Chaos Theory in Coaching – Lee Smith

By | October 3, 2018

Whether you take a proactive approach or a reactive approach to coaching rugby it all starts at the same place.

In order to play the players must be proficient in a wide range of skills be they generic I.e. able to be performed by all the players or position specific.

And it is not just a matter of performing the skills technically successfully against opponents but the players must be fit enough to perform the skills under oxygen debt and to make a choice as to what skill is going to be most successful.

This involves decision making and the choice is determined by an evaluation of the play as it develops.

Commencing with defence the choice is based on a reaction to the performance of a player in the attack. The choice of defence is based on forcing the attacker to play to the least desireable option. This may be technically, forcing a skill to be performed poorly, or tactically, forcing the attacker to choose a poor skill option. Both of these build pressure on the attack as they find themselves in less and less desireable situations ultimately resulting in the defence regaining possession and attacking.

The choice of options can be different for the attacking team, the team in possession, as they can initiate play by either imposing a pattern on the defence , being proactive, or by reacting to the defence, being reactive.

Imposing a pattern implies that the team is superior to their opponents and is able to impose their attacking pattern on the defence.

This also implies that the opposing team will not do their homework and play to a defensive that will prevent the attack playing to their pattern.

Of course this depends on the access the team has to the play of their opponents. If this is limited they might be just as well to play to a well structured attacking and defensive pattern but even then the ability to react to your opponent will pay dividends.
If the homework is done the proactive team will have its attacking patterns dissected to such an extent that the defence will prevent them getting over the gain line and build an attack to score points.
In other words “the move” that is successful in the current game will have a “shelf life” of less than the next game.

What is enabling teams to get by without playing reactively is the superior physical fitness of a team that enables them to overpower opponents.

But now let’s combine technical and physical superiority with the ability to react to the defence at the time so the pattern is a reaction to the defence.

This is not as complicated as you might think as analysis of an opponent’s defence over time, will identify a limited number of patterns, where these patterns will be played, which attacking source of possession the defence pattern will be played from, when during the game and what the score might be.

In practice this will further lead to the prioritisation of skills. These will be performed against levels of defence following something like the following:

Practice Progression:

  1. Practice unopposed.
  2. Practice in relation to the defence line and the gain line.
  3. Practice according to the defence line and gain line with increasing numbers of defenders. Contact may initially be a touch, followed by a 2 handed grab and then the tackle used in the game.
  4. A further variation is to vary tha balance between defenders and attackers perhaps starting with a three attacker overlap, reducing to 2 and finally equal numbers in attack and defence. However bear in mind that the attack should manipulate the defence to take advantage of having greater numbers. This would challenge the attack to react to take advantage of the greater numbers. To enable the attack to play to given situations the coach may tell the defence what he wants them to do so that, in these initial situations, the attack learns to read what is ahead of them. But don’t tell the attack before the event making sure they adapt to what is in front of them..
  5. Should the numbers be equal or the defence be greater than the attack, the attack’s option is to create a one-on-one miss-match or overload a channel with greater numbers and play down this channel using offloads and linear support.
  6. Using opposed teams. Place a number of balls randomnly around the fiield so that field position is an important variable. The coach calls the ball to be played with and the team who is to attack and the players play from this ball. Secondly the coach identifies the ball to be played with and the team who first recovers the ball plays with it. Part way through a play the coach can call a different ball and can vary who is to attack and who is to defend. This establishes an ability to play in trtansition, the transition from attack to defence and defence to attack. Enthusiasm does make the adjustment from defence to attack faster.
  7. To create the realistic situation from scrum and line-out begin with a proactive starter and play reactively after this.

Defence from Scrums – a response to a query

By | August 27, 2018

I have been asked to explain my approach to defence from the scrum. What I have done provides a blueprint for scrum but is equally applicable to the line-out and defence from phase play. From phase play there tends to be more defenders in the defence line than there are attackers in the attack line. This can lead to confusion as to who is defending who. This can be solved by continuing to defend inside out but numbering outside in so any spare defenders are close to the source of possession where pick and go and one or two pass hit ups take place. But most importantly the defence must know who is defending who.

I think it is a matter of numbering the ball carriers as follows:

In each case if the defender can’t get to the ball carrier defending inside out they call to the other members of their team that they are able to drift onto the next ball carrier.

To do this effectively they don’t drift back but hold their position on the inside position of the next defender so they can tackle the ball carrier when they cut back in. So often they drop back and leave this space and the ball carrier is able to get over the gain line.

It is also important that the defender on the current ball carrier moves up fast inside out. If you can then get boys of this age to slow down about 3 metres away, step to be square on about a metre or two away and then move directly into the tackle. This defender is closest to the opposition and the defenders inside and outside him are aligned in a flat arrowhead so they can move into play. They should also align on the inside shoulder of their attacker. At all levels attackers tend to drift across the field and this helps the defence “shepherd” them into the space of the next attacker so they end up running out of room.

Note they don’t defend the number on the back but each successive pair of hands so that attackers entering the attack line between 2 defenders are taken care of. It is a matter of numbering out.

#1 Ball carrier/ #8 or #9 run with the ball – Defensive 6 and 7 watch the ball through the scrum from their pushing position, which is also a good tackling position. They watch the hands that pick up the ball and if the legs attached to the hands go to that side then the tackle is theirs. It may be too technical but if they step wide and leave the inside space they can tackle the #8 back into the scrum.

Your #8 can assist with the tackle or drive through the ball to counter ruck to regain the ball.

Defensive #9 – Defend #2 ball carrier – probably #10. If he is unsure if the attack is going left or right he can position behind #8 as this allows him to go to the side the attack goes and tackle the second ball carrier.

I think if the attacking #9 passes immediately, as they usually do, then the defensive #9 is in a good position to make the tackle with #6 or #7 inside him as back-up. He shouldn’t have to worry about #8 and #9 running if #’s 6,7 and 8 do their job.

Defensive #10 – Defend #3 ball carrier – probably #12 or the blind side wing entering the open side from the blind side.

Defensive #12 – Defend #4 ball carrier – probably #13

Defensive #13 – Defend #5 ball carrier – Lets say #15 entering the attack line.

Defensive #11 and #14 – Defend #6 ball carrier.

Few teams will have more than 6 ball carriers in the attacking line.

You will also find that ball carriers drift and pass before committing a defender allowing the defence to drift, as I have said above. They take up each others space and enable you to gang tackle and, with greater numbers to counter ruck, although refs don’t seem to allow this, I don’t know why.

Re practicing to get the tackle running line correct and make the tackle I have used stationary tackle bags. The flaw most teams make is that they all tackle at the same time, which is unrealistic, I usually put the tackle bags in an attacking formation on the tackle line and have the defenders coming up in order to make the tackle.

I then have them return to the offside line and move one player out adding another player inside to make the first tackle. When they have moved to the end of the defence line they run back to where the scrum would be. They just shuffle out one after each tackle.

You can then add in players and the tackles made are as strong as you think they can handle.

I have added a loose ball after each tackle that they recover.

Another addition is for the inside tackler, after he has made his tackle, to tackle with the tackler next in the line to make a double tackle.

I can get carried away sometimes.


Win – Paul Cammarata

By | July 29, 2018

It’s become a taboo word, not just in soccer but in all youth sports. Most recently the debate has become an issue of coaches choosing winning or development, as if they are mutually exclusive. Coaches who develop players the right way don’t have to choose either or because winning and development go hand in hand, but first you will have to understand what “winning” truly means.

The idea we face today that winning doesn’t matter, only development, stems from the extreme “win at all costs” mentality that many involved with any youth sport promote. Because of that extreme, the polar opposite has arisen where we tell our players that winning doesn’t matter, and here is our ultimate issue.

Winning matters. But development matters more.

Let’s understand that. They both matter. There’s a score at the end of the game, there is generally a “winning” team and a “losing” team in games. There’s a reason, however, that there are quotations around both those words. What does winning mean after all? Does winning mean having the better score in a U7 league game? Does winning mean a team that goes unbeaten in Division 1 in their U8 group?

To some, yes. For me, “winning” or more specific a “winning mentality” means players who are hungry and determined to give 100% at improving everything they do. Inspire our youth to be hungry and motivated to improve constantly at whatever they do, and soon the hunger to win games will also develop. Too often, however, we start on the wrong end.

Let’s first look at the argument of why “winning over development” survives to this day, and then let’s look at what the kids think. This is their game, after all.

By the age of 13, 70% of kids involved in organized sports drop out of the game. Often, the reasoning is that they aren’t “having fun anymore” and they’ve lost interest. Here is where “winning at all costs” comes to life. After all, when adults take their own personal experience, winning is always equated to fun. They fondly remember their time as a player, coach, or even spectator, and the elation that came from winning. The equation is simple with the “win at all costs mentality”: If kids aren’t winning, kids will want to drop out because they aren’t having fun. Who enjoys losing?

It’s a poisonous idea that permeates through all aspects of youth sports and is one of the major factors that sees kids dropping out of organized sport at an alarming rate. Read again, the “win at all costs” adultification of youth sports is the most damaging aspect of youth development. Do kids want to win games? Yes, but how long do they dwell on losses as compared to mom and dad?

By the age of 13, around 70% of kids involved in organized sports drop out. It’s a fact worth repeating, and in all this debate, adults are the ones throwing around what kids want. It’s fascinating when a 50 year old is explaining what their seven year old son or daughter wants. Lucky for us, however, someone much smarter than myself decided to do a study where they simply asked kids what exactly they wanted from sports.

The results are fascinating, and incredibly encouraging if you believe in a “winning mentality.” Project Play from the Aspen Institute reports on a study conducted in 2014 by George Washington University where kids were asked why they participate in sports. Over 90 percent of children responded that they participated in sports because it was fun. Fun, however, means a lot of different things for a lot of different people. The children were asked to describe what fun meant for them, and 81 different explanations arose throughout the study.

81 different explanations for what fun means, ranked in order of most important as a response.

Guess where “winning” ends up. Top 5?
Top 10?
Top 20?
Top 40?

Try 48th on the list. Winning was ranked by children as the 48th most important reason to describe fun. Enjoy the important results (courtesy of here:

Trying your best, being treated with respect by the coach, and getting playing time are the most important factors that kids define fun by. Tournaments and trophies? Not up there, sorry folks. This is fun for one group, certainly, but unfortunately they aren’t the one’s playing.

Trying your best is essentially the idea of giving 100%. It’s that winning mentality, and if we can continue to foster it, we are one step ahead of the game in helping to create “winners.” Kids generally forget about results soon after the game is over. The game is really won or lost, however, in the car ride home. As Project Play explains, kids often forget about the result ten minutes after a game is over, but are often reminded of it constantly in the car-ride home and at dinner that day.

We are responsible for the environment we create for our players and our children. If you think your son or daughter’s value lies in winning a medal at the end of the year, even if they have (which is often the case in “win at all costs” mentality) regressed in technical development or tactical awareness, then you would much prefer playing in division 5 where your team wins 7-0 every game. You’ll get a lot of trophies to put on the mantlepiece, but they’ll all stop after a certain age. The obsession for short term success had decidedly destroyed the long term possibilities for players.

Instead of harping on the most recent scoreline in your league game, why not watch the game and see where your son or daughter could improve. Why not explain to them, as coaches should be doing also, that they have to strive for perfection within themselves before they worry about perfection manifested in scorelines and results. At 7, are we talking about perfection? No, but we are extolling the values of hard work, a never-quit attitude, and always working to get better. That’s what perfection is.

Winning is important, but development is more important. Develop the winning mentality, see kids take ownership of their own technical development, understanding that one hour of practice a week is not enough, and watch the results come, eventually. Eventually is the key word here. Don’t expect this to happen over the course of a week, a season, maybe even a year. Development is not a straight line. Ups will come with downs, and development does not mean constant, unchecked progression.

Watch your teams and watch how they play. Are they encouraged to play out of the back, pass to the keeper, play the ball on the ground and take chances? Mistakes will happen and games will be lost. Does your team kick the ball as far as they can so the striker can score a lot of goals? Mistakes will be minimized and you will undoubtedly win some trophies. Trust in the team that plays the right way and learns from their mistakes, but don’t take my advice for it, I prefer Laureano Ruiz’s explanation, the man who many claim to be the reason behind Barcelona’s playing style:

Let us say that you and I coach two teams with kids that are 10, 11, and 12 years old and all are about equally good. You try to teach them to play good football, a passing game and with tactical basics while I tell mind to only play long balls and try to shoot. I can assure you that at first, I will always win against you, by using your mistakes. Break a bad pass and goal. If we however continue with the same training methods during a three year period, you will most likely win every game against us. Your players will have learned how to play while mine haven’t. That’s how easy it is.

Unfortunately, as many coaches who value proper development know, it isn’t always easy. It takes a village to educate a child. Coaches can and should do their part to ensure they are developing a player for long term success, but we need help from parents to. The environment we create for these players is of the utmost importance.

Next time you’re watching your son or daughter play, forget the result at the end. The result only serves to guide your player on what they need to improve on, nothing more. I have dozens of trophies and medals from my own days playing sports as a youth, and to be completely honest, I barely remember any of them. As a coach, my fondest memory isn’t the victories I’ve had with different teams. Nor is it the playoff appearances, or tournaments I’ve been to or even won.

My fondest memory is much more simple, and much more memorable. It was a text I received a week ago from a former player who thanked me for changing the mentality of the program he was in, and for giving him an experience that was instrumental to his high school career.

The focus wasn’t on short term success. It was always much larger than that.

Develop and win. One comes before the other, and for good reason.

Paul Cammarata

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