The RFU’s Professional Coach Development Manager on coaching and Skill Acquisition

posted: Friday, 31 May 2013

Ric Shuttleworth has been the RFU’s Professional Coach Development Manager since the start of the year. Previously he worked for the Australian Institute of Sport where he was their Skill Acquisition Specialist.

One of the benefits of what I do at the RFU is to meet some of the best people in the world of player development and coaching. One of those people is Ric Shuttleworth who has recently joined the organisation as elite coach development manager. Ric recently gave a talk to a group of coaches working with divisional U16 players and I thought that there was so much good stuff there that I would share it. 

Ric's philosophy is based on the 'Game Sense' or perhaps more accurately the 'Constraints Led' model of coaching. He suggests that skill should never be developed outside of a game like training environment, rather coaches should always challenge themselves to create what the successful Australian Hockey Coach, Ric Charlesworth calls 'designer games' so that players are learning and developing skills while inside a game like context so that the acquired skill is learned in an integrated sense rather than isolated. 

He quotes a conversation with Robbie Deanes, the Australian Rugby Coach. His key messages were...

  • Let the players find the solutions. 
  •  The information should come from them to us. 
  • We want mistakes. Mistakes are good. 
  • The point of difference is awareness. We don't spend enough time developing this. Decisions are based on awareness. 
  • The best will have a dynamic collective understanding. They will think on the fly based on what they see in front of them. 
  • Defenders determine the attacking strategy, react to what they do. Defensive density both depth and width is key. Identify the clusters. 

Ric then adds the following following points...

  • Ask a question but don't expect an answer. Allow the game to be the teacher, let them find the solution within the game. Get them to explore the solutions. 
  • Manipulation of time and space to create pressure. Players who have played a lot of invasion games are good at this. 
  • Information dictates technique. The development of the skill should never be done in isolation of wider information. Otherwise the skill breaks down. 
  • Expression and creativity is prized over conforming to a model. Innovation must be part of it. 
  • Technique based KPIs are not important. Process is key, how committed to learning are they. 
  • Establish the aim of the session based on the problems. List the problems and then work backwards towards the single solutions. 
  • Work out the methods of learning based on low, medium and high pressure options. Slide between these to illicit the best learning model for the individual. 
  • Players want you to be in control. But you must break the control cycle. Don't offer feedback...force them to solicit it. 
  • Generation Y get told what to do a lot. They are not used to making decisions. 
  • Try to Structure 'unstructured' practice. 
  • Encourage the players develop the games or solutions or constraints to solve the problem. Make them critically evaluate tactical approaches and make decisions accordingly.