A view from the sidelines

January 9, 2017

Good coaching is at the heart of developing amateur players. We met Edinburgh University head coach and Scottish Rugby specialist skills coach Dave Adamson to understand life on the sidelines – and what needs to be done to support young players in Scotland.

Tell us about your role with Scottish Rugby:

At Scottish Rugby I am part of the special skills coaching that takes place once every 3 to 4 weeks, focusing on specialist and unit skills. For example I coach kicking to the younger players (under-16 up to 20 year-olds). That’s looking at basic technique and how they can apply the skills and technique to the game, so putting them under pressure in certain situations. But it’s mainly the small things that you don’t always get the chance to work on in a team environment because you don’t have the time or the resources to do so.

I was also the head coach for Edinburgh under 18s this year so that involves watching games on a Saturday morning, chatting with other coaches involved to get their ideas on young players and how they do in training and games. Then we feed that back to the selection panel. We select a team from that and then we have four sessions with them and that is with the view to playing against the Borders. From that game there is another selection from best players. So there is a combined team from the Borders and the Edinburgh players and they play the best players from Glasgow and Caley. That leads up to the Scotland under 18s camp.

What does a typical day look like for you?

With the university, our training starts on the Friday because we play our games on the Wednesday so we’re a few days ahead. So on Friday it will be a case of putting together a session plan, speaking with other coaches about that, selecting a team and reviewing the video from the game on the Wednesday to see anything we’ve missed. We then train at night, 6 – 7.30pm.

On Saturday morning, the boys will be in the gym with Phil, our S&C coach. That’s when I will be watching a school game for Edinburgh under 18s. On Monday, it’s a case of preparing for the training session that takes place at night. So reviewing the video, if we’ve played the team already, reviewing the video of their previous game, putting together tactics and style of play that we want to execute on the Wednesday. Then it is more planning on the Tuesday. We normally travel on Tuesday night for the game on Wednesday. We play in a British League so there is a lot of travelling involved, however the standard of rugby is very high, so it is worthwhile.

What qualifications are required for a role like this?

I did PE at University. I’ve also got a UK CC Level 3 coaching award, which is currently the highest you can do in Scotland. I wouldn’t say that that is essential, but having the experience of playing and being in that environment definitely does help. The environment we work in is performance based so having the experience of that and having two other coaches that have the experience does help.

I think its also your continual professional development or continually trying to improve and learn new things. Whether that’s watching other coaches or watching as much as you can on TV and YouTube and getting ideas from there. I think having an interest in other sports also helps, because you don’t want to be too narrow in your view and your outlook on things. I have an interest in cricket, football and tennis and enjoy picking up small things from them and applying it to my sport. Again, speaking to coaches of other sports helps. I think its just looking at ways to make yourself better, and however you do that is up to you.

Did you always want to go into coaching?

No it wasn’t something I had a focus on. I worked in social work, specifically with young people, before I got the job here. Some of the work I did was voluntary work but there was always a sports side to it. So when I was working with young people, I would do sport with them to encourage them to develop themselves and also looked at nutrition. I always had an interest in it. Rugby has been one of the main parts of my life but I never thought about making it a career until 5 years ago when I got the job here.

Given your background working with young people, how important, as a coach, is being able to relate to them?
That’s one of the main parts of the job. At Edinburgh University people are from similar social backgrounds but they are different. They are from different parts of the UK, they have different family makeup, they have different friends, and they have different interest so it was something I took a while to recognise. It took me 12 months to not treat them all the same. I think it’s only been in the last 2 years that I’ve realised you have to suit training to their needs. Because they have a lot on their plates, they’re away from home, they are studying for a degree from a top university and it’s difficult. So you want to make rugby something they enjoy and look forward to and make sure that it fits their lifestyle.

You do individual coaching – what are the key differences to coaching a team to coaching 1-on-1?

With individual coaching you definitely get more of an input to the individual. You can spend a lot more time on specifics, such as kicking. There are 3 or 4 key aspects that you need to get right and focus on because there is a lot; one part will break down and other parts wont be working. Video analysis on your iPad/mobile phone is a great way to utilise 1 on 1 coaching. Spend a couple of minutes going over things with the player, going back to the technique/skills that they’re trying to perform and take it as you go.

Competitive sports these days put a lot of emphasis on training analysis; what techniques do you use?

We don’t use it as much as I would like to – some coaches use it and some coaches don’t use it at all, so it’s about getting the balance right. I think if you are using it for the team environment, for example looking at tackles, it can offer benefits. But it certainly works in an individual environment. If you’re a tennis player, golfer or a diver, you can definitely get benefits from it because the athlete would at times respond to verbal cues but it's even better if they’re actually seeing it and know what they’re doing wrong or what they’re doing well. So you can reinforce or change that with video analysis. Personally I find it more beneficial within an individual environment.

Do you see coaching techniques developing in the future in terms of technology?

Definitely. We use analysis logic; a platform created by a couple of guys from Edinburgh. It is very user friendly, and it suits our needs. At the standard we’re playing and the time constraints the guys already have, we couldn’t go into it so we put the video on. There are certain things we could highlight there. I think we have the balance right but the higher the level you go up, the more important it becomes.

What are your top tips for developing young players?

First of all you have to make it enjoyable. We spend a lot of time on what we call BABS, which is the bread and butter. So we would play for 10 minutes every session so players have the basics engrained in them; it’s muscle memory and they're in their brain. It means that when they go into a game it’s almost second nature. But then the rest of the session we make it varied, not spending too much time on any one thing. In an hour’s session, we will look at 3 or 4 things.

We always to keep things upbeat and positive. Being Scottish, we view things negatively before looking at things positively. From the feedback we got from the guys that wasn’t something they enjoyed, so it was something I looked to do as much as possible. There has to be a time where they have to have a bit of a rollocking but I try to make the overall environment very positive and supportive.

Do you think there’s a lack of confidence in general?

Yeah I think certainly in Scotland we are a pessimistic nation by nature. We are lucky here at Edinburgh University, we see a lot of international athletes coming through the doors. When you see New Zealand train here, there is no negativity in the room whatsoever. Then you have some Scottish teams coming here; they’re a lot quieter and there is a different atmosphere. I don’t know if it’s the weather or diets or the outlook in life but it is a big thing I’ve noticed.

What success stories have you played a role in?

University rugby has had a stigma attached to it for the last 20 years. I think Scottish uni rugby is viewed as a bunch of guys playing rugby and then going out straight after. That is something we wanted to change and I think we’ve definitely done that here. So we’ve had guys coming to us, a lot are English but they are qualified to play in Scotland, so we’ve had a couple of guys that got involved in Scotland’s under 20s. Neither of them ever considered playing for Scotland but they had Scottish parents. We highlighted them as someone to watch and they were introduced to the training squads. Unfortunately neither of them made it to the 6 Nations squad, though there is still a chance for one of the guys just now.

I think it’s the support we give them here that gives them confidence in what they are doing. Because they are good players, but maybe they never really thought about it. So with the S and C and the coaching support from our coaches, we give them medical, nutritional support and see their attitudes changing to training. They put a lot more effort in to it. Also when you see them in the game environment, their confidence is brimming so they play better and that translates into their performances.

Do you think players who are just starting out need more support to become professional players?

I think in Scotland we seem to gather players very early. If you’re 14 or 15 and not already recognised then it is quite hard to be spotted. Rugby is a specialist sport and guys specialise at different ages, perhaps at 18, 19, 20 years old. If you’ve not been picked up then it’s quite difficult for you to make it. There are avenues but we have a very narrow base, and it’s almost like it gets more narrow as it gets nearer the top.

So it is hard for guys in Scotland, they don’t have the same opportunities as in other countries like in Ireland for example. They have a similar type of player, a similar population but they have a very wide base. Their schoolboy rugby structure is the best in the UK. They identify young players, they put them to their districts, and they put them to club and school internationals and then on to the 20s. And they have good academy structures. So the base is quite wide and it’s something that we have to work on. It’s an ongoing problem in Scotland.

The system in Scotland should look to make improvements then?

Yeah, people have been speaking about it for 20 years. It was the same when I was involved in rugby 20 years ago. They just haven’t sorted it yet. There are people in place to identify these young players but there is no structure to further their talent so it’s difficult.

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