Four Serevi coaches stormed the island nation of Bermuda last week to continue the important rugby development work we began in June 2012.
Written by Eric Sanderson, Serevi Rugby COO
As COO at Serevi, I often accompany our coaching teams on such trips to work with our partners and to see that our coaches have everything they need to carry out the very best programming. Watching the passion and energy with which our coaches work with young athletes is a true honor. I am proud of our coaches and the important work they do in support of the sport we all love. I thought you might enjoy an inside look at one of our trips.
We are fortunate to have a very forward thinking partner in the Bermuda Rugby Football Union (BRFU) and a generous sponsor in the XL Group. The XL Group funding allows us to make multiple trips to Bermuda each year, primarily to visit schools and to work with athletes from a program called Beyond Rugby. On each trip, we also make time to work with the Men’s and Women’s National Teams across both 15s and 7s.
OUR TEAM AND OUR SURROUNDINGS
On a typical visit, we bring four coaches for 3-4 days. On this visit, the focus was decidedly on school visits and youth outreach, so we brought four coaches and stayed 7 days. We tend to rotate coaches depending on the trip’s focus and on the expressed needs of the National Teams. This visit, our team was made up of:
* Ben Gollings. Ben is a partner in the business and a longtime professional best known for his place atop the IRB All-Time Points Scored leaderboard. He played both 15s and 7s professionally and since leaving the playing field a couple of years ago, has turned his full attention to coaching. Any young coach could learn a whole lot from watching how Ben structures a session and mixes it up to keep athletes thinking and engaged as they tire.
* Pate Tuilevuka. Originally from Fiji, Pate was an All American at BYU before playing for the U.S. Eagles and as a professional in Ireland. What amazes me about Pate is his ability to relate to athletes of all ages and abilities. He uses a mixture of humor and straight talk to get the best out of athletes.
* Shawn Pittman. Shawn is a current U.S. Eagle and one of the newest members of Team Serevi. His calm, relaxed and steady nature earn him quick respect with young athletes. It was fun to see Shawn earn his first Serevi coaching stripes in Bermuda.
* Elvis Seveali’i. Elvis is ethnically Samoan but a Kiwi by birth (with an accent to prove it). For many years, Elvis represented Samoa and played professionally in Europe for Bath, the Ospreys and the London Irish. His humor and playfulness went over well with the athletes (and the other coaches for that matter). When Elvis spoke, people listened.
On this trip, our coaches stayed in side-by-side condos, where they took turns cooking gourmet breakfasts (guess which coach served a full English breakfast complete with toast and beans) and doing
laundry. We were driven around island in a small van we affectionately called the toaster. Coaches rotated through the boot, sitting atop various gear bags.
On this trip, we visited a grand total of 8 schools in four days. In some schools, we were introducing rugby to kids and PE teachers for the first time. In others, we were building on skills we had introduced previously.
On average, we would have roughly 30 kids per session, split into two teams, each with two coaches. Coaches used fun games like Sharks & Minnows, Rugby Capture the Flag and Rugby Ultimate to teach kids about rugby. Drills would often begin without a ball. Coaches would then layer in rules and skills until kids were playing touch rugby! Care was taken to limit the number of focus points to account for the short attention span of most kids (sound familiar?). The one constant was fun! In fact, Coach Pate began each session with two rules: #1 — Have Fun! and #2 — two burst of the whistle means “listen to coach.”
While our primary focus is always teaching rugby skills, we also try very hard to communicate and model the rugby values of community, competition, hard work and persistence. Many of the PE teachers I met on this trip commented on these values and on how much kids enjoyed rugby.
I found it interesting that kids at each school wear jerseys with a particular school number. The kids at Prospect Primary all wore 33. The kids at Harrington Primary all wore 35, those at T.N. Tatem all wore 39. Of course it took us a morning to catch on. At one point, I said to Patrick “Paddy” Calow of the BRFU that I thought #33 was quite an athlete, to which he replied, “Which one?!”
The Beyond Rugby program was started on island three years ago by our good friend John Layfield of the WWE. The program is rooted in two organizations: BRFU and the Family Center. It targets at-risk youth from two local high schools. The program uses rugby as a way to connect with these kids and to help them manage aggression and build life skills. At the Family Center, Beyond Rugby athletes focus on academics and emotional support.
In three short years, the Beyond Rugby program has managed to make enormous strides with its student athletes. There is much less unchecked aggression. Athletes have learned respect, teamwork and sportsmanship. Off the field, they feel much more emotional support, which has begun to create a virtuous cycle.
When asked to name a real success story, Darren Woods of the Family Center immediately pointed to Keyahno Bean. Growing up in a single parent household, Keyahno had trouble managing his aggression, to the point that he could not initially be tackled without throwing a punch! After three years in the Beyond Rugby program, however, Keyahno is captain of his team, has now represented Bermuda internationally and wants to play pro. We watched Keyahno play and he is, indeed, one smooth athlete, passing with ease to both sides, accelerating through holes and working at all times.
Team Serevi was honored to work with these Beyond Rugby athletes several times during the week we were on island. The skill progression from our last visit to this visit was evident, as was the progress they
made from one session to the next. There are some very impressive athletes in this group and they learn very rapidly. We can’t wait to see what this group brings for the next visit.
NATIONAL TEAM WORK
While I was on island, I saw our coaches work with the Men’s 15s team on defensive principles, breaking down skills and then building them back up with increasing amounts of complexity. Once I left, the team also held sessions with the Men’s 7s squad and a mix of the 7s & 15s Women. Of course National Team athletes can handle more focus points at one time and layer complexity more rapidly, but the basic coaching process is the same. Start simple and basic and then build up and out!
We are in regular contact with all of the Men’s and Women’s National Team coaches. We keep abreast of what they are working on and try to structure sessions to dovetail with their respective points of focus.
Our coaches ask a whole lot of questions of participants. They carry out a drill and then blow the whistle to ask participants what they’re noticing. Ben in particular is a big believer in tweaking drills frequently to keep athletes sharp and thinking. He prefers to have players spell out lessons rather than serving it on a silver platter because retention is much better when players draw their own conclusions.
The Bermuda men have a big match in Atlanta this week against the U.S. South. We’ll be anxious to hear how well they are able to apply what the skills they worked hard on.
I am certainly glad to have made the trip with our coaches this time. It renewed my respect for the important work they do with young athletes every day in the service of our sport.
We are thrilled to be involved in growing the sport of rugby in Bermuda and so appreciative of our partners in BRFU and the XL Group. We look forward to driving progress with them for many years to come.