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.

News
Pro-Russia rebels guard a train containing the bodies of victims of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH 17 crash in Torez, Ukraine
i100
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Property
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Struggling actors who scrape a living working in repertory theatres should get paid a 'living wage', Sir Ian McKellen has claimed
theatre
News
Skye McCole Bartusiak's mother said she didn't use drink or drugs
peopleActress was known for role in Mel Gibson film The Patriot
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Damon Albarn is starting work on a new West End musical
artsStar's 'leftfield experimental opera' is turning mainstream
Life and Style
Paul and his father
artsPaul Carter wants to play his own father in the film of his memoirs
Sport
Ben Stokes trudges off after his latest batting failure for England as Ishant Sharma celebrates one of his seven wickets
cricket
Arts and Entertainment
Members of the public are invited to submit their 'sexcapades' to Russell T Davies' new series Tofu
tv
News
Sky's Colin Brazier rummages through an MH17 victim's belongings live on air
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game
arts + ents'The Imitation Game' stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley
Extras
indybest
News
i100... and no one notices
Arts and Entertainment
Friends reunited: Julian Ovenden, Richard Cant and Matt Bardock in rehearsals for the Donmar revival of 'My Night
with Reg'
theatrePoignancy of Kevin Elyot's play being revived just after his death
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor