The regulations placed on clubs due to the coronavirus pandemic have forced Smallman and his coaching staff to come up with new methods on the training ground.
Rugby clubs have entered phase D of the RFU’s road map on the route back to playing competitive matches. That will allow coaches to work with larger groups with some close contact.
And Smallman, who took charge at Shrewsbury in March, admits it has been an enjoyable challenge putting on sessions for the Sundorne Castle men while adhering to RFU guidelines.
Having coached for over 20 years, and enjoyed huge success at Dudley Kingswinford and Bridgnorth – leading both sides up through the rugby pyramid and to finals at Twickenham – Smallman has a vast amount of knowledge and experience to tap into.
But he admits this summer has been ‘unique’ and tested himself and his Shrewsbury coaching colleagues.
“I’m really enjoying my time at Shrewsbury. It’s been a unique and difficult time,” said the 52-year-old. “We have been working in line with the RFU guidelines and have just gone from phase B to C. Phase B allowed us to work in small groups of one coach to five players.
“We have had between 40 and 45 players for every session, which are numbers that I wasn’t expecting.
“I have not coached those sort of numbers for a long time. We have a range of coaches and the way we did it, adhering to the one to five ratio, was by holding two 45-minute sessions.
“The first group came in at half six and then we had 15 minutes to wipe everything down and hand sanitise everything before the second group came in.
“The key thing is to be as creative as we can.
“That time we have had, we are grateful for. I can’t remember coaching on a one-to-five ratio with specific players and being able to go through things in such detail. Because I am new to the club and building relationships with the players, it’s been really valuable.
“I am certainly enjoying it and it’s helping me, as a coach, to rethink things.”
“I think we will look back and think that we used the time effectively.”
And Smallman, who is a teacher by trade, has been handing out some homework to his players during the pre-season build-up.
“We have started to use video casts,” he added. “We send out a weekly video to the players that they can watch in their own time, which covers a technical or tactical aspect of the game,” he added. “We are really trying to use the time as effectively as we can.
“Coming into a new club and trying to getting over some of the philosophies that I want, these video casts have worked really, really well. It’s something I will continue to do when we get back to normal.
“It’s been a catalyst for some great conversations.
“Coaching is a lot more democratic now, it’s about giving some ownership to the players. When I played it was very autocratic – here is what you have got to do, now go and do it.”
Having suffered relegation from Midlands West 2 (North) last season, Smallman has been impressed by the reaction from the players.
As well as good numbers on training nights, the players are buying into the ideas put forward by Smallman and fellow coaches Chris Brayne and Ruth Middleton.
“I’m really pleased with those training numbers and the commitment from the players. And the really pleasing thing is that it’s all current players that have been there,” said Smallman.
“And I have been really impressed by the buy-in from the second and third-team players.
“All of the players have got stuck in and are working hard, which is great to see.
“Liam Deery, who is the new skipper this year, has done a great job taking the leadership role.
“We have created training groups within the whole group. Players were allocated into teams and for the sessions, whether it’s fitness or skills, they acquire points. There is a league and as you can imagine it’s getting competitive.”
“As we move through the RFU’s return to play road map it will allow us to play small sided games and hopefully the league will keep going and going.”
It’s hoped the rugby season will be up and running next month, when Shrews will face a number of early local derbies.
“If I am being honest, I think we are looking at October at the earliest,” added Smallman. “It’s important we adhere to the road map,” added Smallman. “Phase F is when you actually start playing games.
“Clubs must be given a month at phase E – which is full contact, classic pre-season – before they go to F.
“But the fixtures are out and they have been split regionally early in the season, which is a great idea.
“We have some really big Shropshire derbies against Telford, Clee Hill and Cleobury Mortimer.
“That’s great and being a Shropshire lad I am really looking forward to those games.”