Recognising and Promoting C.A.R.D.S.

Last season, when I was developing session plans, I tried to make sure that, as a coach, I was giving the children opportunities to develop their C.A.R.D.S. – their creativity, awareness, resilience, decision-making and self-organisation. But over the summer I thought, why stop at the coach? If CARDS are important skills to develop then shouldn’t we make the children aware (!) of them, and let them be actively involved in that learning?

So, this season we’ve started giving out badges to promote CARDS and to recognise the children’s progress in developing the CARDS skills.


My U10s were really amped about them, which is reason enough to do it. In addition to that, it gives me an opportunity to make it clear to them that CARDS are things that we value. And when someone is recognised for great progress, we can talk about what it was that was so good, and why.

About the design of the badges…

As an aside, when I designed the badges I took ages deciding on how to represent CARDS as images. Using a light-bulb as a rugby ball for “Creativity”, was my first idea and it came to me fairly quickly, but the others I struggled with.

Especially “Resilience”. I bounced some ideas off a friend and we thought of having two rugby balls as mountains (with snow on the peaks) – to represent climbing and never giving up. Yeah, a bit contrived. I settled on the idea of a spring because you bounce back after adversity.

“Awareness”, was going to be the Eye of Providence because my son thinks its awesome for some reason, but I decided it had too much of a religious overtone and settled on an eye in a rugby ball.

“Decision-making” was going to be question marks and a giant tick for making the right decision…and was such an awful idea, I ended up going for more of a logic branching icon. Unfortunately it’s turned out to be more of a trident!

And “Self-organisation” was tricky too. I wanted something along the lines of a crystal lattice (molecules self-organising), but it looked a bit fiddly. In the end I went for a simplified, three person huddle motif. Although, my U10s are convinced it’s a fidget spinner!

Anyway, there’s a reason I’m explaining the design process – it’s not because I think they’re awesome. It’s because shortly after I ordered the badges, I came across this image!


Wait, what?!


I really thought I was being CREATIVE, yet what I had come up with was really close to something that had already been done! There is irony in there somewhere. 🙂

C.A.R.D.S: The Secret Sauce

Over the last year the C.A.R.D.S. acronym has become more and more popular in rugby coaching circles.

The term apparently comes from a study that was done on the fifteen best rugby players in the world (as chosen by directors of rugby and coaches in the English Premiership). The study found that these world-class players all excelled in the following five areas:

  • Creativity
  • Awareness
  • Resilience
  • Decision-making
  • Self-organisation

At first glance, the absence of physical skills and qualities in that list may be surprising. But I suppose it makes a lot of sense as there must be many thousands of people around the world who can run rapidly, pass perfectly, kick correctly, swerve circuitously, and tackle tenaciously. CARDS, on the other hand, is the secret sauce that separates the best from the brilliant.

When I found out about this, it immediately resonated with me, and I was keen to start using this secret recipe to develop my Under 9 squad into world-class rugby players. There was just one small problem: CARDS isn’t a recipe – it’s an end product. It doesn’t tell you what to do. It shows you where you need to end up.

So how do you coach somebody to become creative? How do you develop resilience in your players? As of this writing, there is no CARDS “how to” guide online – not that I can find anyway. In the last few weeks the RFU has released online coaching material mentioning CARDS, specifically the article How CARDS are shaping England’s Next Generation and the Game Changer series of videos on YouTube, which are very useful. But that’s about it.

In the absence of prescriptive guidance, I guess it’s down to us as coaches to put our thinking caps on, to be Creative ourselves, and to come up with ways of developing these excellent traits in our players. So, in the spirit of open reflection, I’m going to use a series of blog posts as a way of capturing and distilling my thoughts and any research I can find on the topics of Creativity, Awareness, Resilience, Decision-making and Self-organisation.