Junior rugby is an integral part of the Kiwi culture so former international player John Leslie has designed a blueprint that aims to help volunteer coaches, mums and dads turn the sport into a fun and meaningful activity.

"My workshops are about showing volunteer coaches a better, easier and organised way to coach," said Leslie in Hastings yesterday, shortly after jetting in from Dunedin.

"The professional game's going great guns with New Zealand Rugby, the All Blacks brand and all that sort of stuff," the 47-year-old ex-Scottish and Otago Highlanders centre said, before holding a workshop at the Havelock North Rugby Club in Anderson Park last night.

Commercial cleaning firm CrestClean is backing 50 training sessions through Leslie's programme free of charge.


If youngsters went on to become better players, he said, then so be it but those who didn't could incorporate aspects of the discipline in their lives.

"I think it's good for the individuals, the families, the communities and also for our Kiwi culture as well."

Leslie said he had run the gauntlet time-poor volunteers often endured to understand what was required to help them embrace the task better.

He had drawn on all his rugby experience to adopt three core principles in a two-step formula to make practices fun and modern so that anyone could embrace it to become a "flow coach rather than a slow coach".

"Any volunteer can go in there, follow that template, put your own magic, style and flair in the coaching sessions for the kids.

"It's not a case of 'This is the way to do it. You have to do it exactly like I can do it'. You just follow the pathway and add your spice."

Leslie said what made New Zealand rugby strong was myriad opinions blended to develop philosophies that could suit one group or another.

The 123-cap Otago rep will conduct a workshop at the Napier Technical Old Boys' Rugby Football Club at 91 Barker Rd, Marewa, from 6-7pm today.


"The response has been overwhelmingly great actually. People are saying they've got a lot out of it. Us Kiwis can be a little quiet at times - you could almost say we're shy and a bit reserved - but the volunteer coaches who are making the effort to come along to check out what I have to offer are telling me the kids are having a real blast so that's great."

Leslie said for those who couldn't attend the workshops here could obtain the content on LeslieRugby.co.nz

His workshops tend to cover areas that could help counter injuries, including concussion, thanks to education NZ Rugby had put around it.

"I know I feel confident. I know parents in my team, managers around my team but, most importantly, players around the team are feeling confident about concussion symptoms and issues."

Leslie said there were no dramas now around someone feeling a little bit dizzy to leave the field.

"There's no stigma attached to it because safety is first, so the protocols in the pathway to New Zealand Rugby are telling us to follow are really great, too."

His workshops impressed on safe, strong skills to enable players to make decisions on how to execute tackles.

"My coaching programme, in the fun, modern way, is about how you flow the training, how you set it up and how it runs from the start to finish," he said.

Former Highlanders teammate Tony Brown, who now coaches the Japan national team, has had an input to help weave professionalism at grassroots level. It includes safe techniques and off-speed tackling.

"Some of the coaches think they've lost their memories because they were really tough when they were 5 or 6 years old but they weren't.

"Tackling takes a lot to do well because you have to be courageous for a start because there are a whole lot of skills going on.

"You actually have to go in to take the opposition player's space to be safest and strongest, which requires confidence to get in there."

He had condensed the professional coaches' techniques to an ultra slow speed for grassroots level, where there was a "very tiny chance of injury".

"It makes sense because you don't have the All Blacks on a Tuesday or Thursday trying to smash each other in tackles."

When players had to draw on high-speed tackling, he said, muscle memory, positioning and mental fortitude kicked in through off-speed conditioning.

"Nowadays we've got to be a lot smarter for the kids - to warm them up and skill them up so they are strong come time for the full blast."

Bigger centres, such as Auckland and Wellington, have physically bigger youngsters so it was reassuring to see weight grades imposed to protect smaller players.

"It is something to deal with. We want to protect the little guys but, in the same breath, some kids may be big he may still have a little kid's brain and be aggressive so that's something that needs to be worked with but I haven't got all the answers."

Leslie said girls' rugby was growing and they were amazing to watch so instilling quality values there was equally imperative.

He has spread his gospel through the spine of the country but hasn't gone as far as Northland yet.

The former Otago University also is relishing meeting people, seeing more of the country while marketing his rugby products.