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About 7s Special Introduction Seven and Fifteens Basic guide
History of Sevens Melrose and Middlesex Hong Kong Taupiri
7s in USA Seven Styles Attack Deffense
Kickoffs and DropOuts Set Scrums Lineouts Set Plays
Kicking Drills for Sevens Three-week practice A 7s program
Fitness & Training Fitness Testing Selection Analyisis Using Videotape
Americanizing Sevens Bibliography Acknowledgements Profile

Organizing a Sevens Program

"Without organization and leadership toward a realistic goal, there is no chance of realizing more than a small percentage of your potential." -- John Wooden (Coach of UCLA basketball team, most successful coach in the NCAA)

In the preceding chapters, we've looked at the history of sevens, both in the US and the world at large, discussed elements of the game, including the perspective of experts from the world over, and presented sample drills and practices that can be used to prepare players and teams for sevens competitions.

This is all very well and good, but won't help you very much if you don't have a side to play for and/or coach.

This chapter will deal with organizing a sevens club, as well as developing a select-side sevens program.

The perspective in this chapter will be strictly an American one, based on our existing club and select-side structure, and our official 12-week sevens season (the twelve weeks beginning with the first Saturday in June).

Organizing a Sevens Club

For a small but growing number of clubs, the summer sevens season means serious practices, a commitment from their best players to be fit and available for tournaments the club enters, and real competition for selection, just as in fifteens.

For a larger number of clubs, sevens means a day out in the sun, drinking several beers after a pair of 30-0 losses, and a few incredulous comments about the teams that beat them, like "Boy, they really know how to play sevens!" For an even larger number, among them, unfortunately, many of the nation's best fifteens teams, the summer means no rugby at all. Time for a break.

With the increasing attention being paid to sevens, partly as a result of the fact that people are finally finding out what a great game it is, and partly as a result of the All-Star and club national championships, more clubs are thinking about taking sevens seriously; it's to these clubs that this article is addressed.

How do you go about starting a sevens program with a club that has no sevens tradition? It may not be that easy at first. Currently players from more than one club are often forced to combine in order to field a decent sevens side, which is OK for them, but leaves a lot of untapped talent at the shore or in the mountains for the summer (and makes it difficult for the remaining players on clubs that supply players to the combined sides to get their own program going).

This untapped talent may well include potential select-side players, even potential Eagles. It's talent that we need to get on the field to continue to improve as a sevens -- and rugby -- nation.

One way to organize a sevens team is to get a commitment from a few players (8-10 would be enough) to enter 3-4 tournaments per summer. Make sure that you get at least a couple of your standout backs and back-row forwards in this group.

You may find it hard to get these players to commit to a regular practice schedule at first, but give it your best shot (a sample three-week practice program is incorporated in the previous section). If you make the practices fun, you'll probably find that a few players with no intention of playing in the tournaments will also come out just to run around and enjoy themselves and provide some opposition for your sevens players.

Provided you give them a good dose of competition at these practices, the good athletes will really get to enjoy the room they have to move and "show their stuff," and become eager to get that first tournament under their belt.

The choice of tournament is important; try to choose one that a) features several top quality teams, and b) guarantees at least three games. Tournaments with consolation brackets can be particularly rewarding for teams just starting out. The "Hong Kong format" -- Cup, Plate, and Bowl divisions -- is catching on and provides a great way for each club to compete effectively at its own level.

The tournament itself, if it's a good one, should open your players' eyes to the quality of 7s at the top, and make them want to compete at that level. It's my observation that, once you've got a player, particularly a good natural athlete, to experience a few good games of sevens, that player is hooked.

At this point, assuming your club is going to continue to play sevens, the decision must be made whether to go to tournaments to lose in the first round and drink all day, or whether you're going to tournaments to win the championship. If you have a winning attitude in fifteens, and you get a couple of your fifteens leaders interested in sevens, you obviously should begin to look to the latter as your goal.

The next task is to improve. For that you need to mature as a team, and develop the style that you want to play. One of the things this book hopes to do is to provide enough information to enable you to look at the talent at your disposal and make that decision.

Look at the possible styles and combinations of styles, as discussed in previous chapters ("possession," "all-action," etc.) Look at your personnel. Decide what's right for you.

Having determined your style, you should make sure that the games you play at practice reflect that style: for example, it will be difficult to develop a body contact style of sevens if all you do at practice is play touch.

Whatever style you decide to use, however, there are certain aspects of the game that you will need to work on; again, this book, as well as some of the references listed in the Bibliography should be able to guide you.

Some suggestions based on experience:

DO practice throughout the summer, but keep your practices, for the majority of the summer, fun. Spend a lot of time at practices on "games" of various types (but exercise enough control to avoid prolonging bad habits); let the players enjoy themselves in challenging competitive situations.

Leave the less pleasant work to two weeks prior to each tournament.

It's important that sevens NOT get the players stale by doing too much of the same thing over the summer (at our club sevens practices, I try to avoid, as much as possible, all the drills we do week in and week out during the fifteens season). Rather they should look at the summer as a time to have a lot of fun at practices, and enjoy each other's company. But they should also be willing, four or five weeks each summer, to be every bit as serious as they are every week during fifteens season.

Success breeds success. Get that first good season out of your team, and you'll probably get another. By then, you'll have a tradition which simply needs to be coaxed along and maintained. Winners like to stay winners, and winners tend to work hard with a minimum of coaxing.

I continue to believe that the U.S. has the potential to become a great sevens nation before it becomes a great fifteens nation. But we've got to get all the best potential sevens players to become actual sevens players.

The next step is recruiting great athletes from outside the rugby community, for the express purpose of playing SEVEN-A-SIDE rugby. We can have more success getting this first ingredient towards becoming a great rugby nation -- good natural athletes -- in sevens than we can in fifteens.

Organizing a Select-Side Sevens Program

In order to maximize the probability of putting together a great national team, it is necessary to get each territory, region and sub-union to develop its own sevens program to the best of its ability.

The program should aim to identify the best existing and potential sevens players within the union, and get those players to play and practice together whenever practicable. Without practicing as a team, it's very difficult to play as a team.

The goal of select-side organizers and coaches, then, needs to be not only to select the best players, but to get them to play as a unit. How? Well, most likely by practicing as a unit as often as possible.

The subject of the organization of a select-side sevens program was discussed in a 1987 article in Rugby. In that article I presented a fairly detailed description of the steps the USA Rugby East had taken to develop a system for the selection and training of its players.

Very little has changed since that article. Rather than repeat the East story, however, the following is a set of recommendations based on the successful implementation of that plan, which produced a quite successful select-side sevens program.

Steps to Develop a Select-Side Program

  1. Get administrators

    At the very least you need a coach/selector that is willing to travel, find players, and work with them. Once you begin to form a select and/or invitational side, it would be nice to have a manager and/or secretary as well. Sevens is, to its' great credit, a real "players' game," but you can get too much of a good thing: we need to get more nonplayers involved in the sevens process.

  2. Identify your players.

    This is one of the most critical parts of the entire process. I have chosen to break down the types of players we need to identify into four categories, namely:

    1. sevens standouts on top sevens clubs,
    2. "other" sevens players,
    3. fifteens players that don't play sevens, and
    4. non-rugby players.

    1. Sevens standouts on top sevens clubs. The easiest players to find are those that are the better players on the better sevens teams that play well in all the better sevens tournaments in your area.

      These players will be the core of your program, but relying on them exclusively is not only the lazy way out, it is also not the best way.

    2. Other sevens players. For every good sevens club, there are 10 mediocre sevens clubs. In each of these groups of 10, there are probably 2-3 standout players that can play at the level of the players from group (a). Finding them is a lot of work, but once you do find them, you've increased your depth by another 2-3 players. There's no shortcut here: you've got to attend a lot of tournaments, look at lots of players, and talk to a lot of people.

    3. Fifteens players that don't play sevens. Probably a higher percentage group than (b). Think about all the better fifteens players in your area and compare their strengths to the requirements of the sevens game. If you're not familiar with them all, ask your select-side coach, and the coaches of the fifteens clubs in your union. They're generally happy to share information with you. I have invited several players to participate in select-side sevens as the result of discussions with coaches that I trusted; the East's Clarence Culpepper, an enlightened believer in the ability of sevens to improve rugby players' skills, was particularly helpful in steering talented players to the East 's sevens program.

      Remember that the best sevens players are not necessarily the best fifteens players, even at their same positions.

      The winger with tremendous speed that isn't particularly enchanted by the prospect of catching a high ball, while about to be crushed by half a dozen angry forwards doesn't have to worry about that situation in sevens. Pete Peluso, who played wing for the US sevens in Australia in 1986, never played a game of select-side fifteens.

      A fly half without a world-class foot will rarely be an outstanding 15' player. That same fly half, however, with great lateral moves can have a tremendous impact on a sevens game: Charlie Wilkinson, one of the standout players on the US sevens team during the past several years, has been only an occasional select-side player in fifteens.

      Make sure you get out every big, fast, back-row forward you can find: the speedy, leaping prop is a very useful commodity in sevens.

      Don't be afraid to put fifteens players that you're convinced has the tools to play sevens directly onto an invitational side (or maybe even a select side) for their first sevens experience: if you've calculated right, they'll do just fine, particularly when surrounded by experienced sevens players. If you've calculated wrong, of course, you'll be second guessing yourself; the best way to improve your odds when you get these kinds of player on your team is a) don't take more than one or two, and b) surround them with lots of experienced player in whom you have lots of faith.

    4. Non-rugby athletes. This is an area that holds tremendous promise for sevens. Get that high-school sports standout that never went to college; get the college player that got cut by the pros; get the player that stands out in city league basketball or flag football, etc.. You've tried, you say, and you were laughed at when you mentioned rugby? Yes, but sevens is different. Get that athlete into a game of touch sevens (or even 3 on 3), and experience the enjoyment of a long breakaway score. No complications like rucks, high box kicks, or other un-American activities. With a minimum of persuasion, you can make sevens into the non-rugby oriented natural athlete's dream game that it is.

      And then, if we can also get that player into fifteens, we will have achieved something that we sevens people need to do: get the fifteens administrators on our side. Instead of seeing their concern about fifteens people that prefer sevens, we will share their joy when they get some new fifteens players from our sevens programs.

      One example of this type of athlete is sevens Eagle Mike Siano, a standout football (and lacrosse) player until 1987.

      At Syracuse University, Mike set a bunch of career reception records, and then, after having been a victim of the last Philadelphia Eagles' cut, managed to get three weeks of playing time in during the 1987 NFL players' strike -- and scored an NFL touchdown in the process.

      Three weeks after the strike ended, Mike represented USA Rugby East at the 1987 All Star Sevens. After an excellent camp in Phoenix, he was selected to the Eagle squad for the 1988 Hong Kong and Sydney Sevens, where he did very well.

      The process ended up helping the US fifteens program as well: Mike spent two months in Scotland playing for the first division Ayr club, and returned to the US determined to play select-side fifteens. Within 3 months he played his first game for the (fifteens) Eagles, and in September 1989 received his first cap for the US against Ireland.

      There are lots of Mike Sianos out there; we need to be innovative in identifying and utilizing them. I have always contended -- and continue to do so -- that sevens is an excellent way to introduce them to the game of rugby.

    The Inner City Athlete

    One of the most exciting recent efforts to recruit non-rugby players to the game is that being spearheaded by David Rogers, of the Lincoln Park club in Chicago.

    Dave will be introducing sevens, beginning in 1991, to youngsters (ages 12-18 + a senior league) in several of the 19 Chicago Housing Authority developments, with the Authority's blessing and cooperation.

    With a population of more than 400,000 people, many of them talented athletes, the potential exists for Chicago's inner city athletes to revolutionize the sport of rugby in their area and beyond.

    Time will tell if this project is a success, but it is certainly exactly the right thing for us to be doing if we want to raise the level of athlete that is participating in our sport.

  3. Practice and play together

    Having identified a large group of quality sevens players, you should try to get them together. I highly recommend the invitational side approach. In 1986 the Atlantis invitational sevens side was established with the purpose of developing sevens players by mixing inexperienced, but potentially outstanding, players, with experienced sevens players.

    You don't need to go to the extent of creating a formal side like the Cougars (the American equivalent of the Barbarians) or Atlantis (another high-level invitational side), it can just as easily be a made-for-the-day team. Decide what types of players you want on your team, and assemble a squad.

    Practice at the tournament. If you can find Sunday tournaments, get your squad together on Saturday and have a full-fledged practice. It doesn't matter if you work them a little too hard, and they run out of steam in the finals: remember, the object is not to win that tournament, but a more important one in the future.

    If it must be a Saturday tournament (as it usually must), insist that the team assemble a couple of hours before kickoff. Put in an hour of practice so that your players feel like they belong to a team. At all tournaments in which more than one Atlantis side is entered, each cheers the other on throughout all their games. All of this helps bring a touch of the "club camaraderie" into the select side.

    If you're coaching a territorial side at an important event such as the All Star Sevens, I would strongly recommend that you insist on two days of practice prior to the event (whether it be Thursday and Friday or a previous weekend); it will pay dividends.

  4. Evaluate players' abilities and skills

    Quantitative testing

    The area of quantitative testing, which began to spread to the entire national program -- fifteens and sevens -- in 1987, is discussed elsewhere in the book.

    While we need to avoid putting too much stress on it, quantitative testing can tell us a lot about a player.

    Qualitative testing

    In this category, I include testing of basic skills such as handling, kicking, reading situations, being able to put a player away, etc.. They can usually be evaluated (and improved) using standard practice-type drills.

    Trials weekend

    A weekend to get your better players together for some sort of competition will go a long way towards evaluating their abilities. The sub-union championship is a good idea, if the notion of sub-union sevens can be sold.

    Even better is the weekend sevens camp. The East has held territorial camps since 1987, and the US since 1988. Other territories are beginning to adopt them as well. The weekend camp concept has even made its way to the subunion level: I'm familiar with camps held by both the Deep South (East) and Arizona (Pacific). The first National Sevens Camp, held in 1988, was described earlier.

  5. Select your team

    Let selection be done only by people that actually know the players and that know what they want in their team. Give the coach preference over any "guest" selector that might not know the players. Select the best, but reward the faithful and eliminate the undependable. The entire issue of selection is discussed in another chapter.

  6. Get fifteens administrators to support your program

    During the past few years -- both in the US and elsewhere -- there have been rumblings of disenchantment with the growing popularity of sevens. There seems to be concern that too many players are passing up fifteens events to play sevens. Since our reputation, so the argument goes, will be based on fifteens, we should start penalizing players that don't support the fifteens program.

    I happen to disagree, but valid complaint or not, we should be aiming to make fifteens and sevens people allies and not enemies. We can do this not only by minimizing conflicts between these two branches of our sport, but also by supporting fifteens programs, particularly select-side programs run by unions that also support select-side sevens.

    In the East, we have had several near conflicts with one of our sub-unions: for several years, Met NY did not want us to consider anyone for our sevens program that had not been available for their select side fifteens program. Since some of these players were "sevens fanatics" that had no interest at all in select-side fifteens, this was a problem. Although ultimately resolved after discussions between the players and their subunion management, this kind of disagreement does not help any of us.

Ultimately, of course, the result of improving select-side sevens play will be to help the US sevens program. If you dedicate yourself to your local program, however, you might find yourself with a regional, or even a national, sevens championship as a by-product of your effort.

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