Cards is actually an acronym for creativity, awareness, resilience, decision making and self-organisation. They are the priority skills for helping develop the next generation of England Rugby players both on and off the pitch.
Or as England U18 head coach John Fletcher explains: “CARDS are the most important skills for the players in the performance pathway to be working on both on and off the field.”
What role do CARDS skills have in developing a player and helping them progress through the pathway?
“The skills are very similar to the seniors, so if you talk to Eddie Jones he’ll talk about self-reliance, creativity, adaptability, robustness etc…the skills go all the way through.
“I think they are super important; unless you have priority skills you could lose focus within the pathway. I think the players who have passed through it have the skills in abundance, and I think you have more chance of being a senior player if you have these skills.”
So when broken down into its individual components, how do Fletcher and his fellow performance pathway coaches Peter Walton and Russell Earnshaw use it to develop the players?
“It’s the skill to come up with different solutions to the same problem,” says Fletcher. “We want players to explore and try new things.”
Walton adds: “Why do you have to stick to the same ways you’ve always done in the past? We’ve got to explore ways for the players to be the best they can be. We want to give them an opportunity to try things.”
Earnshaw believes creativity is “environmental” and adds: “I think it’s about allowing them to be creative rather than take it away from them.”
“In order for players to fully achieve their potential they need good awareness,” says Fletcher
“They need good awareness to help with decision making. Awareness is another word for information, our job is to support the players to search for as much information as possible. It’s a really important skill.”
So how is it achieved?
“We do sessions where players don’t talk so they have to look for information, we might stop and get them to close their eyes, asking them what they’ve seen,” says Earnshaw. “We do lots of stuff around understanding other players’ strengths and therefore how you might best support them.”
Walton adds: “They are on a learning journey and need to be aware of that and where they need to get to. Players who show awareness on the pitch will normally have more success than others.”
“It’s a skill to adapt to pressure,” explains Fletcher.
“So if they are in an uncomfortable situation, how can they adapt? We put them in lots of uncomfortable situations, such as playing outside of England, being in a different environment with different coaches”.
“All of this would make a young player feel under pressure and it’s ultimately how they adapt both on and off the pitch. This tour helps, spending time away from home and playing in a different country and environment puts them under pressure. We are here to support them.”
Walton adds: “We will put pressure on the players in training all the time, we replicate the game in all of our set piece sessions. An example would be putting pressure on the callers and hookers.
“We’ll referee inconsistently in training to take them out of their comfort zone so they get used to dealing with that. If a player is particularly vocal we’ll ask them to stay quiet which puts pressure on them as well as the less vocal players to speak up in training.”
“Decision making is one of the ones we can apply off-field as well as on it,” says Walton.
“Do they have the awareness of what to do for the right recovery, do they make the right decisions around nutrition? It’s an easy one to apply for the off-field stuff too.” “The key is to have lots of options”
Fletcher adds: “The key is to have lots of options, don’t tell them the answers and they have to work it out for themselves. The fastest and the easiest way to coach is to tell young players the answers. We strongly believe that real learning comes from the players exploring and finding the best way that suits them”.
“The decision making is intertwined with awareness which comes before decision making and creativity. I agree with Rusty that the environment we create here provides lots of choices and it’s up to them to make the right one both on and off the pitch.”
“The more information you give players, the more structure you have in a game and the less they will self-organise,” explains Fletcher.
“We make a conscious decision to have a loose playing framework, that allows the players to self-organise in training and games. It’s based on players reading cues from other players in attack and defence. Hopefully what you will see in our attack and defence is players making decisions based on information from others around them.”