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Cardiff Cobras series (2.3): Reflection

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To recap on the main issues we faced, which have been discussed in the earlier series posts:

2.1 – Managing player expectations and focus

2.2 – Refocusing training priorities

  • The Christmas break meant that players went home for an extended period, so we were not able to train
  • Returning in January, we had to contend with the University exam period meaning that attendance was affected
  • Weather meant that Thursday sessions were called off reducing our time spent physically training
  • Some coaches were returning to their senior clubs, meaning that we had a reduced pool to work with on some days

We were therefore in a situation that, entering the Welsh Bowl, there were some players who had not really trained fully since early December. To try to counter this we:

  • Utilised a classroom session with players to replace a called off Thursday field session
  • Made increased use of the film on the Hudl platform with notes to help mentally prepare the players
  • Made continued use of Facebook to put up schemes and adjustments to be used in the game
  • Refocussed the training sessions that we did have to concentrate on the core items we wanted to cover

To help focus we also presented a constant message of what the Welsh Bowl was, and what it meant. This was reinforced via both coaches and veteran players to ensure that everyone was on the same page.


Overall it was a great team performance. The Defence maintained their record of not conceding a point, while the Offence put 42 points on the board. Special Teams had a day of varied success, but came out on top when needed, including blocking a punt.

Welsh Bowl - Offence ready to go

But how did we feel about how our preparations and their role in getting the players ready for the game?

I felt the preparation was good for the whole team. We were hampered in our plans due to the Thursdays being called off but we made use of the time we got well. The Tuesday before the game was a heavy scrimmage session which allowed players to get into the right mindset and we had a lot of chippy players who clearly were ready to hit someone new after seeing each other for a couple of weeks. That let me know we were ready for a big game.

[Ben Watkins - Head Coach]

Looking back, the sessions that we had were very productive. Through the refocusing of the priorities it meant that we were more efficient in what we were doing. The sessions themselves were structured to crank up the intensity as we built to the game and we could see the players respond.

I feel that the preparation was good and even though we had exams we were still getting better numbers to training than previous years.

[Toby Lock - Middle Linebacker, Defensive Captain and Club President]

This was noticeable as well. While were by no means getting the full team there, the numbers that we were getting were an improvement on previous years at this time. This allowed us more scope to have the scrimmage sessions to help knock off the rust from the long Christmas break.

I feel that the team dynamic has improved since before Christmas because we have had issues arise but as a group we have managed to keep going


It is true that adversity brought the team together. Pride at what had been achieved prior to Christmas and a desire to keep that going in the second half of the season meant that there was a hunger there that showed on the practice field. Things started to get really competitive between units as players started to really push each other, and this showed through into the game.

Welsh Bowl - players come together

When you have a big win, it can often be hard to think about what could have been done better. We won – what we did obviously worked, so on to the next game. But it is at times like this that this critical reflection is most critical. Its easy to be reflective after a loss, or usually negative – what didn’t work, what did we do wrong and so on. But after a win it is more difficult. However, as coaches and teams we need to sit back and think about how we could have been even better – and also look at the positives as well. What was good about what we did, what should we keep doing, how can we improve still further?

it was annoying to have to cancel a training session for 2 weeks in a row. I think we trained well and we did well to have chalk talks instead of cancelled training sessions.


Having back up plans in place was one success I think that we had. Making sure to pre-empt problems with training sessions and to make sure that alternatives were in place should they be called off meant that we were able to maintain the work throughout the period with minimal disruption. Players were used to training at those times so they were prepared to engage, it was just a matter of how.

One problem we were always going to face with limited physical training time was the amount of time that backups received in training sessions.

Where we could have done with a bit more prep was with our backups. With Chris going down we had to play the backup QB who showed he is very capable of playing QB, just needs a little more experience. But it is hard to get him that experience in our limited training time in the weeks.


This is always an issue, and the balance can be sometimes difficult to maintain. It is one area that we should constantly be striving to improve in order to make sure that the next person up is ready to compete. Too often we, as coaches, can fall into the trap of focusing our plans and schemes on the starting players forgetting that we may need to bring in the backups/substitutes/bench players. Are they ready? Have we prepared them to succeed? Or are we just throwing them into a situation that will likely see them fall?

I am reminded here of a conversation I once heard long ago between two defensive sided American Football Coaches. The first remarked that they ran a 3-4 defence because they had a stud Nose Tackle (who plays in the middle of the front 3 – a vital position in the scheme). The second just replied by asking how good the backup was.

For us, we look to encourage the players to organise their own individual sessions with each other as we feel that this is a great way for rookies and backups to get extra time practicing skills and plays. We have confidence in our veteran players to lead on these without us and to maintain a constant message. Not only do the rookies and backups get that much needed experience, but it transfers into training sessions as they are more confident and knowledgeable about what they are doing. This means that we can push the learning on further.

I have talked to him [Backup QB] about doing more outside of our training in order to improve and he has already organised sessions with the offensive players to help get reps outside of practice.



Other than get the backup QB a few more reps in practice I honestly think the planning and prep we did showed itself to be successful


Welsh Bowl - Team photo

If I was to pick out the key messages from this series as advice for other coaches that may find themselves in similar situations, I would highlight:

  • Pre-empt problems – If you train on pitches that could be affected by weather then look ahead and see what alternative plans you can put in place. What else can you do? Don’t just get stuck into the rut of “well this is what we do on a Thursday!” If you can’t do that then what will you do?
  • Make alternative arrangements – Tied into the previous point, don’t just look ahead to see you might have a problem but look to do something about it. Finances can often be a legitimate barrier as it can be hard to pay for alternative facilities, but be creative and make sure that you do something. Keep things ticking over as regular as possible
  • Be clear what you want to achieve – If you are reduced in practice time then how can you achieve everything you would usually have done? There simply isn’t the time any more. You can try to cram everything into a shorter timeframe but is that really the best way forward? Be ruthless and take your core priorities and move forward with them.
  • Make sure everyone is ready – A really hard thing to do, but make sure that reduced practice time doesn’t mean that backups pay the price. You will need them at some point so if they are not ready to go when called upon then you are in trouble.
  • Communication – As training routines get disrupted, communication becomes vital. Not just at the basic level of letting players know where they need to be and when, but to also communicate knowledge that would have been covered in training.


What did you think of the reflections discussed here? Do you recognise some of the challenges we face? I would love to hear how you overcame these, or similar challenges.

All photos here courtesy of Jason Jardine

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Comments (1)

Great blog Simon! My favourite of the series. Love the format, the reflections and key messages at the end. Congrats on the win as well!
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