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You don’t need me to tell you that professionalizing the USA Olympic Rugby programs will be big; it’s patently obvious it’s going to be big.
|Eagle Eye is a regular opinion column on USA National Team issues by RUGBYMag.com Editor-in-Chief Alex Goff. The Eagle Eye column first appeared in another form in 1998.|
Well look at it as coming up with a game plan. Think of how you lost your last game. Think how you gave yourself a list of things your team didn’t get right. You’ve got two training sessions, maybe four, to make things better. What do you do? You probably identify one or two things where you can make a huge improvement, thus making an impact on the next game.
That’s how the USA 7s teams must look at the next few years.
So here are some issues for the programs, and what the new US Olympic
Committee residency program, plus some other things happening within USA
Rugby and international 7s, will do to fix those issues:
Inconsistency in Men’s team lineup. The USA uses more players in any one season than any of the other core World Series teams. Part of that is due to injuries, and part due to Head Coach Al Caravelli sometimes using the final tournaments to blood new players. But a lot has had to do with players not being available, generally because they have financial and family obligations (often related to finances) that keep them at home.
But what if those players and their families lived full-time in San Diego, with a small housing allowance and per diem? When they were in camp they wouldn’t be away from their families, and going to tournaments would be more their job than something they do in addition to their job. The consistency problem is now addressed, and not because the player decides to quit his job in order to play.
Training. For years the USA 7s team has assembled for a few weeks, played, and then dispersed to their various home cities. Sure these players work hard on off-weeks, but if they are training together, under coaching supervision, all season, they will be more ready come the next tournament.
Money. This is, of course, related to consistency, but also has its mental aspects, too. If a player is worrying about paying the bills, can he give his best performance? Some can compartmentalize that way; some can’t. The players won’t be paid a high salary, but they will be paid a small amount of money to be in the program. The money can help them feed their family, and, combined with healthy insurance, food provided at the Olympic Training Center, and housing, they can make ends meet. Some with families might need to take a part-time job, but the basic needs will be met.
Will it still cost players to play? Sure, especially those that give up careers to focus on rugby. But it won’t cost so much that they can’t do it.
It’s not an uncommon story to hear of young players, with kids, who are in the prime of their rugby careers, but also have to consider how to put food on the table for those kids. Don’t be surprised to see the residency program populated with that type of young player.
Warmup Tournaments (men). The residency program provides training consistency, but we’re unlikely to see warmup tournaments for the men’s team. This is because, with the nine-tournament World Series, the Pan-Am Games, and the NACRA 7s World Cup Qualifiers next year, the calendar is pretty full to start with.
Tournaments (women). The women will finally get a better schedule. After playing in one or two tournaments a year since the 2009 World Cup, the women’s team will now be put in a position to get back to the upper echelon of the women’s 7s game. They will play in Dubai, Las Vegas, Hong Kong, London, and the NACRA (even though they have automatic qualification to the 2013 7s World Cup). That, along with regular training for eight players, will be an enormous boost for their level of play. Head Coach Ric Suggitt, who has been trying to piece together a coherent approach on just a few assemblies a year, will have much more freedom now to implement his game plan and concentrate on his go-to players.
All of these issues listed above have been well-documented in the pages of RUGBYMag.com as speed bumps to success for the USA 7s program. Almost all of them will be addressed by this program. Is it huge? Yes, it’s huge. It’s a major step for both programs to start thinking Olympic medal, and those thoughts would not be realistic without it.