Former Springbok player and internationally renowned kicking coach, Braam van Straaten, has become a permanent fixture on the Investec International Rugby Academy coaching squad and we just love having his valuable expertise on hand.
We sat down with Braam to discuss his career as a coach, his passion as a key member of the academy and grabbed a few key kicking tips for our players to remember.
- What do you perceive as the greatest need in rugby coaching – especially in South Africa?
Braam: “We need to make sure that all our players are technically advanced in all areas of the game. Only then we will be able to play an exciting winning brand of rugby. We need to create young rugby players with a skill set that enables them to play what they see. We need to be able to manipulate defences with creativity of movement and accuracy of execution. Being able to attack the space that we create by being innovative in our thinking. Being one dimensional and trying to physically dominate your opponents in the professional era is long gone.”
- What is your favourite part about working with the academy?
Braam: “I have been involved at the International Rugby Academy for the last seven years. Course week is the most magical week of my year because I get to see boys become men in just a couple of days. Being passionate about the game but even more so about the people in the game, is what drives me as a technical performance coach. I teach players, first and foremost, how to be SAFE on the field. This gives them confidence beyond once wildest dreams.”
- What do you think the academy provides for players and coaches?
Braam: “Getting them to function outside their comfort zone for most part of the week is incredible. The only time one changes as an individual is when you function outside of your comfort zone for long periods of time. Course week combines technical information of the game at the highest level with mental toughness. The coaches at the International Rugby Academy are really well equipped with the technical knowledge of the game in all its areas. Getting the correct information is crucial to the development of these young men. Being technically astute in all areas of the game can propel your career to new heights 100 times quicker. Only when one sees this progress, one can really appreciate a coach that understands how to share and coach the technical knowledge of the game to upcoming talented youngster. This only happens at the Investec International Rugby Academy; where the best coaches have created a platform of sharing technical knowledge of the game to all boys and coaches that attend.”
- What excites you about training young players, especially in the high school group?
Braam: “What excites me about working with youngsters is that these kids want to learn. They know their inabilities and are really humble; they are not set in their own ways. The problem with the older generation is that they have had some success playing the game and feel they don’t need the guidance. In short, they have a chip on their shoulders. My philosophy in life is “every day is a school day, it doesn’t matter how much you think you know; the day you think you know everything is the day you will get left behind”. For me youngsters need discipline and will thrive as a group when they are 100% sure of the boundaries we lay down. This is the cornerstone of our success at the academy; where the law is laid down at the start of the week. If anyone over steps the line the whole group suffers. Don’t underestimate the power of the unknown. Because I have the licence to really make it the longest week of their lives if they so choose!”
- In long run, what is your expected outcome of this initiative?
Braam: “First and foremost, we want to create good young men who will become great leaders and great people in their community and in their schools through our approach. With the intense program we run and the way we challenge them during the week, we get them to explode out of their shell with confidence to go out there and express themselves in all walks of life. Rugby is just the vehicle that gives us that opportunity. And yes, they become very competent rugby players overnight.”
- Do you have any specific objectives for this July’s course?
Braam: “Our objectives are very simple. We want these boys to come and have a great time at the academy. We want to get them out of their comfort zone because the reward at the end of the week last’s a lifetime. They not only become better rugby players, they become better people. For us, this is more important than anything. Rugby is only a small part of life, but life itself ends in eternity!”
- In South Africa, our passion for rugby dictates that everyone claims to be an expert, often being overly critical. What are our biggest challenges to overcome?
Braam: “I don’t think it is just our passion for rugby, I think people have realized that we are stuck in 1st gear and we have lost the ability to coach the technical part of the game to our players. We copy what other nations do. When this fails, we revert back to physical dominance and that’s why the main view in our rugby has been “bigger is better”. I choose to disagree, coaching and playing a very structured orientated game have limited our players’ skill sets. They play the structure and don’t play what they see. We have the talent but our biggest challenge to overcome in South Africa is to get back our identity as a rugby nation. We need to develop our own brand and become the leaders in world rugby. We need to employ the correct people for the job; someone who has the know-how and that challenges peoples thinking every day. We don’t need “yes men”, we need people to embrace the way the game has changed and teach our players, accordingly. Only then will the world will take notice of the Springboks and its legacy.”
- Your coaching skills contributed to the Lions securing their first Currie Cup win in 12 years in 2011. You were also signed as the Wallabies kicking coach in 2010 and your contract was extended for RWC 2011. It is said that your input had a major impact on their team’s goal kicking success. What is your approach to coaching?
Braam: “My goal as a coach is to prepare kickers with the skills to be technically sound and understand these skills. My approach is simple; all the fundamentals that I teach comes down to natural body movement. The kick uses fluidity and power; a fluid motion with no rotation in the kick. All kicking flaws originate in the run-up (approach). Everything that happens in the run-up gets carried over into the “Strike Zone”. There are three major fundamentals that you will find in all sports; they are:
These fundamentals are crucial, and simply by understanding these, a Kicker can increase his strike rate and distance by 30%.”
Braam: “When a kicking coach can’t tell you the fundamentals and principles of how to kick the perfect kick, and doesn’t use video analysis to show the kicker his flaws, he is what we call a “fly by night” and will wreck a young kicker for the rest of his career. Some people say it takes 3 000 hours to acquire a skill. I disagree; with the correct technical information, a kicker will be able to kick the perfect kick within 90 minutes. That is why the kickers that I coach only kick 10 kicks per session, because of “the advantage of knowing”; they don’t need to kick for hours and hours and try and learn through trial and error. Key positions in their process makes it easy to identify flaws that can only be rectified with the correct movement patterns and pattern breakers. One needs to be process-driven and not result orientated. “Chicken before the egg”.”
- What are some of the most common kicking flaws you come across?
Braam: “Tactical kicking and exits out of your own territory because of the way players hold the ball in their hands and kick to close to their bodies; they kick the ball between 15 and 30 meters left of target. So they are talented enough to see the space but their technique doesn’t allow them to kick the ball into space.”
Braam: “Rotation in kicking and getting deep in your kick are the two major kicking flaws that hurt your consistency, power and balance in the strike zone. The most common flaw in kicking is that we have all learned the wrong way, right from the first time we pick up a ball as a youngster. One needs to understand all the fundamentals (as mentioned above) in order to kick the perfect kick. You also need to know that kicking is a body movement and not just a leg movement. If you understand this you will be injury free for the rest of your kicking life. Kicking out of your core is an understanding but also a feeling, and through this you will find the “authentic kick” or “perfect kick” everyone possesses.”