The strength coaches role
Rugby has evolved. The 2015 All Blacks team was, on average, 15kgs heavier than their 1987 counterparts. Couple this with the ball being in play for 10 minutes longer than it was 20 years ago, and we give birth to a Bigger, Faster, Fitter, Stronger culture among developing rugby players.
With the rise of professionalism in rugby over the last 25 years, we have seen the role of the ‘trainer’ develop into the S & C coach. Their full time job is to help the players obtain the above goals. Players are able to train 4+ times per week in the gym as part of their overall program, be this part of a school, academy, province or franchise. These players are looking for improvements, and we coaches are there to help them. Unfortunately, this often this leads to our sole focus being on hitting numbers in the gym. It is easy for us strength coaches to forget about what we are preparing our players for. Rugby is a dynamic game that is as much about winning the mental battle, as it is the physical one. This means our players need to be ready physically and mentally. Our focus should be to develop players that are not just physically better, but also able to apply their physical qualities on the pitch in position specific situations. We are not developing sprinters, weightlifters, or 1500m runners. We are developing rugby players that need to be able to perform their job on the pitch at a high intensity and for a long duration of time over an entire season or seasons.
So how do we do this? For me the most important first step is to create the right training environment. The gain train cant leave the station until the tracks have been built. Below are a few ways we can begin to build those tracks. These will differ depending on the players you are working with, but the key outcome remains the same- create an environment that makes the players responsible for their own development/ improvements;
- Allow athlete auto-regulation of training load, exercise selection, and session selection.
- Demand perfection of movement before going after load;
- Have the players take ownership of their physical state through work-ons, prehab, rehab, nutrition and recovery;
- Set the standards re punctuality and professionalism;
- Build relationships with the players- let them know we give a shit about their development;
- Make it ok to fail;
- Encourage them to support each other’s pursuit of goals;
Rugby is a dynamic game. We need to be aware of this as strength coaches. Switch our focus from simply hitting numbers, to developing players capable of applying their physical abilities to their position. Build an environment that encourages the players to have to think for themselves and thus, take charge of their own physical development. From here, we can guide what they are doing by assessing what they need most to improve their current performance on the pitch, and providing them with the content they need to do this.