The model provides an integrated framework to facilitate the development of rugby players at all levels of participation and experience. While it is very much player-centred it is not intended to simply be a production line for world-class players. It is instead an integrated series of stages to maximise potential according to ability and ambition.
Stephen Aboud was installed as National Coaching director with the IRFU in 2001. He is in his 16th year with the Union and has been involved in the development of the LTPD from the outset.
"This is a model for all people involved in the game, players, coaches and parents can all gain from this. I think it insures we develop players as people as well as athletes and it can be of benefit to all players involved in the game, not just those who make it as professionals."
The plan is broken up into six stages starting with the 'FUNdamental' stage for kids under the age of 12. That is followed by the 'learn to play' and practise stage and then onto the 'train to train', 'train to compete' and 'train to win'. The final stage is aimed at keeping those who are retiring involved in the game.
"One word encapsulates the essence and characteristics of each stage in terms of the player, the coach and the game. For example we believe the FUNdamental stage (under 12s) should be about fun and constant action.
"We use the word 'guides' to describe the coaches role as we feel too much instructions at that age group is counterproductive as young kids don't have the attention span to listen to long speeches they want to be active as quickly as possible. The game itself has to be fun with an emphasis on letting them play and allowing the players make small mistakes."
Each stage uses one word to describe the roles of the player, coach and game are at that stage and it is felt the plan can act as the ideal guide for coaches in maximising a player's development.
"We believe the best coaches at the top level are those who empower their players, and that's what this model calls on them to do. The relationship between players and coaches must be a partnership, there has to be certain level of trust and I think the players must be able make their own decisions as well."
When Aboud took over the coach director role five years ago he was immediately charged with the task of developing this completely new player development programme. He had to start from scratch and he turned to a tried and tested formula.
"We looked at the Long Term Athlete Development model designed by Istvan Balyi which has been picked up by a number of national sporting bodies. It provided us with a basis for what we needed and through consultation with coaches and RDO's we developed a model which reflected the game in Ireland today."
The different stages are broken into age categories but Aboud is keen to stress that these are merely guidelines and not set in stone.
"Young players develop physically at different stages and it is important they are not coached in one specific position too early. The players should be at the exploring stage up to aged 14 and beyond, depending on their development. They start to focus after that and eventually around stage five at adulthood, they should specialise in certain areas."
The player capacities across five areas of technical, tactical, physical, mental and lifestyle provide the compass by which the IRFU coach development department designs and promotes rugby coaching courses.
"One of the great aspects of this project is that it doesn't have to be implemented over a long period of time because it is already in use. As we have developed ideas we have put them into use in our coaching courses and the ideas associated with the LTPD are already in place around the country."
The completion of the plan is level six where players are encouraged to remain in the game as coaches, volunteers, parents, and administrators or simply sit back and enjoy the game as supporters.
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