Exploring rugby coach attitudes to changing the rules for mini-rugby

In 2010/11 the Rugby Football Union (RFU) developed new rules for competitive games in Under-9s rugby. The new rules focussed on tackling and giving players more time with the ball rather than set pieces (scrummaging and line-outs) and breakdown skills (rucking and mauling). In effect the changes were designed around informal games and deliberate play rather than early specialisation.

When researchers from Cardiff and Exeter Universities evaluated coaches’ perceptions of these rule changes they found that coaches fell into three groups:

  • Radicals who supported an unstructured game without set-piece of breakdown skills (in line with the new rules)
  • Traditionalists who favoured a structure based on the adult game.
  • Moderates who favoured rucks and mauls but not the set pieces.

The research results showed some interesting differences between the Radicals and Traditionalists. These included:

  • Radicals were more likely to have already coached the new version and seen the results. 63% of Radicals had coached the new version compared to 18% of Traditionalists.
  • More Radicals had played at higher levels (County level or above) than Traditionalists (37% compared to 17%).

The second point in particular is interesting. Over 90% of coaches in the research had a Level 1 qualification and three-quarters had only one year coaching experience, so these were relatively inexperienced coaches. The researchers suggest that inexperienced coaches who had played the game at a lower level are more likely to associate with the traditional adult game that they are more familiar with, while those who had played at a higher level supported a more open game linked to the new rules.

So there appeared to be a link between rugby experience and perceptions of the new rules.

Previous research has shown that the new rugby format gives young people more playing time and meets the needs of players. So how can the RFU (or any organisations trying to amend rules for young players) help their coaches adapt to new rules? Some ideas from the research include:

  • More education so that coaches are not relying purely on personal experience.
  • Better communication of the evaluation data that shows the positive impact of the new rules.

The RFU are also currently piloting a Club Coach Co-Ordinator role that may provide the opportunity to educate inexperienced coaches about the new rules. It will be interesting to see the impact of this new role.

This blog is based on the article: Thomas, G., Coles, T. and Wilson, M. (2016) Exploring mini rugby coaches’ perceptions of competitive activities Sports Coaching Review


Featured Posts