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FEATURE – John Fletcher mic’d up for England U18 game

13 December 2013

  • England U18 Head Coach explains his coaching philosophy
  • “Every time you give an instruction you’re taking a decision away” – John Fletcher

“It will come, have confidence that it will come, but you’re going to have to make it happen. Make good decisions on the ball.”

As John Fletcher addressed his players at half time of the match against Australian Schools, the England Under 18 Head Coach strictly adhered to an age-grade coaching mantra established over two decades.

Keeping his thoughts to himself may present a challenge for the effervescent Geordie, but Fletcher knows the crux of learning is in the doing and therefore limits his words to a few positive vibes and words of encouragement.

After agreeing to wear an RFUtv microphone for the duration of the fixture – which England eventually won 23-3 after leading just 9-3 at the break – the former Newcastle Falcons Academy Coach explained his philosophy.

England Under 18 Head Coach John Fletcher at a training session

Photo: Getty Images

“When you’re a development coach it’s key that you try and keep as quiet as you can,” said the 41 year-old, who helped unearth Jonny Wilkinson, Toby Flood, Phil Dowson, Mat Tait and Geoff Parling from the north east.

“If you did that with a senior coach then there would be a lot of telling because their players need to know, but with younger players you want them to discover and find out.

“At half time and during the game I try to keep as quiet as a possibly can, get a few messages on, but that’s pretty much it. You have to let it happen because the real learning is in the moment. You don’t want to make their decisions for them, every time you give an instruction you’re taking that decision away.”

With the details of attacking lines, shape over the ball, scrummaging technique and line out calls polished by Fletcher and his Assistant Coaches Peter Walton and Ian Peel during training, the players are able to express themselves on the pitch.

While the result is important at all levels of rugby, without the ultimate pressure of the scoreboard in a development team, Fletcher can focus on producing a conveyor belt of players who make good decisions within the framework he offers.

And that structure is crammed with positive reinforcement and celebration of good rugby.

A scrum from England Under 18's 23-3 victory over Australian Schools

Photo: Getty Images

He added: “Training is where a player does the vast majority of their development. But the game is also part of it, a lot of coaches at this level forget that.

“Most coaches, when they’re not under the pressure of the scoreboard, let thing evolve in training but tend not to do it during a game. You want to let your players try it out, see how it works for themselves.

“I certainly reward good play because what you’re going to get from that is more good play. The messages we try and get on are to build confidence, especially with the more inexperienced ones. But some of these players have been in the system a long time, it wouldn’t matter what I said!”

With a win percentage of 85 per cent and boasting Owen Farrell, Joe Launchbury, Mako and Billy Vunipola, Christian Wade and Marland Yarde among his sparkling graduates to the senior England team, Fletcher’s coaching philosophy certainly delivers results.