Game based conditioning (sometimes called short-sided games) is a very popular way to perform energy system development work in rugby players. It creates a competitive environment that not only develops conditioning but uses skills under fatigue and is also fun for the players, who may need a mental break from more traditional conditioning methods. These methods are appropriate for players of all ages and levels, and might provide a great opportunity for younger age groups that need conditioning work to be competitive but with coaches wishing to avoid the “look” of a hard fitness session in the traditional sense.
All too often coaches adopt an all or nothing mentality, ignoring the common sense middle. Coaches may only use games for conditioning or they may never use them. Neither is probably correct. It is important to remember that game based conditioning should form part of a more complete physical preparation program and is inappropriate to be used as the sole component of your conditioning program.
Likewise, the timing of such activities is important and should take place in the late stages of the preparation period.
These games are to be used in one session. Play the first version, rest, the second version, rest again and finally the third version.
Don’t perform this as a “one-off” session, rather include the games for a 3-4 week block, progress by modifying the time periods.
As an example:
Week 1: 5 mins/game, 3 mins rest
Week 2: 6 mins/game, 2.5 mins rest
Week 3: 7 mins/game, 2 mins rest
The rest is important to ensure the intensity of the games is maintained.
It is also remember it is really the responsibility for whoever is refereeing the game to push the players hard to keep the intensity high.
What to do during rest?
It is important that the rest is essentially rest (ie don’t add another drill in that time period), however 9 minutes lost to ‘rest’ is a lot in a 90 minute session. Include a few seconds for water but put the rest of time to use. Instead of talking for 10 mins at the start or end of this session, use this period for team communication or add correctives. Physical correctives would be good and so would skill correctives such as stationary passing or pistols/shotguns (whatever you call them).
These games work best when performed across a rugby field with the sidelines serving as try lines. For width you don’t want the field too wide. 20m is about ideal so from the try line to 22m line would work very well. You could get three games with heaps of space in between on one rugby field (Try-22m, 10m-10m, 22m-Try).
Rules of Offside Touch
The following rules apply to all versions below:
- RUGBY passes only! Any overhead passes or other variations result in a turnover.
- Any dropped ball results in a turnover
- First pass MUST be backwards, subsequent passes can obviously go forward. This includes after turnovers etc
- Touches must be two hands to count
- Upon turnover defending team becomes attacking team and furthest try line becomes their try line. You don’t always run the same way.
- If a try is scored and not all members of scoring team are within the 15m, the try will not be awarded and the ball will be turned over. This is a killer rule and mainly used as the activity is being used for conditioning.
- Obviously, there is no kicking.
Rule 6 Illustrated
All Red players are within the attacking 15m when the Red player scores, therefore the try is counted.
One Red player has not managed to reach the 15m zone when the Red player placed the ball, therefore the try is not counted.
The Versions Used Here
All versions will be played with the same numbers of players per team, 7 is ideal but it will really depend on your numbers. Equal numbers per team is important. In a future post we will explain the best way to group your players to create equal teams.
1. Regular Offside Touch
This version is played under regular offside touch playing conditions. The only addition to the rules above is that each team gets 3 “touches” to score or the ball is turned over.
2. Partnered Offside Touch
This version is probably the most physically intense and can really blow open, especially after 5-7 minutes of touch in the first round. The major modification of this version is that each player is partnered with a player from the other team. The partnered players are the only ones who can “touch” each other. If you play 7 per side, 6 players are completely unable to do anything on defence if the ball carrier gets away from their partner. This results in a high paced game with lots of scoring and turnovers. Again 3 “touches” per possession.
3. Hit The Deck Offside Touch
We now revert to a form that looks very much like regular offside touch. Any player can touch any player etc. The modification here is that whenever the defence makes a touch, ALL defenders must drop the the ground (ie chest hits the ground) and return to their feet as quickly as possible before resuming defending. This essentially creates a defence-free period after a touch and produces a fast game. There are only 2 touches per possession in this version.
This program is quite a good game based conditioning set up but performance and value will, like all game based methods, be skill dependant. Adding criteria such as rule 6, creates an environment where all players have to work while not requiring high tech systems like GPS.
If you have any questions or would like to share your favourite conditioning games, please leave them in the comments below.