Tuesday, March 09, 2010

A Potential Blueprint for US Sevens

With Adelaide Sevens just around the corner, it's time to go to our sevens experts UR7s.com to get some of their opinions on the USA Sevens program. It's been and up and down year for the Eagles, but in the last two tournaments it has appeared as though the US is starting to get their act together.

Last time I mused on Las Vegas, Scotland and the impact of physicality on the game at all levels. This week I’m going to focus on the USA Sevens programme.

I have touched on this before but after spending time in America I now feel more educated to comment.

Firstly congratulations to the USA for their Bowl win in Vegas - they tend to perform pretty well at home.

Often my American friends feel I don't give the USA a fair ride but it seems to me that the present programme is not having the traction that many thought it might yield.

The American team has the ability to deceive and the PR agency (USA Sevens themselves) are good at letting the world know that the team is on the verge of a breakthrough. We can take the example of Kenya to see that this is no easy task.

My thoughts on the US side are more on the side of realism and concentrating on potential than the current side.

Differs from US sports

The USA is 'win now' place. American sports are such that teams can go from 32nd (last) the previous year to contenders the following year.

Take for example the NFL and franchises like the Arizona Cardinals in 08/09 and even more so the New Orleans in 09/10. The same can be said for the Tampa Bay Rays and Florida Marlins in baseball,

Rugby is not like this and though Sevens differs there are still some similarities that need to be taken in account in our analysis.

Equitable sport is what makes sport exciting in America as fans are never far away from a season of success. Long periods of success, akin to soccer’s Manchester United, are less likely but that season of glory is always a possibility. Functions such as the drafts, salary caps, free agency (restricted and unrestricted), farm leagues, and College sport are unique entities.

Technicalities

Therefore I often find American 'ruggers' are understandably waiting for that rugby and sevens breakthrough. This won’t happen overnight though.

The introduction of College Football players and the former Track and Field athletes into the Sevens set-up is exciting and not to be dismissed. However I am not sure that the first wave of these players are unlikely to be the ones that make the ultimate difference in the hunt for IRB Sevens glory.

USA Rugby, who is still the national governing body of Sevens despite all of the press that comes from the other outlets, has got to look at the programme at all levels and need to take a stance on player progression.

How many players have made a difference at international level that took the game up at a late stage? Not many.

There are a few who go against the rule but not many. This is due to the technical aspects of the game, although the counter argument to this is that Sevens is not the same and easier to adapt to.

I cannot accept this argument though. On the international stage, Sevens has become more and more technical as coaches are able to spend more time in the tape room. The margins are so small at the highest level that coaches are looking for those small inches. My thoughts on physicality are well documented and rucking is perhaps the most technical area of the game of rugby.

My belief that if the USA are to succeed on the field that things need to change off the field. Here is my blueprint.

Teaching group

Coaching of these ‘new to rugby’ athletes needs to be done slowly and not rushed. The end game is 2016 and not the 2010 World Series. The key term here is teaching. This is different to coaching and these players need to be taught the game. USA Rugby needs to highlight 20 potentially world class athletes who have the relevant Rugby Sevens tangible skills (speed, strength, ball skills, big game, temperament) and place these guys in a training camp.

This will be separate from the USA Sevens camps and should run for a minimum of a year. During this time, USA Rugby must determine what is required from a world class Sevens player and set specific targets for these players. If after a year 2/3 players graduate into the national squad then this is an incredible result that no other country in the world could achieve. I am going to investigate and research this are further and let you know my thoughts over the coming months.

College development

The other key area for USA Rugby is not to ignore the already talented rugby players in the country. The very exciting news last week was that a new Collegiate Championship is planned for this coming summer, the brainchild of the USA Sevens (the Las Vegas leg of the IRB Sevens World Series). But how this is used by USA Rugby and more so the national Sevens programme is going to be key.

One of the major issues with regards to university rugby in the US is that it is not considered 'varsity' basically it is not an NCAA sport. This means that scholarships are not allowed to be awarded for rugby. The new Collegiate Championship could well be the first step in this changing. As for now lets concentrate on supporting these university programmes to the best possible standard.

These kids are going to be the ones that are dedicated their time to playing Rugby Sevens in the states. They are basically going into a four year camp. USA Rugby must make sure that they have their hand in and become involved in the development of these players.

Basic expectations (athletically) are of course going to be addressed, they always are in America but making sure that coaches are in place to mentor these guys throughout their time at university is critical for both the player and the tournament. If this tournament is to be a success (it’s being televised) it is important that the play on the field is a great advert for the game.

Coaching

The third area of importance for growth in the mid to long term in the states is the quality of coaching.

If the US elects to invest in players crossing sport without the right personnel in place to to meet them then the process is stalled. Al Caravelli is known for his Americanisation of Sevens Rugby at the top level, but bringing in coaches who can help develop further coaches internally is vital.

In a similar approach to that of the new players, a group of coaches need to be identified as men and women that can take the next step to elite level coaches and must be invested in. If this takes time then so be it, but help is available through the International School of Rugby who already host camps in Denver in the summer and the International Rugby Board. At the moment there is a lack of men on the ground.

It’s all well and good identifying the players but if there is not the coaching staff to develop them then it is a miss. Caravelli is only one man, this cannot and should not be his remit. Let him coach the National team and support by supplying the players through these schemes supported by new coaches to make a run at a gold medal


Obviously the key to all of the above is money.

Yet if there is one country where this is readily available and that's the US. There has been huge speculation about figures but one thing we can be sure of is that Olympic inclusion is going to result in financial investment. The success of America on a global stage is going to hinge on the spending of this money and its going to take investment equally in all of the above for our American friends to reach the potential that is so often shouted about.

For now, I shall expect nothing and be surprised by everything achieved by USA team. I am sure they will continue to flatter to deceive and as the rest of the world looks on we can only guess at what takes place behind the scenes as 2016 gets ever closer. They have a great chance to achieve something very special but like all things it is going to take intelligent, hard work from the men at the top.

You know where I am......

Next week will be final post Rds 3+4 installment including Canada, guest teams and a preview of Adelaide.

JB


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