A host of coaches gathered in Hatfield to watch Saracens youth section train recently, with England's own Andy Farrell acting as our guide. After a brief introduction we were taken down to the training field and watched an hour and a half of terrific coaching. Here are a few thoughts on what we saw, and how it could perhaps be applied to a club like ours, I've given it the sub-heading One Club, hopefully you can see why:

One Club

From the beginning we were told that Saracens treated every team as if they were the first team. The style of play, the moves executed and the expectation of performance and behaviour didn't change, regardless of the fact that some of these young lads were only 15. 

This had some obvious effects. The standard of behaviour was unbelievable for a group of teenage boys. Of course no one answers back to Richard Hill, but what really impressed me was the completely no nonsense and immediate reaction from the players to every request. Now of course everyone will be on best behaviour when your coaches are all former Premiership and International players, and you're only one bad session away from being sent back to your old club. But everyone of those players benefitted. Practices developed quickly because players listened. And coaches were able to coach, spending time watching and talking to players, instead of battling to be heard. 

So, beyond those reasons given what was behind this? It was the expectation. These young men were being treated not just as adults, but as First XV professional playing adults. And as a coach this certainly had something to say to me... set people up to fail, expect them to get bored, back chat and play up and they will. But if you don't just ask them to perform, you believe that they will, then hopefully, with a good group (and I honestly believe that we're blessed at Hackney with a brilliant group of people) they will.

And a rugby/coaching lesson? Every coach there was able to help every player during every section. Because everyone was pulling on one direction. This is something Director of Rugby Ben Scanlan is working hard on (and has been since he joined) and it's exciting to see how this develops in the coming months.

And finally, it was continually re-iterated that we could ask Andy anything. In fact they encouraged us to ask questions. But with all but one exception every question from the group was met with a brisk and not-fully-engaged answer. So by the end of the session, when he turned and asked the group for questions none came. Hardly a surprise.

Checking for understanding is something we as coaches get told to do over and over on every RFU course we go on. And for good reason. The more players understand the better they perform. Obviously. But I'm sure I've failed to take questions that seem overly simple or a little odd seriously in the past. When Andy Farrell dismissed a question I asked, I realised that sometimes things seem obvious to you as a coach because you've thought it over and over and over, then written it up, discussed with your coaching team and drawn it into a session. It might not seem so obvious to someone straining to hear you on a windy night who has never come across that idea/practice/move before. 

So here's a promise to the Gladies and anyone else I coach going forward: I will listen to and answer your question properly. If I don't; call me up on it. And if at the end of a session I ask for any questions and you all stay silent I won't take that as a sign I've done a brilliant job, I'll work harder next week to run a session that fills you with questions.