There are many arguments for the best ways to encourage young players into the game and develop their understanding of the sport. Many see tag rugby as one of the best ways to do this.
That’s understandable. It’s contact free, allows kids to run and play with the ball in hand, it’s simple to understand, all at the same time as having good fun in a relatively safe environment. Surely that is what we need to be doing when exposing kids to rugby for the first time? The benefits of tag are there for all to see. There isn’t a huge amount of worry for those giving their kids the chance to play rugby. It’s quite tough to get a bad injury. Of course there is always a risk but due to the nature of the game, at the entry point there can’t be many ways of successfully introducing rugby’s details to kids.
If we think about the game itself though and what it encourages, does it work for those playing in the long run? There are several problems that are created which might make the process of coaching further down the line more difficult. There are not a huge number but certainly they exist.
Take for example the very nature of the game. In the UK, many play the game where once you have one tag removed you must then look to pass the ball to another player. What does this encourage? It gives the kids the chance to run but over time their first instinct is to tuck the ball under one arm and run at the nearest defender in the knowledge that should they then be tagged they have the chance to offload. There is no particular thought about the other players on the team and the space that exists on the field. Getting kids to run with the ball in two hands is hard enough. Don’t make an excuse for them to do it even more!!
As mentioned above, looking for the options available to them is something we need to allow them to do but tag often promotes players to literally take that to the furthest degree. Players will tear across the field and run round and round in circles until they themselves are tagged. Not at any point is that of help to coaches as the kids grow up. It’s hard as we want the kids to run of course but tag just raises some potential problems - arguments for and against.
In some places, especially in the southern hemisphere, if you have one tag removed then it’s turnover. This will make the players look for space and helps them understand they need to shift the ball to that space to avoid losing it. It also encourages the kids to develop their footwork. As much as we don’t want to say that the southern hemisphere does everything right, one of the areas they potentially have the edge on us is individual brilliance with their footwork. Across the board and more generally, the players there have a better skill set when it comes to this. Single tag turnover requires footwork. Does our version mean that kids run at defenders, happy in the knowledge that they have a second chance to pass? There’s no yes or no answer here just a point to mention.
It’s difficult to think of an alternative to tag as it is such a good way to expose the game but there are certainly areas we need to try to improve what it offers us as a coaching tool. Any thoughts, please post them in the comments section of this article as there will no doubt be some strong opinions.