Notes from the Big Island
So back in October I got a phone call from Tim Osborne asking if I would like to shadow one of the Elite 8 coaches at the Australian NTLs. There was only ever going to be one answer to that, so 'leave pass' obtained, teary farewells done and 27 hours of travelling later I find myself in Brisbane. I was asked to write a blog whilst I was here so here goes. Not being a prolific blogger (or reader of blogs!) I’m not really sure how one should go but I guess it is a mixture of observations, anecdotes and musings based on what I experience. I figure if Bill Bryson can make a living from it then how hard can it be. Maybe I’ll find out if this ever makes its way onto Facebook!
Now a trip to the NTLs is probably enough to make a lot of you back home very jealous. I’m sat writing this at Streets Beach in Brisbane in 34 degree heat whilst sipping a cocktail and watching the world go by. Life does feel pretty good at the moment! I’m only here for seven days which is not a long time considering the amount of effort it takes to get here and back but even though I hate flying it’s worth it.
Someone asked me what I wanted to get out of coming over here and I hadn’t really considered the answer to that question. My trite answer of “experience new things and meet new people” didn’t seem enough somehow to justify the money I had spent getting here. When I watched the team I am shadowing train yesterday, it was perhaps surprising that they hadn’t really considered what they wanted to get out of their last session before NTLs. Seeing that prompted me not to make the same mistake so my considered answer would now be as follows:
- Improve my knowledge of the game of Touch at the Elite level, progressing towards my level 3 coaching award and identifying what it takes to get English Touch teams to the next level.
- Gather information in a format that can be transmitted back to the Touch community in England so that they can also learn some of the lessons I am being exposed to over here.
- Make some contacts in Aus Touch who might be able to help England Touch along their journey at some point in the future.
We’ll see how successful I am in achieving those goals over the coming days. My trip is a short one. I landed Friday and will train with the squad over the weekend before travelling to Coffs Harbour on Tuesday for the NTL tournament. I leave on Sunday morning following the tournament. Already I have helped deliver a Foundation Coaching Course for Queensland Touch and trained with the Broncos Elite 8 squad. Tomorrow I will be helping to run an U18s tournament and trial at one of the schools. What is immediately evident is that Touch is a big deal in Queensland. There are circa ten full time employed administrators of the game and a very large number of participants. On Saturday morning we went for breakfast and as I walked past the Brothers Rugby club the local girls school were out training already. Their 10 year old girls were practising 2 on 1's, rope defence and 3 man drives.
From what I saw they were already pretty skilled at doing them too. There were upwards of 100 girls participating and it was striking that this was the avenue that we have to pursue in England if we are to reach the heights of this game at the Elite level. By the time the Australian boys and girls get to U15 level, they have all the basics dialled and their coaches are able to focus on the top end stuff. At 18-20 they are already such naturals at the game and the structure is so ingrained that they are able to do things we in England can hardly grasp (some of the stuff I saw in the Elite 8 training was breath-taking!). I already had huge respect for the work that our JTC coaches were doing in the UK as they are pioneering the future or our sport. Seeing that though, I resolved to give more of my time to our JTC programme back in England. For those who are back in England, believe me when I say that the most valuable thing you can do for England Touch is promote the game in schools.
They couldn't have been less elite if they tried...
So what of the Elite 8 squad? Well I didn’t really know what to expect or indeed how I would interact with the squad. They have been great from the get go, picking me up from the airport, hosting me and making sure I have been looked after. I’ve really felt welcome here. As they arrived at training I was interested to see what they would be like. Would they by Elite athletes, honed and well trained? Would they be training at elite facilities? Would this be a slick, professional outfit that outshone anything in Europe? The answer to all of those questions was surprisingly no.
They were just a normal bunch of guys. The average age was about 22 and we trained on a field at a local Uni just like we might back home. They pitched up, lobbed their bags at the side of the pitch, put on their boots and started running about drop kicking the ball between the posts. They were all pretty small, wiry young blokes and it was clear that they were all very fit. This looked to be the product of a normal, active outdoor lifestyle though rather than a chiselled gym look. They couldn’t have been less “Elite” if they had tried!Then I saw them start to train though and was blown away.
The usual handling drills to start with a couple of 32 longs and shorts thrown in for good measure. Each was executed crisply with snap and purpose. In England we might spend an hour running through those drills honing lines of running and execution and would get nowhere near their standard. They spent 5 minutes as a warm up and moved on, job done. Already I was impressed. What came next was a different level though. They played a little line attack and defence and every time the attack failed to convert a set of six the defence drove the length of the field before the attack drove back and they started again. I could rave for hours about their driving alone but for the life of me I couldn’t see a pattern in it. It just looked like a lovely fluid natural movement which shot up the park and made yards very easily. I watched 3 drives and was in awe but gobsmacked when I listened to them critiquing themselves and the captain lambasting them for being well off the pace. These boys have high expectations!
Within five minutes of watching, I had already seen a number of very complex moves beautifully executed with seemingly no thinking or discussion. I was scrambling for my video camera thinking I have got to film this so that I can watch it later and figure out what the bloody hell is going on. This stuff was gold. I won’t rave much more about the session but here are my two take away points from what I saw:
- What they did in attack was utterly dictated by what the defence did and the decision of which move to run happened in a split second as they closed with the defence and it presented itself in one shape or another. On a basic level they might call a sweep play and go right or left depending on which middle presented. Post touch though, their finishing option would be dependent on the pre-touch positioning of the link and non-touching mid. This was all computed in a split second by all six attackers and the execution was sublime.
- Their defence was very varied and they allowed their touchers to compete much more than we would be used to in England. They did pull a corner (when necessary) but were more than happy for their touching middle to compete long side. Their athleticism and reading of the game allowed them to do this. Time and again I watched a toucher effect the touch, protect his corner then compete long side before recovering to make a touch on the short side when they switched in the mids. It took a lot for the attack to make the defence look “in trouble”. My big takeaway is that we have to improve at running backwards and sideways in defence. The speed they covered the ground was definitely a game changer.
That’s it for now. I am off to lie on the beach for a bit and sleep off some Jetlag. I’ll probably write again when I’m in Coffs Harbour and have established whether the swimming pools we played on in 2015 are actually Touch pitches!
Keep an eye on the NTL Website to keep up to date on how Martin and his adopted team, gets on.