I don't think we're in track anymore..
October 11, 2006 9:11 PM   Subscribe

Help me get better at thinking on my feet in rugby.

I'm starting rugby for the first time. It kicks ass, but I'm getting my ass kicked. Physically I'm fine, but as soon as anything starts happening my mind blanks out & I end up doing really stupid stuff (like passing where no one is even close to). When I think about it afterwards, it seems obvious how I fucked up, but I can't think when I'm moving.

I'm basically looking for anything that'll help me develop this sense outside practice. I know I'll pick it up there, but I'm definitely behind the curve when it comes to this kind of thing, and definitely want to catch up a bit. I'm coming from endurance sports, if it matters, & have good agility/explosive power/stamina.
posted by devilsbrigade to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What position are you playing? IMO it makes a difference; If you're doing a lot of lateral passes (frequent in the flow of the game), get a partner and try passing around objects (like a pole or some other structure that you have to "pass around" better yet, a third partner.) Also, try closing your eyes and having some in proximity to throw to (in varied positions) and only allow yourself less than a second to judge where they are and make a pass; Once you become more accurate, you will make better passes once your are required to make snap judgements.

juggling soapbox: Becoming a proficient juggler will make you better at any sport requiring reflexes / quick decision making.
/juggling soapbox
posted by AllesKlar at 9:24 PM on October 11, 2006

I don't have any experience with rugby, but as a high school football player, I can say that watching films of your games and analyzing what you did and what you should have done might help you with becoming a little more cognizant of what you're actually doing out there. Maybe even watching some other rugby matches?
posted by ofthestrait at 9:44 PM on October 11, 2006

You're thinking too much. Relax, stop trying to figure out what you're supposed to do when and just be in the moment. Your brain will have more cycles to watch what's going on if you're not wasting them trying to analyze everything in real-time. Your instincts will serve you right.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 9:49 PM on October 11, 2006

Practice practice practice, obviously, but also, when in doubt, take the tackle, hurt the tackler and set the maul up for the next phase.
posted by pompomtom at 9:58 PM on October 11, 2006

League or Union? (It matters!)
posted by PuGZ at 10:08 PM on October 11, 2006

If you're a forward and you're not sure what to do, crash the ball, take it to ground and let your teammates ruck over.
posted by electroboy at 10:15 PM on October 11, 2006

Response by poster: Union. We're doing general drills, haven't gotten positions nailed down for the season yet. Interesting suggestions so far, it'll at least give me something to think about.
posted by devilsbrigade at 12:19 AM on October 12, 2006

I had similar trouble when I started playing basketball after much time spent focusing exclusively on individual sports. Individual, and especially endurance sports tend to be "closed" sports, with limited variables. Progression is achieved by perfecting repetitive motions, and attention is narrowly focused, either on the bodies prioperception or an individual opponent.

Basketball and rugby are "open" sports with a much more dynamic environment and more variables to juggle. The ability to perceive patterns in the field of play and quickly react appropriately to them has more significance.

I coped with my deficiency in a few ways. First by individual practice until the necessary physical movements and techniques were second nature. This freed up more of my attention to focus on the big picture. I also tried to create and exploit opportunities for one-on-one play, where my aptitude gave me an advantage. Ultimately I became a decent player, but had to accept the fact that I was no point guard. I did get pretty proficient at two-man offense and assists though.

Obviously practice is key. You can augment your group practices with solo drilling just familiarizing yourself with the movements. You can also use visualization for an added edge. Studies have shown that athletes using visualization in addition to practice have comparable results to others who spent the entire time practicing. In other words if you practice for 4 hours and spend an hour visualizing, you get the benefit of 5 hours of practice. I used to take every opportunity to visualize, going to sleep at night, classical concerts, waiting in an office, etc.

I find visualization most effective when performed in an alpha state which I would do before sleeping, competitions, or at breaks. You are basically trying to put yourself in the situation you are rehearsing, smell the smells, feel the feelings and picture yourself performing correctly, and achieving the desired outcome. If your mind wanders to undesireable outcomes, gently guide it back. Make a mental note of your blunders when they occur, and what you should have done, then spend time practicing and visualizing the correct action.

Also try to obtain video, or watch matches of rugby with superior players in person and watch how they react to different scenarios. Then use visualization and practice to program yourself to do the same.
posted by Manjusri at 1:06 AM on October 12, 2006

ofthestrait and Manjusri are right - watch as many rugby games as you can on DVD. Get the boxed sets for the world cups and try to watch matches in person. You'll start to get a feel for the dynamic of the game and the patterns that are repeated during the match. You'll find yourself instinctively copying the things you've seen before.

Also, if in doubt hang on to the ball until you're tackled - you're better off going to ground with a better chance of retaining possession than lobbing the ball into empty space.
posted by patricio at 1:51 AM on October 12, 2006

Stop thinking, start doing. Any sportsman, who plays at any kind of decent level, does everything instinctively.

I would start by training your muscle memory.

Also, picture scenarios you'd expect to be in, and visually practice your next move.

And, as others have said. Watch what the experts do.
posted by the_epicurean at 2:59 AM on October 12, 2006

Another technique is to practice plays after a heavy workout. Do a combination of sprints/pushups/whatever to get you to the point of near exhaustion, and then run through your plays, making sure you do them right, repeating when you mess up. It's hard, but it will teach you how to perform instinctively, even when your brain is too tired to think.

After doing this for a month or two, I found the game really slowed down for me and I was better able to think on my feet. Now, I play ultimate, so your use may vary.
posted by RibaldOne at 6:54 AM on October 12, 2006

Practice, practice, practice, practice. And learn where you are supposed to be and what you are supposed to be doing in every phase of the game. And then do that. Oh, and work on your endurance - because the biggest thing working against your brain right now is your body's fatigue.

Beginning rugby is tough because it SEEMS, when you don't know the game, that people are just kind of doing whatever. But they're not. And the quicker you (or more appropriately your coaches) can impress that upon everyone, the better it will be for the team.

Just take a basic thing: the centers MUST run straight upfield, not sideways or diagonally away from the play. More than anything else in beginning rugby (for a center) - even more than passing and keeping the phase alive - running straight with the ball is critical. Even in International rugby it's important.

For a beginner, however, this is almost impossible. It is counter-intuitive - because by running straight you run into the opposition that much more quickly, and if you're not very good, you won't have time to pass to your outside center or wing. But in rugby, that's OK. If you have run straight, your forwards will be nearby and will easily and with as little effort as possible be able to support you and form either a ruck or a maul. As well, by not going sideways, you're NOT going force the outside people to get bunched up along the sideline - and if that happened, that would mean that the OTHER team very likely has an overlap even before they get the ball.

So just by running straight in the centers you do a LOT to make the whole game work. Likewise for each position on the field.

So in fact the goal is NOT to think on your feet as much as it is to learn the position you're playing and do it right.
posted by mikel at 7:28 AM on October 12, 2006

Plenty of practice is the one thing I would recommend, also get a ball and keep it in your hands as much as possible, just throwing it in the air and catching it whilst watching TV or strolling down the road makes you so much more at ease with the ball.

I'd actually advise against watching international games to learn. The game at that level is so different to the game you'll be playing, for at least a couple of years. Watch as many local games as you can, you learn loads more.
posted by lloyder at 8:16 AM on October 12, 2006

You are expecting a lot of yourself at an early stage in your training. Locate yourself, as an experiment, on this scale.

Your progress is a long-term issue. In order to maximize your short-term usefulness, I recommend two priorities:

1) Learning what to do
Concentrate on grooving specific habits--such as, I assume, running straight up the center as descrbed above. The idea is that with enough practice, you can learn to default to something useful.

2) Learning to decide what to do:
You can eventually, with practice, buy yourself enough time and calm in the middle of a play that you can choose among courses of action. You can reduce the number of bad or non-decisions you make under stress--by managing the stress. Less stress means that from your perspective, you will have more time to think. I bet you feel as though things happen too quickly. Something like tactical breathing, a recent police/martial arts/ military rebranding of time-proven techniques, can help slow things down a little.
posted by Phred182 at 11:38 AM on October 12, 2006

My advice is just to meat up and get a spot as a forward. Then thinking will not be required at all.

Or, be a winger and don't bother passing to anyone, just run.
posted by wilful at 11:35 PM on October 12, 2006

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