Moving into contact is a big step up for players, and an exciting move towards the kind of rugby they watch in stadiums or on the TV. For parents and coaches, it’s pretty daunting too!
We chatted to Tim Gazzard, head of our U8s who’ve just been through the introduction to contact in the initial weeks of Term 1.
What does Day 1 of U8s look like?
“Before anyone starts, mouthguards are purchased and put in! The first day of U8s introduces the concept of contact.
We practised three things on Day 1: how to come in contact with the ground, how to come into contact with another person, and the four stages of a tackle.”
What sort of drills do those involve?
“Learning how to “fall properly“, we practiced running around with ball in hand, or hands behind our back and on the whistle, falling to ground safely using the catch-cry “knees, hips, shoulders”. We teach the kids not to use their arms, hands or fingers. As a building block for contact, we do this as part of our warm up for every session.
Wrestling games are a great way to introduce the concept of contact with another player. We have two kids on their knees facing each other, arms around each other and trying to wrestle the other kid to the ground. For a bit of fun, we had a knock-out wrestling competition to find our wrestling champion!
And finally, the 4 stages of a tackle: Shoulder (cheek to cheek), Arms (make a ring of steel), Leg Drive and then Get Up. We had fun throwing around the padded rings and the kids had to chase them and tackle them!”
So what about week 2, 3, 4… do you teach the kids in stages?
“Absolutely – build slowly in stages, focus on the right technique, and do everything safely!
For tackling, we start with kids on knees doing stationary tackles from side to side and are slowly progressing to tackling on feet and dynamic tackling. We keep going back to basics though each week, repeating the technique over and over again. It takes time and lots of repetition and practice!
Were about 7 weeks into the term, and so we’ve also recently introduced the ruck and cleaning out. The kids go into contact using the catch-cry “Hit, Drive, Drop, Place”. They’ve got to hit with the shoulder (ball in back hand), drive with the legs, drop to ground, and place the ball. On the clean out, we focus on getting the correct body position which takes lots and lots of practice: knees bent, back straight, head up, make contact with the shoulder, wrap the arms, strong leg drive.
And now it’s just about practicing and practicing and practicing over and over and over again.”
Do you play contact games too?
“We usually finish each session with some games. To introduce contact first we started with normal touch, but when the player was touched instead of just passing he had to go to ground and place the ball. Then first person had to come in and do an imaginary clean out. Then someone could pick up the ball and pass. We did that for a coup of weeks before introducing tackle in the games to help the kids learn the change in the flow of the game.”
Do you brief your coaches? Any advice for those coaches doing this next year?
“Have fun and prepare! There are lots of resources out there and of course, coaches from the years previous who can give you advice.
With my coaching team, I do three main things to get everyone on the same page:
1) I send them videos beforehand of the various drills etc that we are going to do
2) I try to teach them simple catch-cry’s (like the above!) to help remember the main steps and so we are all using the same terminology
3) For the first few sessions at least while we we learning the technique, we’d start with one demonstration for the whole group before splitting up into smaller groups to practice.”