Putting purpose into preparation, practice and play.
As we get on in our lives we may pause occasionally to look back and, with rare exception, there will be some disappointment in our performance in something. I have come to terms with my rather haphazard approach to academics but I do think that I short-changed myself in rugby. I trained hard, practiced and played hard but I underachieved. What I lacked was ‘purpose’.
Without ‘purpose’ the hours spent in preparing and practicing produced little in the way of results. Without ‘purpose’, my play in rugby matches was reactive and disjointed and much effort and energy was squandered for too little effect. So this article is all about installing ‘purpose’, as in: “Prepare with purpose, practice with purpose, and play with purpose.”
Prepare with Purpose.
Rugby players are the fittest athletes of all team sports. If you don’t believe it, prove me wrong. When I say “rugby players” I refer to high level amateurs and professionals. When I use the term “fittest” I apply it in a very broad sense to mean that players have achieved very high levels of physical ability appropriate to the game.
Rugby requires players to run, jump, tackle, push, pull, lift, drive, and evade for 80 minutes of more or less continuous play. To perform thus rugby demands strength, power, speed, agility and endurance. Although these demands are universal to all rugby players, different positions require particular focus. The physical attributes of a front row forward are very different from those of a winger and therefore the training focus must be different. Each position will also have its own specialized skill set and that skill set needs to be incorporated into the conditioning program of the individual.
Training regimens should take into account the individual’s physical attributes and condition and compare them to the appropriate requirement of their rugby position. Getting in shape for rugby will most likely make a player “look good at the beach”, but looking good at the beach may not do much in the way of getting a player fit for rugby. Every player can determine the physical needs of his position and so develop a training plan for the weight room and track that will best prepare him for the game.
Practice with purpose.
Every rugby player must attend every practice with the aim of acquiring new knowledge, developing new rugby skills, honing existing rugby skills and improving physical conditioning. If a player goes home without achieving any of these goals he has wasted his time, and possibly other’s time as well. The coach is responsible for planning and directing practices such that every practice can produce a learning experience. However, the players must take it upon themselves to execute a plan of self-development. That means focus on the work at hand, asking questions to clarify why, what & how and to apply themselves to the best of their abilities.
Practice time consumed by stretching and conditioning exercises is poor use of a precious commodity. Players can be encouraged to arrive at practice early by starting every practice with a touch game. The game is a warm up and players stretch as needed to get ready for practice. The game then can be modified to provide the starting platform for the practice. Specialized skills such as kicking, line-out throws, scrum-half serves can also become part of the pre-practice ritual but need to be conducted in a purposeful manner that can be planned by the coach but executed by the players.
Players need to self-assess and, with the help of their coach, create a short list of technical skills that they should develop or improve. In this way they can put in the extra work with other players with similar needs. This is a far better application of practice time than aimlessly kicking the ball back and forth or throwing the ball around in a circle using only the strong hand or one type of pass.
Play with purpose.
Rugby is the most technically and tactically challenging of all team sports. Rugby doesn’t require the sophisticated foot skills of soccer and it doesn’t demand the precise execution of football. It does, however, ask every player to have a very broad range of skills and to apply them in a rapidly changing set of scenarios without benefit of timeouts or huddles. To be successful the rugby team must be able to execute multiple series of tactical plays that both build on, and adapt to, the degree of success attained at each phase. The degree of success will be a product of the management skills of team leadership and the understanding of the roles each player has at any given moment.
Playing with purpose should identify the objective of each action in the context of the principles of the game. When attacking these principles, sandwiched between acquiring the ball and scoring, are go forward with supportwhilst maintaining continuityand applying pressure. These principals are tightly interwoven. Go forward without support and the ball will be lost. Continuity without going forward will have the ball going sideline to sideline and back.
Pressure can take many forms, sometimes very direct and other times just implied. A team playing with purpose will use pressure to force the opponent to react and thus create a weakness elsewhere. A teams ‘pattern of play’ is a deliberate sequence of phases that allows the team to play with purpose and so bring the skills and energy of all of the players to bear in a concerted effort.
A team playing without purpose will randomly attack or defend at the whim of the individual and so not be able to marshal all the resources necessary for success.
Focus on purpose.
“How?” is a question every player should feel comfortable asking when instructions, methods or techniques are not fully understood.
“Why?” is even more important. Knowing the purpose of the technique, drill, ploy or pattern of play is the foundation of understanding the game and how the team wants to play.