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The boy’s team heading to Nanjing to represent the United States in the Youth Olympics later this month is gathering at Stanford University for the next several days before making the flight to China. For head coach Ben Gollings, it will be his first opportunity to meet his charges in person.
He and assistant coach Salty Thompson, who recently returned from Argentina as head coach of the High School All Americans with some of those headed to Nanjing, have collaborated over the last month or so, so Gollings has some idea of what to expect in Tuesday’s first training.
“I’m excited to see them,” Gollings told Rugby Today. “Salty says there’s a lot of interesting talent, and hopefully we’ve got a game plan together that suits their style and then they can go and do a job in China.”
Gollings has the skeleton of a game plan he’d like to implement, but will tailor it to his players’ abilities once he’s had a chance to assess them.
“I do have a specific way we’d want to play in mind, but as always as a coach, you’ve got to be able to adapt and make changes where necessary,” he said.
“This afternoon, our first training session, I’m not going to do as much coaching as I’m going to stand back and watch and just see how these guys perform – see where their skillsets are, what level they’re at. Then I will mold the game plan and the way we want to play around that.
“Saying that, as well, my game plan is going to be very simple. With the little time we have to prepare, I don’t want to be complicating things for these guys. 7s doesn’t need to be made complicated.”
Perhaps harder than installing a game plan in a matter of five days is building a team culture. Gollings got started on that before heading to the Bay Area.
“I’ve already been in contact with a lot of these players. I’ve always sent out information based around what I expect as a coach and what I expect form them as players, and today as well I will start off on that,” said Gollings.
“We will go through what lies ahead of us. It’s a great opportunity for these boys, and we want to make the most of this first opportunity of rugby being in the Olympics.”
There are only six teams in the rugby competition in Nanjing – Fiji, Kenya, Japan, France, Argentina and the United States. That gives the USA a 50/50 chance at medaling.
“It’s by no means impossible for these guys to come away with a medal, and I’m going to make that clear, along with the standard which I will set for them,” said Gollings. “And ultimately we will build a fun, friendly environment around that which will hopefully excel the learning process for them in the short period of time we have.”
The format for the Youth Olympics is a foreign one, with just two games slotted for each day. On Aug. 17 Team USA plays Kenya and Fiji. The next day they play Japan and France, and on the third day they play Argentina. If they finish in the top four after the round-robin stage, they’ll play in the semifinals on the third day. The final is on the fourth day. If the USA doesn’t make the semifinal, the Argentina game will be its last.
“Some might say that makes it easier because there’s plenty of recovery,” said Gollings of the format. “On the other hand, you’ve got to be focused for four days. The other side of it is just keeping yourself mentally witched on for that period of time. It’s going to be an interesting challenge for some of these players.”