Are you planning to fail?

Following on from last week’s blog (A statistical analysis in schoolboy rugby) where I presented the statistics I had researched over a year with one u16 side, I will stick my neck out a bit and discuss how I believe practices should be planned and run. I use these plans in in all my own practices and it must be noted that none of them are my own original ideas; they are borrowed from Jake White, the 2007 Rugby World Cup winner with the Springboks.  I am presenting this so as to create debate and possibly get some coaches re-thinking about how they plan and coach their own sides. I do not believe this is 100% perfect and I am sure there are flaws, but as in life, we are constantly learning and I am no exception, this model will of course be tweaked the more I use it and the longer I coach.

Every coach has heard the saying “Failure to plan is planning to fail”, however I believe many do not heed this saying with action and prefer to just rock up at practices in the hope the session will run smoothly and cover all the aspects they had wanted to. However without the correct planning and attention to detail, practices will never be good enough nor will they cover all aspects of the game during the course of the year.

At the moment I believe practices are either generally come up with on the day – sometimes just before the session starts or are planned around the previous games weaknesses.This failure to plan, I believe is one of the biggest reasons why coaches exclude certain aspects of the game, such as players skills, at team practices simply because they have not put enough time into planning the season and each individual session.

I understand that coaches at schoolboy level do not have much time to plan as they are not full time coaches, but I do believe an element of complacency can creep in very quickly after a few years of coaching, even though I am sure the coaches are still very passionate about the game. I believe coaches of schoolboys should take a refreshed look at their roles in developing the game in this country and realise that the better they coach each year, the better our game becomes. Coaches that fail to plan and put much thought into the years plans are unintentionally ensuring their players do not move on to the next year with the skills required to be successful. This relaxed attitude towards every practice must change for the players to succeed at every level of the game.

So the question now is how do coaches make the most of the time available to them? Firstly planning has got to start before the season begins, not before each practice session, but before the very first practice you have with your side. This is not difficult, most schools have a yearly planner and you can then easily gauge how many practices and matches you will have and when they will be. This sounds incredibly basic, but how many coaches actually do this? Once you know how many practice sessions and weeks you will have during the entire year you can then begin dividing the weeks up into smaller units of time called Cycles and finally those cycles into weekly and daily plans.

Cycles are common in conditioning circles and should be utilised in your own side as this makes coaching far less daunting and gives you piece of mind knowing that you are prepared. Cycles are generally around 3 – 4 weeks long and each cycle has a coaching theme (eg: Basics and fitness) that guides how each practice during that cycle should be designed. By breaking up the coaching year into cycles ensures you do not miss out important aspects of the game and you will quickly see how much time you have to dedicate to each aspect during practices. In the graphic below you can quickly see the relationship between the yearly plan right down to each practice session. It looks daunting and this is just for 2 cycles and generally there are around 8 per year, depending on the amount of weeks you have and the length of your pre-season. However by planning your season like this you will find it far easier to cover every aspect of the game as well as possible.

Within each cycle you will have a pre-determined amount of weeks normally around 3 -4 and in these weeks you will form your day to day planning of your sessions. Each week should have a focus area to improve on and the practices during that week should form the basis of that focus. So for example if the theme of the cycle is player skills and areobic fitness, the 1st week could be passing and catching with the 2nd week being evasion and the 3rd week being tackling. All three weeks would also have fitness as the priority. That would be a very basic pre-season plan. Each cycle can have a few themes and does not have to be just one, set piece can also be added so that player basics, fitness and set piece will then be the priorities. An important note to follow is that after each week the skills learnt the previous week are again reinforced in shorter drills the following week until the end of that cycle. This is to ensure the players improve on the focuses over the entire cycle and not just during the one week.

This system is great because it keeps you from deviating from the yearly plan as it is very easy to make up practices as you go along and then forget to focus on the cycles priorities. Of course the plans can change, but it must be noted that any change made will affect the entire years plans that will then have to be re-adjusted. This is a good thing however as you will be continually re-assessing and striving to cover the right balance of each aspect of the game during the year.

I have followed this type of planning for 3 years now and every year the plan changes slightly as I look to improve from the previous year. This type of continous assessment is one major lesson learnt from John Wooden, who commented on what worked and what didn’t for each session and kept the plans for reassessment at the end of the year. Because of this system he knew exactly what he needed to work on, when it needed to be worked on and for how long. Players respond to coaches who know exactly what they are doing and why they are doing it.

There will undoubtably be calls from coaches who will exclaim that they do not have the time required to plan in such detail, however I disagree as once the plans are in place for the year the coach has to simply look at what has been planned for that cycle and put effort into drawing up the practice plans accordingly. Once the basic structure of the plan is in place, the coach just alters it every year and makes adjustments as required. Even by having a simple plan, coaches will ensure they cover more aspects of the game than previously and will not be able to exclaim that they do not have enough time.

In the next blog I will go over how I believe each practice should be run to make the best use of the time available with your players to ensure no aspect of the game is left out.

I have provided an example plan covering 2 cycles at the end of the year as well as templates for the entire years plans, the cycles as well as the daily practiceplan sheet. This is to show exactly how I do things so you could possibly use it to your own advantage. Check them out!

Do you think am I on the right track planning my sessions or do you have a better system? Or is this just too much work for the average schoolboy teacher/coach? Let me know your thoughts!

Click HERE for the Planning example excel sheet download

Click HERE for the planning excel templates download
-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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