The idea to coach at St Albans School was first suggested by a good friend of mine, Tony Dalwood, a governor at the school who I played rugby with at Bristol University. I already knew of the school, as I have family who live close to the school’s training grounds at Woollams, and my eldest son will start at the school in 2017.
Before I arrived there was already a strong coaching team in place, who possess considerable experience of the game. Coaching is all about collaboration and fortunately, I work with a New Zealand coach (Mr Walmsley) who shares a similar outlook to me on how we should play. We are constantly trying to improve pupils’ understanding of the game, which is more difficult than it might sound. It is easy on the touchline to bark orders, and while that sometimes works in the short-term, my preference is to empower players to make the right call themselves.
My primary focus will be to support the 1st XV rugby team, but I also want to make sure that the techniques and tactics we implement in the 1st XV are replicated across all age groups throughout the school. I hope that when players step up to the first team, they know what is expected of them. I have a ‘super skills’ session once a week, when I look to improve the boys’ passing and kicking techniques. This is ongoing and I hope that the work will pay dividends in the forthcoming weekend matches.
As well as providing this ‘helicopter’ view, I am also looking to identify specific boys and girls who might be considered ‘elite’ in their field, regardless of which sport they play. I am hoping that my expertise in core skills and game management can positively impact end results in matches.
At the same time, I hope to improve the individual, especially those who might be considering a career in rugby, by sharing my experience of having been a professional rugby player.
The psychology of rugby is very important. Understanding what buttons to press to get the best out of a player is a skill I am still learning. The boys are turning into young men and I don’t ever want a player to ‘fear’ being in my environment. Hence the reason for much more positive reinforcement on what we do well. I have come down hard on standards but negative feedback is something I try to avoid.
Sports coaching and development requires the personal touch, but I am also a big believer in exploiting new technology to help us to achieve our goals, and in particular Hudl, a video analysis tool that is revolutionising the way that both coaches and athletes prepare for – and stay ahead of – the competition.
Hudl enables us as coaches and pupils to take footage filmed during training and matches from the static cameras the school has installed at Woollams, or from our own smartphones, cameras and tablets. Both players and trainers are able to share and review performance and techniques, providing valuable insight into how performance and strategies can be improved. There is nothing more powerful than showing pupils video clips of their technique and where they need to improve. For example, every time we are attacking, we look to reach the seventh phase of play so we can break down the opposition better. The idea of Hudl is to show not only where we can improve but as importantly, where we have got it right.
I have really enjoyed my experience working with the boys so far; we have had a very good season to date. I am looking forward to providing further support, guidance and mentoring to future generations of talented sports players coming through the school, as well as to members of staff coaching at all levels.