Last year my son was in Year 3. An under-8. He loved his tag rugby at Broom Road in Teddington. It was all about glory. About running fast and scoring tries. However, all children grow, and that fun cannot last forever. In rugby terms, the next step was a move to contact.
Over the summer before the under-9 season my son would ask excitedly, “Dad, can we practice tackling?” “Soon son,” came my response, always with a hint of trepidation. Although I’d played a lot of other sports as a young man, I’d played very little rugby. Indeed, I only started to play competitive rugby in my early-thirties. This late start and a short career of three games meant that I had neither extensive experience nor good technique to pass on. My enthusiasm to play sport would be of limited use to him in a very technical game. How could I help my son to be safe?
I should not have worried too much. The Quins coaches were great. All parents of children making the transition and all aware that children develop at different rates. But most importantly all aware that the children need to enjoy their rugby.
Week after week the coaches took the children through the basic elements of a tackle, slowly building complexity and speed. Eye to thigh, cheek-to-cheek, shoulder boulder ring of steel and tower of power became the new mantras. They focused children’s minds on set-up, head position, tackling with the shoulder rather than the arms and finally restraining an opponent’s legs whilst driving them back. “On which side should your head be?” was a question the coaches frequently asked in the hope that it would become deeply ingrained.
In the early season, the children practiced the mantras. Walking at first and only seeking to speed up when each child thought he or she was ready. For part of the season, we had groups of children that were jogging through a tackle and those that still needed to build confidence by walking through the steps.
Now that we are nearing the end of the season, I can see that this individual-based approach is paying dividends at Festivals in Twickenham, Teddington and across West London. In our last tournament, one of the children that spent longer on walking through the mantras, confidently made more tackles than any other player in his team. He was technically outstanding, which meant he felt safe.
In addition to the mantas, training sessions this season have focused on building strength and getting the children used to being in close proximity to one another. This was done through games. Plank position opposite a partner and knock your opponents arm away without falling yourself. Good for core and upper body. Lie on the ground and try to push your partner off when they are lying on top of you. Good for chest and core. There were many more strength and proximity games and a lot of laughter playing them.
Skills and strength training were enjoyable, but every week the children ended the training sessions playing 7-a-side games of contact rugby. This was their time. Their time to put into practice what they had learnt, but really it was to focus on having fun playing rugby with their mates.
- Kamal Mohindra