January 8, 2015

Rugby Coaching: Tales of the Unexpected

Written by:
Bruce Aitchison

In the first of our "Why I love coaching" series, we hear from Bruce Aitchison, Head Coach at Boroughmuir Rugby in Edinburgh.

I love being a head coach. I always knew I was going to coach. I loved playing, and rugby coaching is a really distant second place to playing. I still miss it and would give anything to have my time again.

I was always critical of my teachers and coaches. Not in a negative way, I liked to see the things I thought worked, the way they spoke, the way they reacted, the messages they put across, the players they picked, the individual chats, the game plan, the bits that didn’t work, the reaction to winning, losing, playing well, playing poorly. I took notes and learned from the good and the bad and was desperate to put it into action.

I have worked with some amazing men, Rob Moffat, David Wright, Bill Noble, Gary Parker, Iain Rankin, Ivan Torpey and my dad. I knew I would be a better coach than I was a player (that’s probably for others to judge!). As a player I liked to be a leader, I loved to be the captain. This gave me a closer relationship to the coaches than the other players. I think my team mates and opponents hated it because I never used to shut up, on and off the field.

But all of that made me want to be the best coach I could be. I also love to make things happen that might not be expected. I like players to be surprised and look forward to spending their time at training, playing, socialising, and conditioning. This means every now and then, choosing the timing carefully, organising some alternative activities. It’s not new, lots of clubs do it. There has to be a reason and depending on the mindset of your team and your players, it freshens things up if they ‘buy into it’. I have been lucky that the teams I have worked with have got stuck in.

Don't be scared to mix things up

At Boroughmuir last year we brightened up the winter training sessions in a Games Hall with a Zumba session, none of the players were expecting it. They got a bit of a shock and their balance, rhythm and coordination was really tested. I got a few messages afterwards from the wives and girlfriends of the players wishing I had told them it was happening so they could have been there to witness it.

Who knew rugby players could dance?

After winning the league we then surprised the squad with a session with the Fierce Pro Dancers who again put the players through their paces, teaching them a cheer and a dance routine. The dancers then used the players to throw them into the air for their aerial stunts. The dancers got a bit of fright as they aren’t used to be tossed as high by locks, props and flankers.

Mastering a martial art

This season has seen a new link forged that we hope to make more of as we move forward. Players can benefit from learning judo and transfer the skills into the contact area around the tackle in rugby. The squad has had 2 sessions at the home of Judo Scotland at Ratho led by James Millar, Commonwealth Games bronze medal winner in Glasgow last summer. Players need to be aware of where their centre of gravity is, the width of their base, transfer of weight while understanding how to use their opponent’s weight against them resembles the clearing of the contact, the tackle and choke tackle.

The players were put through a rigorous warm up that included a lot of gymnastic style movements, partner work and then into judoka. James was then able to look at technique in a live situation, suggesting ways to gain advantages over the opponents. The players loved it.

The session hit three priorities. It was an alternative session that gave them a different environment, voice and situation to learn/develop a core skill of their performance. It acted as a conditioning session without the impact of a rugby contact session. It gave a chance to learn from others for the coaching team and players. We hope to continue to benefit from the link and look at other activities, sports where we can learn.

Happiness is Egg Shaped

Bruce Aitchison

Bruce Aitchison is Head Coach at Boroughmuir Rugby as well as being a PE Teacher. He currently holds a UKCC Level 3 Rugby Union Qualification.

If you like what Bruce had to say here, connect with him on Twitter.

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