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RUGBYMag: The USA rugby 7s team finally began its Olympic journey with a Bronze medal at the Pan-Am Games. What was your take on the tournament?
Barnett: From the USOC perspective this was a great opportunity to see the team in action.
I’ve seen them play at the USA 7s in Las Vegas, but this was a good opportunity for us to see how the team and the players go through a tournament. The games are over fast, and playing multiple games in a day – I don’t know of any team sport that does that. We’re eager to see the sport grow.
RUGBYMag: The Eagles could have won a Gold medal, and certainly Silver, but eventually came away with Bronze. What was the USOC hoping for?
Barnett: We didn’t really have an expectation. We know they came within an eyelash of playing in the Gold Medal Game. And I’m proud of what they accomplished. We want all our competitors to win Gold. But they got on the podium, and contributed to Team USA’s medal count. So we’re pleased.
They are a very young team, and it was a good test case for us to see what the whole process is and for them to see what the Olympics is like
RUGBYMag: The USOC is working closely with USA Rugby to establish where to go from here with the 7s National Teams. What does USA Rugby need to do better?
Barnett: We’re impressed with USA Rugby as a professional organization. Nigel Melville has been super-fantastic to work with. From an organizational standpoint, often National Governing Bodies come in and have several things to learn from other sports. But in this case I think there are things other sports can extract and learn from USA Rugby.
RUGBYMag: Such as?
Barnett: In an Olympic sport you need a lot of planning. You have to have an organization capable of supporting a High Performance effort. If you have that experience working in High Performance then it’s an advantage.
We have key aspects of performance, including whether a program has the right athletes, the right coaching and training. With USA Rugby you can just about check every box off.
We always talk about the sport being the expert, and our job is to provide resources and expertise to help them.
RUGBYMag: Ah, resources; that often means money, but not always, correct?
Barnett: There’s this misconception that the USOC is an unlimited source of funds and that all a team’s needs will be met through that. We try to support a team’s plans, but it can’t be just abut more money.
We can offer plenty of resources, including access to the Olympic Training Center, access to professionals in nutrition, sports psychology, and training.
But I also think other sports can learn a lot from rugby.
RUGBYMag: However, money is important, also; especially when you’re talking about keeping teams together more. Is keeping a team together longer one of the most important things, and where does paying players fall into that?
Barnett: Money for players is a big part of that. We talk to all NGBs
about what their priorities are. Is funding for the players #1? Or is it
time together, professionalizing the coaching?
Then we talk about how do we make it happen, how we move the needle. Is it full-time support, or a stipend? We do understand that there needs to be some minimum living standards for the players, and the USOC takes that seriously.
Sometimes the needs change from year to year. We had one team where a
lot of players play professionally in Europe. It was very hard for them to
assemble, so we funneled more support to those players so they could
give up their contracts and come back to the United States and
assemble more. That worked out very well. The coaches were very
A lot of time strong performance does come down to time together. We know that teams that are together all year round have an advantage over teams together for two or three weeks, so we are working to support the players more.
RUGBYMag: Is paying players enough for them to truly support their families possible?
Barnett: Yes it is possible, but we have to work closely with the National Governing Body to make it happen.
RUGBYMag: Now that you’ve seen an Olympic rugby event in action, what are some of the things you have learned?
Barnett: I don’t know of any other team sport that plays three games in a day.
It’s unique to observe what needs to be done for their nutrition and recovery through the gay, and the medical and mental aspects. You’ve got to be so buttoned up, so dedicated
This was a great opportunity for us to ask to athletes and the sports,
why do you do this this way?
RUGBYMag: We spoke of individual player support, but there is also support for the team as a whole. How do you decide how much a team gets – and in rugby how do you decide between the men’s team and the women?
Barnett: We look at the needs of each team. The number of competitions the men are in means there’s vastly more need for the men right now, but the women have needs and hopefully as their competitions increase we will meet those needs too.
What we do know is that even though the Olympic cycle for 2016 starts after the 2012 games, we know if we invest now, we will get dividends in 2016, and if we don’t, we will be two or three years behind other teams.