In part two of the Rugby Nation USA Profile of Atlanta Youth Rugby (AYR) I interview youth coach Warren Mullis. Many of you may know him as one half of the Red, White, and Black Eye podcast but here you’ll see a slightly different side as he discusses training U-10 rugby players, youth development, and Atlanta Youth Rugby.
Rugby Nation USA (RN): Tell is a little about your rugby background, what got you into the sport?
Warren Mullis (WM): I was lucky enough to be involved in the first attempts of youth rugby in Georgia. I started playing in 2004 for the East Cobb Trojans. We won the first ever High School State Championship. I immediately fell in love with rugby and the rest is history.
RN: What got you into coaching youth rugby?
WM: I wanted to get involved and give back to youth rugby in Georgia. When I heard that AYR was trying to develop rugby outside of just High School, I got really interested. Most youth programs only focus on High School. In my opinion, getting kids in to rugby at a younger age is crucial to growing the game.
RN: You coach AYR U-10, what’s that like?
WM: Fun and challenging. I learn something every practice/game. I can’t believe how much energy they all have. It’s fun to watch them progress as a team and individual rugby players.
RN: How many players do you currently have in U-10?
WM: 25 players.
RN: Do you find it challenging explaining the game to kids, reprogramming their football minds?
WM: Yes. It’s wild how much of football, American football, the kids have absorbed even at a young age. When they first come out they want to block and throw the ball forward. It take a lot of explaining and drills to break their habits.
RN: At U-10 what skills do you focus on the most?
WM: PASSING. Every kid wants to practicing tackling and kicking. Nobody wants to practice passing! It’s the most important part in my opinion. I always have to remind the players that spin passes are not required.
RN: What drill do the kids like the most?
WM: Sharks and minnows. You start with one “shark” and the rest of the team are minnows with rugby balls. They run up and down the field getting tagged and turning in to sharks. It’s generally how we end the practice as a treat. Again these are young kids so you have to entertain them from time to time.
RN: Which one do they like the least?
WM: Hands passing drills. I have to remind them that the All Blacks do this drill each practice.
RN: What are some of the challenges you experience?
WM: For younger kids its keeping things fun and interesting. Drills I would run for a mens club don’t usually work for U-10 Team. Attention Spans are always short so you have to make sure everyone is listening and paying attention.
RN: I’ve witnessed the horror of that dreaded “baseball parent,” do you have run-ins with rugby parents?
WM: I’ve been really lucky and never had that experience (knocking on wood). I think the fact that most parents don’t know much about rugby helps. Its hard to correct a coach if you don’t know much about the sport. I often encourage parents to educate themselves on the game and the community.
RN: How do you go about teaching the U-10 respect of officials?
WM: It starts with never talking to the officials. Our Captains are the only ones allowed to talk to the Sir. If you have an issue you bring it to your Captain. When we run scrimmages if anyone complains it’s a penalty. Complaining generally stops after that.
RN: In regards to coaching, yes it helps to have played but do you need to have playing experience to coach?
WM: No! I have an Assistant Coach, Shawn, who has never played. He is a huge help to our practices. We just need more coaches! People that are willing to set up cones and help keep the kids organized. As long as you are willing to learn the game you can help coach.
RN: Coaching U-10 puts you on the forefront of rugby development in the US, what do you think our country currently doing right and wrong in terms of development?
WM: Loaded question there….10 years ago youth rugby focused on Colleges and Universities. I am seeing that focus now on High School with the growth of High School Tournaments and Tours. I think we need to continue that but start focusing on an even younger age groups. I think we could do a better job around PR for youth rugby. We need to focus on converting parents with younger children. Once parents understand that our U-8’s only play touch and that rugby isn’t a violent or dangerous sport, like they assumed, they are much more willing to let their kids try it. I think Play Rugby USA and other efforts are really important and we need to keep focusing and expanding on this.
RN: Finally, what would you like to tell people who want to coach but aren’t doing it yet?
WM: Give it a try! Pun intended.
RN: Thank you for your time Coach Mullis, good luck with the rest of the season and I look forward to your podcast.