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Last month Rugby Today featured the criteria that the Collegiate All-American Coaches were looking for in the Forwards and Backs that would assemble in California for the week long Stars & Stripes training camp.
Q. & A with Coach Gavin Hickie to get the inside track on how the camp went and what is next for the future generation of potential Eagles.
Remind us what the selection process involved for the players?
The players who came to the camp in California excelled in their own collegiate regular season or post season competitions. We also had a number of athletes put their hands up through the NTC (National Training Camps), which were held across America and at which, we tested almost 500 athletes.
In all we invited 67 players from over 40 colleges ranging in age from guys about to start college right through to seniors about to graduate. It is what we hoped this process would give us – a broad spectrum of quality players with potential drawn from a wide range of collegiate rugby programs.
What was your goal heading into camp?
To assess where we are and to start to plot out a development plan for each individual player as we head towards the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.
The goal was to technically develop players and to get an understanding of where we are in terms of development nationally with a large group of players as possible. The focus was on skills, both position specific and core skills, which has to be a constant work on for all players. They have to appreciate the work that goes into developing a really high skill level.
Without a tour or any test game at the end of camp the tactical element of the game was not as important, however, we did incorporate Eagles tactics into the camp. It is very exciting to have all our national under age teams streamlined from the Eagles down. We want to prepare players so they can seamlessly slot into the Eagles’ systems, should they be called up.
How did the camp breakdown? What was the balance between on field and off field?
The training sessions went really well and as a new coaching team we learned a lot in our first year in terms of delivering a new pathway. We used the classroom to review and preview footage before going onto the field, which allowed us to get straight into training and make the best use of our time with the players.
We also included sessions about what to expect as an Eagle. Coach Jack Clark from the University of California, Berkeley, gave a special talk the night before our Stars and Stripes game and he delivered a great message of passing the burden on to the next generation of All-Americans. He also emphasised what it means to be an All American. That was an important message I wanted the athletes to hear so that they understand what they are actually part of.
What were some of the highlights?
The coaches arrived into California a day early to observe the Eagles training ahead of the Pacific Nations Cup. To get face-to-face time with a lot of the players and to be able to chat with the Eagles coaching staff was a fantastic opportunity for the CAA coaching team. This sharing of knowledge with the other rugby coaching teams is very important if we want to achieve our shared goals.
The Eagles coaches also came to our camp and conducted a session with our players. The guys got to be trained by the Eagles coaches and in turn the Eagles coaches got to look at these guys individually. It was an invaluable experience for both.
Away from XVs, Chris Brown, the Eagles 7s Assistant Coach, came in to give the boys an insight into what they do at the Olympic Training Centre. He runs a tight ship at the OTC and it shows. He offered a great glimpse into the world of professional 7s rugby for our guys.
What do you hope the players got from the experience?
I hope they got a lot out of the experience. The players’ responses have certainly been overwhelmingly positive. I hope they were challenged and grew as players, made new friends and develop as a generation of players together. You love to see a squad get together quickly and I think our guys did that. There were about 350 steps up to the rugby pitch before each session so I think that was pretty good for bonding as a group as they all complained about the steps, understandably. They never let that spill over onto the training sessions and they were fantastic to coach at Cal Maritime.
The Junior All Americans were with us while that programme is in transition and they blended in well. Their experience will stand them in good stead as they go into their own camps now. The learning curve was steep and the pace of the game was perhaps something they hadn’t tasted before at this elite level. I’m excited to see these guys progress as they try to qualify for the Junior World Trophy next year against Canada.
What did you get from the camp?
This was my first time as a national team head coach and there was a lot to get my head around. My coaching team, including Greg McWilliams, Justin Hickey, Mike MacDonald and James Willocks, delivered a great event under a lot of time pressures and we all hope to grow, learn and move forward together from this experience for next year.
I got to spend time with and learn from some fantastic coaches and I got to work with some of the most exciting rugby players in the country. To coach these guys at a high performance level is a fantastic honor and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
What are the next steps?
Continuity and consistency from the coaching staff and a lot of hard work!
We will work in conjunction with all the college coaches in setting high performance pathway plans for each player based on tailored feedback. We don't want the players to ignore areas they are good at but it is vital that they also focus on areas that need work. We will have an ongoing assessment program in place for the next 10 months to chart their progress and set goals.
It's important for me that this camp gave the players an insight into what it takes to be an Eagle and that they understand the pathway in front of them. There is a lot of hard work still needed but hopefully they appreciate how close they are. Keep banging on that door, keep plying your trade, keep developing skills as a player, keep soaking up information about rugby and watching as much as you can. If it's in you to be passionate about the game be passionate and embrace it and develop as a player because opportunities are coming your way. If you want to be an Eagle, really want to be an Eagle then you can make it happen and we are here to facilitate that.