Youth rugby coaches have a new resource at their disposal thanks to the launch of a book from North East native and former England 'A' coach Keith Richardson.
The ex-Seghill player moved south to captain Gloucester and was a replacement for the English national side, going on to a coaching career which saw him leading Gloucester, Harlequins and a young Jonny Wilkinson during his time with England Under-21s.
Coaching Youth Rugby is aimed at the legions of parents and helpers taking charge of junior sides, Richardson explaining: “I have been in coaching for a long time now, but all the books on the subject read like academic studies.
“They have a different agenda to what normal people want, so I just try to simplify things.”
Following on from his first book The Rugby Coaching Manual, he added: “That went quite well, but I felt there was a specific need for junior rugby – for the parents and the people who help out with teams.
“A lot of them understandably don’t know the first thing about rugby, and many are only really involved because their own kids are playing.
“There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but I just found they could do with a little guidance on how to run a session, how to keep the children happy and explain the basics of the game without going too mad.
“There are thousands of people doing these sessions with minis, and some don’t have a clue.
“They do a very good job and are vital to the game, but many are new to rugby and this just gives them a bit of direction in terms of understanding the game and getting it across to the kids.
“I try to keep it simple, even though rugby is a complex game when you get into it. You can definitely simplify some of the concepts, especially at that entry level, and if you get the right habits into people early enough it will stick with them.”
A relative latecomer to rugby after taking up the game aged 14 at George Stephenson Grammar School in Killingworth, Richardson played at Loughborough University before moving to Gloucester, where he still has a regular rugby column in The Citizen newspaper.
“I would liken Gloucester to a top-class version of Seghill, and what I mean by that is they were very much a working-class club where you got in on ability,” he said.
“If you were good enough it didn’t matter where you came from, and I progressed through to captain the team and eventually coach them.
“I played county rugby for Gloucestershire and got on to the bench for the English national team, but I broke my arm the following week and that was that in terms of my international career.
“When I finished playing I coached Gloucester, England A and the England Under-21s side that included the likes of Jonny Wilkinson when he was 18. I coached the South West in the Divisional Championship, and an ‘Emerging England’ side which had guys like Lawrence Dallaglio and Richard Hill in it.”
Well placed to observe the evolution since rugby’s move into professionalism, Richardson said: “Coaching has changed a lot at the top end of the game, and a lot of coaches are effectively managers now.
“I see a coach as a lot of things. They are a coach, a selector, a psychologist, a shoulder to cry on and a bully when needs be.
“It is a multi-faceted role, and you have to have a clear idea of what you want which improves as your season goes on. I think to be a good coach you have got to know what you have got.
“If you haven’t got the players you can only do so much, but I don’t mean dropping your aspirations. A good coach gets the best out of what they have, regardless of the level, and has a clear vision for their team.
“It is no good making a sweeping statement like saying we are going to play open rugby.
“You have got to know where that open rugby is going to take you, and if you are going to play a wide game you need a back row who can get there.
“So many young coaches try to coach everything in an all-singing, all-dancing way, when they have not got the personnel.”
Keen to emphasise the fun factor and keep rugby’s reputation as an inclusive game, he added: “Those formative years at West Moor changed me, because I was allegedly not any good at sport.
“I must have been some use, to be selected in an England squad, but telling someone so young that they are no good is such a dangerouspsychological move and it could put them off playing sport for life.
“Somebody found it in me, a teacher called Don Broughton, and it is wrong for people to send that message to kids. Don played for Percy Park and instilled in us the basics, so that when I first played senior rugby I was well equipped to do so.
“Hopefully there are still people doing the same for the current generation, because it changed my life.”
Coaching Youth Rugby is published by The Crowood Press (£12.99)