Brian Ashton: Coaches must go with the flow, free of jargon

Tackling the issues

Last weekend, I was in the north of England talking to a group of coaches involved in schools rugby.

We found ourselves discussing the difference between drills-based coaching, of which I've long been deeply suspicious – the word "drill" instantly conjures up an image of a sergeant major screaming, "This is how you do it", at soldiers marching up and down the parade ground – and sessions based on problem solving, with which I'm far more comfortable.

It set me thinking about the language of rugby and how the repeated use of certain words and phrases affects the way many people approach the game here. "Drill" is a good example of what I would call negative or inhibiting language, because to my mind, there are a lot of players who are good at drills who can't actually play. But there are plenty of others – "going through the phases", "setting a target" and "ball-carrier" to name three – and if we allow them to become embedded in the mindset of our coaches, especially those working with youngsters, what kind of game will we produce?

Let us unpack the phrase "going through the phases". It suggests that players are simply hanging on to possession and awaiting an error rather than seeking active ways of scoring by passing early, offloading out of the tackle or bamboozling an opponent with some fancy footwork. Of course, it is often argued that, by taking play through ruck after ruck, the opposition will eventually make the mistake that leads to a try. In answer to that, I would say that as it's generally easier to defend than it is to attack, the mistake is more likely to come from the team with the ball.

Slow possession from the "breakdown" (another word I dislike, suggestive as it is of something that's gone wrong) creates a kind of defensive heaven. Even the most incompetent defence can reorganise when the ball takes three or four seconds to emerge from a pile of bodies.

Which leads me on to this business about "targets". If I were a midfield player, I'd be less than impressed if I was told my job was to run straight and hard into the opposition with the sole intention of giving my forwards something to hit. Where's the creativity in that? Before the Lions tour of South Africa during the summer, we were told that Jamie Roberts, the powerfully built Welsh centre, was a natural "target player". To my great delight, he showed himself to be something rather more: a natural footballer.

Through exquisite timing and clever angles of running, he constantly put Brian O'Driscoll through holes and into space. Targets? The only target for Roberts and O'Driscoll was the opposition goal-line.

By the same yardstick, it beggars belief that any self-respecting forward would want to be pigeon-holed as a "ball-carrier". William Webb Ellis might have revelled in the description, but I'd like to think the sport has moved on a little since the 1820s.

During my trip north, I spent time with an old pal who just happens to have been one of England's great captains: Bill Beaumont. Both Bill and another friend of long standing, Fran Cotton, were tight forwards who could scrum and maul with the best of them, but they were also outstanding footballers who could use the ball as productively at close quarters as any back. They'd have been horrified by the label "ball-carrier", not least because it means nothing. What are you if you're not a ball-carrier? A full-time ruck-hitter? How depressing.

If we're not careful, we'll spawn a generation of "multi-phase-contact, breakdown-oriented players who set targets with their ball-carrying". It is not a description that has much room for the art of the game – for imagination or creativity, for playing off the cuff and living off the wits – but it is, worryingly, the common language of the moment, the kind of talk you can hear at hundreds of training sessions the length and breadth of the country.

Where do they come from, these ideas of rigid structure and single-tasking? A lot of them arrived here from American football. I have nothing against gridiron – it's an extremely demanding sport – but it's a game wholly dictated from the touchline. As I've spent an entire career in coaching trying to persuade players to take responsibility for their own decision making, you'll forgive me if I don't want to see union go too much further down that road.

Sarries should listen to their fans

Saracens went top of the Premiership last weekend, and by all accounts they were booed by their own supporters in the process. It led to a sharp response from the chief executive, Edward Griffiths, who took to the club website to criticise the booing.

I'm massively intrigued by this. I didn't see the game, but it seems the supporters became frustrated during an interminable bout of "ping-pong" kicking. If that's true, I can't honestly say I blame them. They pay good money to watch and, assuming there's nothing printed on the match ticket that says, "If you're not enjoying the rugby we're playing, shut up and let us get on with it", it seems to me that they're perfectly entitled to voice their displeasure.

On the field, the players are kings. Off the field, who are the most important people at a club: the management or the supporters? Saracens may well turn out to be a strong and successful team this season, but this reaction to a little criticism from the stands was bizarre.

Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution