Premiership Scholarship Day 6 – Functional roles and selections with Saracens

Honesty, Discipline, Work Rate, and Humility

Day six of the Premiership Rugby Coaching Development Scholarship began with a trip to Woollams Playing Fields, home to Old Albanians RFC and the full-time training facility for Saracens.

The Saracens run a “clarity day” on Fridays to prepare for the Saturday match. Practice began with non-rugby games like soccer followed by ultimate rugby. It really looked like the players were having a fun warm-up session.

After the warm-up it was on to a more typical series of unit skills and team skills with two full sides running through the plan for the following day. Everyone was on the same page through the practice and very little time was wasted.

At the end of practice, some players stayed behind to work on niche skills like kicking and throwing the ball at the line-out.

Functional Roles at Allianz

After the Saracens practice was over we headed to their home pitch at Allianz stadium for lunch. We ate in the main conference room overlooking the stadium. Saracens values were plastered all over including on the walls of the conference room and even sewn into the inside collar of their jerseys!

If you look carefully under Work Rate in the photo at the top you’ll see perhaps one of the most important that players from any club can aspire to:

Always be ready to do TSPDS (The Shit People Don’t See).

Immediately following the meal we received our final module —Functional Roles — from Sarancens Academy Manager Lewis Sones.

To begin, we focused not on positions like prop and lock, but on identifying Functional Roles like “jumping in the line out”. Once we had a list of functional roles, we took the time to list the skills needed for each role. Groups were assigned roles to discus and then present their findings.

Analyzing all the skills needed for each role was an interesting and fresh way to look at the game. And it was surprising how many of the skills were shared across multiple roles.

The discussion then moved to Functional Roles for each position. Specifically, we discussed how to select players based on how well their individual skills matched the required Functional Roles for each position. Lewis also encouraged us to put away preconceived notions (based on size for example) of what position is best-suited to particular player and to look at their skills first.

Another aspect of this module that I appreciated was the detailed skill list that could serve as the basis of countless game and skill zones for future practices.

My Coaching Pyramid

For me, the Functional Roles module was a great way to wrap up the curriculum as it tied together many of the topics we had covered during the week, especially on day 2 and day 5. As were discussing the topic, I realized that Functional Roles fit perfectly between rugby’s Core Skills and the Principles of Play.

As you can see below, I created a simple pyramid wherein the Core Skills are used to perform the Functional Roles. In turn, the Functional Roles are used in the Principles of Play.

Self reflection

Key learning points/observations

  1. Functional Roles can be used to properly select players for their positions.
  2. A broad set of skills are common among the Functional Roles in rugby.

Application to future coaching activities

  1. I plan to us my coaching pyramid to provide context to the athletes during games and drills at practice sessions.
  2. Since many skills are shared among the Functional Roles, I will try to design activities to improve these skills as a group before breaking off into unit-based activities like set pieces.

Next up

Tomorrow is our final day! The morning is free for shopping and exploring. Then we have a premiership match — Harlequins @ Saracens — followed by a goodbye meal.

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