Hi, I’m Keith Place, a qualified Work Reveal rugby union coach and all-around sports enthusiast. I have got a lot out of being a coach but particularly rewarding is when you see young people of all abilities getting involved in games and sports and seeing how much fun they can have. When you have coached young people from 7 through to 17 years old and actively participate in sport of all kinds, you can rank that as the ultimate success. My son gave up rugby union at around 13 years old but continued to play cricket for a local club and football in the park with his mates. This year at 17, he started playing rugby again… the seeds were sown, and he has realized that sport can play a part in his life on his terms.


Introduction to coaching.

If you are a sports coach, you are no stranger to planning activities for young people that keep them actively engaged and enjoying their activity. However, many people, whether employed to do so, say through schools or acting as volunteers, might need some more guidance on running sports activities safely and engagingly.

It is paramount that coaches establish an enjoyable environment for all players in their care. This will be beneficial in the short term by encouraging young people to actively participate in your sessions and the longer term by encouraging participants to continue with sports and games into the future.

Stick to the APES principle below, and you can’t go far wrong;

ACTIVITY – all players involved at all times

PURPOSE – ensure there is a clear objective

ENJOYMENT – make the session varied and fun

SAFE – activities and play areas must be appropriate

The role of the coach:

Rather than all forms of teaching, sports coaching is a rewarding and challenging way to spend your time. As a coach, you will have to adopt a range of roles such as:

Leader, organizer, manager, counselor, motivator, decision-maker, role model, etc. etc
  • Good coaching requires you to be able to:
  • Continually improve all players
  • Get the best out of all the players
  • Develop techniques into skills

Develop the players ‘game sense,’ i.e. their ability to assess what’s happening around them and make appropriate decisions

  • A quick checklist of good positive steps to take.
  • Make sure the area is clean and safe before you start.
  • Set some simple rules of engagement and state them clearly at the outset
  • Gain players attention before giving information or instruction
  • Get them doing something simple straight away – use it as the warm up make sure you have all equipment to hand at the outset
  • Make sure you have all equipment to hand at the outset
  • Check that the participants are appropriately dressed for the activity and the conditions
  • Understand what you will do if a player is injured, ie, stop the activity, etc
  • Maximize the involvement of all players. Some sports/games have higher required skill levels than others.
  • Choose appropriate activities for the ages and abilities of the players
  • Maintain players good behavior throughout the session
  • Provide Variety and challenges during the activity
  • Provide demonstrations to facilitate learning
  • Encourage players to play within the spirit of the game
  • Conclude the session positively and appropriately

1. Make sure the area is clean and safe before you start.

Remove rubbish, clean up after dogs, remove loose bits of paving and other potential trip hazards, etc. Then check all equipment for damage, loose fittings, and any other potential hazards. Check that the surface on which you are about to play is suitable for the activity you have chosen; it is essential to recognize hard ground in extremes of drought or cold. This is just common sense and takes a few minutes at most but is often neglected to ensure the area is safe to start with.

2. Set up some simple rules of engagement.

For example, before rugby training, I had a specific ‘no kicking’ policy. All the lads loved to run out on the pitch, grab a ball and kick the hell out of it. “No real damage is done,” you might say. However, most lads couldn’t kick properly (we hadn’t coached this bit), balls flew everywhere, there had been no warm-up, and it took a few minutes of valuable time to get the balls back and for everyone to be ready for the session.


So, by rules of engagement, I mean simple, straightforward, clear messages about what you want them to do when they reach the games area. This might be; “walk to the games area, get one ball between three players and pass it to each other along the ground until I blow the whistle for you all to gather round ready to begin.”

3. Gain players attention before giving information or instruction

The younger the participant, the more important this is. Attention will wander, as I am sure teachers will know only too well. So keep this short and simple. In your plan (we’ll talk about this in a little while), have a simple, fun, and inclusive session to start with. Keep it very simple and get the session going quickly. Use an individual or group to demonstrate what needs doing and make sure the groups are all listening. Check to understand, and then let them get on with it. If you are outside, stand to face the sun, don’t make the children squint into the light, it will distract them.

4. Get them doing something simple straight away – use it as the 5 minutes warm-up.

As I have alluded to above, a simple planned activity will be great as a warm-up and get the session going. You do not want participants standing around getting bored or cold whilst you explain the intricacies of the offside rule or the different ways you can be out in cricket! How often have you seen teachers picking sides, explaining rules, or getting the pitch marked out while the children stand around? (Too often!) This can be a managed session like a sequential warm-up or just jogging around the pitch holding hands. Whatever it is, keep them all moving and get them warm.

5. Make sure you have all equipment to hand at the outset

If you have to get the equipment ready, this should be part of your prep before the session starts, but if the equipment is rudimentary, you can prepare this whilst the group is warming up, providing you can keep an eye on proceedings at the same time. With more than one coach on hand, this stuff is all straightforward to organize.

I ask the participants not to touch any equipment before I say so (one of my rules of engagement). This way, my well-prepared activities aren’t ruined by all the cones, ladders, bags, and so on being moved or interfered with, and no one can hurt themselves on any of it… you don’t want a child picking up a javelin and throwing it, do you?