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How to use consequences in coaching to build skill

After my debut podcast with Jeremy Boone (aargh do I really talk like that!?) I got a question from a coach called Jeremy Taylor who is the Director of Rugby at Denstone College, a top rugby school in England. (Jamie has an excellent blog check it out here)


Listened to your podcast with Jeremy Boone this morning, really enjoyed it.

If I can ask, I was really interested in what you said about consequences during games. I was wondering what sort of consequences you have been using. How you felt it had affected the level of competition and if there were any situations that you aren’t using them?"

This article is based on my reply....

A lot has been said about the use of consequences in practice and I do know some coaches and governing bodies who do not like the concept. use of the word consequences conjures up images of kids being 'beasted' or punished which is an understandable fear but from my perspective I think it is an essential tool which, if used skillfully, can really aid in the development of skill and performance.

For me consequences create an outcome which creates intensity (see my previous post on that) and intensity creates mental engagement which builds skill. Too often I see players going through the motions by training in a way that is not game realistic. It is not surprising then when they get to the fierce competetive arena of the game that the skills break down. I hear coaches talking about this all the time when they talk about players 'reverting to type' under pressure. 'Reverting to type' is just inadequate preparation in by book.

Consequences create pressure and pressure creates a training environment that is closer to the real thing.

So how do I do it...

I like to use a mixed diet of consequences depending on the group or the situation. Just to be clear I only use consequences in training and practice activities not competitive games.

My favourite technique is to get the players to come up with the consequence themselves. A couple of weeks ago I asked the group to create a forfeit and they came up with singing! It was hilarious to see the losing team perform a rendition of 'let it go' from Frozen to the other team who all got their camera phones out to video it!

Another week, they decided that the losing team had to cook for the winning team at a forthcoming team social evening. Wow that was a doozy!

The other thing I do is use ongoing internal leagues so that as we get towards the end point of each league and the players are aiming to win or avoid losing the intensity rises.

At the start of the season I use physical consequence to build conditioning into training sessions. I use it as a way of 'gamifying' sessions that are focussed on the basics. It is always done with the players agreement as I ask them if they agree that conditioning will be important to achieving our goals and then I ask the to choose if they want conditioning within the session or separately (they invariably pick conditioning included). We establish the perimeters of the exercise together and set the goals. They then agree what they will do as a consequence if they fail to achieve their goals. It is amazing how high they set the bar!

If I do use a physical consequence, I present it as an opportunity to improve our performance by being fitter and stronger than any other team in our league. I find that getting the players training with the fear of the conditioning prepares our mindset and means that we are gritty and tough in games because we have been through worse in training.

I can't stress enough this aspect of 'selling the why' before going down tis route. The use of consequences has to be congruent with their goals but, used well, it is very powerful. I I have also found that this approach really builds team cohesion and develops team spirit as well as building character in young players, the sense of challenge and overcoming adversity is something that really grabs hold of some players.

I hope this helps

Happy Coaching


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