Chaos Theory in Coaching – Lee Smith

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.