Thursday, August 28, 2014

I never thought about my thoughts....

At practices we have begun to move into attack (attacking the attack, if you will...) discussions and the variety of options presented to you when moving the ball. What was really pointed out was that while it is so heavily emphasized that when attacking you need to move the ball forward (still true) and run straight, it's crazy how many angles are actually involved. This fact is already present through running switches (when you catch a pop pass specifically from a very sharp angle) and other various strategies, however it can be overlooked that simply running at an angle on your own can be effective.
This was demonstrated well through thinking about how defenders line up and (generally) oppose an attacking team. Many times we find ourselves matching up with whomever is across from us and firing up straight in a flat line (obviously nothing is wrong with any of this but it is generally what happens). Here's a mini diagram to make it that obvious:
Pretty simple...makes sense and it's not that complicated to defend.

So anyways, when running at an angle on attack, then that COMPLETELY wipes out the whole matching up/staying in your zone or lane defensive tactic. The defense be like:

I picked up on it as a defender myself when we scrimmaged against each other - when someone ran at an angle it completely made me question whether or not I should be tackling her or someone else that is in her lane....or that other person who is now in her lane.....or that other other person now in her lane.....etc.
However, it's important to stress that this angle we practiced running at is 45 DEGREES - you are NOT running horizontally.

You're still moving forward!

When defending this, part of the solution to almost any problem in rugby is COMMUNICATION. So communicating who is making the tackle and who is in support is very important.
...I feel like the words communication and support appear in almost every single one of my posts.....not a coincidence..........

We also discussed many specifics about going into contact and offloading. Very similar to Indian sprints, we did a drill where in a single file line we ran laps around the field. We would rotate through these positions, but the person in the front of the line would run out a few steps and be a defender against the second person in line (not full on defense....just a wrap to get the ball carrier tangled up). The ball carrier would practice that quick pop pass right off the hip and with a flick of the wrists while the next person in line would burst onto the pop pass, running tightly off the ball carrier's hip. Then that person would start the drill all over again by placing the ball on the ground and becoming the next defender. We rotated through that for a little while and then tried to implement it into game play. While still playing a touch scrimmage, the rule was added that the ball carrier was granted a 2 second window of opportunity to pass the ball after being tagged. We were able to practice running onto the ball and getting quick pop passes off, however it's also clear that when you are put under pressure, you can be much more susceptible to making bad I did a few times. With everything around you going so freakin' fast, it can be really hard to slow your mind down and give yourself the time to think through a decision. Especially when you're in the process of going into contact yet you see a bunch of your teammates around you all wanting the ball at the same time, it just makes you feel like AGH!

Soo there were a few times where I attempted to offload the ball whilst in the middle of being tackled and FAILED MISERABLY. I was feeling pretty bummed about it and frustrated because my mind kept telling me "YOU KNOW BETTER! YOU KNOW THAT'S WRONG!"...but then my coach asked me to explain my thought process about where I go and what I do when I'm on attack, and then explain my decision making to someone else who was inquiring about things to do on attack.....

But once I took the time to actually pay attention to my thought process, I figured it out.
First of all: whenever setting up in a line for attack, my mind immediately gravitates to CINGULAR BARS. get it. If not YouTube the commercials.

I always try and figure out where I am in that progression based on how far away I am from the ball carrier and who is behind me. If I'm at the end of a line and there is not enough room for me to continue progressing deeper then I'm not going to keep backing up all the way into the try zone or out of bounds because clearly that's not logical. However, I will hesitate/stay active in that one spot right until that opportune moment comes where I am at the appropriate amount of depth for me to burst onto the ball.
It's a tough thing to time right, but in order to ensure you're running full speed onto a pass/offload from your teammate it helps to get your mind into that feeling of "OH SHIT I'M NOT GONNA MAKE IT!" except don't make the situation too much of a close call.
But sometimes you've just gotta filter yourself into the line; it's not always an option to go all the way to the end of the line either. Whenever I think the area surrounding the ball carrier looks way too crowded, I'll take a step back and find a gap that I can filter myself into so I can still be used as an asset in the upcoming cycles of play. I may not see any action or I may find myself with the ball sooner than expected, but stepping back from the action can sometimes be a pretty important thing to do or attacking teams can end up like this:

....however, that Scooby Doo crew looks like they could run a pretty supportive banger/crash ball...

Another reason why I was mentally kicking myself for making some ridiculous offload passes right before being fully tackled is because I personally have a golden rule that I constantly follow when I am running with the ball. Of course whenever anyone is running with the ball they are trying to gain meters and make it closer to scoring, but I am constantly thinking about getting to the ground with the ball safely presented towards my teammates (at the right time and place, of course. I'm not exactly thinking that if by some sort of miracle make it into a fast break).
Any type of pass or offload is an ADDED BONUS, and clearly scoring off a run is a legit bonus. But whenever I receive the ball I do not expect any of those things to happen. If I were to estimate, I would say anything besides going to ground and presenting the ball to my teammates happens only about 20% of the time when running. Of course it's fantastic if there is an opportunity to offload or score, but I'd say 8 times out of 10 I will not risk losing possession to achieve one of those things. They will come eventually as long as we are able to hold onto the ball, so that's really the simple goal of attack.....along with moving forward, of course.

So then there's also those times where you're sorta close to the ruck but there's already a bunch of people in there and everyone else is already lined up ready for attack and you are just STUCK in a crazy no man's land. Personally I'd look towards the ruck first since I love rucking and would selfishly check to see if there's a chance for me to enter. If it looks like we're teetering on losing, READY OR NOT HERE I COME. If it looks pretty stable then I will recycle to behind the attack line and either filter in where there's a discrepancy in the cingular bars or prepare to support the next round of ball carriers. If the ruck looks like we're going to lose possession (like there's no chance of salvation) then I will communicate that to the rest of the team and POST.

In the end, shit happens. All the time. LITERALLY, all the time in rugby. You and I are both going to throw some absolutely shitty passes...and I don't care if you are reading this before trying out for the All Blacks. We're all going to lose the ball at some point, or do something that literally makes us question how we are even smart enough to tie our laces.

But I think in order to be good at rugby, you have to be able to handle the times that you're bad and make mistakes, because IT'S GOING TO HAPPEN. As my coach touched on tonight at practice, you don't really learn anything unless you make mistakes. YOU HAVE TO! You don't become a great rugby player through miraculously doing everything right your first time around. You become a great rugby player through analyzing where you can improve or potentially try something different that will give you a better outcome next time. Rugby is all about being perfectly imperfect. Rugby doesn't want you to do everything right, otherwise it wouldn't be FUN! Part of the FUN in rugby is the crazy rollercoaster of shit hitting the fan and seeing how you and your teammates can handle it....that's all rugby really is! Of course there's a lot of strategy and tactic that occurs behind the scenes, but those are all basically so you can have a back pocket full of tools for when SHIT HAPPENS.
So HUZZAH! Embrace the wild and the unknown! Just fuck it and go with the flow, you'll figure it out! And GET YOUR ASS OUT ON THAT FIELD because there is no better tool in your pocket than practice and game experience itself.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Why are there cleats in the back seat?

Soo yesterday my mother gave me quite a grilling over finding cleats in the back seat of our car...and here's why: first off she thought it stank up the entire car (which, when I went into the car, I was actually expecting it to smell bad but it was actually one of my most FAVORITE scents....grass......aka a rugby field), and second because I'M ON PROBATION FROM RUGBY. She put me on probation from rugby because currently we don't have any health insurance.

...well....I'm supposed to be on probation and not playing. If my mother or someone who will snitch to my mother is in your vicinity kindly CLOSE THIS SHIT IMMEDIATELY BECAUSE SHE HAS NO IDEA THAT I'M STILL PLAYING ANYWAYS.

And I get it that clearly tackling people and being pummeled left and right are not exactly activities you should be doing when you don't have health insurance, but running drills? passing? playing touch scrimmages? All of those are about as hazardous as going to the gym, going for a run, walking across the get it. It's BOGUS.
And telling me I can't play rugby?

Rugby is what gets me through the week, through the day....through ANYTHING. Literally any type of trouble I am faced with, or even any type of accomplishment I have, I can relate it back to rugby. Every time I step onto a rugby field it's just FIREWORKS IN MY LIFE

It makes me sad that I really have to limit and even hide my passion for rugby since I know it will make people in my family angry, annoyed, or bored. Sometimes I honestly feel like when I ramble about rugby with the majority of people in my life (outside of the rugby realm itself, of course) I'm uber excited while I get this blank look in return:
It's literally as if I'm an alien.

Anyways, I'm SO glad that I made the executive choice on my own to continue playing through my insurance drought because (obviously) I haven't gotten injured and we have been doing some GREAT stuff at practice that I am really benefiting from. I hope that I am able to motivate myself to get my ass on here and write a post (as opposed to getting sucked into the black hole of BUZZFEED) every time we have a practice so I can share with everyone else the great drills and things we learn while also making sure I remember all of this important information. The more you retain all this shit, the more it will display itself on the playing field. Rugby is SUCH a book smart sport, so strategic and intelligent in so many ways.

Over the past few weeks, we have been focusing a lot on defense. We have been practicing defense SO much that anything about attack has been put on the back burner (for the time being). I think this philosophy is SO important for a variety of reasons:
  • a breakaway and almost any type of scoring can happen in less than a second
  • at the same time, any type of turnover can happen in less than a can suddenly find yourself on attack or [more importantly] defense before you even realized what happened
  • if you are able to perform defense well as a team, this type of pressure can make the opposition put their tail between their legs and raise the white flag in a heartbeat....this type of insecurity can be lethal
  • mistakes on attack happen literally all the time and are much easier to fix than mistakes on defense; chronic defensive mistakes mean that there are some fundamental issues that cause major road blocks for any team of any skill level

To start off practice, we played a really fun yet practical game called snakes and mongoose (I'm sure there's a variety of names for this game). It was really simple yet taught a lot of great lessons about playing defense.
Easy rules to follow: Set up cones in a grid/box/rectangle that limits the space of play. The defending team's objective is to eliminate all the opposing players via tagging each player with a rugby ball. However, opposition must be tagged with the ball and a defender is not allowed to move when they have possession of the ball. So, this forces the defense to practice a variety of skills:
  1. Spacing - supporting one another and setting up as a team was extremely important in being able to tag anyone. When defenders ran off to try and cover people on their own, it never worked....even if you were matched up perfectly with an opposing player, you would be passed the ball and watch the opposition run by you while you could only stand there frozen (since you wouldn't be able to move). When defenders set themselves up to trap oppositional players and cut off gaps, then the sparks started to fly.
  2. Communication - Like every other aspect of rugby, players had to communicate with one another in order to be on the same page. Designating one oppositional player at a time for the defense to focus on tagging was effective. With everyone working towards the same goal, there were many times where it was practically unstoppable. Even telling the other defenders where you are, where the ball is going, etc. are all very important and effective uses of communication. 
  3. Proximity - obviously this is similar/practically identical to spacing, but I'm separating this skill by using it to refer to invading someone's hoop (circle of proximity around them) when going in for a tackle. From the rule that you cannot move once you are holding the ball, you're forced to be in extremely close proximity with an offender in order to be able to tag them. Many times we find ourselves tackling via clotheslines (arms out, body away) or tugging at clothing/hair because we have not entered that area of personal space that allows us to be more in control of the tackle.


We then moved on to some more practicing with tracking. This skill involves an important set of paces that you need to move at:

FAST: press forward to take away space, not allow the opposition to gain meters, and put pressure on the attack. Meet the opposition at the middle of the space separating you from them. 

SLOW: Once you have quickly made it to the middle and taken away that space, slow up in order to position yourself for a tackle. Although I'm saying "slow up" that's not really what it's more as if you're not moving forward but you're keeping your feet active and shuffling in order to be able to change direction at any given moment. When shuffling, you want to line up with the offender so that you are square with their hips (your hips and theirs are literally parallel to each other, so you may not even be necessarily facing straight forward on the field) and you are positioned on their inside shoulder so they cannot quickly step back into open space.
Important mistake I keep making: Due to my defensive basketball shuffling background, I have a terrible tendency to keep my stance wide (it's practically an unconscious movement...I have to constantly tell myself in my head to stay in tighter). But you really want to shuffle with small steps close together because this gives you more availability and freedom to move in any direction. A wide stance forces you to pause for an extra unnecessary second in order to switch movements.

FAST: Once you've entered their hoop and set yourself up for a hit, BOOM! Plow on forward! Cheek(your face)-to-cheek(their buttocks)! It's extremely important to remember to drive so that you are not bulldozered over and so you are more able to make a positive tackle - one that gains meters for the defense and pushes the opposition backwards.

Tracking drills: we set up cones in a grid/box to simulate defending someone who has a touch line (out of bounds) on one side of them. A defender would stand across from an opposing player running with a ball and perform the fast-slow-fast technique before ending with a tag on the runner's hips. This was a pretty small space so the defender was really forced to do this sequence quickly. When defenders were picking up on pressing forward, shuffling, and being aligned on the opposition's inside shoulder, then we progressed to giving runners the option of cutting back/changing direction in order to make sure no defenders cheated/overestimated on defense positioning.
Because as a team we experienced some difficulties here and there with these drills, we did another tracking drill as well to break it down even more. We practiced the fast-slow-fast paces without opposition that just involved running, shuffling, and then quickly picking a direction to move in. It is very important to remember when shuffling to keep your feet/legs in tight so that you are able to change direction and move quicker!

Another defensive drill we did reminded me of something like Mighty Ducks meets foosball. Four different ball carriers lined up behind one another so a line of defense would start out lying on the ground and run up to meet each one in a flat line. Two defensive players started on the ground next to each other and then on the outsides two other defenders started about 5 meters back (and, thus, they look like "flying V" formation from the Mighty Ducks). When the ball carrier in front of them picked up the ball off the ground, all four defenders would fire up off the ground and press towards the ball carrier. A couple of communication skills were practiced through this. First, the two players on the outside had to let the players on the inside know they were in support/coming up to meet them by yelling "I'm here, I'm here!" OR even make it known they weren't with them yet. After the defensive line was all set then it had to be someone's responsibility to call the tackle and burst forward to wrap the ball carrier. In a way, it's like a team version of fast-slow-fast because if the defenders press up together without aligning in a flat line then they turn into THE GAP OUTLET (hah...see what I did there?). After this was completed, the defenders would get back on the ground in the same formation and repeat the same drill with the next ball carrier in line. 


I could go on and on, which I plan to do very very soon since there's great drills galore we've done so far, but I know this post is already about as long as the Torah so I'm cutting myself off here....
...and am probably just going to start another post very soon after this.