our defence, and shifted position ready to take advantage. Coach X shouted at the player to get back in position and stick to the game plan. As the lad moved back, he dropped the ball (mainly as his teammate had seen him but he'd moved during the pass). Coach X bawled the player out for dropping the ball... It was almost like the Coach X was using a joystick to control a character in a computer game.

Is this their attempt to get the 'result'? Or are they behaving as they think coaches should?? Or even worse, are they putting on a performance for their players' parents to show they 'know what they're doing'???

There is a significant wave of support for silent coaching during games and matches, with coaches now only encouraging their players and praising effort.

And I like that very much!!

While standing watching your young sporting star do their thing, do you need to hear them being constantly instructed? Or would you rather watch them show what they've learnt in previous training sessions, and have a great time with their friends??

If a coach is screaming "stand there!" "move up!" "not there, THERE!!" "WHY DID YOU DROP IT!!!!!!" - is the player actually able to take in the information and react? I'd say a vast majority will hear white noise instead as they try to do what they thought was fun, you know, play sport!

I'm not saying we should stay silent on the touchlines, but we should strongly consider what we say, and how we say it. A coaching colleague, Wilko, is driving a 'Shout Only Support' campaign, which I like a lot. Just make positive comments - I can guarantee you that little Billy didn't drop the ball on purpose!

If we can stay positive, with comments such as "lovely pass, Billy" "beautiful run, Izzy" etc, we're really reinforcing the positive outcomes of the game for them. When we praise, we use a much nicer tone of voice; add the player's name to the end and they'll only hear positivity.

It's important we praise in the moment too - also known as 'hot feedback'. Waiting for half time, or the end of the match, and with best intentions, you'll have forgotten what happened, or they will - or both of you! Say it as it happens, but as Wilko is asking, shout only support, and you'll see a performance boost.




Game Changers

AKA Coach Cringing!

I had an absolute blast last week!

Now, considering it was minus lots degC, and I felt completely out of my depth for the first 15 minutes, that's an interesting opener!!

So, what was the reason for such mid-week joy? Why, attending the RFU's 'Game Changers' CPD, of course!

Aimed at coaches working in the 15-a-side game, this course is 3 hours of encouraging you to think outside the box but with 'APES' very much in evidence (APES = Active, Purposeful, Enjoyable, Safe). Instead of relying on drills and practices inherited from old coaching manuals and previous playing careers, we were tasked with designing new games, and looking at how to encourage behaviour change in players through game design.

As well as the core elements of our new game, we also looked at coach interventions to help maximise the learning environment. This involved adding constraints, asking questions, player-led huddles etc etc. We also moved away from Lead and Assistant Coach roles and adopted more Co-Coach responsibilities, so agreeing the areas we'd concentrate on, and supporting each other.

Did I learn a lot? In all honesty, probably not as much as other coaches would...(without sounding brash). I've been a massive fan of the 'CARDS' coaching system and have been using that approach for some time, so Game Changers is a natural progression for me (CARDS = Creativity, Awareness. Resilience, Decison making, Self Organising). However, every session, Tweet read, conversation had, article read is a learning opportunity, and I think I came away a better coach for attending.

There were a few cringey moments though. As this was 15-a-side biased, a lot of the 'games' were quite traditional, with lots of running and more running as an intervention. One 'game' saw us play Touch on a smallish 15m x 15m pitch; defenders ran back to their own try line once a touch had been made, with the 'tackler' going an extra few metres to their own cone. Personally, I avoided making as many 'tackles' as possible, not because I didn't want to fully engage, more because the extreme cold was really affecting my asthma in a bad way, so running as little and as slowly as possible worked for me. So, if I've thought that through, what would all the kids do put in a similar position??

My game for the course was a blatant use of Jack Pattison's 'Wizard Touch' with a few twists of my own (Wizard Touch is from the RFU's excellent Game Changers series. Jack is a former RFU coach and current London Irish honcho). Why? Not because it was something simple and already prepped, but because it's something I've used with a mixed gender U10's group, U13 Girls, U16 Boys, school groups etc etc. It's such an easy game to adapt, and constraints are so easy to add to make the game more enjoyable and engaging for the players. It's also a great game to encourage some of the key Principles Of Play - Go Forward and Provide Support being prime examples.

The only disappointment really from the evening was the dismissal of headbands for grouping players by some of the coaches. A couple were keen to discuss more ways of using headbands, but some just dismissed them. I've used headbands to identify teams, and also to award 'Powers'. For example, my kit bag has 10x green, 10x orange, 2x blue, 2x yellow and 2x pink headbands. First time the pink ones came out, one of my 10-year olds asked if they could have the pink one. "What would it give you?" was my question. "What do you mean?" came the reply. "Tell me what you would like a pink headband to signify, and you can have it." "I can't be tackled for 10 seconds?!" We agreed 10 seconds might be a bit long, so settled on 3 seconds - but he got his pink headband and made a brilliant run forwards each time he received the ball to maximise his 'power'.

It works!!

There's so much to takeaway from the Game Changers CPD, just embrace the 'STEP' model;

SPACE - adjust and adapt the pitch shape and size to suit

TASK - add or remove pressure, change the scoring system to reward effort over outcome

EQUIPMENT - headbands, different balls (footballs, tennis balls, rebounders, hand balls, american footballs etc)

PEOPLE - overload teams to create space, swap them around to change dynamics or player support options

Hang on a minute, thought I said I might not have learnt as much as some other coaches, might have to rethink that statement!!




Looking back on 2018...


Some reflections.

Where to start?!?!
I know I can safely say I've learnt more about coaching in the last few months than I have in the previous several years! Also easy to say how nice it's been to see and hear more coaches stepping away from the traditional linear approach to educating their players and worrying about the 'win', and adopting a more flexible, non-linear (chaotic?) framework embracing the late development nature of rugby. At the end of the day, we all want our players to be as good as they can be, it's how we guide them along that journey that's different - and evolving.

Some highlights:

"A rewarding experience"
The difference between club, after school and curriculum coaching is surprisingly large as the percentage of 'willing' participants reduces greatly as you go through that last sentence. Curriculum coaching is great as you'll be introducing a large proportion to a new sport, and a sport they might not really have considered trying - or ever wanted to try...

Balancing the sessions is tricky as you'll have experienced club players who want to play full on rugby for their age along side complete newbies who are keen - and other newbies who really don't want to be there, like 'Johnny' (yes, name changed).

Generally, curriculum coaching gives you a set number of lessons/weeks to go from scratch to playing full rugby. Johnny really wasn't sporty; walked to our first session instead of jogging with the rest of class, wouldn't warm up, was 'reluctant' to join in, didn't like this, didn't like that etc etc. Using all the techniques I could muster, he gradually took part more and more until the last session - when he ran with the ball! As we walked back in, Johnny came to walk beside me "thank you for including me, I've found rugby a rewarding experience". I was blown away! Johnny doesn't have a lot of self-esteem, isn't athletically built, lacks focus in some areas - but having treated him as part of the team, and constantly encouraged and supported him, and thrown challenges relevant to his mindset and ability in his general direction, he'd morphed into a rugby player.

It really does prove that anyone can play rugby, they just need help getting started sometime.

"Can you help us with our assembly?"
The major part of my All Schools work has been developing Girls rugby, and helping the girls transition from School to Club rugby (sadly, not all clubs embrace Girls rugby, but with our only three International players being women, we're very much in favour).

As we got towards the tail end of a block of curriculum coaching at one school, I found out the Year 7 girls had been tasked with making a presentation in assembly about their transition to Senior school. Their main topic of choice was our rugby sessions!! We talked about various aspects of what we'd done in the lessons, and where the girls could potentially go with their rugby, but I was incredibly pleased that they'd enjoyed their rugby so much they wanted to tell the rest of the school!

"I've been told to come and watch"
Two-thirds through a London Irish Festival, one I was coaching my own U10's at, not working, there had been a huddle of London Irish Staff. So nice to hear that the team had been so impressed with our squad that they'd told the boss to come and have a look! The most pleasing part was it wasn't just the playing ability they'd liked, but the squad's attitude and display of Core Values that had drawn such attention. VERY happy with that!!

"Let's watch that team we played earlier"
Another Festival performance, and another VERY happy coach. Well into a Festival, and the team we'd played earlier came to watch our next match. That's quite unusual in Youth rugby as kids generally 'entertain' themselves in between games. Very pleased to hear the coach had liked the performance, behaviour and squad mentality so much he wanted to show his players some shining examples. That's an amazing thing to hear as a coach, but all credit goes to the kids, they really are a great bunch who've wholeheartedly taken onboard my ideas and coaching style.

Self-organised player huddle
The highlight og the year though has to be my U10's group 'getting it'. I'm all for throwing challenges at players, and letting them work it out for themselves. With groups I've only worked with for a short while, I'll probably need to give some help, but the more experienced groups have a much higher success rate.

So, my 'Highlight Of 2018' came a few minutes into an U10's match at the London Irish Festival. The kids had all been playing really well all day, and our coaching team were very much leaving it to the players, and just offering support while ensuring each player got equal game time. I can't remember the opposition, but that's not really important, I just remember a spilled pass giving us a scrum. As the kids started to form a scrum, they suddenly pulled away and formed a huddle. A few seconds of head nodding and gesticulating towards areas of the pitch, and they went back to the scrum. Except this time, there was a different line up. Two of the lads had literally been on fire, running great lines, scoring tries, supporting team mates, making tackles etc - and being involved with the scrums. Now though, after the player-led huddle, these lads were lined up as 1st receiver on either side of the scrum. We won the ball (uncontested at that age) and away they went; superb teamplay to go forward, spread the ball wide and score again.

It wasn't the try I enjoyed, although it was pretty awesome to watch, but the process of getting to that point - the organisation to put themselves in their most effective positions and reap the rewards. Also very pleasing that they didn't hog those positions after and made sure all the kids had a go!

I came away a very proud coach!!




A grand day out!

London Irish

Seen from the inside

Being linked to a Hampshire RFU club, we have close links with the London Irish set up. The club put players forward for consideration for the London Irish Academy, host Rugby Camps with their Community Rugby team and attend the excellent London Irish Festivals and Match Day Experiences.

Being freelance gives me the freedom to work with a wide variety of companies, so when the opportunity arose to work for London Irish, I thought about it - for about 0.3 seconds!

The job in hand was an U10 & U11 Tournament at Hazelwood, official home of London Irish. An early start, and a long day - but what a day! Right from the moment I arrived, everything was handled very professionaly, as you'd expect from a club famous for their community spirit.

Nothing was too much trouble, and the whole Exiles staff welcomed me in and made sure I was happy, fed, watered, having a good day - exactly what you need to keep you going through a tournament!

I had a great time; some top colleagues for the day and some very good rugby to referee. The standard of rugby at that age was quite staggering at times, and a real pleasure to have the best seat in the house. I was amazed to check my Steps count when I got home, although the dull ache in my less-than-normal cartlidged left knee made it clear how much I'd run around during the day.

Would I do it again? Too right I would!!






Need help? Ask a 10-year old!

Despite all the best training and attending numerous coach education courses and seminars, nothing puts me into the mind of my players more than talking to my 10-year old son!

I always try to strike a balance in our sessions between 'Deliberate Play' and 'Deliberate Practice', as we want the kids to enjoy their rugby sessions, but we also want them to reach their true potential without running them through drill after drill after drill after...zzzzz

The ratio of Play to Practice slides through the season as we learn new skills, or start to stretch the kids and their understanding of gameplay. Generally, the longer the season goes on, the less I talk!

One week, my son and I were talking about our session, and how we could make certain aspects of U10's rugby easier for the group to grasp and put into practice. With the addition of the scrum, ruck and maul, some of the more basic elements, like 'go forward' had slipped.

So, how to stop the slide..?

As with most children at the moment, 'Fortnite' isn't far from my son's mind, and judging by the number of our U10's who know all the dance moves from within the game, it was popular across the board.

So, could we use Fortnite in a game situation? Oh yes!!

My son chose his four favourite Fortnite weapons, and came up with special powers they could bestow upon a teammate. 'SPORTNITE' was born!!

'Chug Jug' gives game characters an energy boost, so that evolved into the player with the ball not being tackled for three seconds. 'Grenade' blows the first tackler away giving space to run into.

In all we came up with four 'Sportnite' cards, with each team picking a card they could use only once per game (5 minute games). The energy and enthusiasm on the pitch was brilliant, and my lad was really pleased that the kids enjoyed it and want to play it again. Excellent!

And did it help with those little bits that were slipping? It most certainly did!!

So, if you're losing your coaching mojo, or stuck for ideas, try speaking to a 10-year old - worked for me!!!