One of my major frustrations in my 25 years of playing rugby was how monotonous warm ups could become. Teams always, always get stuck in a rut as to what they do to prepare for training, and I think it can have a massive effect on how well the session goes. Invariably, as the season goes on, the same warm-up will be wheeled out session after session: the same once round the pitch, the same leg drills, the same tired old passing drills.
There is of course certain amount of mundane, necessary stretching, mobilisation and general preparation of the body for the maximal effort of the session that has to be included, but around that I think the warm up should be enjoyable and stimulating.
Doesn't always have to be egg-shaped!
One thing I am always fond of is doing drills or playing touch with different types of balls, be it a tennis ball or mini rugby ball. This is a great, easy way of improving handling skills, as afterwards a proper rugby ball seems incredibly easy to handle, and it also provides a different mental stimulus and makes the most basic of drills more interesting.
If you are feeling really fruity you might even try small-sided games of ultimate Frisbee, although many of the forwards might struggle with this!
There is always an emphasis on not making mistakes in rugby, but maybe the warm up is a chance to try new things and look at skills which are more difficult to get right every time, such as, say, offloading with one hand.
If it is specified before the drill that if a ball goes down it is not the end of the world (as long as guys are not doing things half-assed) it can free people up widen their skill-base and, ultimately, improve as a player.
Another good way of stimulating players is, rather than doing the warm en masse, which makes it very easy for guys to go through the motions, to split into small groups, either randomly or by position.
If you do it by position, it is the best chance to bring in position specifics skills, which can be done at a lower intensity than the main session.
Obvious examples would be the second row going off to practise kick-off receipts together, the back three could practise taking high balls, the midfield backs work on their long passing across the width of the pitch and the back row look at contesting the ball at the breakdown.
All these offer the opportunity for the practice to be player led (once they’ve been given guidance as to what the drill entails) which means they are immediately engaged in the session.
On a slightly different tack, I like to look at different ways of getting the blood flowing rather than just trudging up and down the pitch.
This could be a short, simple circuit involving exercises like press-ups, sit-ups, bear crawls, squat thrusts-proper old school! But do it all together in a circle, even counting out the reps together, and you will immediately create a buzz about training, and the endorphins will be flowing.
Controlled wresting in the warm up is another quick way to stimulate both mind and body.
Finally, it is a good idea if players are asked to think about different drills or exercises they would like to do and use them in the warm up.
This gives the coach one less thing to think about, empowers the players and you might just unearth a gem of an idea. At the end of a session, nominate a player who will be in charge of the next session’s warm up so he can give it some thought and he can then come up with, say, a ten minute plan of what it will consist of.
Some will be keener to do it than others!
For position-specific tips, check out our Coaching section