Aug. 13, 2011 – Three Days of Eagle Coaching Insight

For 3 days (Aug. 10-12) 150 coaches from various levels of rugby from across the USA met at USA Rugby headquarters in Glendale, Colorado, to learn from masters of the game. On the first day USA Rugby President Nigel  Melville presented theories of coaching and personal and team development that have guided his successful career as a coach in the English Premier Division.

On the second day the Eagle coaching staff took turns demonstrating how they analyze, plan, and implement coaching strategies based on feedback gleaned from video coverage of matches. David Hodges, former USA Eagle and now game analyst for the Eagles, presented the extremely complicated matrix of areas that are coded following a match. When asked how long it took to code all the data he replied, “8 hours.” Dan Payne, former US Eagle and coach of the contact area, then showed how he used the analysis to guide selection decisions, plan priority areas in need of improvement, and develop game strategies. The Eagle XV (a B-side selection) had played the Glendale Raptors on Wednesday (Aug. 10th). Coach Payne pointed out that Coach Hodge’s team had worked through the night analyzing the game data so he would have the information for practice on Thursday. These presentations were followed by defense coach, Mike Tolkin, and kicking coach, Chris O’Brien. The day ended with  Coach Eddie O’Sullivan holding a 45 minute question and answer session. He didn’t hold out much hope for a win against any side except Russia in the World Cup and didn’t divulge any special plans he had to do that (e.g. holding out major impact players from the Ireland match which will be only 4 days before the Russia match). It hadn’t tweaked  in my mind that the Ireland match will be on the 10th  anniversary of 9/11, but somebody asked the question if that would be a factor. Eddie responded that it would probably be the easiest pre-game motivational talk he will have ever had to give, but he had some concerns about players being over excited and making more of the stupid mistakes that cost them the match against Canada on August 6th. Although Coach O’Sullivan didn’t raise anyone’s unrealistic hopes that a tier 2 side like the USA  would beat any of its tier 1 opponents (Australia, Ireland, and Italy),  he did describe a scenario where because of wet New Zealand conditions and the Eagles playing an excellent game they could find themselves  in the final minutes of a match either threatening to score the game winning try or making a valiant try line stand to hold on to a slight lead.

On the third day Eagles 7’s coach Al Caravelli led a fascinating session using video footage to illustrate his strategies of focusing on kick-offs, creating space, and supporting and working in groups of 3s. Coach Caravelli was followed by the director of rugby for San Francisco Golden Gate, Paul Keeler. Paul gave a humorous and passionate description of the life of a director of rugby at a top notch club. When asked how much was his super league team’s travel budget and how did he fund it, he replied that the costs ran $25,000-$30,000, and it was funded by old boy donations. That created a bit of a murmur around the tables as those assembled quickly understood why many super league sides were withdrawing from the league. Craig White, international rugby peak performance trainer, presented his 22 principles for developing peak performers. A quick and dirty distillation of the 22 from this participant’s perspective is train smart and hard, eat right, and create balance in your life. White did a marvelous and fascinating presentation on the multi-faceted aspects of  enhancing performance.

Today the Eagles face-off against Canada for their penultimate warm-up match before their Sept. 11th World Cup match against Ireland. (They play Japan on Aug. 21st in Japan.)  Although the USA and Canada are currently ranked 17th and 16th respectively,  the way theIRB world rankings are calculated the point differential between the 2 sides ( currently a 4.8 difference and the USA will get a 3 point home field advantage weighting) means even a convincing win by the USA will not move them up. The USA starting squad and reserves have no real surprises. There are 4 changes for the USA from the side that played in Canada last week. Mate Moeakiola (prop), Phil Thiel (hooker), Mike Petri (scrum half),  and Kevin Swiryn (winger) are out and Mike MacDonald, Chris Biller, Tim Usasz, and Colin Hawley are in. Probably all these players will be on the plane to New Zealand, but are now vying for the starting positions on the squad that O’Sullivan wants for his most important World Cup game, and the big question remains is that the starting match against Ireland or the most winnable versus Russia.

All those able to make the 3 day course  left with a much deeper understanding and  appreciation for the hard work, thought, passion, and commitment that the USA’s coaching staff puts into their work. Nigel Melville and his staff’s efforts to arrange and support this project were much appreciated as the wisdom of the great rugby coaches who presented flows out to all levels and corners of the USA game.

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