Training tips for coaches

Hi Coach,

I must admit, now that I’m not playing I do overindulge over the festive period. And, I suspect that I’m not the only one. Luckily I don’t have to race around the pitch in January, though I might be waddling around in a refereeing capacity.

Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure that over the break some of your players won’t have chosen the salad option either. Or, because of the weather and the holiday period, haven’t ventured onto the training field. You will have lost an edge of fitness.

In which case, I suggest you restart the “pre-season” process again, at least for the next few weeks. Test your players fitness with today’s feature of a rugby coaches favourite that takes just 12 minutes to run. Then you can discuss how your players can improve.

Make a plan whereby three-quarters of your time will be spent on basics and fitness, and the last quarter of the plan based on match prep. This will reinvigorate your team, putting them in the right frame of body and mind for the last portion of the season.

Bring the opposition down with this exercise on tackling low. Though it’s aimed at U9 & U10s, I’ve found it to be successful with senior players and have seen international coaches using it.

Two simple drills to work on players’ speed.

A session on how to quickly recycle the ball once your players have made a contribution in a game.

Yours in rugby,
Dan Cottrell,
Head Coach, Better Rugby Coaching


Assess players’ fitness in just 12 minutes

This 12 minute run is an easily administered practical test that’s great to test your players’ fitness at the the start, middle, and end of the season to provide a good guideline of aerobic fitness and the success or otherwise of a conditioning programme that you may be running.

To perform the test, your players simply run as far as they can for 12 minutes!

For most coaches, it is probably the best aerobic test since it is easily administered and requires no equipment other than a venue and a stopwatch.

The ideal venue is a standard 400m running track, but with a little ingenuity it could also be the local horse/ dog/car racing track, or simply a grassed area like the local park, school playground, or your own rugby fields. If you do this test anywhere other than on a measured track you might measure the distance in your car – if you’re using the road – or you might have access to a bicycle with an odometer to measure the distance between points in the park, or you can simply calculate the distance on google maps.

What’s important is that after you’ve completed the 12 minutes you are able to figure out quite accurately just how far your players have run.

Get your players to warm up with ten minutes of gentle running and be sure that they move around while they cool down and stretch afterwards.

It’s important that they pace themselves so that they can finish the test – if they run too hard at the start, then they will run slower towards the end of the test. Likewise if they start too easily, they’re going to be fresh at the end. Tell them to try to maintain a constant pace throughout, and record their lap times so that together, you can plan how to improve.

The chart below gives an indication of where your players are compared to the normal sedentary population in the 18-28 age group. The numbers are the miles/km run and as rugby players, they should be near the top of the table by this point in the season, regardless of the position played.

Distance covered in 12 minutes…



How to coach a low tackle


Get your players used to making low tackles and getting the ball carrier to ground quickly.


1. Put an attacker on the ground on his front with a tackler, also on the ground, 3m away, facing him. Put the ball in front of the attacker.


2. The tackler calls the attacker which shoulder to run to. The attacker gets up, gathers the ball and takes one step to the side at half pace.

3. The tackler gets to his feet and drives his shoulder into the thighs of the attacker just above the knee and grips tightly.


4. The tackler must finish with a tight grip with his head in hard on the attacker’s legs (you, or another observer, check for this).


5. Players then swap roles and repeat. You can develop the activity by increasing the pace of the ball carrier, but don’t let him step inside.



Zigzag and swing drills for speed

Quickly and easily progress your players’ speed and agility with these two simple drills.

1. Zigzag sprint



What you’ll need…

6 markers


Place 6 markers 3-5m apart, zigzag pattern
Run forward through the zigzag pattern
Accelerate toward each marker
At the marker decelerate, lower centre of gravity
Step off the outside foot, turn toward next marker
Accelerate, continue sequence
Repeat 5 times
Rest 90 seconds between repetitions

2. Seated arm swing



Sit upright on the ground, legs extended
Arms bent at 90 degrees, swing in alternate fashion
Backward swing, elbow just below shoulder height
Forward swing bring hands to chest level
Elbows remain close to sides, hands do not cross midline of body
Swing arms in running like action, body should bounce up and down
Complete 5 sets of 20 repetitions
Rest 60 seconds between sets

Prep your players for the next piece of action

The game of rugby is a constant flow of activity. Make sure your players don’t just stop once they’ve made one contribution, but continue to recycle themselves for the next piece of action. This activity helps build that awareness.

What you tell your players the session is about…

Working together in small groups (pods).
Improving your ability to recyle the ball quickly, starting with a ruck situation.

What you tell your players to do…

Receive the pass and go forward as a small group of four.
Target a defender or gap and drive into it.
Go to ground or place the ball on the ground with the supporters driving defenders out of the way.
Clear the ball away to the next group and repeat.
Always pass the ball the same way – left to right, or right to left.

What to call out…

“Make an early decision where to go and commit to it”
“Get into a low body position and keep your legs pumping”
“Place the ball back so it’s clear of the defence”


What to look for…

Ball carriers that take contact and immediately go to ground. There are dangers of being turned over or giving penalties away if they go to ground too quickly. The ball carrier should use more leg drive after making contact.
Players poor at clearing away defenders. Ensure the support players drive tight to the ball carrier.

What to think about…

What height of drive is most effective when clearing the defence away? Are the players targeting weak opponents and gaps or just hitting defenders? How does adding an extra pass affect the practice? Is the players timing of their run onto the pass affected by how successful the previous ruck is?

Rugby quotes

“The excitement of playing the best team in Europe in a hostile environment is why you play the game. Do I believe we can win? Of course I do. I can’t wait to see them play.”

Mike Ford, Bath head coach, ahead of the game against European Champions Cup holders Toulon.



Dan Cottrell’s Better Rugby Coaching


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