Game Sense Explanation

By | September 18, 2017

For some time now I have been trying to develop activities that will develop game sense in players. In less developed unions this is a real problem however it is by no means confined to these unions.

What do I mean by game sense?
It is the ability of players to adjust their play to change.

If we take an episode in play from the restart to the whistle things seldom go as planned and it is the ability of the players to adjust to the situation. Too often players expect “the move” to go “as rote”, it seldom does.

The transition from the expected to the unexpected and especially from attack to defence and defence to attack can often be slow. The transition from attack to defence takes more time because of the “let down” when it occurs and the edge that the defence in transition to attack from a turnover, is what often determines points and, ultimately, the result.

But game sense is not just about this major shift following a turnover, it is also the adjustment that is made as team mates react to the behavior of the opposition whether they be in attack and defence and this adjustment is at the heart of rugby’s mode of play.

Just think about it, if a team plays to a pattern, no matter what, the opposition has something concrete they can react to. For this reason the successful move is quickly past its sell by date. But what the move does do is force a reaction by the opposition and this generates options and it is the counter reaction that creates opportunities to succeed.

But more importantly, in the less successful and less skillful levels of the game, the player’s inferior performance forces an adjustment by team mates.
All this involves game sense.

I have tried to use video clips of episodes of play.
What we do is pause the footage at the restart and have the groups of players and coaches explain:

  1. The likely play that will take place.
  2. The functional roles of individual players.
  3. The outcomes you want them to achieve and
  4. The key factors that need to be performed to achieve the outcomes.
  5. And finally the outcome that is most likely to be achieved at the end of the episode.

The episode is then played so the end result can be viewed.

This is followed by comparing the outcomes and, more importantly, the differences in play by the individual players.

It is here that there is the weaknesses because it is very difficult to get footage of all players throughout the episode so the analysis is inaccurate.

I will continue to try and solve this problem but in the mean time I have revised material I have previously produced on attention skills that others have used in a mental skills programme.

This will be spread throughout a number of my blogs. You may find them useful.

It is divided into an education phase, acquisition phase and a practical phase. They are of different lengths so the education phase will be over 2-3 months, the acquisition phase and the practical phase could well combined.



Developing attention skills will enable players and coaches to react to the play of opponents and that of their team-mates.

This has a direct effect on decision-making and game sense.

It gives the situation a context in which the relevant variables are identified and acted upon.

In so doing it can be used to isolate the critical incidents important for decision-making based on the Pareto Principle which states that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

The level at which this is done is dependent competency.

The degree to which a coaches and players are able to react depends on competency in a substantial menu of coaching and playing skills.

Teams with substantial skills will be able to react accurately while teams with limited skills are likely to make inferior choices that will be less effective. Their reaction is likely to be inconsistent also.

In this latter situation planning to play an inconsistent opponent is likely to be a waste of time because they will be erratic. Under these circumstances the team is best to play to their own patterns and impose them on their opponents.

In this module we will practice developing attention skills to improve game sense.

Part One – Education Phase
Exercise 1 – Screening Wisely

The purpose of this exercise is to encourage you to analyse what cues are important to attend to when playing and coaching.  In so doing game sense will improve as you will have a practical way of making a decision and acting on it. Over time the speed and accuracy with which you make decisions will increase.

See the book The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle and the use of myelin as a vehicle for performing skills accurately

The first skill is to differentiate between relevant and irrelevant cues.

Initially write down any cues you think may be important. Then look at them closely and identify only those that will have an equitable impact on the immediate plays. An irrelevant cue will be anything else.

In this sense equitable means that an accurate choice performed successfully will result in a reward in the play that immediately follows while an inferior choice performed poorly will be unsuccessful and concede the advantage to the opponents.

Here is a sample response written by a tennis coach.

Situation:  The opponent is preparing to serve. I am waiting to receive the serve.

Cues given by the server
Outcome for the receiver – To return the ball as deep into the court as possible
Relevant Cues Irrelevant Cues / Distractions?
  1. Positioning of the server
  2. Gaze of the server
  3. Angle of the racquet at contact
  4. Point of contact.
  5. Ball Trajectory
  6. The context – first or second serve and the server’s most likely option.
  1. Crowd noise
  2. Movement in the stands
  3. Previous hits and miss hits in the game.
  4. The score

Can you think of any more?

Rugby Example
Playing Situation:  Defending from a 5metre scrum.

Outcome for the defensive team: To regaining possession of the ball.
An attempt has been made to put the cues in sequential order that is probably an order of priority.

Attacking Team’s Relevant Cues Irrelevant Cues
  1. Alignment of the attacking line.
  2. Positioning of the attacking line.
  3. Depth of the attacking line.
  4. Who wins the hit upon scrum engagement.
  5. Attempts at maintaining scrum pressure by moving forward advancing the side that will create an advantage.
  6. The lines of running of each attacker as play develops.
  7. Whether the attack gets over the gain line
  8. The ball carrier’s relative body position upon contact.
  9. The positioning of attacking support players during and after contact.
  10. 1-3 and 6-9 from phase play ball.
  1. The closeness of the score on the scoreboard.
  2. Crowd reaction.
  3. Time to halftime.
  4. The structure of the halftime break.
  5. Substitutions for the last quarter.
  6. The loss of the toss and playing into the wind this half.

Outcome for the attacking team: 
Regain possession of the ball.
Note: Continue to make the cues sequential and in order of priority.

Cues Given by the Defending Team
Relevant Cues Irrelevant Cues
1 1
2 2
3 3
4 4
5 5
6 6
7 7
8 8
9 9

Situation 2: The teams are participating in kicking duels between 22metre lines with each team maneuvering, looking for a counter attacking  option.

Outcome for attacking team (the team in possession): Achieve field position in the opposing team’s half and, hopefully, possession at the next stoppage of play.
Note: Sequential and prioritised.

Cues given by your team and the opposition
Your Attacking Team’s Relevant Cues The Opposing Defensive Team’s Relevant Cues Irrelevant Cues
1 1
2 2
3 3
4 4
5 5
6 6
7 7
8 8
9 9

Situation 3:  There is 10 minutes to go. You have just scored and the score is 10 – 14 to the opposition. They have kicked off deep inside your 22metre line.

Outcome for your team/ the receiving team: At the next stoppage achieve field position and possession close to the opposing team’s goal line.

Sequential and prioritised.

Cues given by the kicking/ attacking team
Relevant Cues Irrelevant Cues

Attention Analysis:

  1. The purpose of this exercise is to help in determining which tasks benefit from each attention style.
  2. Place each of the tasks in the table below in the appropriate quadrant of attention.
  3. Check your responses against those of others. If they differ, think through the task and the information necessary for successfully completing it.

For example:

  • Scrums and tackle/ post tackle requires a moderately narrow external attention.
  • Changing a game plan during a game falls between a fairly wide internal perspective and a minimally broad external perspective.
  • Winning set piece possession requires fairly narrow external vision and broad external vision.

Exercise 2 – Attention Analysis


Place each of the following tasks in the appropriate quadrant of the attention dimensions diagram below.

Player Skills Coach Skills
  1. Tackling
  2. Goal-kicking
  3. Psyching up for the game
  4. Using the overlap on the wing
  5. Listening to instructions
  6. Planning a pattern of play
  7. Executing a lineout take
  8. Maintaining the pace of the game
  9. Reacting to the opposition scoring in the following play.
A.    Using key factor analysis to correct individual skills.
B.    One-on-one interviews with players.
C.   Selecting a squad of 25.
D.   Modifying the patterns of play to produce a game plan for a specific opponent.
E.    Making a tactical substitution.
F.    Developing a code of conduct for the team.
G.   Observing opposing teams.
H.   Planning a practice session.
I.      Making best use of assistant coaches.
J.     Demonstrating a skill.


Broad / Peripheral Vision
Internal – inward on thoughts and feelings. External – outward on events happening in the environment.
 fill in here  fill in here 
 fill in here  fill in here 
Internal External
Narrow / Tunnel Vision

The purpose of this exercise is to allow you to assess the attention demands of playing and coaching in your current coaching/ playing environment.


The Selection Method – Steps 6 to 10

By | July 18, 2017

Step Six – Selection Responsibilities

Once the players have been ranked they can be categorized into three groups – “in”, “out” and “unsure”.

•  The “in” players are those who will definitely be in the team.
•  The “out” players are those who will definitely not be in the team.
•  The “unsure” players are those who the selectors are unsure of and who will be competing with each other to make the team.

This method enables the selectors to concentrate on the last group, the “unsure” players. Their task is now more manageable and selecting can become more specific.

The head selector will now be able to delegate responsibility to members of the panel.

The player requirements will now become very specific so that the minor differences between players of equal calibre can be identified.

Step Seven – Attitude

Players competing for a position may be of equal ability. The strengths and weaknesses of a player may be matched by different strengths and weaknesses of another. Selection in these circumstances will be based on which player fulfills the demands of the Game Plan.

But if the players still offer equal ability, the final criteria should be attitude. Even within this category are a number of criteria e.g.

•  Commitment
•  Determination
•  Composure
•  Reliability
•  Concentration
•  Persistence
•  Compatibility
•  Initiative

Selectors will know the value they may place on each of these. The emphasis should reflect what the team in that position needs. This will vary from position to position. However, it is likely that the attitude criteria for a position will be similar, if not the same.

Step Eight – Intuition

It is at this stage after the situation has been thoroughly analyzed in a systematic way that the selectors’ intuition becomes important.

We are dealing with a situation that involves people who are not robots. Because of this no selection can be entirely correct or entirely wrong. In a competitive situation the reaction of players will vary from match to match.

After watching players for a long time, the selector will develop a feeling for the play of the player. The final selection will be based on the selector backing this feeling.

Step Nine – The Team Profile

The use of the word “team” is misleading because the profile includes all the playing talent that is available. However, because the processes of developing a profile is the same as that used in the Game Planning Course the term Team Profile will be used

From the total pool of players available the Principles of Play in both attack and defence are used to categorize strengths and weaknesses. A Team Profile Analysis Form is used for this purpose. Implied is knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of the individual players who are available.

This knowledge shall be written down in an individual profile for each player i.e. each players strengths and weaknesses. The profile should be as detailed as possible. Time spent on details in these first steps will ensure that the conclusions arrived at in later steps are accurate.

Step Ten – Game Profile

Once the Team Profile is completed the Game Profile can be written.

The Game Profile explains what the team is to achieve to meet its outcome, performance and process goals.

The patterns of play explain how they are going to do it.

In a broad sense the game profile is a mission statement for what the team aims to achieve in attack and defence.

In attack these are further broken down into backs, forwards and the team and these are further broken down into each having these in the zones down the field sometimes called the red, orange and green zones.

In defence the game profile is also for backs, forwards and the team however experience has shown that these can be applied throughout the length of the field.

The defensive game profile can be broken down further into defence from the major sources of possession:

•  Kick-off receipts
•  Scrums
•  Lineouts
•  Post tackle
•  Ruck
•  Maul
•  Turnovers from play in contact
•  Turnovers from kick receipts

There will be an attacking Game Profile and a defensive Game Profile. Both can be further sub-divided based on field position and / or the positioning of the opposing players.

The Game Profile (what is to be achieved) can now be used to develop Patterns of Play and Game Plan, both of which explain how the Game Profile is to be achieved. These provide the selectors with the criteria for selection that they will use when observing players.

Implied in the Game Profile are the strengths and weaknesses of opposing teams. While these are important, it is important to be positive. The Game Profile and the Patterns of Play explain what and how the team will achieve its aims throughout the season. They are, therefore, what the team is aiming to achieve throughout its matches. Weaknesses should not be dwelled upon.  Teams should enter matches aiming to do what they do best.

If so much emphasis is placed on the strengths and weaknesses of individual teams, the team will not develop its own style of play. In these circumstances each match will be a “one-off” situation in which a team finds itself continually changing in reaction to opponents.

The aim should be to develop a proactive Game Profile and proactive Patterns of Play that a team imposes positively on opponents. Game plans are a change of emphasis within the Patterns of Play rather than playing to a different Pattern of Play for each match.

The Selection Method

By | May 15, 2017

The steps that should be followed when selecting a team will first be listed. Following this each step will be explained in turn. Bear in mind that the order may not suit all selecting environments and you may want to re-arrange the steps but this makes the steps no less valid, it is just the rugby environment that has changed.
It will be divided in 2 to cover 2 months of the newsletter.

Part 1 Steps 1-5

The selection method is based on the following logical order of steps:

  1. Selection Meetings.
  2. Positional Requirements.
  3. Priorities, Co-ordination and Consistency.
  4. Observing Games.
  5. Analysis of Players.
  6. Selection Responsibilities.
  7. Attitude.
  8. Intuition.
  9. Team Profile.
  10. Game Profile.

Before we explain the nature of selection meetings a word about the compatibility of selectors/ coaches.

In some unions these roles may be separate. It is very difficult to coach a team when the coach has not had a part in its selection. For this reason the coaches must also be selectors.

This does not mean that additional selectors should be chosen and there is a place for informal selectors. These are those who have an “eye” for a player generally but more likely a player in a given position. These are “mates” whose opinion is valued in scouting for players but who will not be included in discussions for the final selection of the squad.

If there is disagreement it is the head coach who will make the final decision. A majority vote is not the way to select a player, as this will leave some selector/ coaches disgruntled and with players they may not want. However this situation seldom occurs. It is better to prolong the discussion to come to a consensus rather than selection by a ballot.

Secondly the coaches must be compatible but this does not mean that there is not robust discussion and disagreement so long as the focus is on getting the best selection. In fact it can be beneficial for a coach, probably the head coach, to act as the devil’s advocate and oppose to make the others justify their opinion.

Under these circumstances the key is the confidentiality of what takes place in meetings and the unity of the coach/ selectors once they have left the “war room”.

We all know examples of players being given different views when they speak to the selectors. Often this is about their non-selection. Any player worthy of his/ her status should approach the selectors and they must be able to tell him/ her “Why?” with a common voice. This should be couched in terms of what deficiencies the player has and what needs to be done to regain their position along with a programme for the player’s improvement.

Selectors will find that when they are unified, truthful and approachable they will enhance team spirit while, if they don’t have these qualities this will lead to team disunity and dissension.

Step One – Selection Meetings

Regular selection meetings are essential to monitor the development of players. These meetings should follow a common agenda so that the process remains the same while the content will change.

There are two types of selection meeting those that take place prior to the selection of the team and those that take place once the team has been selected.

Pre-Selection Meetings
The pre-selection meetings should be used to:

  1. Use Functional Roles Analysis and Key factor Analysis to establish Positional Requirements.
  2. Come to a consensus of the positional requirements to ensure Co-ordination and Consistency.
  3. Establish a process that will ensure games are observed from a selection point of view and not from a coaching point of view.

This will enable players to be placed by position in rank order and this will be reviewed throughout the season. The selectors now have a starting point for selection.

Considerable time should be spent discussing the merits of individual players before ranking them. This ranking should be reviewed at each meeting that follows. Changes must be justified.

These meetings have two further functions. The first is to categorize the players into the “in”, “out” and “unsure” groups. The second is to identify players who need to be watched more frequently because the selectors have insufficient current information about them.

At trials use positional selectors. Ask them to place the players in their position in rank order and give their reasons for the ranking. They must be prepared to be questioned by the selectors about their rankings.

They will be able to focus on positional weaknesses. This may force them to select beyond the initial group of players, to cast their net wider.

Post Selection Meetings
Post selection meetings are those that take place after the team has been selected. They are therefore meetings that take place during the teams playing season. They will usually take place as soon as possible after a match to select the teams for the next match. It may not be possible to spend time discussing rankings each week. In fact this may lead to erratic selections that will prevent the team establishing its patterns of play as a unit. Ranking meetings should be scheduled to take place less frequently but regularly.

At meetings between each game it is most important to know of injuries to players and to make a realistic assessment of the injury. The player should return to play only after total rehabilitation. It is equally important to ensure that the player is following a course of treatment that will ensure a return to play as soon as possible. The selectors should receive progress reports of the player’s situation.

When teams are being selected it is important to justify changes to the initially selected teams. For a change to be made the replacement player must have been consistently better than the incumbent. If this is not the case and a change made and the change is unsuccessful, two players will have had their confidence affected and the performance of the team will have been detrimentally affected.


Step Two – Positional Requirements

Positional requirements will be based on the player’s choice of the appropriate functional role and the performance of the role based on the key factors for the role that will lead to it being performed successfully. This will cover the skills and decision-making ability of the players, which are the core of the game.

The functional role may be position specific but in the modern game players have to be multi-skilled performing a growing list of functional roles they hold in common and a diminishing list of roles they specialize in.

Once the functional roles have been agreed to they should be placed in order of priority so that it is first things first, second things second and so on.

In addition there is little point in selecting to an ideal list of functional roles for each position as, on the one hand, there may not be players in the pool you are selecting from who meet the criteria while on the other hand you may have a talented pool of players amongst who you can assume all will have a number of functional roles in common. This will allow the selectors to identify a more advanced list of functional roles for the players.

If the union has the resources further criteria can be used in the areas of strength and conditioning, mental skills and self-management but these are of secondary importance. Should players be of equal ability these criteria are very useful.


Step Three – Priorities, Co-ordination and Consistency

It may be worthwhile when selecting to have a prioritized order of selecting. This order would state what should be the first priority, second priority and so on.

Selecting to a Game Plan using the ranking system based on positional requirements to meet the Game Plan directs the selection panel to its own list of priorities. While the priorities for selection must always be subjective, the following may be useful for selectors in determining their own:

Selection Criteria (in order of priority)

1.  Players with points scoring ability.
2.  Players with possession winning ability.
3.  Player Decision-making:
• Players who can play to a plan and perform the options made available within the plan.
• Players who know when and how to change the plan.
4.  Ability to perform basic attacking and defensive skills.

Whatever method is used, the most important element of any selection method is consistency amongst the selectors.

So that the Game develops within a national union, a provincial union, a club or a school, the selection policy must reflect the Game Profile that has been developed. Consistency is therefore the most important priority in ensuring the Game develops.

For this reason it may be necessary to meet with all coaches and selectors and some players to work together on the Game Plan. By involving all in the formation of the Game Plan they will feel committed to it. They must all be made to feel that they are part of the whole and not a number of parts belonging to individual teams.


Step Four – Observing Games

Note: Positional requirements and functional roles and their key factors are one and the same thing.

When selectors are watching players they must be constantly referring to the positional requirements. This task is different from coaching. The selectors are watching individual players. They should not be distracted from this by watching the match as a whole. This takes considerable discipline.

Experience has shown that individual players should be watched constantly for up to 10 minutes. This would seem to be the minimum period. The selector must be able to observe play away from the ball as well as play when the player is directly involved in using, retaining or regaining the ball. This is more important for some positions than others.

When a selector is watching a player the positional requirements are a checklist to categorize information. All information should be recorded. Writing it down may do this, however, play can be missed while this is being done. A better method is to use a Dictaphone. This can be replayed a number of times after the match.

Both written notes and recorded information must be compared to the positional requirements. This ensures that each player for each position is compared using the same criteria.

Selectors should watch players independently. This is to ensure they don’t fall into the trap of supporting each other’s point of view.

A major difficulty when selecting is reducing the number of players being watched so each can be watched for some time. The categorization of players into the “in”, “out” and “unsure” groups achieve this. It enables selectors to concentrate on a limited number. This is a worthwhile method, however problems arise when players take part in trials.

Prior to the naming of trial teams a considerable amount of work will have to be done gathering information on players. In a trial, comparisons can be made between two players competing for the same position. The difficulty is that there are 15 positions, all of which may have to be observed. Clearly this is impossible to do thoroughly. This can be helped by playing against an opposing team that is not in contention for selection. It reduces the number of players to be watched by half, but it is difficult to make comparisons.

At representative level and above, the problem may be solved by increasing the number of selectors for the trials only. The most obvious way would be to have a selector for each position. This would involve eleven selectors. Where there are two players playing in a position there will still be time enough to watch each player for at least 10 minutes. This frees the official selection panel to watch individual players, as they will know that there are selectors covering all positions.

For this to work successfully, the positional selectors have to be briefed in detail about the positional requirements. Once the trial is over a debriefing of the whole group should take place before the official panel is left to make their final selection.

This system works well so long as the positional selectors are well chosen, understand what is required and are disciplined to watch the players rather than the match. When this is first done, all positional selectors may not be able to meet these criteria. However, at each successive trial the standard will improve as they become familiar with what is required. Changes may have to be made before someone who is good at positional selecting is found.


Step Five – Analysis of Players

Once again the standardization of a process must be used to analyze players by way of a player analysis form that covers all criteria for that position.

This will facilitate the ranking of players.

It is very important that the information is accurate as, if it is not, all the remaining steps will be flawed.

The players will therefore be judged by what is needed to be successful.

The player profile forms should be regularly updated. They can be used to follow the player’s progress during the season.

The ranking gives the selectors a “pecking order” should first choices be injured or if more than one team has to be selected from the same pool of players.

The Player Profile form should be dated so that comparisons can be made with profiles at various times during a player’s career. The form can also be the basis of an interview with a player when discussing the players training programme.