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Detail vs Clutter

In recent years I have been told by some quality coaches, who I respect, that we should remove the clutter we’re teaching our players and give them less to think about. As a skills coach who lives by the motto ‘the edge is in the detail,’ this leads me to question what exactly is important detail and what is clutter?

My first reaction was to give my peers the nod, taking a “less clutter” theory and running with it. But on reflection I have decided to step back and take a look at both sides of this argument.

Let’s look at the meaning of the word clutter from the Oxford dictionary.


To cover or fill (something) with an untidy collection of things.

A collection of things lying about in an untidy state.

For rugby purposes we could replace the word ‘untidy’ with ‘unnecessary’ and the word ‘something’  with ‘our player’s brains’.  So to make it more relatable to rugby we could define clutter as ..

To fill our player’s brains with a collection of unnecessary things.

For me that is a pretty good description of the word clutter as used by my peers. But what fits under the realm of unnecessary? For a front row forward we might teach 120º from hip to knee, feet shoulder width apart, chest out, back flat and eyes up. Are these details clutter or necessary detail? I think necessary detail!  If a coach misses these details when coaching a player, it has a massive negative effect on their development.

Details like these are an important party of skills coaching – which is all about process and progression.

Let’s look at the word detail. Again, we can relate dictionary definitions to coaching.


One of the distinct parts of a whole.

Detail applies to one of the small component parts of a larger whole such as a task.

In the latter example the rugby task may be to carry the ball into contact. The action - attack space while the detail could be stepping sharply, keeping our feet under us and squaring up our hips to go forward. As a skills coach it is this sort of detail we give our players to help them improve. Admittedly in the early stages of a player’s development this may feel like a lot of information to process. However, with repetition and exposure to a changing number of variations this action will become instinctive and our players will then have less clutter!

Returning to ‘a collection of unnecessary things,’ we also need to look at what information we should deliver to the player and what information may not be required at a given stage in their development. While an angle of 120º is important in terms of a scrummaging forward it may not be a factor when looking at the angle a scrum half needs to approach the ball.

Detail can be added without introducing too much complexity or clutter. Keeping things simple works at all levels. The level of expectation may change but the message will be similar. The key is to introduce the detail in layers and the timing of those layers will come down to the individual or group you are working with. While detail is often taught in a structured environment it is further developed in a random environment to encourage our players to be more instinctive. When a player gets to this level, clutter is gone and only clarity remains.

As coaches, let’s be careful not to lose important detail when we focus on reducing clutter!

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