Game playing in Youth Rugby

It is a challenge and a great responsibility to play and train with young children. Because of their nature they are curious, they love  challenges, try things, new situations and discover the world around them for themselves.

The suggestion in the early years of schooling poses that the most important thing is not the teaching of motor skills, but you have to take seriously the needs of children in this area with actions such as climbing, jumping, spinning, spinning, playing with balance, looking for risky situations.

One of the most interesting proposals from World Rugby is the organization of training in seasons. Children choose more or less in the seasons, they can determine the degree of difficulty and learn from mistakes. Many children are able to assess their own risk. It should be noted that some  six-year-olds, for example, tend to have a developmental level for four-year-olds, while others develop eight-year-olds.

So, What would training could look like?

Creating a positive environment for the young player is crucial – develop players who can make correct decisions during a match, the (coaching) environment should be conditioned to allow players to practice recognising situations, work out solutions and then react accordingly.

It is here that coaches can make the most significant impact by encouraging Young players to try things and learn from their mistakes.

A training, encounter or game session with youth players can have various edges. The prerequisite for success is a good organisation. Drawings and photos are often better than long verbal explanations to help all participants who have to get used to new  tools and become more independent, with autonomy you do not lose the quality of the movement.

  • Always have a purpose / objective to your session
  • Question your players to check for understanding to ensure they are aware of:
    • What they are doing (the technical detail)
    • How it relates to the principles of play (the tactical detail)
    • What the effect of their actions will be on play

It is important, however, to remember that there is a lot of spontaneous motor activity (of movements) in children. Coaches should observe,  help when  needed, and/or  work  with children. Safety issues should not be forgotten.

  • Continually improve ALL players(not just the skilled ones)
  • Develop techniques into skills(by placing players into game situations)
  • Develop players’ game-sense’ (their ability to understand the game and the consequence of their actions)
  • See what is right and praise it
  • See what is wrong, recognise why it is wrong, and be able to correct it.

This is the optimal level for the acquisition of all motor skills, enabling many positive experiences of movement, and thus allowing the development of skills not only coordinative and conditional, but also cognitive, emotional, and even socialization.

  • Encourage skill learning for everyone (slow starters may be successful later)
  • Allow all players to experience every playing position – the prop of today could be the scrum half of tomorrow! Rugby is a late specialisation sport – so, no need to define players into position too early – if you do so you may be limiting their development!

Undoubtedly Modified games are extremely useful to help players to develop both their skills and game understanding for training ages is best for open, intensive teaching in terms of motor learning and several experiences.

World Rugby recommends coaches should ensure that they adopt a game-based approach to their coaching activities and actually coach through the game (focus on specifics, observe and analyse critically, correct errors, praise good practice and encourage learning) rather than manage the activity (e.g., commentating on play). This means providing specific feedback on both good practice and areas to develop, in relation to the aim set out at the start.

With Youth players It is important that the aim (e.g., tackle or pass technique) is maintained throughout the session as the tendency can be for the coach to fix other faults. This can result in the key message to the players be diluted through a focus on too much detail at once. distraction and loss of interest is common in young age groups.

To challenge players with realistic training activities, coaches should be creative in the tasks they set for their players to encourage them to solve problems and make decisions. Consider the following tips when designing the activities and always relate what you are asking the players to do in relation to the outcome of the session:

  • Condition the opposition in attack or defence to put players in decision making situations – by altering number in attack/defence, placing conditions on what they can or cannot do and giving some players specific roles
  • Utilise scoring zones and systems – the position and numbers of areas that can be scored in as well as what is required to score – relate to objective.
  • Alter the dimensions of playing area to maximise opportunity to practice (e.g. narrow for developing contact skills)
  • Allowing /disallowing some skills in certain zones (e.g. only 3 passes in the middle zone/ no kicking in own half etc.)

Coaching girls – considerations

When dealing with Youth players, coaches should take into consideration that just like boys, girls will develop at different rates and times.

Training programmes should take this into account and be tailored to the development stage of the player. For example, a ten-year-old girl may have been playing since she was six years of age and therefore has four years’ experience playing the game while a 12-year-old may just have taken up the sport and be in her first year of rugby.

Some key areas which are particularly useful to consider when coaching girls.

From World Rugby:

  • As girls can tend to be more people-orientated, how a coach engages and communicates with them is very important as this sets a foundation for their learning and encourages participation
  • Girls can respond more positively when their coach knows them as individuals and understands their personalities, motivations, and goals
  • Girls tend to ask more questions than boys as they usually need to understand the detail of an instruction before willingly completing it as the process is as important as the outcome
  • Be mindful of physical interaction. Physical touch needs to be appropriate. If it is required to demonstrate a particular skill, permission should be obtained from the player provided that it is within cultural norms. Coaches may need to use a full range of questioning and demonstration strategies (for example, use of experienced players to demonstrate, use of video)
  • Having females involved in managing or coaching is good practice
  • Physical differences between male and female children aged ten to twelve years of age are usually minimal.

World Rugby guide:


World Rugby Guidelines :  World Rugby Coaching : The home of Rugby coaching on the web : Coaching Children

I Coach Kids : iCoachKids: Home

International Safeguards for Children in Sport: org/en/toolkit/child-protection-and-safeguarding

Balyi, I. & Hamilton, A., 2004. Long Term Athletic Development: Trainability in Childhood and Adolescence. Victoria, British Columbia: National Coaching Institute and Advanced Training and Performance LTD