Passing technique, even at professional level, is often very poor…

“Passing technique, even at professional level, is often very poor. How do rugby players who earn a living from the game not know how to pass a ball so that the receiver doesn’t have to stop/jump/dive forward/reach behind him to get the ball? 
Skills development is sadly neglected in South Africa and is a symptom of a deeper problem that arises from when the biggest kid was able to run through the smaller kids, and thus never needed to pass or catch the ball. He was a one man demolition machine.
Blame the coaches for not working on it, blame the players for not taking time to develop the skills; blame the system for allowing it to happen.” Paul Treu – Quest for Glory

Having read this quote by Paul Treu in the book Quest for Glory got me thinking a little bit as this is something I feel very strongly about and am extremely interested in, firstly in researching this facet of the game and secondly in looking at ways of improving this shortfall in all players that I coach.

I feel many players think that passing skills just happen and that if you can hit a moving player more often than not then your passing skills are acceptable regardless if your technique is poor or not. Technique understanding and knowledge is difficult to come by, look for drills and you will find many, however when you look deeper at how to pass with the correct mechanics you will struggle to find immediate and clear answers. Watch most coaches run a passing drill and you will see lots of poor passing with almost no correction of errors because I believe coaches at the grass roots level do not know what the correct mechanics are nor do I think they realise how important the correct mechanics are in ensuring a quality pass at all times. I also believe low quality standards are highly prevalent in most teams where passing quality is not fully understood or expected and as such the players get away with giving poor passes for the duration of their entire school careers.

Murray Mexted recently said that South African juniors lack skills (read here on sport 24) and if we do not address these shortcomings soon, the Springboks will suffer in the future. As a country school boy coaches love the bigger boys who can physically intimidate and demolish the opposition, but at what cost? Winning is all that matters in most top rugby schools and as a consequence I believe we are losing sight of the bigger picture – the development of professional players who can one day represent the Boks. Low risk rugby rules the landscape as offloading and clever passes are considered unnecessary and could lose games for the school, thus players are forced into highly structured game plans whereby risk taking is not encouraged nor practised, where contact takes preference from running into space and keeping the ball alive.

Although I think the coaching structures in S.A leave a lot to be desired and coaches are left pretty much to their own devices when trying to learn the game at a professional level, I do think the South African players need to realise that improving their skills and knowledge is also their responsibility as coaches can only do so much with the time available, after that the players need to take responsibility for their own development and put in the necessary hours to achieve a standard that far exceeds the current norms.

You can make up your own mind whether Paul Treu and Murray Mexted are correct in their assessments, I most certainly do and will continue to learn as much about this subject, hopefully showing that the basic skills of the game are more important than just the physical or tactical side of the game.

-Ross Williams

Ross is an enthusiastic coach keen on learning, debating and studying all about how we coach Rugby. He is currently the UCT u20 Technical and Skills coach during the Varsity Cup. He also runs his own private coaching business, Ross Rugby where the focus is firmly on skills coaching.

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