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Cardiff Cobras series (1): Coaching challenges and what we did to overcome them

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Hi all I’m Simon and I am the Assistant Head Coach, Special Teams Coordinator and Wide Receiver Coach of The Cardiff Cobras. The Cardiff Cobras are an American Football team based in Cardiff University. A long established club, it can trace its roots back to 1986. This blog post is the first in a series that will look at the Cobras, as they enter the second half of their 2015-16 season, from a coaching perspective. We will look at some of the challenges faced and what we did to overcome them. The aim is to not only give ideas to other coaches from all sports reading this, who face similar challenges, but also to get feedback from the ConnectedCoaches community on what others might have done in that situation so that we can improve ourselves.

Cobras coaching roles and setup

From a coaching point of view, American Football is very different to main stream sports such as football and rugby. Typically coaches in sport are limited as to what they can do during play. Once that whistle blows then usually it is pretty much up to the players to execute whatever game plan they have trained for in the build up to the game. The ability to review what is happening and make subsequent adjustments while the game is progressing is also usually limited.

Not so here. As coaches we can influence every play of the game.


  •       Dictate who is on the field at any given time
  •       Call the play to be used each time thus dictating every player’s roles and responsibilities
  •       Watch the opposition’s reactions to different situations and amend/update the game plan accordingly as the game progresses
  •       Control the game clock

The game is also a highly specialised one, and players will train to play in specific units. While, from necessity, some may play multiple positions most will stay with that position through their playing time. As a result, in an ideal world, every unit would have its own coach as well as the coordinators for Offence, Defence and Special Teams, and the Head Coach leading to a structure such as:

Coaching structure

In reality, with an amateur coaching structure most teams are not able to fill every position with different people, and as such coaches will fulfil a multitude of roles within the team. This year sees the cobras have one of the largest coaching staffs it has ever had with 10 coaches. However, that still sees many of us fulfilling multiple roles – For example, as I said above, I am currently Assistant Head Coach, Special Teams Coordinator and Wide Receiver Coach.

Cobras training structure

Coaching a University sport team presents many interesting dynamics. As a coach the first thing that you have to understand is that, for the vast majority of the players, they are not there primarily to play the sport. Some have a huge passion for the game and want to play at an elite level, but all of them are at the University to study for a degree primarily. When you add in the social aspect of University life then football can sometimes come in third – fourth behind family!

When it comes to training, we also have to be conscious that the players have deadlines to contend with. Coursework has to be done, there are exam periods, tutorials and seminars that all factor into whether a player can be at a training session. Add to the mix the fact that all the coaches are amateur coaches with their own work and personal lives to deal with and you have a situation that can be extremely fluid in terms of attendance.

We also have to contend with all the other sports in the University. This means that, while we have scope to negotiate our training requirements we are also competing with all the other University sport teams to gain access to a finite amount of training facility – at a time both players and coaches can attend. Therefore, we get allocated slots to train with a set time each week. While this gives us a sense of consistency, for planning purposes, the items above still come into play and we do not get everyone (players and coaches) on the team to each training session.

With scheduled training sessions we also have to contend with the weather as it is at that time. On a Thursday, when we train on grass this could mean that the session is called off, or another day we might have to contend with fog. In the below picture, at the start of the session we couldn’t see to the other end of the field!

Training in the fog

Given our season follows the University calendar, then we often train in the evening over the Winter months - which means in the dark under floodlights.

Training under floodlights in the evenings

The sessions themselves are not just on the field. This sport is very much mental as well as physical. It is imperative that every player knows their responsibilities on every different play. As such, an element of our training time is taken up through the use of classroom sessions.

Communicating with players outside of training

As we only have a finite amount of time with the players, with a lot to teach, communication outside of the formal training times is essential. Through the use of different technologies we can give the players material to read and/or watch both before and after sessions. This allows us to both save time beforehand by providing players with materials they need to know for the forthcoming training sessions, and also to allow a chance for review after the session.

When we were looking at what to use for the communication we had several factors that we felt were essential in the selection. We felt we needed something that:

  1. Was easy to access
  2. Could handle a large amount of video
  3. Allowed us to edit and annotate film
  4. Could share video easily between individuals and groups
  5. Was not a burden on players by being easy to access
  6. Needed to be secure so that material is not in the public domain

We looked at a range of different systems. Ones such as WordPress or YouTube provided many benefits but did not give us really what we needed. While a WordPress/YouTube connection provided us with the ability to build a site that contained material that could be easily searched for, it did not provide us with the level of sophistication and security that we needed.

Therefore, the two primary technologies we decided to use were Hudl and Facebook. Hudl is a specifically designed web based software intended for use by sports such as this. It provides us with all the video requirements we need and the security aspects as well (I believe some fellow ConnectedCoaches members have reviewed it favourably). Facebook is something that gave us a platform to disseminate material quickly to players within a closed environment, as well as allowing comments from them to be received. This allows us to have “virtual training” sessions at any time, and means that the players can access the materials at a time that suits them. Both programmes also cater for mobile devices meaning that access to both is fast and simple, without the need for any additional investment from players.

An example of the film library within the Hudl software - with its simple user interface is shown below. Within Hudl there is also the ability to manage your team players, create playbooks, create training scripts with attached video examples and much more!

As we will see in the next blog post, the benefits of these software come to the fore when we need to interact with players virtually as they have all returned home for the Christmas break. With no formal training sessions, this is an essential communication tool to update players with developments ready for the start of the New Year.

Cardiff Cobras series (part 2): Refocussing training priorities

Cardiff Cobras series (part 3): Reflection

What did you think of this first blog post? Do you recognise some of the challenges we face? I would love to hear how you overcame these, or similar challenges.

If you enjoyed this you can find all my other ConnectedCoaches blogs here.


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Comments (1)

Super blog Simon! Look forward to reading the rest of the series as the season progresses
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