A Coaching Year - 6 Seasons

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.
— Abraham Lincoln
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A coach’s annual plan can be partitioned into a handful of phases that represent the general periodization concepts of preparation, competition, and transition. 

To maximize the goals of a program, including successes on and off the field, the annual plan should be well organized and planned well in advance of competition, and should include considerations for all players, coaches, and staff involved. 

We look at an annual plan in 6 phases that are building blocks onto the next. Failure to deliver one block will compromise the next in the annual cycle and over time erode the mission and values of the program. 

In the end, from a USA Rugby high-performance perspective, the training plan should drive towards improving the quality of repetitions and maximizing the number of these reps per session per cycle per season. 

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1.    Preparation Season: re-evaluate coaching purpose, goals, philosophy; update periodization and training models as needed; final calendaring; off-field annual distractions taken care of (dentist, eye exam, physical); player physicals
2.    Pre-Season: player buy-in, targeted outcomes / conditions with players, train player leadership model; parent letters / orientation; functional screening, nutrition and sleep re-evaluations and planning, concussion baseline, anti-doping education
3.   In-Season: train winning habits; compete
4.    Peak Season: what it is all for, execute, limit distractions
5.    Post Season: season debrief, player exit interviews, review measurables, calendaring for next year; inventory, spring cleaning; players leave with a plan to build into next season
6.    Off Season: get away, learn from other environments

Preparation Season

United State Olympic Committee's  Quality Coaching Framework (2017).  Published by Human Kinetics, Champaign, Illinois, United States. 

United State Olympic Committee's Quality Coaching Framework (2017). Published by Human Kinetics, Champaign, Illinois, United States. 

  1. Define & reevaluate Coaching Purpose and connecting philosophy to values:
    1. Why do you coach?
    2. Why does this team exist?
    3. What experiences do you want your athletes to have?
    4. What is success in this situation?
    5. What are your ethics / standards?
  2. Core Values of the program, players, staff?
  3. Season micro-plan updates.
  4. Coaches and players take care of all potential distractions from the playing season (annual check-ups, taxes, etc).[1]


  1. Work with Players on buy-in of Core Values. Adjust. 
    1. Share a clear vision. 
    2. Set Target Outcomes (goals) and Actions required to achieve. What are the measurables? 
    3. Prioritize deliverables. 
  2. Build communication, feedback, and behavior frameworks for season long success. 
    1. What is the player-centered leadership model? 
    2. Clearly define roles and responsibilities on and off the field. 
  3. Assess each athlete’s current rugby knowledge, physical literacy, skill competencies, learning styles, and motivations. 
  4. Rehearse game-day plans. 

Setting Athlete Targets: Individual Performance Plan Example


Emotionally Healthy Teams

Satisfy four basic psychological needs[4]

  1. Connecting / Belonging: the human need to connect is a motivator for developing relationships and cooperation with others. 
  2. Competency: power is gained through competency, achievement, mastery. 
  3. Freedom: choices allow for adaptation. 
  4. Fun: learning something new is fun. Sense of discovery and playfulness are universal human traits. Some argue fun is the genetic payoff for learning. 


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  1. Optimize Learning (15 Ps of Perfect Pedagogy)
  2. Competition readiness
  3. Efficient session designs (See Training section)
  4. S.O.T.3
    1. Start on Time
    2. Stay on Task
    3. Stop on Time [3]
  5. Re-train all match tactics and game day strategic plans (Plans A, B, C) in preparation for playoff run.

Peak Season

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  1. Embrace the opportunity, not be overwhelmed by it. 
  2. By now all game-plans should have been trained & tested under match conditions. 
  3. Limit distractions on and off the field. Control the controllables. 
  4. Stay away from "needing to find some magic"--championships are won with simple execution. Most championship team's deliver their average performance in the final which is better than everyone else's average.
  5. Execute the tried and true. Stick to routines that helped the team get to the playoffs in the first place.   
  6. Approaching the playoffs starts at the beginning of the preparation season, and then developing a consistent and competitive training environment early on in the pre-season and continuing that same approach with minor tweaks throughout the in-season regardless of results in games lays the foundation for continued improvements into the playoffs. 
  7. Less is more.  

Post Season

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  1. What was the plan last year?
    1. Review Performance Plan
    2. Review Staffing Plan
    3. Review Training Plans
    4. Review Training Environment
    5. Review Competition Plans
    6. Review Competitive Environment
  2. What actually happened over the course of the season?
    1. Review overall competitive statistics
      1. Key performance indicators
        1. Attack
        2. Defense
        3. Possession Time / Turnovers
        4. Kicking
        5. Contact Area, Rucks, Scrums, Lineouts
        6. Discipline
    2. Correlations to performance outcomes
      1. What were most predictive? Least predictive?
      2. What matters the most?
    3. Review individual player performances
    4. Review subjective player and team observations
    5. Review staff performance
  3. What caused the difference between the plan and the results?
    1. Review performance gaps, both (+) and (-)
    2. What are the teams major deficiencies?
    3. What does the team do really well? What are the weapons?
  4. What are we going to do about it moving forward?
    1. Prioritized list of action steps
    2. Develop comprehensive annual plan to support multi-year plan (4 to 5 years ahead)
    3. Establish clear set of goals and measurable objectives (performance outcomes, KPIs, etc.) with timelines
      1. Competition XVs
      2. Competition 7s
      3. Player skill and behavioral performance objectives
      4. Coach skill and behavioral performance objectives
      5. Staff performance objectives

Off Season

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  1. Step away from rugby
  2. Learn from other sports
  3. End off-season and start prep-season reflecting on big-picture—why do you coach? 

[1] McRae, A.E. (2015). The keys to success: Coaching styles of professional championship team sport coaches. Saarbrucken, Germany: LAP Lambert Academic.

[2] Launder, A., & Piltz, W. (2013). Play practice. Engaging & developing skilled players from beginning to elite (2nd ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics. 

[3] Lawrence, Scott. (2017). Program Maturity Model. 

[4] Glasser, W. (1998). Choice theory: A new psychology of personal freedom. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. From: Activating the Desire to Learn (ch. 1., p. 8), by B. Sullo, 2006. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Copyright 2007 by ASCD