The last six months have presented all sectors of Irish Rugby with unprecedented challenges, the onset of Covid-19 and immediate suspension of all rugby activity back in March irrevocably changing the landscape, not least for the IRFU’s Coaching Department.
The very nature of coaching demands face-to-face interaction, be it at adult, youth, school’s or mini level, while the delivery model of key programmes and workshops for coaches around the country has previously been based on in-person contact. There has never been a need to do it any other way. Until now.
Led by the National Coach Development Manager, Jamie Turkington, the IRFU have worked closely with the Provincial Coach Development Managers and staff to support coaches in a number of ways in recent months, notably through the Performance Coaching Course which moved to a blended format incorporating the use of online platforms.
Launched in July 2019, the Performance Coaching Course saw over 50 coaches from schools, Energia All-Ireland League and Energia Women’s All-Ireland League and representative teams gathered at the IRFU High Performance Centre for three days of classes, shared learning and practical workshops.
While the delivery of this year’s course was very different due to Covid-19 restrictions, the IRFU’s objective remained the same: empower and equip coaches with the knowledge and resources required to better themselves as coaches, while tapping into the experience and expertise of a number of guest speakers, including Ireland Head Coach Andy Farrell.
Although the move to online learning prevented Turkington and his team rolling out a number of the practical workshops during this year’s course, it did present them with the opportunity to engage with the likes of the national management team, provincial senior and academy coaches.
“Circumstances obviously changed this year but we were still keen to explore every possible opportunity to help support the coaches work towards their qualification,” Turkington tells IrishRugby.ie. “The Coaching Department have been previously exploring a virtual or blended learning approach and the current situation allowed us to access Andy [Farrell] and some of the national coaches, who obviously added a huge amount of value to our online modules.
“The Lockdown period actually turned into a really good opportunity for our coaches to access experts and people who are leading in their field to help support their learning, and the experience someone like Andy has and his ability to share that knowledge with our coaches is invaluable.”
In addition to the Performance Coaching Course, the IRFU’s Coaching Department rolled out online resources and support services for coaches and the hugely-popular series of #ReturnToRugby Webinars in recent weeks and months was another valuable learning tool in these challenging times.
The support of the Provincial Coach Development Managers (CDMs) and staff, Turkington adds, has been immensely important during this period, ensuring coaches have stayed connected, engaged and informed ahead of the #ReturnToRugby in clubs and schools around the country.
“What we did nationally was replicated through the provinces and in particular credit must go to the CDMs and rugby development officers for this,” he explains. “They used it as an opportunity rather than a hindrance. They utilised that time to construct plans to support coaches across the game and looked at how best they could engage with coaches at that time.
“The feedback around the Performance Course and online workshops has been really positive and the #ReturnToRugby Webinars have provided clarity for the coaches going back onto the field, particularly around the activities they could undertake through the early phases. Building confidence with them through the provincial staff has been paramount leading up to the return of club and school’s rugby.”
As we reach the Competition Stage of the IRFU’s Return To Rugby Roadmap, and the start of the Men’s and Women’s Energia Community Series, Turkington says there is huge excitement among coaches as they begin to implement and introduce the learnings from this Lockdown period into sessions and activities with their teams.
“It will be really exciting to see the hard work put into practice on the pitch,” Turkington concludes. “The coaches have adapted and embraced the changes and hopefully now they’ll enjoy the process of getting back out on the pitch and coaching rugby again.
“What we want is coaches to step into an ongoing learning process and it’s not just a one-off qualification because they all want to extend their knowledge to be the best possible coach they can be. We’ll continue to work to deliver that for them, whether it’s in face-to-face settings as before or online as has been the case through this period.”