The entire third day of the Premiership Coaching Development Scholarship was spent with the Harlequins men’s and women’s teams at their practice sessions at Surrey Sports Park.
It was both massively challenging and greatly rewarding.
The pace, organization, and simplicity of the practice was impressive. The sheer amount of productivity at the 90-minute men’s practice was mind-blowing. The women had a similar session length, but the pace and physicality truly left me in awe.We also got to see some top international talent like Paul Laiske (Eagle #524) and England internationals Rachel Burford and Danny Care.
Coach-to-coach with Harlequins head coach Paul Gustard
Despite the WOW factor, I personally had trouble identifying firm takeaways from simply observing the practices from a distance. I think being able to hear the coaches would have provided a lot more insight during the practice sessions.
Thankfully, after the practice we had the chance to talk with coaches from both sides directly.
For example, Paul Gustard — men’s head coach for the Harlequins — and assistant coach Alex Codling spent quite a lot of time talking with us on the sidelines after the men’s session. Paul shared some great insights into his planning process which fit the theme of the day perfectly. Highlights for me included:
- Be sure your practice is FUN!
- A playbook isn’t needed, even at the professional level. Keep it simple.
- Pressurize/gamify practice as much as possible.
- During a practice session, include key factors, expected outcomes, and keep things flowing.
- Plan a theme for the week.
Planning and delivery module
Besides the observational component, we also did a classroom session for planning and delivery of a practice session. We were then given about 45 minutes to plan a session and then headed outside to deliver our session to the other coaches.
Both the classroom and practical parts of this module were facilitated by some of the coaching staff at Harlequins: Ed Bowden and Jake Matthews. We really enjoyed working with Ed and Jake as they helped us focus on our tasks, clarified problems, and critiqued our coaching sessions.
An exhausting day
With many hours on our feet, creative challenges, and constant time restrictions, Day 3 was both physically and mentally exhausting,
However, mixing the practical and educational components in such an intense environment created a safe space for both creativity and errors. Together, these factors enhanced the learning and retention process.
It also allowed us to shed any trepidation of coaching in front of our peers and really forced us to work together.
Despite the exhaustion, I felt this was the most productive and enjoyable day so far. I’m excited for more opportunities to coach and learn as the week progresses.
Key learning points/observations
- A practice plan is a framework to achieve the desired goal or address the weekly theme.
- Adapting the framework in real time is critical in a practice to make sure players are both challenged and eventually finding success in the games/drills/activities presented.
- Opposition is critical to force decisions under pressure. This is used to emulate match-like conditions.
Application to future coaching activities
- I plan to use specific key factors for each game and skill zone activity.
- I’m going to work hard to get practice flowing better.
- I’m going to introduce fun games into the warmup.
Day 4 is a fun day without any formal curriculum. We have some tours arranged, some free time, and we’ll get to participate in the taping of a rugby TV show!