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Coaching adult recreational sport

By rugby coach, Paul Farrington @PAfarrington

Having coached Touch Rugby for the past 10 years, working with both recreational adult and England International players at Touch World Cup level, I have recently seen this minority sport (but one of Australia and New Zealand’s largest) becoming the sport of choice for the RFU and RFL to deliver adult participation targets, with ‘O2 Touch’ and ‘Play Touch Rugby League’ being two heavily promoted initiatives.

This has created an interesting dilemma for the sport, quickly moving it from a little known sport with a steady influx of newer players driven by England Touch, to becoming a key part of two major Sport England recognised NGBs, and receiving huge exposure. 

This development is in line with the general, drive to increase participation of adults in sport, with a range of ‘Back to…’ and casual pitch up and play sessions being promoted by nearly all NGBs. These focus on low commitment- of both time and money, and a flexible approach to participation.

Whilst these initiatives focus on the recruitment of recreational players with the emphasis generally on participants on having fun in my experience, these recreational participation can pose a conundrum to coaches, when deciding what approach to take.

What is certain though is the value of a coach in facilitating sessions, increasing player enjoyment, ensuring retention and further recruitment. Recent research by Sports Coach UK highlights the value of coaching recreational participants.

My own experience reflects this desire for recreational players to be coached. Coaching at this level can be beneficial to both the participant and the coach, for the following reasons: Everyone wants to improve: I have found it is human nature to want to improve at anything we do.
Whilst everyone has their own motivations, undoubtedly participants enjoy sport more if they feel that they are improving, getting more confident and being successful. This is particularly true of people taking part in a new sport such as Touch, in which small amounts of technical advice can have a real impact.

A coach is able to ensure that everyone gains something from a session, possibly a new idea or more confidence from feedback. The beauty of coaching in this environment is that a coach can focus on simple, effective feedback to individuals, without any pressure of preparing a team for a competitive fixture.

Focal point: A coach can be a focal point for the session, welcoming newcomers, establishing rapport and any prior experience, participant aims and objectives (why are they here?). They might be able to take complete beginners to one side whilst the main activity runs, and then re-introduce them to the main game.

This often happens in Touch sessions, when players bring friends and partners who have never picked up a rugby ball, and they can pick up the fundamentals of the game, without being thrown in at the ‘deep end’ into a session.

Variety: A creative coach will be able to add variety to a session, establishing fun warm-ups and presenting parts of a game (defending, attacking and core skills). This is key in keeping things fresh and avoiding boredom and drop-out over a longer period of time.
Exit routes: A coach is often able to engage and signpost participants club’s formal teams. There is some evidence that O2 Touch has encouraged lapsed rugby players back in to full-contact rugby.

So, whilst coaching low commitment participation sessions may traditionally run as unstructured pitch up and play activities, getting the right coach in place to facilitate sessions could have significant benefits to both participants and host clubs.  


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